The group Nebeztebe (a pun containing both "Not without You" and "Heaven from You) literally shone in the Brno scene a few years ago. The five-member line-up, with its marked rhythms, seemingly above styles, celebrated victory at Porta and headed for the giant multi-genre festivals. Under bandleader Štěpán Hulc seemingly the band went to sleep and only returned this year with a brand new, three-member line-up. The new Nebeztebe is made up of guitar, violin and mandolin and has not given up on taking a multi-genre approach. Once more they are giving concerts and are coming out with the concept album Zásobování duše (which might be translated as Supplying the Soul).
Štěpán, the band Nebeztebe was founded in 2008. What was the main reason for setting the band up? And did you perhaps have some kind of example that inspired you?
I could not manage without a band and a stage. You just cannot help it. I did not have any specific examples in this situation of deeply-rooted amateurism. I had a certain image of an original sound and I think that we managed it in our kitchen where at the start we tried somehow to cook something up.
A few years back you enjoyed significant success. You won the South Moravian round of the Porta contest, and nationwide you won at Porta for original works. For you personally what has been your greatest success so far?
You mean in musical terms? These competition prizes are important to me but more so was this year’s concert on 21 March in Brno at Morseart, a comeback with well-tuned sound, projections and lighting. That is a direction that makes sense for us to go forward with.
In a moment we will get to the detail. However, I am interested in why, at a time when things were going well, you decided to take a break, and eventually you returned with a slimmer line-up?
That was from despair. Too much management and running things as well as constant changes in the line-up almost drowned the poet in me. I realised that I was not going about things the right way. We were a group active in giving concerts, successful in competitions with "yet again" one member leaving, another probably joining and with great festival opportunities, which we were actually too tired to take up. We did everything at a run, never had enough time, together with a fluctuating line-up of more than twenty people, the group rustled up material for two albums and the resulting unsettled "neurotic-revival" of my own group really did me in. I needed to get off this merry-go-round, which no longer had much to do with music. To begin to create, get music once again under my skin, to wed it again.
How did your former bandmates react when you told them that you would no longer need them?
Actually it was the result of things going on. The last permanent bass guitar player also had his own group and he decided to leave and we just agreed on that normally. The percussionist did not get on with the other two, with the fall-off in concert-giving he began to give up on rehearsals, and when we finished with him he came up with the memorable line: "Why so sudden?" Nowadays I know that either everything works from the start, including mutual preparation, or it will not.
From the successful five-member line-up in the end only you are remaining, but Honza "Yetty" Vrtěna, a current member of Nebeztebe, is actually not completely new.
Yes, Yetty, my right hand, who enjoys creating from some sort of cunning cheerful interior is often quite different from the one who by agreement left me for a year and a half. And when I needed a classic stand-in for a competition, calmly and without difficulty our co-founder had no problem fitting in.
And how did Tereza come to join Nebeztebe? You took her on originally as a singer, or as a vocalist?
As a singer. My left hand, who to my infinite horror always knows exactly my right hand is doing improvisation-wise, in 2012 recorded the violin for two songs for us in the studio. Two years later we split up with our singer and Terry said something along the lines of if we need it, even though she is not trained, she could handle it. She came very well prepared and her feel appealed to me. Later, we took a number of arrangements of the violin part from the previous line-up and a few stanzas later I realised what a treasure we had actually gained for the future.
The result is the far from typical line-up for your genre of guitar, mandolin and violin …
The genre classification of Nebeztebe is for me an increasingly distant question, but if you have a feel for it and give it some time, you can play gentle symphonic music on two forks. And in Honza and Tereza I found the two forks.
All of you alongside acoustic instruments use various effects. Was this a clear choice from the start?
Yes. And one clever book states that you can’t build a Porsche with only pliers in your hands. I enjoy modelling the group’s sound so that the listener can enjoy the enchanting moment when it cannot be automatically pigeonholed as "guitar" or "drums".
What is your repertoire like today? In the new line-up do you also play the songs that you did with the original more rock-like Nebeztebe?
We use two songs from the earlier repertoire as encores. They work well in the atmosphere after the finale of the new set – they are old pieces that for a long time we did not know what to do with.
In what stage of development were these older songs? And how do you work with this material in the group?
Most of the lyrics were ready or even there was too much, so after these years I was happy to make cuts, until I had virtually cut them back to the essential core. Their musical accompaniment and melodies were not particularly coherent. Which is fine because now we work in a way that as the group’s main creative guardian stroke provocateur I play these motifs for myself and for my two hands as I already referred to Terka and Yetty, and we try out the improvisation that they need. During this period of primal and almost boringly beautiful chaos I make sure that ideas get space without pressure on the result. I help the voices and rhythms to come alive, waiting for them to leave behind the common framework and begin to form their own, waiting for them to delight me. The following attempts at larger units I put aside for a couple of weeks and then take them up pell-mell with some distance. When finally the piece comes to life the jewels it contains are visible.
Are completely new songs coming out?
In this line-up we have a new playlist that we have created together, but in the long term it is a misleading term, because, for example, records of ideas, which over eleven years I have carefully catalogued as "Yetty’s trance motifs", are patiently awaiting their chance. In extent they could easily be enough for a separate project or album. And when we get to them, they will also be like new.
When you write a new song, do you think in specific terms of an actual line-up, or does an idea that can be used with any grouping come first?
I think the initial idea is not completely independent of the line-up. This is something I hear ahead of me, and is sometimes a kind of a rock-orchestral-trance-ethno-beat type. And I seek it in the blended sound world of effect-laden mandolin and the classical splendour of violin over nylon or electric guitar and a stompbox replacing drums or percussion.
Your new concert programme and also the album you are bringing out is called Zásobování duše. Why this name?
I saw a photo of a metal door on which was spray-painted by stencil "Zetor – zásobování duše" (Which might translate as "Zetor - supplying the soul" but also "Zetor – tyre supplies"). It was taken by my friend the photographer, Jitka Daňková and for a long time I thought it was taken at Zetor (a renowned manufacturer of tractors). Only recently, I accidentally discovered that it is on a container that I have been looking at for years in the Dolní Kounice garden across the valley. The inscription was waiting for me, and it includes everything I need from music. Supplying the Soul is a net that I take and test whether the composition will pass through it, or not.
In your view does a disc have to have a concept?
Mine, yes, but I didn’t realise it earlier. The band is a living thing, and as long as I cared for her, she quietly required for each change in line-up different material. For this reason it was not possible to grasp the long-term repertoire. I myself had to figure out that I needed a clear concept that would lead me.
You write songs with lyrics as well as instrumental pieces. What is there about a piece that says you will not need lyrics?
You simply feel it during the work that you will not need lyrics. Strong musical motifs do not need it as long as you make use of the opportunities that it opens up for you. Even if here and there words and phrases occur to me.
When can we expect the album Zásobování duše? And what can you tell us about it?
Personal matters with introspective content. Whenever we play the songs I feel is supplying my soul. If that is what the listener feels then I will be beside myself with happiness. On the practical side we are finishing the last song, sometimes even fine tuning arrangements of other pieces. The recording method, the place and the people we already have, so we go rather for authentic sound, vibrancy and atmosphere than long studio work. I am looking forward to it so much. If possible, the disc will be out by the end of the year.
Will there be any guests on the album?
Possibly yes. Now my two colleagues have the working recordings in their hands and we’ll see what they make of them. Either their approach will support the pieces or there will just be the three of us.
You want to work more with visual components and specifically with projections in concerts. Why?
Within the lines of Vítáme jaro 2019 [We Welcome Spring 2019] we already carry projections where we can, and the results clearly convinced us and our audience that it works great. I see it as a musician as enhancing the opportunity for expression. It can amplify the musical message. At first it was just a reminder from my friend Shanny that Zásobování duše would benefit a lot from a simple projection. We realised it and just moved on thanks to de facto new member of the band Michal Minárik, who although he did not play anything, but embarked enthusiastically on the basis of my ideas on the video editing and projection. He does the promotion of the band with me and solves everything I can no longer manage. We plan clips ourselves – already just talking about ideas and possibilities. It's simply a super component of activities that Nebeztebe was lacking. We have our own sound, light and projection equipment, giving us independence.
Will you continue to enter various competitions, whether Porta again or elsewhere? And is it important for you?
It is possible that we will enter somewhere, this year we have already done so once and everything around that particular competition was incredibly beneficial for me. But it is important to say that in this case as the group’s manager and not as a musician.
You are a Brno group. How do you see the contemporary scene in Brno? Do you have any related groups or musicians? Who do you feel close to?
As a father and husband in the normal course of family life I save the maximum time for Nebeztebe. In real terms, I experience some results of the work of people who are definitely addicted to music, and I'm happy to see their growth. Fortunately, over a few years eventually we all figuratively meet in Tesco when not on stage. Immediately after my wife Magdalena, with whom I started Nebeztebe and for whom I am now her musical co-pilot in her own work, the one I see most is the bandleader of Funkychicken, Shanny, who does funk in a way I enjoy and we show each other our creations... Martin Kyšperský got to me with his Miláček slunce [The Sweetheart of the Sun], the punk Kruhy and the hipster-alternative Makak, I the rock approach of Safe Escape, Dan Vertígo caressed my soul with his latest creation, so much that I had to call him, I enjoy AIVN's Naked Trio and Tom Jégr and his albums 2015 and Souznění [Harmony], I appreciate and I respect Nevermore & Kosmonaut, I'm curious about the new album ... Strangely enough, I'm sure I have forgotten many people, and missed out half of Brno. Jazoo were great, while they were around, and now for me the most interesting are the prog-rock Pool (a joyful conjunction of the magicians Elshish, Ondra Malina, Ondra Kaprál and Petr Bartoněk, who would each be worth a separate mention) and Kudla with his band in the box.