As part of the tour which has been in progress since the spring, on 28 November the group Zrní (which translates as Grain) will be coming to Fléda in Brno. They are performing their latest album called Jiskřící (Sparkling). The members of the group (four Honzas and one Ondra) reacted to our questions collectively, with only the responses of Honza Unger as the author of the lyrics sometimes coming to the forefront.
The basic theme of the album Jiskřící is apparently crises …
Yes, a crisis is the starting point from which the disc develops. For us it was about what positive things we can take from a crisis. What do the difficult moments that we can encounter give us? This disc is about finding the positives in crises. Originally it was primarily intended to be about personal crises, but in the end we can extend that to the situation in society as a whole.
Honza Unger: It all comes from my personal crisis, from a situation that I experienced. For about two years I felt completely lost, my life had been turned completely upside down and I had to seek out psychiatric help. But in one moment I realised that being lost, that state of complete hopelessness shows you things that until then you were not able to see. It freed me and gave me a great respect for life. For me that is what this disc is about.
Have you ever touched on such personal themes before?
I think that every theme we work with is personal. At the same time as people we work in a space, we are part of society as a whole, and at the same time we respond to society. This shift to the societal level was there even in previous discs. For example on the album Soundtrack ke konci světa (Soundtrack to the End of the World) it was also about some kind of watershed moment, about a rupture, which people discussed and wondered about the meaning of for their lives.
As was already mentioned, Honza wrote the lyrics for the new album about his own crisis. Do the rest of you identify with his songs?
We don’t have a choice. But most importantly we stick together, spend most of our time together and so we could follow Honza’s story up close, experiencing it with him. Each of us goes through some hard times. We can identify with that just like our listeners. These are situations that any of us have gone through, while others are yet to experience them. Honza writes of feelings that some of us have known.
How does Zrní work as a group? Do you discuss your personal problems with each other?
We are not a group that just gets together for concerts. We also meet up in the pub and talk together. It is not quite like it was before, when we spent 24 hours a day together, we understand that it is a good thing to take a break from each other, but in private we still share things.
What do you do in the car on the way to concerts? Do you listen to music?
It graduates according to how long the tour has already lasted. If we are heading for the first concert of the tour we listen to music, someone works and someone else reads. Later we mainly rest in the truck. But even later on we once again play music, often pretty loudly, we dance, and our language also tends to get worse. Then we get home and it takes a day or so for us to get back to normal.
What does Zrní listen to on the road?
So today for example we played Jamie xx, Prago Union and Balkan brass band music …
Zrní records concept albums. Do you yourselves listen to albums, or rather individual songs?
We listen to albums, and we also buy vinyl. But a car is not for focused listening - an album is something to listen to at home. Nonetheless these days there are not so many targeted discs, offering a story, like Pink Floyd used to do. Today’s albums are rather collections of individual songs.
Getting back to your latest album. Why did you call it Jiskřící (Sparkling)?
Honza Unger: Right at the start there is a verse about how the present is sparkling. I wrote about it one lyric, Jiskřící bůh láska jest (Love is a Sparkling God), and when we went to Madrid to record the album, we began to consider that word as the name of the disc. It began to resemble that theme and the recording was in the end so euphoric that for us the word Jiskřící also worked for that.
Why did you record the album in Madrid?
Our producer Ondřej Ježek had read somewhere about a great studio in Barcelona and wanted to record the album there. We loved the idea since we longed to make a disc somewhere outside the usual classical routine. In the past the way it had worked was that we went with Ondra to the studio, and as he had other work there it kind of broke things up. And we enjoy it when the work is seamless. In the end the Barcelona studio was booked up, but we said that despite that we would set off and find another studio that would suit us. We found it on the outskirts of Madrid.
So you went there with Ondřej Ježek. Otherwise the staff in the studio were Spanish?
Yes, the owner of the studio and his assistant were there. They prepared the microphones for us, did the wiring and from time to time brought us something to drink. It was great. Otherwise we had our producers Ondřej Ježek and Jonatán Pastirčák there with us. We had the basic material prepared but we also wanted to add electronica, of which we only had a general idea. On the site, we talked about it a lot, we played music, talked about the arrangements and based on this we made a lot of changes to the arrangements of the songs. Ondřej and Jonatán were quite radical, which is what we wanted. Often we shortened a song, simplified it or cut out some parts. Five songs out of the fifteen that we prepared did not make it on to the disc. Most of the electronic elements were added after we got home, and that was mostly the work of Jonatán.
Did Spain leave any impression on the album?
There is no cultural influence but certainly the atmosphere left its mark. The mood of the album was influenced by the fact that the sun was shining and spring on the way, even though it was the beginning of January. If we had recorded the disc somewhere else then it would clearly have had another name, because the word Jiskřící reflects something of what went on there. We felt euphoric the whole time. We fulfilled our dream – it was intensive and seamless, in the evenings we talked of our vision of how our music should look. We always wanted to experience something like that. On the way there we stopped not far from Bordeaux on the French coast, where there is the biggest sand dune in Europe, the Dune du Pilat. You can see it in the video for the song Jiskřící raketa TOTO (Sparkling Rocket TOTO). It was because of the dune that we wanted to call the album Poušť (Desert). When in the morning you find yourself in the midst of the sand it is a truly great experience and the topic would be named after the darker side.
In the end you did not record in Barcelona but how do you see the current situation in Catalonia? Are you following it?
We are following it and talking about it but we do not have a clear opinion on it. I feel that that I would allow anyone who wanted it to be independent. It is odd to force someone to stay with me if they don’t want it. At the same time however I understand that the government does not like it as they have indivisibility of the state written in the constitution. There is also the question of who is creating this desire for independence, whether it is not the result of some kind of manipulation. How about the inhabitants of Catalonia who want to remain part of Spain? It opens up many deeper questions. Why today still separate like this when nobody is being oppressed and the world is rather coming together? The economic importance of it is rather dubious given that Catalonia would probably lose EU membership and nobody knows what it would lead to.
You performed with the Tibetan singer Loten Namling and not just at Colours of Ostrava. Is it at all possible through music to fight for freedom for Tibet? With the passage of time how do you see those concerts?
We played some ten concerts with Loten and we had a great feeling from that. It was an experience for us to meet someone who has his roots in a completely different culture, in a completely different feeling for music. We became close. Among other things we found that one of our – completely new – songs strongly reminded Loten of a song his mother sang to him as a child. There were parallels even in the lyrics. That was a powerful moment, when you sense that somewhere at a deeper level everything is connected. We then sang it together. And is it possible to fight with music? It is not about a battle, but about spreading awareness of the situation. We let our fans know for example how they could take concrete steps to help, for example by contributing to the building of a specific school. And then, just as important, it is about spreading compassion. Through this kind of joint project we are sending a message to the community of peoples, from wherever they may be, that we are not indifferent to the fact that someone, anywhere in the world, is oppressed. It is a good thing to awaken such an approach in people.
As part of your tour you will be coming to Brno. Is Brno something exceptional for you? And do you have any specific memories linked directly to the Fléda club?
We enjoy playing in Brno. In the last few years it has only been in Fléda, where people are used to coming to see us and where the sound quality is excellent. Fléda is a special place also in that after the concert we sleep on bunk beds in the hostel that is right over the club. That means that after the concert often we dance and mess around long into the night. Under the window there is a kebab place, which is lively into the morning, so anyone who wants to go to sleep earlier is out of luck. The last time we played there, and that was last year with Loten, we agreed that it was the best concert of our lives. So the memories are the best possible.