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CHARLIE STRAIGHT: GLASTONBURY HAS ALWAYS BEEN SOMETHING LIKE A SYMBOL FOR US – INTERVIEW BY EVA JOSTAKOVA

Czech Republic based indie pop band Charlie Straight recently finished their second UK tour, which started with a couple of shows at the Great Escape festival in Brighton. It was the first festival the band got to play in the UK and judging from the crowd’s reaction, they seemed to make a great impression. It’s their contagious energy, tight musicianship and a collection of feel-good songs that dazzle and capture people’s attention. Charlie Straight might be new to the UK audience but they already have a strong and dedicated following around the Eastern Europe. So far, the band released two full-length albums, added some exciting music awards on their shelves, got to shoot videos in New York and Iceland and even supported Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

I caught up with the guys in London for a special interview and we talked about their UK tour experience, working with producer Guy Fixsen, their wish to play Glastonbury and much more.

EVA: How would you introduce yourselves and your music to the UK audience?

ALBERT: We’re a band that plays something like an indie pop with maybe a bit of rock in there as well.

JOHNNY:  After our gig in Bath, someone said we sound somewhere between Sigur Ros and Coldplay, which is a pretty strange combination.

ALBERT: It’s nice when people compare us to bands that are really good.  We had one guy comparing us to Arcade Fire, which is nice. But every band wants to have a unique sound so hopefully one day we’ll achieve that.

EVA: When did you arrive over here and what have you done so far?

MICHAL: We arrived about a week ago and we spent four days in Brighton, where we played two gigs at the Great Escape festival.  One was outside in a square and the second one was in a club in the evening, which we felt was better because of the atmosphere. Then we played two other gigs, one in Bath in a very cool university campus and yesterday in London at the Proud Camden Gallery. We are just trying to hear and feel the reaction of the different audiences.

ALBERT: It's as if you were going to the sea side and you arrived on your fist day, you wanted to try and see if the water is cold or warm. So now we’re in the phase of touching the water with our toes.

EVA: How were the shows and which one did you enjoy the most?

JOHNNY: I think the second gig at the Great Escape was really good; it was in this great venue called Coalition.

MICHAL: I enjoyed Bath. There weren’t so many people but I felt like I enjoyed it the most because they were dancing and singing...

ALBERT: Yeah, Bath was pretty extraordinary because there weren’t many people there, maybe like 20 or 30 but by the way they were listening you could tell they were enjoying themselves. And after the gig they all came to us and said that it was good and we could make it to Glastonbury one day and they believed in it, which was a really nice thing to hear from a first time listener from England. It was reassuring for me to hear that.

EVA: How did you get to play The Great Escape festival? 

JOHNNY:  We played a similar kind of festival in Vienna last year and it was like a showcase festival with many people from the music industry. There was this guy called Adam Ryan, who is a booker for the Great Escape and we managed to get him to our gig and he liked it. We stayed in touch with him, met him once more and that’s really how we got there. 

EVA: You're very popular back at home. What are the reasons behind wanting to try and break through over here?

ALBERT: Initially we kind of thought we weren’t good enough to play here in the UK and when we got the invitation to play here during the Olympics, we did and we caught up with Andrew Khan from the Guardian who wrote the article about us and he said: “Don’t worry, just go for it.  You’re a good band and you can make it. You’ve got nothing to lose, you’ve already achieved something back home so go for it and try, play as much as you can and you’ll see.” I reckon once you make it in London and the UK, it opens doors to other countries too, because it's such an inspiring environment with so many incredible bands and lots going on all the time.

EVA: After a few years of success in Czech Republic that continues, does being here feel like starting all over again in terms of trying to gain recognition with your music, gain new fans etc.

MICHAL: It’s like an adventure for us to start from scratch and maybe we can avoid some mistakes we made back then. We already have some fans back home so it’s more challenging to play as a completely unknown band here in the UK, of course. Britain is musically so inspiring though. It's definitely worth the effort.

EVA: There are not many Czech bands that sing in English and do it as well as you. How does the public back at home react to the fact you sound and act like a proper British band?

MICHAL: I think most of our fans are supporting us and they like the idea of us trying it here and maybe one day people will stop asking us why we sing in English.

JOHNNY: It’s definitely harder to make it in Czech Republic when you sing in English but I think we’re one of the first bands that can make it work with singing in English.

ALBERT: It’s a generational issue as well because we were all born after or the velvet revolution more or less so we’re a new generation that hasn’t really experienced communism directly. I think if it was ten years ago it would be a lot harder.

EVA: Your second album ‘Someone With A Slow Heartbeat’ was produced by Guy Fixsen, who worked with bands like My Bloody Valentine. What was it like for you to have someone like him on board?

ALBERT: He’s a really kind, lovely chap and he’s very British. He’s also a diplomat, for example if there was an argument about the groove or anything in a song, he wouldn’t ever say “Oh, fuck off with the idea,” instead he’d say “I don’t think this is the best idea in the world”. That’s his way of saying it sucks (laughs).

EVA: Could you tell us about your debut UK single ‘I Sleep Alone’, which came out this month?

JOHNNY: I call it a silly country (laughs).

ALBERT: Yeah, it’s a silly country song and you should all listen to it when you feel silly; if you ever sleep alone and you wake up in the morning feeling silly, play it and you’ll feel even sillier (laughs).

EVA: The video for it was recorded in Iceland, how did you enjoy it there?

ALBERT: It was fun, especially the way back... We almost didn’t make it to the airport on time because I crashed the car on the way. I had to drive because I was one of the few people who hadn't been drinking the previous night. It was a very small rented car and it was parked downhill; and I’m used to automatic gear shift but this one was manual, so it starts reversing if you don’t break. I crashed the back of an old Trabant. It was terrible, it was 3am in the morning and I couldn’t even stop to look if it was all right, because we were in a hurry. So we went straight to the airport returning the destroyed car (laughs).

Which reminds me of another story from that night. We were sitting in this cafe called Kaffibarinn, which is a notorious bar where everybody goes. Suddenly a man came in and we were all looking at him and I said “Is this the guy from MGMT?” and then we realised it was. We exchanged a few words with him and they wanted to have some shots with us but I was too shy, I felt like this happens to him too frequently and I kind of wanted to leave him alone, so I let him go.

EVA: Do you remember the defining moment when you realised you wanted to be a musician?

MICHAL: When I was young I wanted to be a train driver but then I realised that my glasses were thicker every year so it wasn’t going to happen. I think I knew I was going to become a musician when I was about 6 or 7 years old, although I never thought that I would end up in an indie pop band. I studied classical piano and composition and I thought that I would be composing music for movies or something like that. Then, when I was 17 or 18, these guys came to me and asked if I wanted to play with them, so we had the first rehearsal and nobody thought we'd be talking about it in London 7 years later.

JOHNNY: I used to study classical guitar and I got fed up with it because I didn’t have enough patience. I wanted to play by ear and have fun but I had to learn all the notes and I didn’t enjoy that, so I quit. A couple of years after I found my father’s bass guitar in my grandparent’s house so I started jamming and I enjoyed it,  and then I joined a band with some friends at the high school. Sometime after I joined another band with Albert, which was like a jazz trio and then another one, and this is the third band with Albert, but I think it’s the definite one.

EVA: Are there any bands/artists that influenced you to play music?

JOHNNY:  It’s hard to say. We were influenced by British superstars like Coldplay when we were starting six years ago, but now that has changed and we listen to all kinds of music and I think each of us has quite different influences. On one side it’s good and on the other it can lead to misunderstanding sometimes. If you have a musical idea and you imagine it to be something but some other guy in the band imagines something else, because he connects it to something he knows or he likes, it can be a mess. But it’s better to try the idea first and see if it works than to argue about it.

ALBERT:  I love Bon Iver to death. He is like a religion to me now. But when I was like 15 or 16 I heard The Scientist by Coldplay and I thought “God, this is so good” and that was the moment. I identified with it so much, it was incredible. 

EVA: Where do you gather inspiration from when writing songs?

ALBERT: For example if there’s something in my life that’s not easy to deal with or if there’s something that really makes me happy, something really powerful... like if I went across the street now and saw somebody dying, that would certainly be a strong moment and at some point I would probably write a song about it to be able to deal with it. If I write a song and I enjoy it on my own in my room, I take it as a blessing if anybody else is willing to listen to it or even happens to like it. I once heard an interview with someone and he said “No one asked you to write that song, so don’t take things for granted and remember it’s a bonus if people want to listen to what you wrote.”

EVA: What was it like for you to receive such awards as MTV and Grammy?

ALBERT: It really helped us at the beginning because we were touring a lot and barely making it financially. It kind of kick-started our career. If we didn’t get those three awards for the first album, we might have been somewhere else completely, possibly in a dark, damp garage somewhere.

EVA: How about ‘Take Us To Glastonbury’? Could you tell the story and reasons behind that?

JOHNNY: It’s always been something like a symbol for us, it’s one of the greatest festivals and all the great bands we like played there so we thought that it would be cool if we could get there too. It’s the big goal for us in a broader sense, the direction we want to head in. If we are able to play around the UK and tour Europe and people go to our gigs - that’s the real goal. It doesn’t have to be Glastonbury. We’ve just played the Great Escape and what I appreciate the most about it is that we were among all these bands I really respect, and that means a lot to me.

EVA: If you could go on tour with some British bands, which ones would it be?

MICHAL: It could be any of the bands that played at the Great Escape, someone we could go to more countries with, so their fans could discover our music.

ALBERT: I’d like to tour with Tribes.

EVA: What’s next for Charlie Straight?

JOHNNY:  Festivals in the Czech Republic, 16 gigs in one month and then something similar in July and one festival in Lithuania in August.

MICHAL: Maybe, we'll shoot the next music video.

EVA: So finally what’s the biggest ambition for Charlie Straight?

MICHAL: My personal goal is to play music I like, to express myself and if there are people willing to share it with us and listen, I will be happy.

ALBERT: Completely agree with that. That’s our philosophy.

www.charliestraight.com

Interview and live shots by Eva Jostakova
Photos by Paulina Matova

www.diamondandunicorn.com