music

Václav Havelka of Please the Trees

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Written by Ryan Keating – Lambert

I recently caught up with Please the Trees frontman and singer-songwriter Václav Havelka at the exclusive listening premiere of the band’s new album ‘( /\ r |>’ (Carp) and chatted about life, Prague, music, and of course trees. Stalin Skate Plaza  was the perfect venue for such an event. With the beating melodic melancholia from beginning to end, the trees surrounding Stalin in Letná Park were certainly pleased, not to mention the sea of onlookers and myself.

Having heard some of the band’s previous music I was sure the album would be good, but it blew me away. The thumping beat of the track ‘Suite F’ reminded me somewhat of a darker and moodier Queens of the Stone Age, while the music video for it reminded me somewhat of Scandinavian group Fever Ray – a gorgeous assault on the senses. This entire interview was done while Havelka was spinning tracks on a turntable, so in some way I think the music itself shapes this interview a lot too.

So, obvious question first.. I’m sure you’re asked this a lot. How many people talk about your name being similar to Vaclav Havel’s.

There is no connection but I’m happy I had a chance to meet him in person. Years ago on one of Lou Reed’s last visits here, I was told he was coming and that they’re looking for his personal driver and asked if I was available. I ended up doing it. One of the meetings was with Vaclav Havel. When they came out of the restaurant where the meeting took place Vaclav was cheering to everybody around, shaking hands. When he came to me he introduced himself saying “Hi, I’m Vaclav Havel,” and I said “Hi, I’m Vaclav Havelka” and he burst out laughing. This was my only chance to meet him before he died, and it was amazing. Love the man. Am proud that I experienced an artist leading this country.

You’re originally from East Bohemia, tell us a bit about your childhood..

I was born in Pardubice and when I was 7 we moved to the Krkonoše mountains where my parents started to work as hotel caretakers. From then up until I was twenty years old we were living a nomad life, moving around, changing schools. This gave me strength to grow as an individual and define my personality, love of travelling and love of meeting different people.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I think I wanted to be a pirate or a villain or something. I still feel the same. Then I discovered rock and roll, found out that in art basically anything is possible when you work hard and know what you want.. and that was it for me.

I’ve heard your name means that you literally play music to “please the trees”. Have you always been in touch with nature and the environment?

For me, everything I do is kind of unconsciously done with nature, I don’t even think about it. It’s in my roots. My family from my mother’s side were farmers, guess that’s where my love for folk music came from. It used to be for the music of ordinary people back then – workers, farmers. Then it changed to the music of intellectuals. When I was starting this band with guitar player Zdeněk Kadlec we were joking that since we don’t have fans we will play to please the trees…

Tell us a little bit about the Please the Trees project..

We started that in 2010, a friend of ours, John Reynolds – a gardener in Manhattan, secretly plants trees in different gardens he takes care of, and he suggested that we should do the same.. And we thought, wow that’s an interesting idea. So when I’m booking a show now I ask the promoter if we can plant a tree somewhere, with someone who’s gonna take care of it. We have a map of them on our Facebook profile. At the moment it’s 267 trees. We wrote a tribute song to John called ‘Paint This City Green’ and released it on the A Forest Affair record.

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Photo: Julie Hrnčířová

You’ve toured Europe, the United States and the UK, and also Israel. How does the audience differ abroad to here?

Being able to travel with the music and communicate across the world through different cultures is the main goal for me. It’s also very spiritual. Playing a show is a ritual for me. Seems like in our music there’s something that people from anywhere can identify with. We love playing small rooms, feeling the crowd. I like to challenge myself and the band. I’d rather play for crowds of strangers than people who love us. The best experience in this sense lately was opening for Robert Plant in July in Brno. We had a great time but some of the people couldn’t stand us. We were chosen by the man himself but were not announced, nor did we bother to introduce ourselves. I received e-mails after the show from people saying that we should simply stop performing, they couldn’t stand it.

I read recently that your band was described as being part Grizzly Bear and part Arcade Fire, would you agree?

Everyone has their own associations depending on what they like. I’ve heard a lot of them, sometimes strange, funny but interesting. We are influenced by many things, many bands, various musical styles. We do not think about what we play. It’s very intuitive. We haven’t even rehearsed in the past two years at all. The new record was written and rehearsed on the road. I’m happy that I have a rhythm section I can depend on (Míra Syrný on bass and Jan Svačina on drums), and that is able to serve the song.

Tell us about Carp, why “carp”?

Every record of ours has a story. This one started a few years ago when I bought this drawing of carps from the young artist Hubert Suchý. This drawing of his really appealed to me. I knew when I saw it that I was gonna use it for sure in the future. Using it for the cover art of the record and calling it Carp felt very natural then. Carp is some sort of a symbol for South Czech where the city of Tabor is, and also where the band has its roots. This record is about going back to the roots as well as a new chapter in our history.

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Album art: Hubert Suchý

Then came the idea for the first video for the song Suite F. Since calling the record Carp we had to use footage of carp fishing from a pond but we wanted to give it an even darker edge with the demon and create sort of our own mythology.

That’s very interesting. I understand you have some other music projects, what else are you working on at the moment?

I get so much inspiration from different places, but I can’t do everything with one band. Each project has it’s own concept and identity, they’re parallel lives. At the moment it’s Were Mute with multi instrumentalist Carl Warwick, noise experimental project Vac da Hawk or with the rapper Martin Tvrdy aka Bonus project Tvrdy/Havelka with which we reworked old Czech underground hits with electronic arrangements.

Busy guy. You’ve also written music for some theatre productions, are you a theatre goer?

My relationship with theatre started when I married an actress. I love working on music for plays. It’s a different kind of work when I’m in the service of the director. It’s very organic and you never know where it’s gonna take you until the opening. I did a couple things at the Prague Estates Theatre, Dejvicke Divadlo, Alfred ve dvore and Divadlo na zabradli. Last year I did screen music for the film Mista with David Boulter from Tindersticks.

What do you listen to when you’re chilling out at home?

I listen to music all the time. I feel like a music fan more than musician. There’s so much new music but at the same time I’m always filling in the gaps in my knowledge. I’ve been a MOJO magazine subscriber for a year and have read lots of musical blogs and other magazines like Wire, Uncut, Full Moon, loved Plan B when it came out, also Arthur magazine, Under The Radar etc.

What are your music guilty pleasures? Any mainstream pop in your record collection?

I always thought when growing up that values reside in underground stuff so that’s where I want to belong. Then when I got there I discovered that most of the people there were narrow-minded lazy posers. People say pop is evil but I don’t think so. Madonna grew up on the streets, she used to be a punk. She does what she loves and is super professional. The same for Justin Timberlake and others. I don’t judge anybody. I think it’s very important to do something, anything. Not just sit, drink and curse. That’s quite typical for the Czech underground music scene especially.

What’s your favorite kind of tree?

Probably the birch tree.

Nice choice. How would you describe Prague?

Hard to say. I’m not a city type but I don’t mind living here. It’s a village.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

Musically? Hank Williams, Miles Davis or John Coltrane playing live. Hendrix, The Doors too or early Bob Dylan.

What’s your favorite word in English and in Czech?

Humility.. pokora in Czech.

http://www.pleasethetrees.com
http://www.facebook.com/pleasethetrees
soundcloud.com/please-the-trees
bandcamp.pleasethetrees.com

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photography by Julie Hrnčířová.

René on martial arts and the sexy saxophone

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Photo by Martin Něrgeš

René’s interview was full of interesting wisdom. Rarely do you meet an individual so dedicated to sport and fitness that also happens to play the saxophone very very well – a hell of a combination. He gives us a rundown on Wing Tsun martial arts and the odd connection it has to the saxophone as well as telling us about a real fight he was in on a Prague tram. A fine edition to the People in Prague hall of fame. Enjoy!

Are you originally from Prague?

Actually, I’m not. I’m from a small town called Hořovice. It is about 50km from Prague on the way to Plzen. But I’ve been living in Prague for more than 10years.

Tell us a little bit about how you began playing the saxophone?

The reason why I picked the saxophone was because nobody wanted a clarinet 🙂 Sounds funny but it was the sad truth. I had been playing clarinet for 10 years before I had my first band experience. I didn’t find any bands that wanted me. I always heard “Rene you play well but you should buy a saxophone!”, so I did and I got 3 offers from different bands and I still didn’t even know how to play it!

What kind of work do you do with it now?

I’m still focusing on performing and doing shows.

What has been the greatest moment that you’ve had playing so far? Any special performances that you’ll never forget?

Ohh…yeah….I’ve had lots of great experiences, like playing for a packed Sasazu or traveling abroad. But I will never forget one wedding at Žofín in Prague. It was a Czech-Australian wedding and right before me there was a philharmonic couple playing a beautiful Dvořák symphony and I was up next with house music on the saxophone! So different! I was a bit scared because I didn’t want to spoil the romantic atmosphere, but I was told by the wedding coordinator to stick to the plan. To my surprise the people loved the music I played and in one minute the wedding turned into a crazy disco party!

Where is a good place for jazz and blues in Prague?

I think Jazz Dock is interesting to see. It’s a place on the river with great food and great sound.

Are you influenced by any great saxophonists or other musicians?

I’m influenced by many great saxophonists and also other musicians. But it would be a really long list if I name them all. Some though include, Dake Koz, Everette Harp, Michael Lington, Candy Dulfer, Boney James, Steve Cole… Brian Culbertson (piano), Peter White (guitar).

Many say that the saxophone is one of the sexiest instruments around, would you agree?

Yes, it is one of the sexiest instruments in the world…I can confirm it. When I walk into a club nobody pays attention to me but when I blow some tunes I’m immediately the sexiest guy there. 🙂

Any girls ever thrown their underwear at you on stage?

Heh…Not yet…still waiting for that.

Do you play any other music?

I play various styles of music from smooth jazz, latino, R&B or pop to modern electronic house music. I also do live improvisations with DJs.

Tell us about your other hobbies.

My second love is sport, especially martial arts. I’ve been doing it for 12years and believe it or not, it influenced my saxophone playing the most.

And how it influence that?

That is a very good and hard question to answer. Music and martial arts have a lot in common, although lots of people would put it differently. I started to play the saxophone when I had almost a 1st Technician grade in Wing Tsun (which is something like a black belt) and I had my own martial arts school. Wing Tsun is a great system (Bruce Lee did it before he went to the USA) and I met the right people who understood it. It completely changed the quality of my life. Wing Tsun teaches you fighting principle abilities like Timing, Sensitivity, Discipline, Attention, Balance, etc…which are necessary skills not only for music but for life in general. I can say that I would never have started playing the saxophone if I hadn’t done martial arts.

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Photo by Jiří Schwertner for EWTO

Have you ever been in a real fight?

Yes I have. I was approached by a random guy in a tram. He’d had some alcohol and a bad day I guess. He probably thought beating somebody would make him feel better. In the end his mood was worse and so was his nose.

How would you describe Prague?

Small but beautiful.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

The dinosaurs.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I have never thought about it before…but definitely Robert Downey Jr.

Nice choice! What is your favourite word?

Pyjamas in both Czech and English.

René is available for weddings and private parties and can be contacted via email: info@renejunior.cz

Also check him out at these performances coming up…

23.5 Občanská plovárna (Praha) – XS Retro Párty

29.5 Cafe Bar Top (Kladno) – saxophone show

30.5 M1 Lounge (Praha, Masná ul) – club show

16.6 Fashion club Prague – Charitativní vystoupení pro pomoc pacientům s onkologickým onemocněním

27.6 Jazz Dock (Praha) – Brazilian latino night with Kleberson Oliveira band

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DJ IM Cyber on living the dream in Prague

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IM Cyber is a DJ that many in Prague may know as being one of the pioneers of the electronic music scene. After meeting Cyber, or Ivana, I started to wonder what else there was to this story. Where does she hail from? Where does the passion and drive come from? Ivana’s story is one of incredible diversity. From spending the most sensitive years of adolescence in the monster city of Moscow, to discovering her love for music in the downtown streets of Prague, Ivana was an inspiration to interview and surely sets an example for young musicians.. or anyone with a will to succeed.

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Prague, but my mother is Russian and my father is Slovakian. They moved here before I was born. As a child, I spent lots of time in Slovakia and every winter we went to Moscow. From the age of 10-15 we moved to Moscow because my father was working in the Czechoslovakian embassy there. I knew Moscow from holidays before that, and I knew that this was different to the usual one week of fun and ice-skating. Moscow is quite a dark and unfriendly city and at that young sensitive age you feel it even more. So it wasn’t the best time of my life. But on the other hand, experiences like that form one’s personality and I think I was able to transform them into something good. I think it made me much stronger. And I fell deeply in love with Prague. Prague became a mother to me.

What was Moscow like at that time? Tell me more.

Well, we were also living in this embassy micro-world. There was a shortage of basic food and when we wanted to buy something like meat or eggs, it was a problem. I would have to stand in a line for one hour in -30 degrees. I didn’t feel safe walking in those huge streets alone; I saw lots of poverty… But thank God, you don’t see the most horrible things with children’s eyes. Many years later I watched that documentary “Vory v zakone” about the Russian mafia. It showed its evolution during that time, from the 80s till now. When seeing what was happening in Moscow during that period I was there, it made me feel really sick. Heavy stuff.

So you’re a well known DJ now, when were you first exposed to music?

My first exposure to it was with the flute. I started playing it from the age of six and after we came back from Moscow I joined a really cool flute ensemble. We travelled around, won some competitions… I was really into Vivaldi at that time. Then when I was fifteen I started to sing in a church choir. We performed Mozart’s Requiem and these kinds of great pieces, which were so intense. Imagine about 70 people singing and playing this wonderful music. Real power! I still have goosebumps talking about that. I was a first soprano, which no one would believe after hearing my voice now (laughs). This club nightlife has done its job, so maybe chanson is my future! At that point I started to listen to nu-funk and crossover music with the saxophone and I fell in love with it. My mum didn’t want me to play it. She said that I am a girl and the saxophone is not a feminine instrument at all. So I found part time jobs, earned some money and went to buy a saxophone. It was my secret, my mum didn’t know for half a year or something. I left it at my teachers place and he gave me a chance to practise in his atelier whenever I wanted.

And did that make it more exciting?

Yes! I knew I was doing something bad regarding my mum’s wishes, but also something that my heart wanted to do. A had to fight for something. And it all had that magical atmosphere, including the coffees I would drink in the club Malostranka Beseda after the lessons. I would sit there reading Kafka and felt very extraordinary being in the same space with real musicians (laughs). At 17 I became a part of a hardcore group, where all the guys were about 10 years older than me. I felt really really cool! They were like my big brothers and they took care of me… Amazing times. After that I joined Skyline, who are quite popular now. Soon after that I got acquainted with turntables, and it absolutely changed my life. They have been a part of my life journey for 16 years now.

How does it feel to be so well-known for your work here? Everyone seems to know you!

Haha, I’m going all red now! (laughs). It feels nice to go to my favourite places and feel at home, coz I spent lots of time them doing my thing. Truth is, that knowing many people can make your life easier, more comfortable and happier in some way. However, the most important thing about music to me is that it brought the best people into my life. I think music connects similar souls. It’s all about emotions and when you float on the same wavelength of music, there is a kind of probability that there are other special things that will resonate between the two of you.

Is there a person that you couldn’t have done this without?

You mean all my music journey?

Yes…

Well it’s not about one person, but more about the different people who you meet at your important crossroads. Some of them are real, and some of them are kind of heroes that I was inspired by. I am very grateful to all of them. Actually I really like to observe the journeys of successful people. They are great lessons for me. They show how things work and how far you can get when you do it with the right attitude. Besides that, I am very headstrong so I wouldn’t be able to follow just one person. I always need to find and build my own way. Although, other people’s advice would be better to listen to sometimes and would make everything easier. My mum could tell you a lot about that (laughs).

Do you have any advice for young DJs trying to break into the scene?

Work hard and give it its time. Pushing yourself too much and aggressively can bring you something, but not real fulfilment. Have passion, patience and a clear attitude. And stay healthy and self-confident, but humble. I think being humble is the key to long time success. How many clichés came out of my mouth just then? (laughs) But it’s all so true!

Is there a DJ gig that you’ll never forget?

Yes, when I went to the Red Bull Music Academy in Sao Paulo, Brazil about 10 years ago. I really wanted to get there and my dream came true! When I filled out the questionnaire, I was working on it for days. You know, they make it very challenging to know if you are really into music or you just want to be cool or whatever. On the deadline day I was still writing it, and I got to the Post Office 5 minutes after midnight with my package and mix CD. I asked the woman at the Post Office to change the date to the day before, but she couldn’t. I sent it anyway and a couple of days later I saw news that they had moved the deadline to a week later! And then one day I got a call to say that I was in. I was crying from happiness, one of the best moments in my life. RBMA itself was incredible, two weeks in music paradise. And the bookings I got there were just amazing. The most famous Brazilian DJ Marky saw me practising in the studio, so he invited me to play at his resident night. From there, somebody else saw me and invited me to play somewhere else… I got 6 gigs in the end, in Sao Paolo and Florianopolis. Not one will I ever forget. And again, a few people from this time will stay in my life forever, even if we don’t have many chances to see each other these days. Long distance is nothing for real friends.

That’s fantastic! How did you come up with your DJ name IM Cyber?

Well I.M. are my initials and when I was 17 I started to work as a journalist and I was thinking about the nickname and my surname Marcinova sounds like marzipan, and as I started to be more and more into electronic music, a friend of mine at high school came with “cybermarzipan”. I started to play with his idea and IM Cyber was the result. I realised later that it’s not the easiest nickname as many people don’t write it correctly. But I like that it doesn’t say that either a girl or a boy is behind the name. Fair game, isn’t it? To be honest I am not a fan of all that Miss or Lady something nicknames at all.

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Photo: IM Cyber archive

How would you describe Prague?

Mother, deep, safe, beauty, freedom, everything is possible.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A cosmonaut and an ice hockey player. Our neighbour had a son who was a player, he gave me all the professional equipment. When my father was watching a game on television, I would wear all of the stuff and was part of the game (laughs).

That’s really cute.

I really loved ice-skating so once when I was 12 and in Prague for holidays I was thinking that I have to get into an ice hockey team! So I called Sparta to ask if they took girls (laughs). I found this phone number in the phonebook but they told me that I was calling the football team! Thank God I couldn’t find the right number.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

I would love to be the eyes of Leonardo DaVinci and to see the world from his perspective.

Very cool. What is your favourite word in Czech?

Rododendron.

What is your favourite word in English?

Rhododendron.

(Laughs) Nice! Which actress would play you in a movie about your life?

It would be IM Cyber drawn as a comic character.

What would be your dream gig?

With all of my friends and on the most beautiful beach for a 24 hour sunrise. We would play only the most intense melancholic and atmospheric deep house and would cry from happiness… Do you think my dream will come true? (laughs)

More information and tracks on Facebook and SoundCloud

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Headline photo by Martin Schubert.

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Photo: Risto Sokolovski

Singer-songwriter Kate slept on the Great Wall

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After almost 6 years living in the Czech capital, Kate has been dubbed the girl who ‘knows everyone’, and it’s easy to see why. Aside from being extremely approachable and witty, Kate is a talented singer-songwriter and plays regular gigs at expat hubs like the Globe, James Joyce and the Red Room. A couple of weeks back I sat down in Kate’s flat for a chat and stripped everything back to her raw beginnings. One of the most interesting things I learnt was that she actually spent 5 months working on a ship and went around the world, which led to a lot of insanely cool experiences including sleeping on the Great Wall of China.

Where are you from originally?

So, I’m from Muncie, Indiana. It’s a small town in the mid-west in the US. Lots of corn and John Deere tractors. It’s a university town actually. There’s a university there called Ball State.

????? (laughs).

It still brings a hilarity to me, because I know that I’m telling it to foreigners most of the time. It actually has a lot of nicknames.. like testicle tech, but that’s the only one I can think of right now. I have a diploma from there, if you want to prove the legitimacy of Ball State (laughs).

Nice, and what did you study?

I studied education, secondary education in undergrad at Indiana university and then my masters was in university administration at Ball State, so that’s kind of how I found myself in this mixture I do now of teaching and administration.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be?

I went through phases. When I was really young I told my Mum I wanted to be a teenager. She was happy to report that I probably would achieve that goal. I also wanted to work at McDonalds when I was 6. I wanted to be a doctor when I was in high school and I did a two week internship stint. But with my first interaction with bags of blood I nearly fainted so that soured me.

Both of my parents were teachers so I kind of grew up thinking I would never be one even though I played school with my friends and dolls. My favourite game when I was a kid was actually ‘librarian’ (laughs). I made a library out of my living room and I made my family come through and check out books. Yeah it didn’t take much for me to get engaged in something.

And how did you get here?

Well, I worked for a study abroad program called Semester at Sea which is a university study program on a ship, I was on there for 5 months as a councillor. We were in 13 different countries and circumnavigated the globe – it was an amazing experience, I would totally do it again. But basically, I met a lot of English teachers on that journey and before that I hadn’t realised that teaching English abroad was a way to live abroad. I did my student teaching in the UK so I kind of always new I wanted to relocate to Europe at some point. So I came back from working at Semester at Sea and decided to book a one way ticket somewhere abroad. I chose Prague because I was there for 3 days in 2004 and loved it. I remember thinking it was one of those cities that I could live in. At that point there were a lot of cities in Europe that I thought I could live in, but I fell in love with Prague.

That experience at sea sounds great, tell us something that happened there.

Well, we were in Brazil for Carnival, in Bahia which was incredible… I’ve seen my fair share of partying, but these people… thousands and thousands on the street from all ages being out day and night. You thought it was going to end at some point, and then a concert or something would start again. I also went skydiving in Brazil, that was my first and only time.

Would you do it again?

Yeah, I would! It’s definitely thrilling. I’m trying to think of other stuff I did in Semester at Sea… What was it that I did?.. Oh yeah! I slept on the Great Wall…

Wow, really?

Yeah, I even have a t-shirt saying that (laughs). I had a really tight group of six friends also working on the ship. We all did this great wall experience. When you see documentaries people usually go to the same part of the Great Wall, but the part we were on was quite far from there. We took a bus with migrant workers going to the fields for their weeks worth of pay and we had gotten the phone number of a man from a friend of a friend. We went and stayed with his family for a night and he somehow had a key to one of the guard towers on the Great Wall with some cots. He walked us up there and gave us a huge basket of Chinese beer and whiskey and whatever else we wanted and just said “ok, here you go! See you in the morning!” That was amazing, an unforgettable experience.

That’s incredible. So you’re a singer-songwriter too!

Yeah!

When did you start that?

Well I started playing guitar when I was in college. I grew up actually playing piano and singing in a choir, but I started playing guitar in university in my sorority house and it kind of turned into an open mic thing and from there I got gigs!

And what is one of your favourites to play?

One of the first songs I learnt and still one of my favourites is Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now. It sort of changes with the crowd and my mood at the time though. I like older stuff, I like singing Bob Dylan. An accoustic version of a pop song always really surprises a crowd and I really like that too. If I play Miley Cyrus or Justin Timberlake, people really like it. And sometimes you learn what a great song it is when you hear it stripped down.

You’ve been playing since you moved here?

Yeah, I started at the Oak which is now U Kravaty, they still do open mics and live music. I started going to the open mic there. It’s still a great scene for expat musicians because you can really connect with people who know the scene around Prague. Since then I’ve been playing more in here than I ever have in the States. I had a weekly gig in the States in a sandwich shop and they would give me $50 and a sandwich.

Ok, I thought for a second you were going to say that they gave you $50 worth of sandwiches! (laughs)

(Laughs) I would’ve taken it! It was such a funny gig because it was just a sandwich place, so my gig was 5-7pm.. and it was a takeaway place – ‘We have some music while you stand in line.’

Have you ever had any rowdy or drunk people try to use your microphone or anything like that?

You’ve just described my Friday night! Hmmm, a few things happen regularly. On Sunday I saw this group of people drinking, I knew how much they’d been drinking. They were a stag group and on my break a guy was like ‘hey, I play guitar! Can I go up and play something?’. So I usually say ‘no, the bar doesn’t allow it’. I mean if they haven’t been pounding jagermeisters all night then sometimes I’ll have them up. But I guess the most memorable thing is people constantly asking for songs I don’t know. Even if I don’t know it, they insist that I play it anyway.

What famous musician would you like to have dinner with?

Ummm, I would love to have dinner with Ingrid Michaelson. She’s an American singer-songwriter and has a lot of cool and quirky stuff, but also stuff that’s really easy to listen to.. and she’s alive! A lot of the people I’m thinking of are dead (laughs).

Which famous musician would you not like to have dinner with?

I feel like having dinner with Bob Dylan, even though I love his music, would be so intimidating. I would so be on a different plane than him. I would dread that dinner.

Ok, a change of topic. People dressing up as Santa, singing songs around town and collecting money for charity with the beer stops in between – this is SantaCon, which you started here in Prague! Tell us a little about it.

I heard about it from a friend that initiated it in Indianapolis and he just sort of chose a charity and got some friends together on Facebook. So I contacted some of the local bars I played at here and it just blossomed from there. Between the first and second year it’s grown a lot, now it’s kind of a mix between the English teaching community, couchsurfers, random Facebook people – it’s hovering at around 50-60 people at the moment, which is good because Prague deals with a lot of annoying stag parties and I don’t want it to be like that. A small group of people, but enough to make some smiles and be noticed.

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How would you describe Prague?

I would say manageable, in terms of size. Liberal… livable. Let’s see, what else… Open-minded. I feel like every time I think of an adjective, I can think of something to contradict it.. It’s open-minded but it’s not.

What do you miss about home?

In order of importance, Coffee Mate. It’s this powdered fake creamer.. it’s flavoured, but I can sort of get it here so that’s ok. I miss Target as well. Ok, now we’re done with material things. I miss people more than anything because most of my friends and family are sort of spread out around the US. I miss English speaking banter at a bar or just making a joke about something.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Ok well in terms of people that I look like, I often get Sheryl Crowe. I don’t really know what she is like as an actress though. I feel like Anna Paquin is a bit of a bad-ass. I guess if I was thinking high of myself, I would choose Tina Fey!

She’s awesome, I could see that! And finally, if you could go back in time, what would you see?

Hmmm. The pressure! Maybe the milestones of the 60s, like the moon landing. I would also like to see major milestones here like the Velvet Revolution, people protesting and celebrating in Wenceslas Square and also the fall of the Berlin Wall…. and the big bang!

 

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

 

 

 

Gabriel Cohen talks about new LGBT short film ‘PUT[IN]LOVE’

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Written by Ryan Keating

Kazakh actor and singer-songwriter Gabriel Cohen has an inspiring artistic career that is constantly taking on new form in the Czech capital. Whether it be acting in Mission Impossible: Ghost Patrol or singing at the top of Žižkov’s TV tower, Gabriel aims to bring a great deal of positive energy through his work and believes that everyone deserves a chance to truly live.

I recently sat down in the centre of Prague’s old town labyrinth to enjoy a coffee with Gabriel, as well as have a chat about life in Prague, and also to talk about his latest role in the provocative LGBT rights film PUT[IN]LOVE. Talking to the handsome and extremely easy-going young man was an absolute pleasure, and throughout the interview I found myself asking the same question over and over; “How can he possibly be the bad guy?”

PUT[IN]LOVE is a new short film which premiered to the masses of the internet on Valentine’s Day. The film explores gender identity issues in modern day Russia and forces us to delve into a day in the troubled world of main character Zhenya. Directed by Greek-born Eirini Karamanoli and written by her sister, PUT[IN]LOVE is a short film that will have you thinking for a long time.

Thanks for meeting me today Gabriel, let’s start by talking about PUT[IN]LOVE… What’s it all about and how did you get involved with it?

I liked the idea of this project, it’s all about fighting for freedom. In our countries, Russia and maybe also Kazakhstan – it’s all about discrimination. There is a lot of aggression and violence towards the LGBT community. I hope people who watch the film will start to think about the situation more. A small percentage of people in Russia will be affected by this… There will definitely be support and understanding from Europe and the USA, but not so much from Russia.

As for getting involved, I saw the post advertising auditions on Facebook from the Prague Film and Theatre Centre (PFTC). And my audition went well, I think. The director Eirini said it went well anyway (laughs). She was actually scared, I was shouting a lot!

Who did you play in the film?

In this film I play a homophobe. A very aggressive man with a typical Russian thug mentality – he doesn’t respect people who are different. It was hard for me to recognise myself when I saw my facial expressions on the monitors! I look very scary and I’m always chewing gum which makes it more intense.

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Photo: Gabriel Cohen

How do you feel about being the antagonist of the film? Have you played one before?

No, I had never played anything like this before. But when I was younger I did jiu-jitsu and also karate until I was about 21, so you could say that I know about the art of fighting (laughs). I also did some cage fighting at one point and THAT was intense. So, the physical preparation was already there, but to do the emotions was really something special. My character in this film is basically the leader of the pack, he likes to sit back and watch the violence happen – it’s very psychological.

How has the film personally affected you? Have you ever been the victim?

Yes, I have. Especially in Kazakhstan when I was younger. Not only was I fighting for sport, but I also had some problems in the streets. But this project has definitely brought in some new emotions. I’ve always believed in fighting for freedom.

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Photo: Gabriel Cohen

And what about the Winter Olympics? Are you boycotting them?

I don’t want to watch it. I like sport, but these games are very political, there are a lot of problems. And I really don’t care for politics.

Ok, and Why Prague? Was it acting that brought you here?

No, originally I came here to study at Charles University. I am currently studying theology and really love it. Right now I’m writing about the Jewish Kabbalah. I’ve always been interested in art, so in Prague I now do a few things. I act, I also do modeling even though I’m short (laughs), and I am also a singer-songwriter trying to bring my soul out through my lyrics.

That’s interesting, what do you sing about?

Everything, it’s all very personal though. I think the most important thing with expressing yourself is to go into the smaller details of things. Everything must be written down in my songs! Even the stars in my morning coffee!

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Photo: Gabriel Cohen

And what are you currently working on? Where can we expect to see you in the future?

I’d really like to concentrate on songwriting, but actually I’m starting work on a short horror film next week too. I read the script yesterday and it’s about digging!

Digging? (laughs)

Yes, and I will be the main “digger” …the bad guy again (laughs).

For more information on PUTIN[IN]LOVE, check out their Facebook. Also be sure to keep updated on Gabriel’s music through Soundcloud.