Interview: Jana Kirschner

The Slovak songstress (at Archa in December) talks American soul, English novels, Czech fans

Ryan Scott

Written by Ryan Scott Published on 28.11.2013 17:03:33 (updated on 28.11.2013) Reading time: 5 minutes

Note: Win 2 tickets to Jana Kirchner’s show on December 4th at Divadlo Archa!

The talented, multi-award winning Slovak singer/songwriter Jana Kirschner may have started out as a beauty pageant contestant, but has proven herself more than just a pop tartlet. With seven studio albums to her credit (including one in the English language) and a solid career of accolades and accomplishments behind her, Ms, Kirschner continues to impress. We spoke to her in advance of her final gig of the year at Divadlo Archa.

This is your first concert in Prague in 3 years. How does it feel to return?
The situation is very different this time round because first of all I actually live in Prague, though I don’t get much of a chance to be here, and also because after having the same band for 10 years, I now have an all new band for this project – which includes both Czech and Slovak musicians, so all in all it’s very exciting to be presenting this new project in Prague

How does playing in the Czech Republic compare to playing in Slovakia?
Well it’s different. The audience is very different. Somehow playing in front of Slovakians is like playing in front of your family – sometimes there is too much expectation, but in Prague I never know what to expect, in that way it’s a bit freer. In Slovakia it always feels like I’m playing in front of my mum. In the Czech Republic it seems more about the music, so both good, but yes, different.

What can audiences expect at the concert in Archa? Will you mostly be focusing on the new material or will the concert be a mix of old and new?
A mix of old and new exactly. Two sets actually. The first set is new, the second set is old. Or, if you prefer, first set – listen, second set- party. It seems to work. Then perhaps an encore with a bit of both.

Your current release is a two album project Moruša [The first part is Moruša biela]. Was it always your intention to release two connected albums?
No, not from the very beginning. The concept came out of the development of the songs. Then the development of the songs continued thanks to the strengthening of the concept.

When can we expect the second part?
The plan is next spring. But that’s not yet set in stone.

Was the writing of Moruša similar to writing the other albums? How do you usually write – on the road, at home, in the studio?
We (me and my partner) were writing whenever we could find time. Our daughter was only one when we started the process so there was no long writing shifts, just ideas floating around. We put some down whenever we could find the time. Mostly at home, but I made a few dictaphone recordings while on the road too.

I imagine you get asked this a lot but do you start with the lyrics or the music? Do you have a line from which you build a lyric or does the melody come first?
It depends. It’s different for each song. Sometimes I think of the lyrics for months before anything else happens. But this time around the lyrics were often already composed for melodies, so that I had to be a lot more thoughtful about how to fit the lyrics into the melodies. It wasn’t an easy job.

Interview: Jana Kirschner

Your earlier albums included a mix of songs in Slovak and English. 2007’s Shine was only in English and 2010’s Krajina Rovina contained songs only in Slovak. Was the language choice a natural progression or does the language of the song reflect where you are creatively at the time of writing?
I thought English would be quite easy to write in, so I gave it a go. But along the way I discovered that my own language is the only way I can express the way I feel. My English lyrics just didn’t give me goosebumps.

Is there any intention to record an album only in English again? Or in some other language?
Yes why not? I’m up for it, but give me some time. I have 55 English classic novels to read first then I’ll give it another go.

Your albums have a range of styles. Was this a conscious decision to experiment and to change or does it reflect what you are listening to at the time of writing?
I’ve always wanted to experiment, not in some radical way, just try new things out, but I had never had the support to do it. People thought I should stay in the calm, safe and bountiful waters of the Slovak/Czech pop scene, and frankly thought trying out anything remotely different was commercial suicide. But, maybe arrogantly, I felt the change was necessary and I think it was the right decision. Yes, it’s more difficult because I’m constantly having to fight to get the chance to present the music the way I want, but the creative rewards – from both live performances and recordings – are for me worth the struggle. 

On the subject of musical influences. Which singers and song-writers do you most admire?
When I was younger I idolized a lot of people, lots of singer/songwriters from the West we’ve all heard of especially from the American soul scene from Ray Charles to Carol King, but also the likes of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and all those classic lyricists. But nowadays I like to explore a bit more – new sounds, new adventure, from anywhere in the world, for example Guido Mobius from Japan, the young American who calls himself Beirut, or Wiley the grime artist from London. Whatever. Lots of different styles but anyone who tries to express themselves in their own way without falling into mediocrity. Currently I’m enjoying Shugo Tokumaru’s In Focus album and Julia Holter’s Loud City Song and earlier Ekstasis. 

Who in the local Slovak and Czech music scenes has made your ears prick up recently?
Katarzia, Raduza and Korben Dallas.

Are there any places you hope to tour or any festivals you dream of playing at?
Yes, of course. Glastonbury is number one. Apart from that, anywhere in the world. Why wouldn’t you?

According to your website, the concert in Archa is the last for the year, are there any immediate plans for the new year?
Lots. The first tour in Slovakia was just the first part of the touring we would like to do. We have to finish recording, and then mix Moruša čierna [The second Moruša album]. We have some other writing, performing, and recording commitments for various projects then more touring in Czech and Slovak republics in the spring and festivals in the summer. It goes on.

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