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Coolmans Report’s adventures on the other side of the ocean

Aleksandra Line

Latvians need a push to see the world and strive for better

Coolmans Report is a blues-fusion band from Latvia. It consists of four Berklee College of Music students. The band has performed in the biggest European festivals, toured in England, Belgium, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, collaborated with such artists as Ken Hensley, Angela Brown, Shanna Waterstown, Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges, Krissy Matthews, Justina Lee Brown and many others.

Coolmans Report are well-known and well-awaited in Latvia. One of a few bands, whose success story makes many concert venues ask for their available dates way before the musicians are back in Latvia for their holidays, because event managers already know that they’re going to have a full house. While the only lady of the band Sintija Grigorjeva (guitar, voice) is preparing for one of her Riga concerts, I’ve talked to Rihards Kolmanis (guitar, voice), Elvis Lintiņš (piano) and Pēteris Žīle (drums) — about what’s life like on the other side of the ocean, what are their future plans and differences in the educational systems.

Publicity photo

So what’s life like out there? What differences have you noticed first?

Rihards: Life is very colorful. The opportunities, the experience we get, cannot be compared, and I doubt we could have got it anywhere else. For example, we live in Boston, New York is just 3-4 hours away, you can go there, concerts are every week, we can meet world-class musicians, get private lessons. I doubt we could want anything else. The school is huge, there are many extraordinary teachers there — for example, me and Pēteris have studied with Billy Kilson, Victor Wooten and John Patitucci visits us every month — just mentioning a few.

Elvis: it was a cultural shock in the beginning. There’s so much music, so many people around. Here, in Latvia, you study with 30-40 people, there, in our school there are hundreds times more. Everyone does something, the party goes on. Uncomparable. I’m not saying it’s better, but certainly more interesting.

Pēteris: The first hours there — our private lessons, meeting and greeting us — seemed so bright. Just as Elvis said, it was a huge cultural shock, in the school and apart from it. That environment — imagine, some 4 thousands students. An opportunity to find specialists in your field, to study with them, if you want to conquer some certain style, find teachers specializing in it.

What was the most difficult while being away from home?

Rihards: Food.

Elvis: I was just thinking the same.

Pēteris: Daily life.

Rihards: It was very difficult, living there. Of course, daily expenses are dramatical both in Boston and New York, you have to work a lot to be able to pay for things, you cannot just play music all day. You have to eat something and sleep somewhere. Speaking of music, I think that all of us got shocked at some point — not just because of the amount of information, but also, I’m not afraid to mention, all of us happened to be at that moment of collapse we had to overcome. You see how many thousands of people there are, who play at a world class level, and most of them are just students, not even musicians yet, and they play outstandingly. Those were the two most difficult things for me — daily life and music.

Elvis: Continuing Rihard’s thought on colleagues — teachers are also good friends. Of course, there happen to be teacher-student relations, but they don’t have certain borders.

Pēteris: There is no defined course system at school — when the next course starts, you go and study. You can decide what of the courses to take. The main things are very well in order.

Is it the main thing that differs from the Latvian education system?

Rihards: That is the thing Pēteris has started talking about, that system — thanks to the knowledge we’ve got here (all of us have graduated from Riga Dome Choir School, RDCS) we were able to move forward way faster. Many others who come there still have to learn some basic stuff. Many other students and teachers are also quite surprised about it — we have quite good basic knowledge.

Pēteris: All credits go to RDCS, where all of us come from, and where we’ve all met.

While being abroad, what’s your vision on Latvian music development?

Rihards: I think it’s very good that many people have gone abroad, and many have returned. You can feel that knowledge and experience brought from the other countries. Everyone has a different system and experience, and you can feel it. I haven’t studied at the Latvian Academy of Music, but it seems to me that it would be quite nice for both Medinsh school, RDCS, and the Academy to exchange the information not only among students, but also on the academic level, discuss what’s the educational system in Berklee, Amsterdam, other places. There those systems have existed for a longer period of time, and they’re working better. I think, if we could exchange it on an institutional level, the future of Latvian music sphere in whole would be better, because there are a lot of promising and creative musicians who just need a little push to understand more. I’m not saying we understand what the world level is ourselves, but we need that push that would help to see what the world level is, and where should we finally arrive. If we realize it, if we live through it, if we bring it back to the Latvian environment, then, taking into consideration the creativity that’s in here, it sounds very positive.

What exactly would you want to bring to Latvia from your American experience?

Rihards: Speaking about the education, I’ve already mentioned what I’d like to add. We have a very clear educational system in Berklee. You really know for sure what they’re asking from you, what they expect, when they expect it, what the conditions are, what do you need to do to progress. Actually there are a lot of good teachers in RDCS, all respect to them, I’m thankful to them myself, but I have an impression that the system is chaotic in Latvian schools overall.

Do you want to stay in all that clearness? Have you thought of staying in the US after graduating?

Rihards: We still have to finish school in Boston, Berklee also offers some certain things we could do — for example, prolong the visa and stay for a year or two more, find a job in this sphere, play, take a gap year to practice. There are no certain future plans.

Pēteris: We have discussed we want to take this prolonged visa option all together, to keep working and making music.

Rihards: We are very focused on studying. Of course, we play music, create new music, but the studies take a lot of time. We also support each other a lot — not only playing together, but also in the moments when everyone has some projects with more influential musicians. We think this experience enriches not just ourselves, but also our band in whole. We’re not just colleagues, we’re also great, great friends. That’s why we don’t have certain plans, but we’re devoted to learning music on our own and within the band.

If there’s only one music genre left on the planet, what would it be?

Rihards: That’s an abstract question. How broad do you define a genre? That’s weird, I don’t play it at all, but I personally would like classical music to stay. Russian classics, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky.

Elvis: I also like classical music a lot, I’m trying to listen to it often. There’s a reason why this music has stayed for so many centuries, and I think it won’t disappear. You’re listening to many, Bach for example, and you inevitably learn a lot.

Pēteris: When I’ve nothing to listen to, I always turn on blues. That makes me feel alive. But I agree with Elvis and Rihards — if I had to stop listening blues, I’d start listening to classics.

Publicity photo

Have you ever tried to imagine your ideal concert? What would the hall be, what’s the audience?

Pēteris: The audience wouldn’t make any difference. The main thing is that they would listen to us and hear, and try to understand the message we’re saying through music. Each of the last concerts was a fantastic new experience. For example, at Lithuanian Blues Nights the audience was so supportive, we went home enriched. Each concert brings something different, so we don’t have any vision of the ideal one.

Elvis: I personally would like to play on the big stages, have the experience. We’re so close to each other in tiny bars or rehearsal spaces, and we’re experiencing it every day, but finding yourself on a big stage is something you have to strive for.

What would you advise to start with and what to be ready for, if a Latvian musician wants to go abroad?

Elvis: I think people are way too shy here. That’s our disadvantage. You need to talk to people all the time. We have gone there and realised that there are a lot of people exchanging information all the time. Here people collaborate and communicate so rarely. I, for example, have recently been to a workshop where there were completely no questions asked, it seems like people have no interest at all. I have no idea why.

Pēteris: I absolutely agree on the lack of interest.

Rihards: Not to be too shy, talking to people, contacting. All of us are available as well — via e-mails, Facebook messages, you can talk to us, if you’re interested, and we’ll help with pleasure.

Pēteris: Speaking about the interest — we gave two workshops, one was at RDCS (closer to us, we could understand all the atmosphere) — we were very happy to be invited there, we could play and share. And there was a workshop in Liepāja, but that Latvian shyness… I’ve learned that you don’t actually need to push your information onto anyone. But you won’t lose anything while sharing. You need to share — that’s the advice.

Do you see yourselves as teachers?

Rihards: Yes, I think, that’s for sure. I personally love to teach. I’ve done a bit of it in Boston, in small groups. Continuing on sharing the information — it’s so good you’re meeting people, you never know what you’ll learn from them, even if they came to you to study.

Elvis: I definitely can see myself doing that in the future. Seeing that person afterwards — how he’d developed, how he’d grown — it should be a good feeling. The teachers also learn — if you study with one for many years, he becomes kind of a life teacher for you, you shouldn’t lose it.

Pēteris: In the future I’m planning to play more, perform, but I don’t deny the fact that I’ll be a teacher, I think, that’s one of the things I would like to do. I love to share.

Elvis: Sometimes I’ve told some friends, who aren’t connected to music at all, some tips on how to start doing things, how to learn, and when I see a person getting inspired by it, I’m getting inspired, too.