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You should be naked in front of music

Aleksandra Line

Silence of Andris Buiķis, full of loud drums and creative works

Raitis Kalniņš

The press release about one of the most active Latvian drummers Andris Buiķis, who has just released his debut album «Zaļš» («Green»), states as follows: «This is the favorite color of Andris that inspires him and gives energy for following the not very easy musical road». Knowing Andris for quite some time, I’m quite sure his mind and way of playing have all the wide color palette, although it’s only now that he dared to release his own music to the world. And that is quite contrary to modern jazz tendencies in the country where the ones releasing their debuts, it (subjectively) seems, become younger and younger. Most probably, there’s no one in the Latvian musical field who doesn’t know Buiķis (and most likely, people have heard a lot of him and him playing in many other countries), and the album has benefited from it as well.

I, in turn, have realized that it’s been quite some time since I last met the hero of this story, meanwhile, Andris has realized I have a balcony in the flat I rent, so he momentarily begins telling me about things I must necessarily grow there. At one point, I thought it would be nice to perpetuate his advice in an audio recording as well. So our musically philosophical talk begins with greenhouse stories — which actually fits into Andris’ album concept. Green.

Well, if you want to grow anything here. Even tomatoes and cucumbers — if you go to a store and buy them at 70 cents per kilo, and that’s not even a tomato. See — I have some completely different thoughts. Know why? If you have a fruit or a vegetable, and it doesn’t have any taste — what’s the point of paying one euro for it? You buy those tomatoes, and they aren’t edible, so you throw them away. Completely useless.

I remember you’re growing stuff yourself, right?

The stuff is growing in my greenhouse. I live in a countryside house and grow my own things. Of course, there’s no reason in growing potatoes — they occupy a considerable territory, but all the spices, mushrooms are what we grow and store in a freezer. Dill, parsley, cilantro — I love cilantro a lot, while my wife hates it. I also planted chili peppers — that’s because I love incredibly spicy food. So hot you cannot understand what’s going on — you’re all sweating and turning red. That spiciness doesn’t burn your insides — you feel burnt, but it’s all in your head. I love that feeling — you kind of harm yourself a little bit, but you love the feeling because it recharges you, gives you energy. You cannot eat too much spicy food, so you eat in small portions and have a lot of energy. We’re not living in a post-Soviet world anymore — everything’s free, once people didn’t know there were olives or different fruit or even sushi — if you ate something like that, the others would think you’re weird. It wasn’t common — everybody was eating meatballs, Russian salad, meat, herring.

Earlier today, we began talking about the sky and sunlight. Which is your favorite part of the day?

Night. It’s because I love silence and I love walking at night when I have some time to. The night is the time when everything’s calm — you walk down the street, there’s not a lot of people. I really love silence, so I run away from my daily routine, walk into a studio and love it the most.

Are there any sounds inside that silence?

There are, of course. Drums is a very loud instrument, and I play it quite loud. That Ciemupe (a place where Andris lives in) has lots of sounds, absolutely. But the day is what I associate with work — you wake up in the morning, think about what has to be done, and that beginning of the day isn’t the happiest time. Of course, you make that coffee, do a workout, take a shower — and then there’s some energy, the day has begun, but you nevertheless know you have a burden, you have to do something. Now online lessons take a lot of time, being an educator — you just have to do all that, check homework, so you sit down, prepare everything one day, check everything another day. This is work, and this is a duty. But then a moment comes when you have a day off, so you can go to a studio, create, make music — that’s some cool feeling. A true one. The day is beautiful — the sun shines, but then I look at the sun and think I just want to chill out, I don’t want to do anything. So I go to a garden, take a cucumber, make some salad, and we bake vegetables. And a darker time of the day is creative time, the right time to do things.

Whom do you teach now?

I work in the Liepāja Music, Art and Design Secondary School, as well as Riga 45th Secondary School. So there are governmental institutions and some private students, but during the last months (due to pandemics), I didn’t teach that much. Theoretically, two people can work together, but I postpone it for now and instead work creatively at this stressful time. I accept teaching as a job and responsibility towards young people, but this isn’t my hobby. Somebody has to do it, and if I anyhow inspire that soul, then I get happy and feel I’ve done my thing. Inspire, help, try to understand. Just as a drummer — all the boring stuff, coordination, technique, dynamics, style — that’s a rough side to all that. You want just to play, but you need to go through all that, that’s a job. And only those who are into this with all their heart can understand it — understand the fact that we cannot get through without it. We have two hands and two feet, and a drummer has to coordinate them all. To be honest, I’m really happy about girls — they are way more responsible, and they’re really doing better. They have that conscience, and their energy is way more powerful than guys have.

Even though, as it seems to me, our society still has that stereotypical attitude, that thought that guys often are better drummers?

Times have changed a bit. When I began studying drums in 2000, it was a post-Soviet installation that a woman is a feminine creature, nice, lovely, has to cook, wash dishes, go picking mushrooms, and a man is that father, strong, able to do things, electrician, builder, everything. It’s not like that anymore — thoughts have changed, youngsters are liberated, many of them don’t even understand the environment we grew in. I was born in 1982, and my childhood was that Soviet time — the older generation would say crazy times. Now I see some energy in those girls, you feel how they break — it’s pretty hard to work with a girl when you feel she plays like a girl. I wouldn’t like to do any emotional harassment, but you just have to understand one thing — this girly attitude and those high heels and that tenderness — all of that kills the attitude towards music in general, not just drums. You have to be naked inside, you cannot have any different thoughts in your mind or cultural influences. You have to be naked towards music, you have to be yourself. And if a woman has something to say, with a free sound, then everything is alright. Some girls in the college, the ones who study accordion, piano, singing — they really play drums way better in a year or two than some guys to whom drums is a specialty. Times change, and people change, you just have to accept it, and that’s cool.

Does the fact that you have both a daughter and a son help to acknowledge gender differences while teaching?

Kids so small don‘t yet have an understanding about who they are — boys or girls. My son just turned five, daughter will turn four soon — the boy already has a voice, he’s active and runs around, but they both don’t have this thinking yet. They aren’t like my parents were thinking — it’s just a child who came here, he’s an entirely different soul, and he needs some help. I liked how Marija Naumova told me once — are we the creators, or does a child just come through us, just like through a gate? These events in life, love, a gene mixing ritual — it’s just some energy resulting from nature. How can you even say it’s mine? That kid has to fight in life himself. We have another new family member now — a little kitten. I go out one day and hear a tiny meow. He hides under a shed, so we put him some food; he’s scared, angry. And now he’s our family member, a wonderful soul. And we aren’t his creators — he just joined us.

It works just the same with kids. What about me? Nothing. I’m just a naked soul here with a live body. And I came here through my parents. It’s just like that in Eastern thinking: if you think you’re important here, it’s the first signal you have to seek some help from a doctor. We aren’t important here; we aren’t doing anything that makes the world better or worse; we just resonate in the things happening. And people who think that the world cannot live without them, it’s just a huge neurosis. And they should treat it.

Why do we exist at all then, what do you think?

It’s a question everyone has to ask himself. Everything is just energy interaction. These are just my thoughts: before I came here, I didn’t have this mind or thinking, but maybe this is a million years, but I’ve never felt any emptiness. Probably it’s just my brain that now doesn’t let me remember thousands of years. But it’s just an interaction of energies, and now we’re just alive in this body. And after we pass away, everything continues, only at another energy level. If we’re this specific species, homo sapiens, we have that intellect to care about this environment, tidy it and make it better. If we see how deep the forest has grown and don’t like this environment anymore, we just tidy it up — cut down, plant flowers, work. And it’s the task of human beings — work. Not just analyze or think, but do. Just the same as music — music is enormous power, people don’t even fully realize it, but it is so.

I even think it might be one of the biggest powers.

Definitely, I don’t like calling it art, as well as painting or writing — I don’t like this word at the very core because I associate it with some laziness or inferiority complex. Music is just work, doing, not a hobby but a powerful job. You wake up in the morning, go to work, and do things. And the most important is to like it. If you don’t, then just do and find a job you like. Music is a job, and you can call it whatever you like, but if we take Bach, Mozart, Beethoven as an example — those aren’t the most simple people. They’ve gone through a lot, but they were doing things and left us a very powerful approach of that time, feelings, emotions in a musical form. And this is no art at all — just a tremendous job done. People who just did it to make a living. This is how I see things — I wouldn’t like to call anything art. Art is also to take an engine, disassemble it, repair and assemble once again — who can do it quicker, who’s slower. Words «producer» or «artist» have always seemed shallow to me. And music means the interaction of vibrations, harmonies, and melodies — so many layers at the same time, created by a composer or musician. And these layers affect human beings a lot, especially if you attend a live concert.

Live music resonates in us on a physical level, as well.

Of course. Physically each of our molecules, each of our atoms, are a part of a soul apparatus. And everything just resonates, so it works not only on a physical — on a mental level as well. You might feel lost at that moment, you’re not in this reality anymore, you’re taken by music altogether, and it goes through you. Music inspires.

What has inspired you to invite so many different people to create this album together? Why did it appear to be so colorful?

First of all, the album is green. I’m still green, raw in this field, I don’t have anything to hide. I just put all of my energy and time into it, it’s the path I choose to follow, and I just realized it a couple of years ago that I want to compose my music as well. Most people know me as a jazz session drummer — and I like it as well. My favorite bands play in different styles that have created me as a drummer. And considering this life experience — why could I tell that my album «Green» is jazz only? It just doesn’t match all together. I don’t see popular music without some jazz harmony at all. It’s shallowness, monotone ostinato, pure mantra. I understand that people want some calmness, people need two, three chords, two is the best if you can create a melody with some ostinato within two chords and they just repeat all the time — that’s some mantra. It becomes an earworm, they find some soothing in this melody and keep listening to it. But it doesn’t happen like that in nature — nothing keeps repeating, everything mutates and goes forward. And I feel just the same — I don’t want to repeat. In the seventies, musicians were experimenting, it didn’t matter how educated they were — they were searching for sounds. And this album is a huge experiment as well. And I also listen to the criticism, to what people think about it.

Do they criticize a lot?

Yes, some people comment on it. Why so colorful, why these compositions are there, it’s out of context. When I was putting them all together, I had some ten extra compositions I took out. I wanted it to be colorful, maybe someone would think it’s too much, too heavy, and you couldn’t listen to it, maybe there were some people who listened to it on repeat, and the more they listened, the more interesting it seemed. I experimented, and this is the result of this experiment. It isn’t anything ready yet — it’s green, in the process, and I follow that road, read, learn to make sounds, and want to buy some extra equipment. I believe that in the future, I will get the sound I want to, and now it’s just an experiment. Colorful album with a weird sound — I’m happy I’ve done it, but this is just the beginning, and now I go on.

And where does this road lead you?

I have some new ideas, I have new compositions, I’m working on the next album already — I think it won’t be released this soon, but I’m working on it. Right now, I have a project with Aija Vītoliņa and the big band, thanks to the State Culture Capital foundation — this is a huge experience, I have to compose for seventeen horns there. It’s a fantastic adventure and experience — I haven’t ever done it, and I feel great that I can do something like it at all. I think of how the big band could sound, compose melodies, take lyrics of Latvian poets, and it will be some serious music — lots of jazz, lots of groove, some folk elements. I have no idea if I could ever come to a point where I can say, «this is my style». Colors, surprises — maybe this is my style, after all.

Do you have any color, any composition that you fancy the most out of this album?

Most probably, «Green» itself. This is an improvisation, fusion if we speak about the style — my free vision, flight. Green. I like it.