Pievieno pasākumu

Ievadi savu e-pastu, lai reizi nedēļā saņemtu Latvijas džeza notikumu elektronisko afišu, kā arī vairākas reizes gadā lasītu džeza žurnālu.

Lasīt žurnālu

Apvienība Wise Music Society sāk veidot elektronisko žurnālu par Latvijas (un ne tikai) džeza dzīvi.
Lasi jauno numuru!

Full-time music lover

Aleksandra Line

A talk to Kaspars Zavileiskis on provocations in art and passions in music

Evilena Protektore

His personal «Facebook» profile says «incurable music lover and mass media professional plus a quite eclectic DJ». A wide circle of his interests contains many things, including chess but mostly music. I have known Kaspars Zavileiskis for many years: as a journalist, music reviewer and critic, public relations specialist in music, a bit of a manager, DJ Šahs (Latvian language peculiarities: translated as «Chess»), an author of two freshly released books, radio host and probably I’m missing something else to mention. Those who stand behind mass media articles and musician careers more often are not less interesting than the stars on the stage. Anyhow, it’s a great pleasure to talk with them.

Who are you, Kaspars? A music reviewer, DJ, journalist, radio host?

And a PR specialist, editor, producer, sound designer, content producer for a TV show. Everything that’s about and around loving music, so I love to define myself first of all as a music lover. I’ve worked in many places and my CV is quite long — I was an editor, switched my job, wanted independence and exciting life. I respect people who can work for twenty years in the same place — it’s probably cool but not meant for me. So then I quit — it wasn’t interesting, the routine began. And if you work in the same place you have a stamp on your forehead — then that’s it, you can’t do anything else. So I’m on my own, and this privilege has been earned and fought for during all these years. And I love different kinds of music.

Many have asked me what it’s like being a freelancer, and I’ve answered I’m a pretty lousy freelancer to ask this question — I’ve worked in many media as an employee, editor, I know many people like my colleagues. And then you’re a freelancer who knows everyone, who keeps friendly connections to everybody, and so you’re perceived differently. If you’re just a freelancer from scratch, you’re most probably not perceived seriously. I like projects such as «Kultūrdeva» — the most significant Latvian Television culture program, and you could even tell it’s the only real culture show on TV nowadays if we don’t mention Culture News, and it keeps me interested. I haven’t volunteered to be anywhere myself for quite some time, I’ve been invited everywhere, so I guess I’ve left some excellent impressions around. And if I’m interested, I go at full speed. The status of a freelancer lets me do exactly what I like, and then I’m doing it with total energy. Nobody has demanded that I do what I dislike for some six years now.

The only thing is that it might be hard to put all the information about yourself onto a visit card.

I don’t have one either. When you’ve been working in the same industry in our small Latvia, you more or less know everyone, and every question can be solved within one or two phone calls. So everyone kind of knows who I am, and there’s no need to clarify this. But, of course, people like classifying everything around, so some think I work on the Latvian television, the others think I work in the «9Vīri» magazine, some know I’m a PR guy because I send out releases all the time. So when I get asked what I exactly do, I better say I’m a music lover because when I start stating everything, people get bored. And there’s a question how do I manage everything — but I actually have quite a lot of spare time because I honestly do things I consider interesting and I respect my spare time when I can read, listen to music, work in my garden in summers. So I consider all of it equally important; I’m not a workaholic.

I’ve both of your books on my shelf at home. The first one says much about yourself, and you write about being naive on the cover. Are you still?

Well, no. that first job I had — I wanted to tell a story about Sigulda radio times. As often as I began saying something to people, everybody said — it’s fascinating, you should write about it. It was a charm to grow up in Sigulda until the age of 18, my youth in the 1990ies was a terrible and scary time for many, but I was pretty optimistic and naive — I had no problems and my freedom that many youngsters nowadays can’t imagine. What they consider freedom in terms of the European Union and democracy actually isn’t freedom at all — all of them are put in such boxes, they just don’t see it. And they have accepted it themselves, it’s OK for them. But imagine a 16-year-old guy playing discos at a nightclub or making his own radio shows, completely producing it all, on an actual radio that’s heard by thousands of people in the whole Riga district — it’s unbelievable nowadays. It was freedom and a possibility to express yourself, and I wanted to tell it as a dedication to my city. And it was supported by Sigulda municipality as a contribution to the cultural history recognition of the town.

The other book of yours, in turn, is way more provoking. How much of it is about yourself?

The second book is more of fiction. I just really wanted to write something more literary, and thanks to freelance, I had time. It’s not an autobiographical book — more like reflecting on an era in Riga when I began my studies. It was completely another time but a more understandable one — almost a European Union, party around the millennium, a dedication to that generation. There’s something in it about life, of course, something about the life of the people around you — but more about the stamp of the generation.

I know you can say no to some offers if you personally don’t like them.

I think I deserve this opportunity to do what I’m interested in. You eventually learn to say «no». In the beginning, you want to be that nice guy and skip saying «no», and then you just realize it’s cooler to dedicate yourself to things you see as interesting. And when you speak about criticism — yes, maybe someone doesn’t understand why I say some nice words about someone in my reviews all the time, but I’m writing about the ones that seem interesting to me. The time I liked playing a critic and artistically putting someone down has passed — every music has its audience, and it’s cool when people do something creative. So, especially within such a small market as Latvia, running ahead to destroy someone as a critic… If I like something, I enjoy offering context, emphasizing good things. It’s not because I’m afraid of how they’ll perceive me — it’s not interesting to put someone down; it’s way more interesting to emphasize the quality.

Do you often meet criticism for what you do?

Of course. These two books of mine showed me what it looks like on the other side. Especially the second book that had more courage. Of course, I’ve read reviews beginning with those stating it’s a complete nightmare up to «absolutely amazing». So you realize people are different, and every work of art has its own audience. At the moment, our audience has such a weird mood that the wish to put something down is so vivid it even began making me feel scared a bit. The perception that everyone has to look the same and all the different guys don’t have a right to exist, and you have to ask for people’s opinions to ban something. And I think — where are we going with this, do we really like to censor everything now, including art? Do we need to collect signatures to prove some art should cease to exist? Then we’re going in the North Korea direction, and quickly.

Now when I’m working with the radio news, I think it’s an era of sorts — every single day, someone’s collecting signatures about something.

Well, yes, but what’s the message? Then our democracy and freedom have become self-limited absurd, we have to ban avant-garde music and accept some strict regulations — what is family, what is art, for how long you are allowed to eat. Then we have to go up till the end. [laughs] I think democracy is a great political regime, but it only works when the people involved are at least somehow adequate.

Getting back to the music — what have been the most interesting people you got to interview lately?

It was exciting to talk to Girts Ozolins from «EricaSynths» — a great story, a person has been a physics teacher, sold microchips at home, and look where he got now — that’s a real international business, and he does what he loves — amazing. It’s always interesting to talk to people like this. Now I’ve helped a «Var! — Būt!» festival that invited «The Tiger Lillies», and I interviewed Martin Jacques. That was a great talk to an absolutely extravagant artist who is accustomed to delivering 200 concerts per year, and now I was interviewing him after a year and a half of not gigging. It was a great interview — I like «The Tiger Lillies» and the art they do. I really love provocative art, I think this is why the book you’ve mentioned is provocative. I think art itself has to provoke — of course, within reason, but art doesn’t have to become an easily consumed product that you just consume while doing other things to feel mentally aroused. I think it’s great when art from time to time hits you to make you think deeper.

But does there have to be provoking for the sake of provoking? Unfortunately, this also is a direction that many choose.

No, of course, only when you say something with it. «The Tiger Lillies» is also a great example — they tell way more through their provocation than someone who just directly shouts about his pain. If you grab a person with your artistry and entangle him into your provocation and suddenly make him think what else could that possibly mean, then it’s a creative process that shapes a person’s emotions. That same Martin Jacques told me how he enjoys toying around with people’s emotions — first, at the concert, they sing a funny song about, pardon me, fucking dogs, and then they sing a ballad about dead from drug overuse, and there’s a bunch of people who continue laughing. And another part looks at them and thinks: «Are you stupid or what?» It creates an amplitude, provokes, and makes people entangle themselves, and it, in my opinion, is one of the art processes that really work — both for your mind and your emotions. I think that’s a postulate that helps the art stay alive — it doesn’t have to be easy and understandable for everybody, it can create versatile emotions. Of course, the art for the masses is fine as well — with its beautiful pictures, beautiful music.

And many have martyred it as well — not everyone is able to provoke.

Well, yes, and it’s great when people do something creative at all. There are different forms of art. I think that the art and the music that makes you think and evokes emotions is of a higher quality. One artist that’s really close to me, for example, is Tom Waits, but there’s some other art consumer who wants just some beautiful music and who thinks that Waits spoils everything, why can’t he just beautifully sing. But Tom meanwhile creates his own genre and aura, new directions, fresh ideas. Such artists go against the flow, but if you do it from your heart, you’ll find your listeners and people who your art will trigger. Someone might be triggered in the other direction, but it’s also excellent. Who said everybody has to react in the same way? There’s a lot of music that’s, in my opinion, not of high quality in an artistic sense, but is it bad because of it, and do we have to shout about it? Time goes by, and you understand that it’s not interesting — at least, it isn’t to me. Back then, I was offered some good money for editing the gossip press, but I’ve rejected doing it every time. Although everyone has his own principles — obviously, people read gossip news as well because look how many people buy it.

During our conversation, you’ve spoken a couple of times about what I’ve heard from Viktors Runtulis and applied as my life principle — «why are you doing what you don’t like — go ahead and do what you like».

Yes. I highly recommend it to everyone. Of course, nowadays it’s not that easy to raise children with this message, but what I’m trying to tell is — try to do what you like, because if you do what you like, most probably you’ll succeed at it at some point. And if you do, you’ll get offered a job. And because you’ll like it and you’ll succeed at it, you’ll be pretty good at that job, and in the end, you’ll be happy doing it — that’ll become a lifestyle. Your job is an enormous part of your life — people who do a job just for the sake of earning money don’t like a significant portion of their life, it sounds crazy. I guess we need many different professions, everybody has his own way of living, and I really try hard to stick to my way of doing what I like. This way, I succeed, and I get offered to do different things all the time, and then I live my life quite content with it. Life is way too short to do what you don’t like during half of it.

I completely agree.

Of course, it sounds too brave and straightforward, but well, I didn’t get anything out of thin air as well — I’ve been doing many things, a lot invested my work in this ability to do something my way nowadays. This advice might sound too pretentious for the youngsters — in their point of view, it might end up with them just doing nothing. When we’re speaking of the young people perception — when you’re young you have to do everything you’re given, you have to prove you’re worth it, do many things, you have lots of energy, you can’t think of how much you get paid for it — in the beginning go and prove you can do something, and then you’ll get offered jobs, and then you can begin selecting what you like more. So it’s even dangerous to tell «do what you like» to the youngsters, such mottos «be yourself» can end up with asking your parents to buy you an iPhone and giving you some money if it goes wrong, and they just don’t go working at a cafe where they don’t get paid well enough and have to work too much.

It all can end up with an influencers culture where they can «be themselves»

Yes, it’s another topic, all this influencer culture. That mass communication is scary sometimes, especially within a younger audience. Sometimes they, I think, are so spoiled with their influence. When you asked kids who they wanted to be when they grew up — before this all internet madness — they told you they wanted to grow up to be a policeman, driver, seller, fireman, writer, musician. And now the major part says they want to become YouTubers. You ask what a profession that is, and they reply they just wish to beautifully braid their hair and be famous. And then there’s a question — what’s next, what’s your dream profession like?

Some time ago, Andy Warhol was already forecasting 15 minutes of fame to everyone that has been reduced to 15 seconds of a vertical video for some time.

I wouldn’t like to sound all old and rusty. Still, as a mass communication specialist, I see a danger in it all — the social media environment is really misunderstood among children and youngsters. So many of them think that the main thing is to become popular, then everything will be alright in life. And speaking of grown-ups returning to democracy, it’s a danger to people — now everybody has a public opinion. And probably sometimes it’s better to keep silent.

If we return to speaking — what have been the most unexpected stories you had to deal with?

There happen to be such music interviews where I feel like a fish in the water. I’ve interviewed Anton Corbijn and talked to him for two hours more than planned because it was interesting to talk, and it seemed so heartwarming. You understand that famous people are often very simple, very interesting people, and it’s nice to talk to them besides interviewing. I’m also writing for the men’s magazine that sometimes gets me out of my comfort zone when I have to, for example, interviews an ax maker from the Nimanis dynasty. So you go to these blacksmiths, and they’re telling you about their axes, and you realize they’re doing it with such a soul and heart, and these axes are obviously really good because they get ordered by the whole world, and they cost a fortune. You look at a completely different way of living and thinking. That’s cool.

What inspires you the most?

New music. It’d be tough for me if anyone took away the ability to listen to new music every time. I’m one of the music lovers who needs something new every time. The world is full of good music. I have a Spotify playlist where I add my albums of the year — I think there are some four nonstop days of music by now. Now I’m reading a new Oxford edition of the jazz history book, and I haven’t heard, for example, an Albert Ayler version of «Summertime» before. And that’s the most stylish «Summertime» version I’ve ever heard. Free jazz also doesn’t mean only playing fast and incomprehensible for most people — free jazz also means playing «Summertime», but differently. So one is a melomaniac — I’m listening to music, subscribing to foreign magazines, listening to the new releases, I like this digital era as well — I don’t see anything bad in skipping as well. But if I like something, I really listen to it. I like the album format as a form of art because hits and singles are a completely different story. And even though there hasn’t been too much active deejaying during the pandemic, Enormous folders in completely different genres of music where I put many songs — maybe they’re of use again sometime.

So you’re an archivist, collector?

I am one. In order to understand deejaying and the joy of a collector, there’s a nice example — some time ago there was a world music pub «Bubamara» where I as a DJ, selected such music from thousands of compositions to create a party feeling with music that cannot be heard on the radio. That was a challenge. And then, for example, a Spanish tourist crowd enters, and you put on some Spanish music you think is cool, and they come and ask what’s this. And then you tell a Spanish guy about a band from Barcelona that they write down and are amazed by. And you’re really satisfied with it. Most people consider music as a background product they consume, but I come of the nineties when we didn’t have such opportunities as we do today. Nowadays you can find out about new music in so many different ways, about any music. If only I had such ways to consume music in the nineties… I was taking a train from Sigulda to Riga to buy pirate copies of CDs at the «Latgalīte” market and spend my last lats on them because it was not enough money for the originals — and I needed the new music to play on my radio show back then. And now, with all the Spotify and all the rest, when everything is available, maybe there’s no such charm anymore, but I think the more available, the better. What’s wrong with a huge music database available within a couple of clicks, in any case.

Do you think Latvian jazz scene lacks something, and what makes it strong?

I like what’s happening in the Latvian jazz scene. Two generations have obviously grown up here, and Latvian jazz of this century exists now — previously it was a massive hole in everything. Now I’m happy to observe jazz musicians who release their albums and keep going on. Whether it always is unbelievably unique and surprising is another question. What I’ve already told Mareks Ameriks is I hope he realises he’s already in the history books with what he does with his «Jersika Records». What else can I add — he has to have a medal granted at some point. And all such initiatives create the feeling that it’s cool, necessary, and interesting. Everything is alright with this Latvian jazz. I don’t like when someone says in the context of some foreign conferences — «we have to get out of here» — we’re not in any jail, we don’t have to get out. You can create what you want to; there’s enough audience here for everything — pop music, jazz, classical. Of course, it’s great if you get noticed outside Latvia as well, which might also mean more opportunities to earn something, but I get irritated by this trying to «get out of Latvia». I think we live in a great free country where you can do your thing.

And what, in your opinion, should a musician do to be noticed — by the media, listeners, you?

Of course, I wouldn’t discover anything if a musician just records that song and listens to it in his bedroom. Then there wouldn’t be any way to learn about it. So people have to understand that communication means a lot. I also help young musicians who turn to me for help — they just have to shout out there about themselves a little bit. You don’t necessarily have to become a hysterical influencer, but if you did anything, you have to tell people about it so that the ones who might be interested in it would know. Simple tactics. And there’s a part of people who still have no clue.

Is this a heads-up to the management area?

Musicians often think — well, the stage costs something, sound costs something, there’s light, costumes, and that’s it. Communication — well, we’ll just put it into our «Facebook» profile and everyone will immediately know. I would put communication costs really close to the top of this list — it’s just as important. It really is just like if you order a dress or find some light technicians, you reach professionals who understand communication in the local context. And if you put some news in your profile, your two hundred fans won’t discover anything new — they already are your fans and you have to get those who still aren’t. So my advice is to consider communication as one more important source and expenses graph — it will only do you good.