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Hot and cold, instead of lukewarm music

Aleksandra Line

Beāte Zviedre and Jānis Rubiks — chaotically on life and soulfully on music

Una Stade

At the end of 2021, the singer Beāte Zviedre and double bassist and composer Jānis Rubiks, who regularly participate in musical projects together for many years, digitally released the new album «Kad es nomizojos» (When I Peel Off) with lyrics by Latvian poets and music by Jānis Rubiks. Unfortunately, working on the album took longer than planned — from the initial thought about the recording until the presentation at the VEF Culture Palace took two and a half years. Still, emotionally felt-through work was at last presented to the audience. The musicians themselves say that this album unites original music that cannot be described as one genre, works of many Latvian poets, and thoughts of the authors themselves on love, humanity, and being.

We met a couple of days before Christmas; we discussed the album and lessons this creative process has brought, inspiration, criticism, stage, and life. «You will write that we’re the most boring people, aren’t you?» says Beāte and laughs, and then writes the same back to me afterward. I think some JAZZin.lv readers won’t agree.

What was the best thing that has happened to you this week?

Jānis: Concerts are happening. Then they get canceled, then they happen again. For example, in December, I was preparing for concerts a lot, which would take place in a couple of days — the ones with the Latvian National Symphony orchestra.

Beāte: There’s some real rush, but everything’s alright. I had five concerts in one week, each with a different program. And meanwhile, we had lessons here in the pop-rock school; we were preparing for a little Christmas concert. So active time would be the right description. I think my cat hates me now.

Do your families support this December rush?

Jānis: What’s going on with the Latvian Symphony is excellent, and that’s something huge — of course, they do. Everyone speaks positively about the album and supports our work.

In any case, one of the aspects of public life is the comments and the criticism, often from random people. So if you happen to hear something less pleasant — can you react lightly?

Jānis: I have nothing against criticism if it’s well-explained and on point — then I read and listen to it and accept it with pleasure. It’s just another point of view that can make you better in the end.

Beāte: I agree on criticism being constructive because sometimes there are people whose point of view will always be the right one, and you know it, so you can trust it and consider it. I think if I know what I’m doing, anyone can tell me anything, and I still know I could do better and wanted to do something different. However, if I did everything I could and I personally thought everything was okay, then I like listening to the criticism the most. Often I don’t think it was good, and the others tell me it was, then I don’t trust them that much. Although that’s pretty subjective, my personal feelings often don’t match how I looked from the outside. For example, I’m often scared to watch concert videos, but there were so many videos during the pandemic that I got accustomed to them, too.

Jānis: I think every professional musician already has his inner critic inside his head, which intuitively, right after the performance, decides what was done well and what wasn’t. And if another professional shares his thoughts with you, he often puts what you already know into the spotlight.

Beāte: But there seldom are surprises, right? Almost never.

Do you have anyone you admire in life and music of people you know or don’t — the ones whose opinion you listen to?

Beāte: I’m lucky to have my closest ones near — they will tell me the truth as is. Sometimes that’s annoying when you think: «You’re the closest person, so you just had to tell me». But they cannot hide anything — you know the person just too well, so you can see it in his face if it was or wasn’t good. That’s honest until the end. It was like that with me since my childhood — sometimes there were only 9 and 10 out of 10 on my school year certificates, and my family asked, «Why is there an 8 in it?»

Jānis: My wife Elīza is that person for me. When there’s a concert, or when I’m composing, even for this album, she’s the first listener, and right after the performance, I feel if she liked it. She knows it better than anyone, and I can’t hide anything. All of us have experienced that a mess happens on stage, and we professionally hide it and play around, but you can never hide it from your other half. So everything’s in the spotlight, even if the others can’t see it.

Yes, at your album presentation at VEF Culture House, I was sitting near Jānis Liepiņš (Beāte’s husband) and Jānis Ķirsis (colleague and friend), and it seemed they noticed everything and commented on every detail.

Beāte: Especially when they’re together. [laughs]

Jānis: Did they grade it in the end?

Beāte: I think we’re trying to be honest with our closest ones. You know someone else won’t say it. I only always thought you shouldn’t rush and do it right after the show; I’m not the one who will come to a musician and comment right after. I know the feeling when you have to exhale a bit. We have a rule with the vocal band «Framest» I’m a part of — we go off the stage, and whatever happened there, for the first twenty minutes, nobody comments on that. That’s the time when everyone deals with his own emotions. This is a nice rule I advise to stick to — and after a while, or on the next day, when a person has produced his emotions, then talk it through.

Jānis: In my life, I also try to find not only criticism after the show but also the one before. One of my authorities is Krists Auznieks, a composer and a friend. For example, in this project with the symphony orchestra, I approached him and asked him to criticize me. I sent him my note sheets so that someone more experienced would look them through and offer his point of view. I like it when before you reach a finish line, you can harden and get different opinions. And when you reach the presentation day, you already have enough experience, and you know how it all works and is ready to live.

Beāte: It’s something similar to me when I have to sing in a foreign language — I find a person who knows the language well. We all know those «libu dibu douchoo» cases way too well. I had something similar with French — I could read it approximately close to the meaning, but before I had to sing in French, I met a French singer who was visiting Latvia at that time, and she trained me so well! She explained it all so perfectly, and we just couldn’t do anything like it through the internet or type into «Google Translate».

A great rule and observations! Which is the most interesting language you had to sing in?

Beāte: Chinese, I guess. French, German, and English are the ones I’m already accustomed to. But the Chinese understood what I sang — that was great! Very complicated language — you mix one nuance, and that’s it, that’s a different word.

How do you react to some mistakes if they happen on stage?

Beāte: Every year, I think — maybe I shouldn’t sing? Perhaps everyone else sings better than me? You go to a concert or sing together with another artist, and you think — well, no. At the beginning of 2021, we had an anniversary concert of Raimonds Pauls, maybe even the first one with himself playing, and there were Busulis and Antoņenko singing, and I thought — well, that’s genius. I remember how we were sitting together with my Jānis [Liepiņš, Beāte’s husband] after one festival, and I told him: «Hey, I can’t do it. But I can’t do anything else; I’ve invested unbelievably much time and energy in singing». That’s a usual moment of criticism.

Jānis: What I’ve learned is not to compare myself to others because it can lead to what Beāte says. [both of them laugh] This isn’t productive; this doesn’t lead anywhere. And another thing that helps and makes you stronger is — that if you take a look at your last ten years of professional growth, you can see that from time to time, you reach Everest. Growth seems spectacular if you look at yourself a couple of years ago. And if you look at yourself now and compare yourself to someone better, then you can dive into depression.

Beāte: You often cannot appreciate what you have now if you concentrate on what you haven’t. This is just the same with girls — if you have curly hair, you want a straight one and vice versa. I noticed it in my pedagogical work — you want to sing the way someone else does. But you have another voice, another timbre, other strong sides. For example, when I was studying at the Academy of Music with Evilena Protektore — we were completely different. But I always thought this is so amazing, Evilena has such a jazzy voice, and I’m just struggling, and poor Inga Bērziņa tries to understand how to make it work and make me sound lower. And Evilena just opens her mouth, and there comes the power. And now, teaching has developed me even more — I also see how every girl comes with her own world, and I simply cannot compare them all.

Una Stade

Jānis: I’m also trying to become better every time and jump out of my comfort zone. For example, this year, I took many months of private lessons with Oskars Bokanovs, concertmaster of the double bass group of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra. And he’s a fantastic classical double bassist; definitely someone I admire, too. And I’m an educated jazz bassist, so I do some things completely different from him, although we’re playing the same instrument. So I came to him to learn to play the instrument with the bow, and it seemed like stepping into a beginner’s shoes and starting anew. This is, I think, valuable at any moment of life — beginning something anew. And when you do, you get your fight mood back — you have to hold on, and you have much ahead of you. So when you put yourself in such a situation and begin doing something, the hotness of the process really inspires.

And how does it feel to create music together with your musical friends?

Beāte: I think that’s really easy. To me, in any band or line-up, human relations are really important. It’s important to me when your energies match. Most probably, I won’t address the musicians who are genius in their professionalism but whom I don’t click with personally. But we as jazz musicians have quite a big privilege, and I appreciate it a lot lately. After our collaboration during my master’s concert exam, I realized that Jānis composes how I think the music should be composed. The Rūjiena’s roots are sticking out.

Jānis: I agree entirely. This is an amazing privilege, an ideal format that I’ve discovered for myself, too — making music with people whose energies and thoughts match even before your notes do before you have the musical content. If they are simply good musicians, but you don’t match, I think nothing valuable can come out. And Beāte performs just the way I think.

I remember catching you right after the album presentation — you told me that by the moment of releasing the album, you were already tired of the music that played there. Would you change anything in the process?

Beāte: This is just the same story — would you like to be 20 again? Of course, you would, but you wouldn’t learn things like this if you didn’t go through this whole process. This is an experience, you can go on learning, attend academies, but you should really once make it from A to Z. We were studying all of it and seemingly understood how it works, but at that moment — what we should have done with the knowledge we don’t use every day… In any case, in any process, one thing is the theory, and another one is practice, and you can never substitute practice with anything else in your life.

Jānis: I think I had that tiredness from the pandemic mostly — of course, I wasn’t tired of music or creative work. But that was a classical story — the pandemic began when we were planning to record this album in March of 2020; we had everything planned out and had to cancel everything. And all of it stretched out for two and a half years, from the recording up to the presentation concert in Riga.

Beāte: By the way, my completely new experience is like this — you record something, and this seems great, this is something to stay. But we recorded it at the end of August 2020, and it only saw the light in the middle of September 2021, and I thought this was a completely different period, with different emotions. This was current at that time, a long-awaited fixed moment. Most probably, I had to release an album every year, just as a photo album. In any case, I advise every musician to experience these feelings.

You’ve applied to the Latvian annual music award «Zelta Mikrofons» with his fixed moment, but it was positioned in the cross-genre music category instead of jazz. Do you agree with this categorization?

Beāte: Both of us are known as jazz musicians. But I recently listened to the Latvian Radio 3 «Klasika» podcast «Mūziķis pie mikrofona» with Krists Saržants, who said: «I’m fed up with people calling me a jazz musician — I’m doing so many things, so saying all of it is jazz is wrong». And I liked it. The harpist Ieva Šablovska called me a musical chameleon, and I feel a little bit like it, and this album isn’t pure jazz, too. This is a musical salad.

Jānis: I think there aren’t two similar genres in this album at all. Maybe jazz is present as a way of thinking and concept because we improvise and sometimes use the forms that are characteristic of jazz. To me, when looking back at this whole process, it seems like giving in to searching and experimenting because when Beāte gave the poetry books to me, which she wanted me to pick the texts from, at that moment, it wasn’t clear to me what I wanted to compose. We only wanted an album that isn’t jazz.

Beāte: I had a feeling that I wanted an album that you could turn on in your car and listen to. The one I’d like to listen to in my car, myself. But I think there’s something uniting it all, and it isn’t music — it is the lyrics of Latvian authors. Jānis went on with the words, the word was first, and where the word led him, there the music led us too — that is the core.

Was there any main motif for picking up the lyrics?

Jānis: Yes. The thought I ended up with, evaluating it all afterward — these are the texts with a powerful emotional drive — either positive or negative. This is in a way also shown by the two last compositions from the album — «Mans miers ir beigts» (My peace is gone) and «Mana mīlestība ir koks» (My love is a tree). Very powerful texts, but each has a really different feeling. Personally, when composing music for Beāte, her voice and personality are associated with an expression that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot, sometimes it’s really tender and soft. And I realized I like composing like that — I like music that’s hot and cold; I couldn’t compose a lukewarm album.

Beāte: Elevator music or something. I like listening to it, but I couldn’t sing it. I like when there’s the meaning in it, that there’s a meaning in the music through the lyrics, and you bring it out. I know many professional musicians don’t like them, but I really like singing actors. Maybe they don’t always do it perfectly technical or intonation-wise, but they always perfectly show the content. For example, there’s Andris Bērziņš — have you listened to his newest CD? He only speaks throughout the whole song, but he does it in such an interesting manner, I like this way of doing music.

Jānis: So when I stumbled upon a poem that I liked, I talked it through, read it out loud, breathed it, sang it myself. The word has to breathe, not the other way around.

Beāte: Yes, I really don’t like it when you see that a piece was written as an instrumental one and the lyrics have been glued on top of it. Then the lyrics don’t go together with the music, have been put on top of it all, and it makes me mad.

How did the poets react to this collaboration — those who are alive now?

Beāte: All of them were asked for permission to use their poetry, and they were pleased with it. By the way, thanks to Iveta Šimkus, Madara Gruntmane, and Ilmārs Šlāpins, because all of them were very responsive, listened to everything, we were sending them the first drafts. These poets, by the way, deal with the music closer than the others. I think Aspazija would be happy, too.

Jānis: Thanks to the poets who aren’t alive anymore, too, for the heritage they left us. I hope we properly honored what they left.

Speaking about the interaction among different art forms — yesterday I had a long talk with one historian about inspiration, where it comes from, and whether we can anyhow measure it. What does inspiration mean for you?

Jānis: The word «process» is in my head. Inspiration is stimulated by the process — if you’re home alone and sit by the table and think what you can do now, it’s difficult, but if you have another partner who sends the lyrics to you and you meet and discuss things through, that’s a process. And the more you trust the process, the more chances and inspiration you get.

Beāte: I believe in inspiration. I also believe in hard work, and I think you have to wake up the inspiration, you have to sit at the instrument and begin singing to try to find something — of course, if you sit on the sofa and watch soap operas, the inspiration won’t wake up. By the way, I have many thoughts when I’m at other people’s concerts, especially instrumental ones. Probably that’s because you’re focused on that music at that moment — you’re listening, but at the same time, a channel opens up in your brain, and thoughts evolve there. And of course, you have to walk — if you think nothing new is born, just go out and walk. Move.

Jānis: Walks helped me a lot, too — when you compose for quite some time and a moment comes when you don’t understand anything again, go walking. Meditation helps, too, to clear your mind a little bit before the process. It’s difficult to push creative work — that’s a step towards failure. You have to calm down, listen in and dive into, and accept that probably today, you are open to your inspiration for two hours, and for an hour and a half, nothing comes into your head. If nothing happens, that’s better than trying too hard and pushing something and ending up with something that’s not authentic and doesn’t come from your heart. Then it won’t be as precious. And inspiration sometimes is just a moment, indeed.

A moment you can measure?

Beāte: Well, if it comes, you are really aware it’s here.

Jānis: I think that’s a moment you could record. But it can’t come if you don’t proceed with searching in the directions you need when you sit down to think about it. I guess everyone who has ever tried to begin any large volume of creative work, in the beginning, doubted how to be on time with it and how to nail the deadlines or frames, combining it with your wish to be creative and artistically true to yourself. Both factors are out of your control.

Beāte: This time, I didn’t have any set deadlines. In the beginning, I just wanted to do it for myself — I didn’t think of anything else. The result was for me, and I thought — well, if I like it, probably someone else likes it too. And I didn’t specifically want that abnormal stress — I wanted the chance to fail, try anything we wanted to, and learn on our way. This was my setting; probably that’s why I didn’t stress out.

Will the listeners have a chance to another project that unites you both in the near future?

Beāte: There are no frameworks for a new program now, so it’s difficult to tell. My thoughts and planning stretch for not longer than a month.

Jānis: We live in an unbelievably unpredictable time — that’s one thing. And another — our paths will cross in many different things, that’s clear. Who knows — maybe another of our talented composer friends will write something and ask us to join; this is something that has happened numerous times and will happen again. And we will definitely meet again not as composers, but as performers, too.

Speaking about unpredictable times, do you have any advice to creative people on not getting too sad but standing up and reaching your goals instead?

Jānis: Personal routine helps in my case. When you have things you do in your daily life, the ones that structure your day, my personal ritual also is not consuming any news sources and means of communication during the first part of the day. Because when you open social media and see — new restrictions, this and that, something else is canceled or postponed, and psychologically you can reach the abyss by nine in the morning. And if you want to compose something on that day, this won’t work. So routine helps, and using social media with negative content as little as I can.

Beāte: I don’t know what to advise. Thinking of what can be done, no matter anything. And if you know what you want to reach, what is the destination that attracts you, the ways will be there. This is something like inspiration — you focus, know the thought you want to reach, and it slowly comes. When we’re speaking of music, you can’t simply sit and wait for someone to invite you somewhere — it doesn’t happen like this. You have to do your own thing; you have to try to show who you are, if you do all you really want to do and do everything so that you get noticed, there is always someone who notices it. And I think both me and Jānis are noticed from the most authentic point we wanted to do — so this is what we are like.

Jānis: This time is really unpredictable to musicians, so from the very beginning, I was seeing it as a time I could invest and use to learn. For the last half a year, I was learning to compose for a symphony orchestra every single day, I attended private lessons at Oskars, and I find it amazing because all the years before this it was an abnormal run for me and the others if we compare it to this pandemic time — no one could spend many months on studying something. So we have to seek the opportunities in every trouble that life brings us.

Beāte: And skip complaining! This is what I always tell myself — don’t complain. And sometimes I really want to complain. And if you really can’t hold it in, say your three sentences to someone out loud, and when you hear them, it instantly seems — what are you complaining about. But, of course, both us and many people around us are in quite a lucky situation, and many people suffer, but even the ones who suffer don’t quit; they try to think about how to survive and come up with ideas. So creativity is our trump — we will always come up with an idea on how to get out of the situation.

What would both of you wish for yourself for 2022?

Jānis: To keep on. All the forecasts say that this year will most probably be quite similar to the previous one and the one before, so I think we have to keep on going with the same enthusiasm, fight, not give up, strive for improving ourselves, use time wisely, and, just as Beāte said, not complain because it doesn’t lead anywhere. So this is what I wish for myself — keep on and always keep dreaming — think of some goals to reach because the universe will hear you out.

Beāte: So, I want to say something normal. I wish to achieve some little goals I’ve determined this year already. That is connected to learning — that’s what I want the most.

So I wish for all of your dreams to come true, and I wish the same to everyone who reads this! Is there anything else important I haven’t asked about?

Beāte: That’s great that it’s a musical magazine for which we are talking. Because I think both of us are pretty uninteresting people. [both laugh] We have been together with our partners for years, we’re only interested in music, we have cats which are also not too interesting because they don’t do anything special. So we’re rather boring people, I think. So this is another thing I can wish for myself — becoming a more interesting person in 2022 and not being into music so much.

Is it even possible, and is it that necessary?

Beāte: But if you meet your family, all you can tell them is just about the concert you’ve had. We don’t even cook! I think about hobbies all the time — other people knit something…

Jānis: But there also are other people who live in entirely different stratospheres and don’t live the life you do — this is interesting to them. I recently got acquainted with an airplane captain. It was interesting to talk to him — he’s interested in music as a hobby, and I think aviation is abnormally interesting. We asked each other quite simple questions that first-graders could ask, and we could talk for hours. I like music a lot, and I can spend one day learning about composition, another day about an instrument…

Beāte: And then you think — it’s unbelievably different just to learn to play double bass with a bow! Oh my god, this is an entirely new world. [laughs] Actually, you can write that down about boring people. Because I’ve always thought so, just think of it, Indriķis Veitners has such catches when fishing! Someone grows something in his garden. We also have to begin doing something interesting.

Jānis: Next year we have to found a company. Or a hobby party of sorts, a knitting group.

Beāte: We could begin growing chicken. [laughs]

Jānis: Chicken-growing party!