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You have to experience something to be able to write


Evilena Protektore

A conversation with Lorete Medne on her recent release «10 reizes par viņu», songwriting, inspirations, and plans for the future

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There’s a singer in Latvia that appears on the stage to perform quite rarely, but every time she does, she fascinates the listeners with her memorable songs in Latvian. This singer recently released her debut album, which consists of ten original compositions with Ritvars Garoza on keys, Kristians Priekulis on bass, Artis Orubs on drums, Artūrs Gailis on viola, Jānis Ivuškāns on trumpet, and Artūrs Hrustaļovs on trombone; album’s sound engineer is Gatis Zaķis who also did all the mixing and mastering for the recording. Illustrations for the album were done by artist Renāte Kloviņa and photographer Jānis Brauns. The review of this album is available in this very issue, but if you want to listen to it, it is available on all major streaming platforms and Lorete’s account at Bandcamp.

On the other hand, I decided to invite Lorete for a little conversation about the album, of course, but also about herself as an artist and person, to find out more about how she composes, what inspires her, and what is her musical life about. As usually happens when two singers meet up, they have a lot to talk about! And maybe Lorete isn’t a leading figure in the society pages, but her art is undoubtedly intelligent, fascinating, and beautiful, and the listeners who are already familiar with her music are waiting impatiently for new songs from Lorete. So I hope this interview will help advance her musical career and find a broader audience to sing her songs to. And to the listeners — I hope you will listen to her songs because this music is worth the admiration.

Congratulation on the release of your debut album! As I understood from the press release, it took quite a while to finalize this project — the songs were written in the period starting from 2011, right? It looks like a pretty time-consuming project.

Thank you! In the beginning, I hadn’t planned on recording these tunes — I composed because I wanted to. Maybe that’s why it took me so long. I started writing the songs from this album in 2011 and finished, I believe, in 2016; then, in 2017, we recorded the songs in the studio with other musicians, and I forgot about them for a while. But that also doesn’t mean that I stopped writing. Recently I talked with one musician who told me: «When you release an album un have to release another one right away, you can’t stop!» I disagree with that, no. If there’s a wish to write and if you have something to write about, then yes, sure, but you can’t push it, it just isn’t right…

As to why it took me so long to finish the album — probably because there wasn’t such a goal. I had played these songs somewhere already, people started asking where they could listen to them. Earlier I had uploaded some of my recordings on Soundcloud, but I got a feeling that it was not the right thing to do, so I deleted everything and realized that it was time to finish the album. So, starting from that point, it was in 2017, there were things to experience to be able to close this chapter of my life.

The first thing I noticed while listening to your album is that you have a particular singing style — a laid-back, even held-back manner, a breathy, velvety tone, sometimes, it reminded me of Gretchen Parlato.

No, Gretchen isn’t my inspiration, it’s an entirely unintentional thing. There are other artists that inspire me — today, for instance, I had listened to Becca Stevens, she had recently released an album with «The Secret Trio», she is a singer-songwriter and is among the artists I can listen for two or three months in a row. But if we talk about voices — I tend to listen to singers with big and powerful voices, with a stabile tone, maybe with a tone I would like to master myself, because I haven’t studied such a technique.

Talking about education — you come from the jazz department of Jāzeps Mediņš Riga Music School, right?

Yes, it was the first year the jazz program was available, I had graduated from it, but I didn’t really feel like a jazz singer. I like it, and maybe I even want to sing jazz, but… Somehow something always stops me.

In my mind, you have earned your solid place on the stage as a singer-songwriter with a strong jazz vibe, I can heat it clearly in your music.

Ye, but you know how it is… A singer might have a four-note voice range and play three-chord songs, but when you look at it from a professional point of view, there should be some certain quality to be identified as a singer.

Yes, but that’s a completely different question — what is a professional singer or musician? In my opinion, if you are able to write and sing songs that elicit some response from the listeners, it’s not that important how wide your range is or how many chords your songs have; the whole point of music is to create an emotional bond with the listener.

Yes, Tom Waits is also a singer, right?

Exactly. Can the voice range and the number of chords be a sign of quality?

In my mind, it sometimes is more about some vocal technique or things like that, but that’s also not the whole story.

Ok, let’s get back to your album. You say you are a singer-songwriter, but to me, what I heard in your album is something more complicated than that — you have rich harmonies and such rhythmical variety that I just can’t call it a singer-songwriter repertoire, that one just has to have simpler songs. Maybe that sounds harsh towards singers-songwriters, but I don’t mean it in a bad way. Do you write all the songs yourself?

Yes, I write all the music and the lyrics myself. People had asked me if I tried writing together with Ritvars [Garoza], but for me, it’s impossible. We have tried it a couple of times — Ritvars wrote melodies, and even though they were beautiful, they did nothing for me. I wrote lyrics, and he wrote music to them — again, something didn’t feel right. So I just write my music, and we meet up in rehearsals. This distance is quite distinguishable, and I’m not the one who readily accepts other suggestions and ideas.

So you’re a «boss lady» — you know what you want, and that’s it?

Yes. I think it’s always best just to state how you want things to be because you know what you want the result to be like.

And what about writing lyrics? They just come to you in bursts of inspiration, or do you use some techniques, like a systematic work that has less to do with inspiration and more with persistence?

If we take this album as an example, then I wrote the lyrics together with the music. Maybe I just got lucky. It was like this with the tune «Citā krastā» — I was standing on the shore in Jūrkalne, waiting for the sunset, it was cold, and a melody with some lyrics came to me; I recorded it on my phone, came home and just transcribed what I’ve recorded.

I have almost finished reading one songwriting book about writing lyrics and found out that it’s not for me. There are words that I hear from conversations, epithets, or things that happen, and I catch them and write them down, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll turn into a song. I do quite a lot of writing in my day-to-day life — sometimes in the form of a diary, sometimes on my phone, but it’s not a special process. That’s why my songs are story-like. It reminds me of a WhatsApp message – some I send, others I don’t, and those I don’t may become a song.

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I understand, these methods don’t work for me as well. It could serve as a good trigger to boost the inspirational process, but in the end, if you have nothing to write about — you have nothing to write about.

Yes, it’s similar to what I’ve been told about releasing an album — that if you release an album, you must do a follow-up immediately. I don’t believe that on the contrary — you have to experience something, collect your experiences. If that sponge is all squeezed out, you have to give it some juice so that you can squeeze it again.

So you believe in the idea that an artist can’t write when in peace?

People say an artist has to suffer to create art, but music and songs can be created in peace. The only thing is that this state of peace is the next step after experiencing something. Maybe it also depends on the music, or perhaps a person is so emotional that music is the only way how to unload all the emotions. To each their own.

I also notice that there are multiple backvocals and vocal harmonies in your album. Did you sing it all yourself?

Yes, it happened naturally — I recorded my main parts, listened to what I recorded, and then literally heard those voices in my head. Maybe it sounds primitive, but it was like that. The same story was with all other sounds and noises — es just hear them, I hear their absence. There was an episode where we poured buckwheat on the aluminum foil to get the exact sound I had pictured in my mind.

I haven’t seen you in a concert setting a lot, but if I remember correctly, you have never used back vocals before. Don’t you want to recreate these vocal harmonies from your album, but this time at a live concert?

You know, these songs were played in concerts first, then were recorded, and only then did I add the harmonies. Unfortunately, since the album’s release in November, I hadn’t had the chance to do an album presentation concert.

Why so?

The pandemic restrictions played their part. Of course, I want those back vocals. But I don’t know if I will ever sing that album in a concert, I have a feeling that all I sang about is already lived through, and maybe I want to sing something new now. I have written some more songs since 2017, and not only for myself; some songs I already sang in public.

Do you write songs for other performers?

Not very often, but yes. I had written some songs for Aija Vītoliņa and her album «Klusums». Then the pandemic hit, and she asked whether I could write some more songs for her. I said yes and wrote ten songs with lyrics in Latvian, she will perform those tunes with her band «Tango Sin Quinto». Those songs are still in the development stage.

Doesn’t it hurt, parting with the songs? [laughs] I know it sounds dumb, but if I wrote a cool song, I would like to sing it myself instead of giving it away to someone else.

There are songs I would love to sing myself, but I’m not greedy. [laughs] I remember Aija having a concert during the pandemic, and she had this mesh top, I could see the tattooed birds she had on her shoulders, so I wrote a song titled «Mani Pleci» (My shoulders), these birds inspired me. You know, it’s better that someone would sing these songs instead of them staying in my notebook.

How did you get into songwriting at all?

After graduating from high school, I enrolled at the Latvian Academy of Culture, and it all went fine until November second. Then I just left the academy because I realized it wasn’t for me. I was approached by Edgars Galzons, who played the guitar in the «D11 Blues Band» and suggested I write something for them. We played some standards in a bar in Spīķeri district, «Merlin», in other places as well, and I started writing, but initially in English. We had almost two sets of repertoire that we played until 2014, when we were invited to perform at a festival in Poland. That’s when we decided to invite a drummer into the band — we asked Artis Orubs to join us, and he was the one who motivated me to start writing in Latvian. That’s how I started writing in my own language. Actually, no one can even remember me singing in English. Some say that writing and singing in Latvian isn’t easy, English seems more conventional because this music is all around us. I might agree that songs in Latvian might seem more commonplace and even awkward, but at the same time, English doesn’t have such words as «lapkritis» (fall of the leaves) or «veldze» (rejuvenation).

Each language has its own nuances, that’s for sure. Another thing is that maybe when you sing in Latvian, you diminish your audience to only those who can understand the language. Isn’t it so?

It is, indeed. But back when I used to sing in English, I started noticing that the moment I switched to Latvian, people reacted more genuinely, they started waking up of sorts. And also people around me sing in English so much, why not write something in my own language? That might limit my audience in numbers, but you know what? I don’t think about that, I write what I write without overthinking it.

So, what’s next?

I have my options. One is to record the things I’ve written since 2017. But now I also have the drive to study. I want to read things up, watch things, go places, and live life. I tahini I have to feed my mind. I have this feeling of thirst. I continue writing, but will I release another album soon? Doubt it. I can record it, I have the songs to do that, I have the people who will agree to play with me, but do I want it now?

Things tend to happen in their own time.

Yes. So, for now, I want to study.