A chaotic conversation about everything
To enjoy playing at a funeral, always be outside the box, accidentally create new projects and dream about singing a cabaret
As a vocalist, I always enjoy inviting another representative of my profession for a talk, especially if the vocalist differs from me. There are many such in Latvia, but I was especially interested in one of them for quite some time — her name is Marija Valmiera [ex. Broča], founder of the band «The Coco’nuts». Marija and I have known each other for quite some time; I remember her since «Riga Funk Fest» concerts where she and «The Coco’nuts» offered some music that couldn’t be put in any genre frames — there was something from blues rock, funk, alternative jazz… It was clear to me that there was some talent involved, creativity flowing, and a party going on. Yes, that was a party because the whole band has a chaotic hippie-ish mood that makes being on stage an adventure. Then a couple of years passed, and I saw Marija… on the «X-Factor» stage. That was a surprise indeed because the things she does with her music cannot be placed in any pop music frames. Now let’s skip another couple of years, and we see the Latvian selection for «Eurovision» with «The Coco’nuts» in the semi-final — that was a shock in a positive way. And at last — another album. So I decided to invite Marija for a personal conversation because this was way too intriguing! So we met last December and had quite a chaotic but very exciting talk about… everything!
I actually wanted to invite you for an interview long ago — you’re an active lady, do something creative all the time, and have different projects. Tell me which projects are going on right now. I remember at least three — «The Coco’nuts», «Kalnejas», and…
«Āboli un Bumbieri». (Apples and pears). If «Coco’nuts» is an alter ego, then «Āboli un Bumbieri» plays at the parties.
A cover band? But you’re not playing «I Will Survive» or something like that?
Well, we’re not playing that, but we actually could! Speaking of the style, it’s more of a Motown.
And both other projects are about art, right?
Yes, and I’m also thinking about going solo once I finish my studies at the academy.
Do you already have ideas?
I can’t yet understand what to do and who I am now. I’m still searching for who I am, what I do, and what’s my sound. The beginning is always about getting some visibility and popularity while not playing pop music by the standard formula. I’ve always had such dreams.
And how did you begin doing music?
Actually, the very beginning was when I was three years old, at a pop band, «Momo». My brother went there, and I just needed to do everything my brother did. I think I didn’t pass the age limit, but I went to all the rehearsals with my brother and asked to get on stage as well, then I sang in the background along with him. Nobody gave me a microphone, in any case! [laughs] I went there until I was 10 or 11, then I decided to become a professional snowboarder, and it didn’t happen because I broke my hand and got scared to jump. Then in the 9th grade, I thought about who I wanted to become and decided I wanted to become a musician, deciding on my career. At the French lyceum, I had a great music teacher Kristīne Užbale, who told us interesting stories about Bach and Beethoven and asked us to perform; this was my first school where I began to learn how to play the piano. Helēna Laukmane taught that, and her mom taught solfeggio.
The world is small…
Yes, she’s a violinist herself; she played everywhere, including funerals. I like playing at funerals, by the way.
What? I cannot even imagine how one can like playing at funerals, and the idea of live music at funerals seems… weird.
I think I like it because I spent quite some time with folk people, and they say a person has three honors — birth, wedding, and funeral. Three main life periods. That’s a ritual. Music that’s played during funerals sometimes is really interesting. Sometimes we play together with Toms with his double bass.
Do you play at funerals together with your husband?
Have you been acquainted for a lot of time?
With Toms? Since «The Coco’nuts». But speaking of my music — I realized in the ninth grade that I was going to make music, began playing the flute, and then enrolled in a culture high school where I had a vocal ensemble with some inspiring activities to do. There I was together with Marta Ritova and Kristīne Paže. I had no idea where musicians were and where music was, but I knew that I liked the music from Woodstock, which was blues rock. That’s the closest I got to jazz or blues. So, in the beginning, I got to know blues rock, then blues, and then jazz, that’s my chronology.
Then I had one concert at «DAD Cafe» on my 18th birthday where I played the piano and sang! Together with Marija Linarte, the actress. In the beginning, I didn’t do great at all! [laughs] But I knew I wanted, and I believed I could! It gave me a lot to continue doing things. Taking risks. I was very scared to sing in the microphone… Then I decided I have to have a band! There was a guy among our friends who played the guitar, I told him — let’s meet (it was 2011) and make a band! He came to my apartment together with Pēteris Narubins, a guitar player in «The Coco’nuts». He accidentally met that guy in the center, he had a guitar, and he had nothing to do! In the beginning, it was quite a huge rock-n-roll, but now it has calmed down.
Then we began jamming and writing songs together. I know the owner of «Ezītis Miglā» cafe so next year we did a concert there and played blues — I had no idea what’s blues, I didn’t know anything about the form, where the song begins and where it ends, I know nothing about chords, nothing at all. Then Pēteris helped me understand it, and we began writing our own songs and original music because I thought I could…
It sounds very convincing!
Veeeeeery convincing. We were just partying around closer to the end of high school. I thought — where do musicians party at all? So we began searching and found a mystical guitarist from Austria, befriended him, and then he did that event with the music from Tarantino movies in the «Coyote Fly» club, and I sang a song where you had to whistle. That was my first gig. Then I asked him for a vocal teacher, and he advised Inese Bērziņa, and she was my life changer. She took me everywhere, I got to know the musicians. Then I told Inese I’d like to enroll in the Academy of Music, and she helped me prepare a song. I sang «All of Me» and prepared improvisation. And that was the year when all the talented girls went. And I was very sad of course because I didn’t make it there. Then the next year, I tried to enroll in RPIVA, then «The Coco’nuts» were in action, and that’s my main project where I played together with Pēteris, then a drummer Artūrs Strautmanis joined us, then Inese attended one concert and asked us if we need any help… Then Inese joined and told us she knew a saxophone player, then a flute, back vocals, a bass… We were eight, and the first concert was in the autumn of 2012. We founded the band in January and had our first concert in autumn. And I only enrolled in the Academy in 2018. It was fun.
Yes, only the pandemic began right after!
It was cool during the first year and a half, and I wasn’t that sad that it was offline. I’m happy. When I was in my third year, I was waiting for my daughter to arrive, which was the most productive year. Then I learned way more about the theory; Tuomo Uusitalo taught that. As to «The Coco’nuts», the line-ups changed; we released original music, released an album, and decided we had no idea what to do with it, where to do the presentation, and worked on another one. That’s all self-initiative, self-financing, and still fun. «Amid Opposites» was a debut before it was an EP. It somehow went better and is not as good now.
I don’t know, there’s no demand.
Do you mean nobody buys it, or what?
As a band, nobody asks us to play that much. Last summer, we had two gigs, while «Āboli un Bumbieri» played at weddings for the whole summer. This is why we made a band: when someone writes us as «The Coco’nuts» and asks to play at a wedding while wanting us to play this and that. And we wanted to do original music separately from it. While the most fun is, of course, to play with «The Coco’nuts». Then Toms [Valmiers], my husband, and I began playing — jamming, he played double bass, I sang vocalizes, we improvised. «Kalnejas» was never founded to become a project itself; it just happened. But if it did, we let it choose its way. Then a violinist, Spāre, joined us, and one summer, we met in Līgatne, spent a week in the studio, and released an EP.
How does it feel when your husband is also your colleague?
Meanwhile, you also participated in «X-Factor» on your way. This is something I can’t imagine at all, you’re way too creative! I was very surprised to see you there!
Me too! [laughs] «The Coco’nuts» and I were also at the Eurovision selection!
And that was my next question. Two very popular events…
And that goal also was to give people what we have, with that confidence that if there’s anything, why can’t it be popular? I participated in «X-Factor» twice, and it was easier the first time because I had Jāzeps Podnieks with me, a member of «The Coco’nuts». I decided to apply just for fun and to become more known. I went there to show who I am. Jāzeps played ukulele for me and a washboard, it was lots of fun! There’s a song Moby has where he sampled a song, «Trouble So Hard», and it was our performance. And I didn’t pass the chair challenge. And then there was that second time when I decided to go to get more popularity. I asked the guys to make a minus for me. I don’t like singing with a backing track; this isn’t mine and is a huge discomfort. But I got a lot from that experience — I understood how things happen there, what things I shouldn’t do, and on the other hand — why not? I only live once! The second time brought me a bit further — I sat on a chair, but another guy went there instead of me. I sang Adele and «Natural Woman».
And then there was Eurovision.
Yes, we wrote an album with «The Coco’nuts» for three years and finally released it, I liked it a lot, and then there was a contest. Toms said — let’s do it! He cut the recording himself, we did a surgery on our album version, sent it, and went to the semi-finals, and nobody actually expected that. This gives me some hope and a feeling that the music we do also has the chance to reach a wider audience. Even though all the Twitter comments from the Eurovision fans were about this not being the proper format.
That’s a usual question — what’s actually the Eurovision format…
«The Coco’nuts» usually aren’t the format anywhere. We’re not pop, we’re not jazz, neither alternative…
And that’s absolutely normal nowadays because that line between the genres is so smeared.
That’s right. And that was great, all the experiences were great. I like it a lot. At the moment, I’m scared about my solo project because «The Coco’nuts» is where I began; it was my solo project that turned into a large family; that can’t be my project because there are other creative people and I can’t make them do something only I like. And I’m scared to lose these people, but I also know they won’t disappear anywhere.
So what future plans do you have?
I feel lost a bit at this very moment, but I have a couple of ideas. I would like to fulfill my dream of singing in a cabaret!
Oh! A cabaret by Viktors Runtulis?
Yes! Once, «Rahu The Fool» played there as a warm-up, and Lauma Bērza, a violinist, also had a song, and when she couldn’t make it once, I sang it as a substitute. I felt absolutely fantastic, it reminded me of childhood memories when there was Christmas at the VEF Culture Palace, there were three concerts per day, and you hung out there for the whole day. I would like to make this dream come true. Then I have to graduate from the academy, get as much knowledge as I can, and see what happens next. Such thoughts, because the new circus will be open, I have to write projects and make them happen! There are many talented people, and I’m also interested in project management.