A Long Term Plan
Photo: Courtesy of Band of Heysek.
Musicians already in the 90s, Jan Švihálek (singer, guitarist and front man) and the rest of the band met in early 2000 in the prolific Brno underground scene, centered around the pub Stara pekarna, a place still running, and between old-school alternative gigs (local bands and not) and massive beer consumption…
Numerous gigs and some collaboration in bands gave the three of them the necessary experience to form Band of Heysek (BOH).
They started by touring from 2015 to 2017 in numerous clubs and festivals in the Czech Republic, Poland, Bosnia and Slovakia, and got the necessary profile and audience to release their first LP with Indies Scope.
Their sound, clearly oriented to dirty blues, is articulated through this natural trio of bass, guitar and drums, along with strong vocals, with the atmosphere of each track transporting us to the faraway banks of the legendary Mississippi riverside…
Their first LP, Shovel & Mattock, released in 2017, brought them great reviews and public acclaim, solidifying their status in this kind of music in central Europe.
12 songs, explosive guitars and mature vocals, lyrics expressing at turns revolt, sadness, the wish for a reaction and the questioning of daily life. Fast and slow songs (such as the track “Where They Met”) build through the album a history of anyone’s life, some unspoken words in these straightforward melodies carrying a relevant message for everyone listening.
The music seems to be created live, probably as the development of tracks was aided by the gigs before, with a strong appeal to improvisation. The voice follows the melodic structure, creating a dialogue between humans and instruments. The whole approach is a constant change, like the flow of a river…
The second album, recorded in 2019 in the woods of the Orlicke mountains on the border with Poland, was enriched by the Serbian keyboard player Omer Blentic.
The sound, usually initiated by Jan and worked through as a band, goes in various directions, the voice turns to loud speech (on the track “Talkin’ To My Devil”) and the the band seems to have mastered every angle of production and final mastering.
As it should be, there is more maturity and a stronger identity in this 11-track album.
By its title, this album could have given the impression of a concluding work, or at least of a chapter closing. Finishing with the dynamic “Fade Away”, the band seemed ready for the next challenge.
Going to the roots
Prior to that, in summer 2017, Jan went to the USA, to follow the path of the music he likes playing, to get to the roots and the mechanics of that style of blues, amplified by buzzing guitars and sliding rhythms.
Following the path of the Mississippi, the cradle of the genre, via towns and villages, he caught notes from the atmosphere, taking influence from that sky full of meaning and the ground full of singing.
There he met R.L. Boyce (2017 Grammy nominee) and Kenny Brown, born musicians and big names of the Hill Country Blues scene.
He invited them on a Czech/Polish mini-tour in 2018, and Band of Heysek were invited to play at North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, a festival loved by the most purist Blues fans…
It is as if, in some fusion between the musicians, nationality, ethnicity, personal history and culture are all disappearing beneath the collective sound, the inspirational feeling, and the exchange of experience.
After that they decided to make a record, to play at their limits. The natural talents, Boyce and Brown, included themselves in that newborn team spirit, a spirit tasty like an old whisky.
The group played and recorded live together in the studio with the two Hill Country greats for days on end. They challenged themselves by the essence of that different approach to the technique, and delivered new tracks and finally LPs.
They all contributed to the arrangement, production and delivery of the final sound.
Jan’s initial trip probably had a little sense of adventure, great days on the road looking to have fun, and get to know the people and places of that world he lives in musically.
But of course, the resulting recording session and the reciprocal shows shared in Europe and the US gave that trip a very different meaning, of adventures, the freedom of moving out, of random places and memorable encounters, everything which can become important for a deeply creative future.
Losing control in life and through experiences helps you to build, whether you build something personal or collective.
In this case, the band had the chance to meet and share important events in their lives with instinctive musicians, established artists but still obsessed with music creation and direct effect of their sound on the audience.
Natural born music
The first LP, released in April 2020, Juke My Joint, featuring R.L. Boyce (vocals) and Kenny Brown (musical arrangement).
The album is based on songs and lyrics written by Jan but sung by R.L. Boyce.
You can breathe in the effect of the album in the first few seconds, and you can feel there is only one leader: that pure feeling.
The mystical magic of musical fusion, the chapter to read with ears calmly attentive.
When you listen to this music you can almost see the roads, known and unknown, of this delta land so heavy with the past of suffering and hope, guided through time by the unique voices of gospel and blues, that resonate so perfectly in the music of BOH. The alchemy between them is obvious; it seems they have been playing together for a lifetime, or maybe it was just the greatest time of their musical life.
It has eight tracks, with large sections of improvisation and that signature voice, bringing you the mud, the water, and the sun of the melodic river.
One song, “One More Life to Live”, particularly illustrates how live record sessions create this atmosphere of finding your own way and walking somewhere without a clear direction.
The second LP will be released in November this year, and if the music gods allow, we will review it.
Whatever happens it will be a new chapter of that bridge built between the Czech music scene and the so-called Home of blues, a bridge of emotions and musical introspection.
All the music and lyrics on the upcoming record was composed by Jan, he is also singing and playing guitars, together with Kenny Brown.
The new album will be called A Bad Idea. It sounds a good idea, right?
Couple of links:
Band of Heysek