A band called Airfare

Photo: www.airfareband.cz

Welcome to our first edition of Music Express, bringing you music and interviews with some of the Czech Republic’s brightest young stars and biggest names. Today: a group that first broke onto the scene just two-and-a-half years ago, called Airfare. Founded by Czech-American frontman Thomas Lichtag, now 23, the four-member band plays catchy, sometimes harder alternative rock, with all songs sung in English. The singer/guitarist came into the studio this week to discuss how the band got its start. He also talked about their first big hit Sorry Baby that launched them onto the Czech music scene.

Thomas Lichtag,  photo: Lukáš Chromek,  www.airfareband.cz
“I’d say that song was our success: without that song I don’t think we’d be where we are at right now. It helped us out because everyone knew the song. But at the same time people didn’t know who we were. So we had trouble at first getting concerts because we would be like ‘We’re Airfare’ and they would say ‘Sorry I don’t know about that.’ To which we would say ‘Well you know that song ‘Ooo-woo-oo--u-huh?’. And they would go ‘Yeah, that’s great, we want that band’, you know?!”

Sorry Baby was accompanied by a mostly black & white video of Airfare performing at a small club. Because the band sang in English, many viewers or even audiences at concerts were initially confused over whether the band – which includes bass player TV and guitarist Lukáš Chromek - were even Czech. Thomas Lichtag says that was fully intentional: Airfare wanted to sound different.

“The main sound… it being a Czech band our main goal was just not to sound like a Czech band. We just wanted to make a good rock album. Just to come close to that, just to get all the equipment… it took such a long time before we could even get to record and it was quite a bit of work. Now whenever I look back on it, then it’s sort of funny because now we have everything we need and it’s not something we actually ever have to think about. But back then it was just about simply getting some kind of good rock sound.”

Did people actually think you were from elsewhere?

“Oh yeah. There were a lot of people who thought we were British and so many people came up to us after shows and asked us ‘Are you covering that song?’ or ‘Did you guys write that?’! So many didn’t even believe us. But, I mean, I guess that was what we wanted to achieve.”

To the relief of the band, their whole debut album called Hotel Moscow, written and recorded in Zlín was equally catchy. Along with Sorry Baby, entries such as Belladonna, Life is Easy or Hard Ride helped Airfare gain strong footing on the mainstream, alternative rock, as well as college music scenes.

“That riff in there is the bass player TV’s riff and he just brought it in and then we just decided to make this old school rock format. It all came together pretty quickly, actually and I don’t remember much from the actual work on it. We still like it and still have it in our set and get pretty good reactions most of the time.”

Some of the songs, meanwhile, are mildly self-referential, Morning Person being an example.

“That’s like the first song I ever played for the bass player I started work with here. We basically wrote that album by almost all by ourselves – almost but not quite. But that was the first song that I played for him to see if he wanted to work together and he liked it, so we started writing the whole album. I wrote that song actually in the States when I was in Pennsylvania still… and it’s basically about not liking to get up in the morning!”

And that’s you?

“That’s me 100 percent!”

The release of Hotel Moscow in due time confirmed Airfare as one of the best newcomers of 2008 and it was only a matter of time before the band began touring, gelling even more as performers, and building a solid fanbase. It didn’t take long for a second album to follow, which they called Do You like My Shit! Despite the provocative title, the first hit off the follow-up, School, was a mild, nostalgic track that evoked the halcyon days of summer, not unlike Karel Poláček’s Bylo nás Pět (We were a Handful).

“When we came together as a band and asked ourselves what do we want to do for this video? We all agreed we actually wanted it to evoke Bylo nás pět.”

World War, by comparison, is a considerably heavier song. Like frontman Thomas Lichtag says, Airfare’s members want to cover different bases and not just lock themselves in one specific style.

“We do like to write the occasional harder piece but we do like to mix it up as well. It’s not like it’s all hard rock, hard rock, hard! You have World War and you have Collapse and these songs are pretty hard and pretty fast but those are the only two. I guess there’s like a scale, one to ten, and you gotta cover it all. It keeps things interesting a little bit.”

Airfare are currently playing numerous concerts around the Czech Republic and band members are planning to release their third album next year.