Charlie Straight, the young Czech Britpop (or Indy pop) band
My guests today are two members of the Czech band called Charlie Straight. They are a group from the town of Třinec, and were founded in 2006. But, they don’t play Czech folk music or Czech rock music – they play English Britpop and they even sing in English.
And by Jan Cienciala, who is the bass player. So Albert, tell me a little bit about the history of your group.
“We first started playing with this band in 2006; we were basically a school band. And we realized that we were listening to very similar music – from Britain and from America, and basically from outside, not Czech bands but groups like Radiohead, Coldpay and Oasis as well. And so we started playing together…”
And Jan, you were also interested in Britpop music and that was something that bonded you together – a mutual interest in this kind of music.
“Yeah, that is what we used to listen to mostly, but nowadays I think that we listen to much more music than before. Not only Britpop, but music from many countries – it doesn’t matter.”
And the style of your music is consciously retro, Albert, is that correct?
“I think that Britpop was something that existed back in the 1990s. So in that sense, we’re retro, I guess. But I think the main thing is that we play music that we feel like playing and that we believe in. If somebody wants to call it ‘Britpop’, then I am OK with that. If you want to call it ‘Beautiful Roses’, then I’m alright with that too. You know, maybe I prefer the name ‘Indy pop’.”
And Jan, tell me why the band sings in English rather than Czech?
So Albert, you always felt comfortable even from the beginning that your English was good enough to write song lyrics? Song lyrics in a foreign language is always a difficult one, to get the poetry right and that sort of thing…
“I think as Johnny said, we had this goal to expand our horizons and we wanted to try and play music abroad – we wanted to play at Glastonbury one day and some other festivals, even in the United States and elsewhere.”
Before we move on, I wanted to ask you, Albert, one final question related to the English speaking and that is your accent. It’s very unusual because it is not the conventional accent of a Czech person speaking English. It sounds almost naturally English. So is that something that you’ve acquired or worked on? What are the roots of the accent?
“The roots of my accent are hard to locate. I spent a month in England back in 2005. I was learning English a lot, and I’m still learning. I really like the acoustics of languages in general, so I like the German language too and different accents including the Scottish accent.”
Can you do impressions?
“A Scottish accent?”
“If I were to do an impression of a Scottish accent, it would sound something like: ‘Hey, my name is Albert. I’m from Glasgow. This is my first time here!’.”
So Jan, tell us about some of the successes you’ve had. You’ve released two albums: ‘She’s a Good Swimmer’ in 2009 and ‘Someone with a Slow Heartbeat’ in 2012. And you’ve won two MTV Europe Music Awards for the Best Czech and Slovak Act.
“We’ve had some success in the Czech Republic. Nowadays, the main success for me of the band is that we are able to play anywhere in the Czech Republic and the people will come. When I remember five years ago when we were starting, we played many gigs for like three people or even less, you know...”
Albert: “Especially my father, he was always there watching us and sometimes Johnny’s father too. Sometimes my mum would show up. And these days it’s like my mum’s not really there all the time.”
And she’s not required to pad out the audience numbers anymore…
“You know, now there are groups of people, fans, that show up at almost every gig, which is incredible – the fact that there are some really hardcore fans.”
And are most of your fans in the Czech Republic or are they around the world now?
“You mean now, after this interview?”
Jan: “We are trying to play abroad. The country where we play the most is probably Germany, where we’ve played like probably fifteen times. We have some fans mainly in Munich and we’re doing our best and we’ll see what comes next.”
And speaking of what is coming next: you are going to the opening of the Czech Olympic House in London and you’ll be performing there over the weekend.
Yes, I am.
“So where exactly?”
I may not even be on that map because London is quite huge and I’m from the suburbs. I’m actually not on that map – I can tell even from a distance. South-west London... And you’re going to be in the Olympic House. Where exactly is that?
“That is the question of pronunciation because I have no idea how you pronounce-”
Isn’t it in Islington?
“Yeah, Islington. Is that the way you are supposed to say it?”
Yeah. How were you going to pronounce it?
“We were toying with the idea of ‘Isle-lington’
Oh, God. The Isle of Wight and the Isle of Lington. So you are going to be playing there alongside some quite renowned Czechs such as footballers Petr Čech and Tomáš Rosický and artist David Černý. I guess President Klaus is going to be there as well?
“I don’t know.”
Jan: “Who knows?”
Do you think he would enjoy your music?
So final question: tell me both of you, Jan first, the name some the of the songs that you’ve done that you are most proud of or enjoy.
Jan: “From the last album, I would probably say ‘Coco’ and I also like ‘Tiger in your Heart’.
Albert Černý and Jan Cienciala thank you very much for joining us.