Krystof Michal on Support Lesbiens - past and present

Support Lesbiens, photo: Ondrej Pycha,

Support Lesbiens headed by frontman Krystof Michal are one of the Czech Republic's most well-known bands which - with the exception of a major five year hiatus - have been around since the early 90s. On the occasion of their newest release "Euphony and Other Adventures" I met with Krystof Michal to discuss a bit of the band's history. Support Lesbiens - past and present - in today's Arts.

Support Lesbiens became one of the more promising bands in the Czech Republic in 1993, landing their first record deal at a time when the music business here was in relative infancy - coming as it did just a few years after the Velvet Revolution. Still in his teens then Krtystof Michal was a former student and a DJ looking for a break. Working at Prague's Futurum - a club in the Smichov district - he didn't have to wait too long for his chance.

"You know we were 17 or 18 years old and it was '92. I was a DJ at several Prague clubs running all over the place one night and that's it. I was visited by a friend of mine, this guy Petr Hosek who was a singer for Plexis, one of the first punk bands in the country and he came around and told me he had seen this band in the Roxy and said they sounded quite good but that they needed a better singer. He said 'I've told him about you' and I said 'You told him about who?!' And he pointed out that I was always singing along as a DJ and asked if I was interested and that's how it started."

Krystof ended up joining the band that became Support Lesbiens. From early on, the name - purposely misspelled with an "e" after one venue got it wrong, was meant to provoke. The word "lesba" or its plural "lesby" still raised eyebrows among a good many Czechs then.

"We actually took the name as a 'shield' for the first couple of years, you know you'd meet someone and they'd 'turn around' when your band's name's Support Lesbiens and just watch his first reaction. So we kept the name and I must say it's okay, I love the name, after all those years."

Soon Support Lesbiens were playing their first concerts in venues like the Roxy and one bar Krystof Michal says probably didn't even have a licence even if it had a name: U Zoufalcu. Krystof explained to me how he and a friend discovered the place even before there was a band: they had been working as cleaners on the night shift at one of Prague's famous department stores:

"Walking through Celetna street we discovered a noise coming from this building so we looked inside and it was a bunch of guys sitting - I don't even know how to say it - in the middle of lots of rubbish, lots of debris {laughs} and they just had a big, big beer keg! Just partying! And that's how the club started.

"During those fourteen days we were cleaning up the department store we'd go by at five in the morning everyday, so we started partying with them. That was how it started, though I don't think it ever became an 'official' club. We played one of our first concerts there - either our third or fourth. Then we recorded our first demo. That's how we started in the early '90s.

"All the music I had listened to was in English. As a boy, too, I listened to the albums in my father's collection which were 99 percent in English. It was completely natural for me from the moment I entered the rehearsal room I grabbed the microphone and started singing in English. Of course, the boys turned around and were like 'Is that going to be in English?', but I didn't answer and it was like 'Yeah, fine, I don't have a problem with that'.

On one side it definitely helped us to break through because it made us more individual, more different. We were probably one of the first bands to sing in English. It was: there's a band called Support Lesbiens and everyone was wondering 'Are they actually Czech?'!"

Support Lesbians with Krystof Michal and guitarist Hynek Toman at the head, landed their recording deal with Bengal Records that was soon bought up by Sony. Both the "Lesbiens" first album So What? and Medicine Man which followed presented a fairly hard rock sound often compared to music coming out of Seattle - the singer prefers the term 'crossover'. The band's popularity grew and 1994 saw an extended Czech concert tour.

A year later they began to prepare for the third album, but then their sound changed. Says Krystof Michal the label was not impressed and pulled the plug, and as fast as Support Lesbiens had started out, suddenly it was over.

"The first two albums were really like an avalanche, it was really quick. The company that you signed at, they just said they didn't want it. You just sit down and there's no target to aim for."

With minor exceptions the band would not play together for another four years. Then came an unexpected but - in hindsight - crucial turning point:

"Everybody agreed that we were going to do this one show for a friend, just the one particular show, and he gave us the money and instead of spending it right away we took the money and recorded a demo song and then went our own ways, went off again. That particular song 'Bet My Soul' I shot a video for in 2000 and that was the moment someone saw it in the editing room and asked 'Who's that?'."

That was the beginning of Support Lesbiens' return. The band has gone through distinct personnel changes since - the most notable the departure of guitarist Jaroslav Helesic. Support Lesbiens now have a cleaner pop sound that has since only increased their popularity. The albums Regeneration, Tune Da Radio, and Midlife were all very well received, with Midlife nominated for Best Czech Pop Album in 2004. From Midlife, the songs "Cliché" and "Savannah" received plenty of radio play as did "You Are My Star".

"When I wrote that song it was about my boy who had just been born. You are my star and catching a taxi and all that stuff trying to get to the hospital on time, which I didn't, actually! When my son was born I was actually out in Zlin after a concert and my wife called me at seven in the morning and said 'Don't go, don't go. I'm on my way to the hospital...'

"And I was here at seven in the morning just woken up after this big party and hearing 'Don't go' all the way across the country I was like 'Don't worry, I'm won't! Not even thinking about it: sorry!' So that's how it happened and that was one of the reasons why I wrote this song."

As it stands Support Lesbiens are now back with their sixth album titled "Euphony and Other Adventures" - promising further success. Even so, frontman Krystof Michal, says performing live is what provides him with the greatest feeling of accomplishment - he told me that for any musician playing live is what it's really all about.

"The most important thing that keeps musicians doing their stuff is the 'ideal concert' that comes every once in a while. It's not like 8 out of 10 are ideal. Of course they are, but I'm talking about the real ideal one that just works out! The hot spot, when it's bang on, it's when everything works out. The atmosphere, the sound off the stage for the people, the sound on the stage, you see the guitarist, you see the drummer, and you can feel it right away. And that's why you do it.

"Everything else you enjoy, recording albums, writing lyrics, just being with your friends, sharing the atmosphere. But, I think that all the members of the band would agree that the biggest thing that can happen to a musician is a great show because the people give it right back to you at that moment."