My Prague – Jan P. Muchow
Leader of local indie pioneers The Ecstasy of St. Theresa and a successful composer of film scores, Jan P. Muchow is one of the most respected musicians and producers in the Czech Republic. He calls the now-hip Vršovice district home but works in the nearby Vinohrady. And we begin our tour of “Jan Muchow’s Prague” on the latter’s Jiřího z Poděbrad square, just around the corner from his relatively new studio.
“Since I was young it was the place I wanted to live, or at least, as is the case now, to spend most of day, as I have a studio quite close by.
“I like this place because it’s pretty close to a big park [Riegrovy sady]. It’s not in a hole, it’s on a small hill, so you actually have air here.
“And it’s spacious. It’s not like the Old Town, which I like in a different way, but I like this area much more because there’s space, you can breathe.
“I think also the people don’t feel like they are somewhere in the darkness. They are smiling more and enjoying themselves.
“I think as well you actually have places to go here, to have a small sandwich or go for lunch and stuff. So it’s exciting.”
Also it seems to me that it has quite improved. There are more places to go, more cafés, there’s a great little bakery [U Antonína].
“Yes, and the farmer’s market, which is now open from Wednesday to Saturday every week.
“I enjoy this by far more than, you know, I have friends who would be like, Prague 7… Letná Nazis who say that’s the best place in the city, blah, blah, blah. Rubbish. I think we are on the right side of the river.”
You mentioned that you have a studio here now. Previously you had a studio on Ve Smečkách, which is kind of the red light district of Prague. How does being here, just off Jiřího z Poděbrad square, compare to that?
“I think it’s pretty similar – I’m just in the next street off a huge square. I was close to Wenceslas Square, which was supposed to be the Prague centre.
“I started the studio there in ’98, so the red light district wasn’t there yet. I think there was maybe one of those places then. But it grew so quickly. It changed completely.
“I quite enjoyed being in this small street when I started there. Because it was just off Wenceslas Square but it was also pretty quiet.
“And I was next door to this huge studio [Smecky Music Studios] where they recorded all the film scores and stuff, including stuff like David Lynch. It was an interesting place to work.
“But if I went out and wanted to go eat something, as a vegetarian in this town, now it’s much better, but it used to be quite tough… From this point of view, I’m also much more sensibly placed now.”
You don’t live here but you live quite near here in Vršovice. Are you a Vršovice patriot?
“Kind of, but it wouldn’t be completely honest of me, as I was born in [former East] Germany and I used to live in Jižní Město, so I wasn’t born there.
“But I’m a huge Slavia Prague fan so I used to go to Slavia stadium from when I started to play football, from when I was like eight or nine.
“So it was always a part of Prague I liked. Those two neighbouring areas [Vršovice andVinohrady] were always my places to go and be and enjoy myself.”
From Jiřího z Poděbrad Muchow suggests we go for a coffee at Moment, hidden just behind the nearby park Sady Svatopluka Čecha. With an entirely vegetarian menu, Moment is one of a slew of cool modern cafés that have sprung up in the Czech capital in the last couple of years.
“I’ve been a vegetarian for, like, 25 years. It was quite tough in the ‘90s to be vegan or vegetarian in Prague – it’s much better now, thank God.
“This place is quite close to my studio. It opened I think more than one year ago. And it’s a vegan place which isn’t, how to put it, offensive.”
It’s not militant.
“No. You can’t see a sign saying, we are a vegan bar and you can’t come in if you eat meat. But if you want to order something you just find out it’s vegan.
“That’s exactly the way I communicate with the world. I’m not trying to persuade somebody that they should have the same thoughts as I do, or they should like the music I like. It’s the same way.
“Another reason I like it is because of what they serve and how they serve it.”
I was a vegetarian in this country in the 1990s. It was hard work, and I stopped because I was bored – there was nothing to eat.
“[Laughs] I can understand. Especially after the revolution there was almost just fried cheese. Quite often it would be fried cheese with salami or with ham. They thought, oh, it’s not meat, it’s just ham.”
I had that experience myself many times. But do you still find that’s the case, say if you tour outside Prague?
“Of course it’s much better now. But the smaller the town you go to, the more difficult it is.
“But by now some promoters are used to the fact that bands sometimes include vegetarian members. In some cases you don’t actually have to take care of yourself.
“That’s more the case in the Bohemian part of the Czech Republic. In the Moravian part they would look at you like, are you ill or something? Because meat is still the real food for them. But it’s much better now.”
Apart from Moment, what other cafes do you like to go to in Prague?
“Actually the downside of my job is that you have to do stuff and you can’t go out too much and talk with people [laughs].
“If I’m in the centre or centre-ish, I would go… because my teenage years – middle school, we call it here – I spent all of the time in Café Slavia.
“That was my favourite place, and still is in a sentimental way. You can see Prague Castle from the window, you can see the river and the National Theatre.
“Back in the day, you would have like 80-year-old ex-actresses from the National Theatre coming there to play the piano and sing tunes from the years when they were on stage. So it had a really nice atmosphere.”
What about if you have some free time in the evenings, what bars do you like to go?
“Of the new ones, definitely my favourite would be Public Interest, which is run by two of my friends – one of them is an architect and the other is a film director.
“You can tell by the way it’s designed, by what they offer, how they offer it and how the whole bar is done that they really enjoy it.
“And they’re trying to make sure people enjoy their stay in the bar, as well. So that would be my pick number one, these days.”
A short tram ride from Moment is Radost FX, a complex that includes a café, lounge and what after two decades is still one of Prague’s leading night clubs. Despite being a musician, Muchow says he has been in the upstairs part a thousand times more often than in the club and we take a table in the chic but cosy lounge.
“For me it was interesting back in the 1990s to come to here because it was a place you would meet Prague ex-pats.
“I could practice my English. I never had English at school, I know it from movies and songs. So it was actually my English school – come to Radost and speak with people [laughs].”
You were telling me that you were recently in the club for the first time in many years. Where do you go out to hear music in Prague?
“Actually with two kids and doing music all day, it’s not your goal to go out and see bands or hear new music. My sources to know music are blogs and the web, I guess.
“But if I want to see bands playing live, it would be Akropolis, Roxy maybe. I would like to go to Forum Karlín, if there will be a band there from my list. I think Akropolis is by far my favourite place to see bands.”
Generally speaking, how do you find Prague as a city for live music?
“I wish it was even a bit livelier, but still it’s far better than it was at the turn of the ‘90s and the 2000s. Because after the huge enthusiastic change after the revolution there were bands playing all over Prague, all the time.
“But then somehow I thought that Prague went back to sleep, or back to the pre-revolution time when you could hardly find anything interesting.
“And I think now it’s changing again towards the direction that if you look closely you can find interesting stuff. You just have to know about it.
“Which would be a bit difficult, because there are so many sources and at my age and with two kids, blah, blah, blah, you don’t have that much time to search. But now it’s much better than it was, like, 10 years ago.”
My impression in the early or mid ‘90s in Prague was that a lot of bands came here out of good will, or maybe out of curiosity.
“Definitely. And the other way around – a lot of Czech acts actually broke through or at least travelled and maybe played outside the Czech Republic, or Czechoslovakia.
“Definitely it was a big plus for Prague or Czechoslovakia then to see interesting bands – and not just the Rolling Stones but bands in their interesting periods.”
Do you ever go to clubs any more? I mean dance clubs.
“Actually I’m not a big dancer. Because I once saw a book title, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, and I stick to that, you know.”