Winning over new audiences with Piano “biggest joy”, says Republic of Two man Mikoláš Růžička

Mikoláš Růžička, photo: Ian Willoughby

Mikoláš Růžička is perhaps best-known as one half of the guitar pop duo Republic of Two, who a few years back were named Best New Act at the Czech equivalents of the Grammys. However, this summer he is performing at festivals around the country with Piano, a project that began with an LP recorded in his apartment and has grown into a full band. Růžička comes from a South Bohemian village where his dad is the local art teacher, and alongside his career in music also works in the visual arts field.

Mikoláš Růžička,  photo: Ian Willoughby
“I studied fine arts. I drew a lot and did paintings. And I’m teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts as a technical assistant in the graphic department. But mostly I do music.”

Tell us a bit about your teaching work. You were telling me previously that you work using very old techniques.

“Yes, they’re classical graphic techniques. That means etching, drypoint, lithography. It’s very interesting indeed. We’ve got a big workshop in our school, well-equipped with very old machines. So we teach students to do graphics the old, classical way.”

Is there much interest in that today? Or is there much use for it?

“I wouldn’t say. I’m very happy that it still lives. But it lives because of a few people who really like to do it. But I think there’s no business in it. You can’t earn much money when you do graphic art.”

Republic of Two,  photo: Balkony TV
I suppose also you have to be careful if your equipment is, I don’t know, hundreds of years old?

“Yes, but it was made well. It’s pretty stable [laughs].”

About your music career, I guess you’re best known as a member of Republic of Two. In 2010 you and Jiří Burian, the other guy in the group, got the Anděl award, which is like the Czech Grammys, for best new group. Could you describe how it works with Republic of Two – do you both sing, do you both write?

Republic of Two,  photo: YouTube
“Exactly as you said. We are both songwriters and singers, and we both do the songs, we write the songs. That’s why it’s Republic of Two… It’s a pretty interesting connection between me and him.

“I’ll bring some stuff, he brings some stuff, he’ll bring something, then we let each other influence the other one.”

Do you co-write, or does he bring his songs and you bring yours?

Republic of Two,  photo: Facebook of Republic of Two
“Sometimes we co-write and sometimes we have our own songs that we bring.”

You guys sing in English and as far as I know the only Czech band that has had mainstream success singing in English has been Support Lesbiens. Why do you sing in English?

“That’s a very common question. Maybe it’s because since I was born I listened to English or American bands – that influenced me a lot. Maybe it’s easier for me to write in English, because it simply sounds better with the music. I’ve found that it’s really harder to do good lyrics in Czech, so maybe that’s why.”

Republic of Two,  photo: Facebook of Republic of Two
But does it feel like a kind of brake on you being commercially successful?

“Maybe if we sang in Czech we’d be somewhere else, but that’s our choice, you know. We’ve chosen that way and we don’t want to do it the other way.”

I sometimes wonder about Czech band like yourselves who sing in English and probably sell, I don’t know, five or 10 thousand copies of an album. What constitutes success for a band like Republic of Two?

“Simply the fact that we can play our music. That nobody tells us what to do. For me success is when you come into a club and there are 40 or 50 people sitting there and really listening to what you’re doing.”

As well as Republic of Two, you have another group called Piano, which is just your project, with some other guys. How did Piano come about?

“The idea was just to make my dream come true. I had some material that I really wanted to release somehow, that I had collected for a couple of years. One day I just woke up and said to myself that it would be really good to finish it.

“So I did. I recorded the whole album in my flat. And later I mixed and mastered it with Ondřej Ježek at a professional studio. I put together a band from among my friends and we started to play. I’ve been really surprised that it works well. Right now we’re just trying to move on a little bit, doing new stuff, new songs.”

I know this summer you’ve been playing at festivals for the first time with Piano. How’s that been going?

Piano,  photo: Archives of the group Piano
“Well, it’s really interesting, because nobody knows us. We’re like no-names. Some people know me from Republic of Two but mostly the audience is really surprised when we start to play, because it’s not pop music but it’s full of energy, because of the drums.

“For me it’s a new experience, I would say.”

And every audience you have to win over from zero?

“Yeah, that’s the biggest joy, if you’re really able to do it. Sometimes it works better, sometimes its OK, but we haven’t had many bad gigs. I’d say it’s on the right path.”

I know your brothers are also talented guys. When you play live with Republic of Two one of them has been known to do live paintings, on stage. Could you tell us about that please?

Štěpán Růžička,  photo: Facebook of Republic of Two
“Yes. My younger brother [Štěpán] is a bass guitar player and he plays with bass in Republic of Two and with Piano. My older brother [Aleš] is a painter and once Jiří and I had the idea that it would be really nice to have him on stage, to use him, if I can put it this way, like a live projection.

“He put the canvas on stage and painted during out show. The result wasn’t the painting at all but the recording, the painted recording, of the whole show. It was a nice idea.

“For the audience it might be interesting, because they’d maybe never seen a painter live, painting. It was a kind of a step for them to be part of a painter’s work.

“Painters normally work at their own studios. It’s interesting to see the process, because neither he nor anybody else knows what the result will be.”

Andrea Kerestešová,  photo: Krochoman,  Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0
If we could move away from music, you’re going out with a woman called Andrea Kerestešová who’s a very well-known actress. She’s the kind of person who gets written about in the tabloids. She’s a celebrity I guess. How has it impacted your life going out with somebody who’s so well-known?

“That’s a nice question [laughs]. When I met Andrea first I thought, yeah, she’s a celebrity, and she’s pretty interesting and beautiful. Then we started meeting each other, dating a little bit, but it wasn’t ‘dating’ from the very first time.

“After some time I found myself really in love with her. She’s still surprising me. She’s the best person I’ve met in this period, in this time.”

But do you find that photographers take your picture when you don’t want them to? Or even just people on the street?

Andrea Kerestešová,  photo: CT
“Yeah. I laugh at it. It’s probably part of show business. She is part of show business, so I have to be prepared for those kind of situations, which sometimes occur.

“But it’s good to not take yourself too seriously. It’s good to have an overview. I’m not that serious when it comes to this.”

I’ve seen a photo spread of the two you in some glossy women’s magazine. But I’ve also seen photos of you on your own – you do modelling. Have you always been interested in fashion?

Mikoláš Růžička,  photo: Facebook of Republic of Two
“No, I wouldn’t say that. I had some offers to be a model but I thought it wasn’t for me. I just once was a model when my brother and his friend made a collection of really nice stuff, really nice clothes.

“I wanted to support them so I took part in one, like, show. Maybe that’s why…”

But otherwise you don’t do modelling? Maybe I’m mistaken.

“No, I don’t do modelling at all.”

Well even if you don’t do modelling I can see that you’re interested in fashion. You’re a well-dressed guy, you’re well-groomed. Do you find that a lot of Czech men aren’t interested in their appearance? That’s my impression as a foreigner.

“I’ve noticed that. But in Czech we would say šaty dělaj člověka…”

Clothes make the man.

“Yes. It’s true somehow. I try to wear comfortable clothes but I try to care about how I look. Mostly when I have a show and I’m playing concerts.

“I think it’s very important, because it’s a performance, it’s a show. So I think you have to be well-dressed. Because it’s part of your expression.”