INTERVIEWS

Janis talks about drummer-vocalists, touring with Neurosis, the DIY ethics and 11 years of TESA

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words: Elena Mara Reed, photo: Juris Rozenbergs, 2016-10-03

I caught up  with TESA, a post-metal gem from Latvia after their thrilling performance in Amplifest, Porto.

E: What does it mean – TESA?

J: Actually, nothing… We started playing in late September 2005, and we didn’t care about the name of the band till the moment when we were invited to play our first show. We didn’t even discuss the name of the band at that point, and Karlis was the one who actually suggested the name TESA. He sent us a message one evening, he just saw the name somewhere randomly and thought that it would fit really well with what kind of music we were writing at that point. I think it still fits really great, and mostly because it’s kind of abstract. I don’t think it gives you some instant direction what to think about the music we play or what kind of band we are. Everyone can have their own interpretation and the band name does not confine it in any way.

 

There’s a different way of approaching and composing without the obvious riff pounding and just slaying heavy parts, and I think that’s what we’re trying to explore more at this point. It’s just about looking at ‘heavy’ from different point of view, different perspective. 

 

E: I saw you guys playing for more than 10 years. I feel blessed to have a chance to see Tesa evolving, finding its unique sound. What are the major differences between Tesa today and Tesa 10 years ago?

To be honest, I don’t think there is a major difference. And that is definitely a good thing. It all started as this new exciting thing for us, and we still have the same feeling today. It definitely doesn’t feel like it’s been 11 years already, and we still feel excited to write new music. Of course, subjectively, we think that we’ve kind of evolved our skills at playing our instruments, or just how to write music in general, and I think we’ve always tried to find new ways of how to play heavy music, but it all still happens organically. We’ve matured as individuals and musicians and that has some defining influence on how we actually think about heavy music. There’s a different way of approaching and composing without the obvious riff pounding and just slaying heavy parts, and I think that’s what we’re trying to explore more at this point. It’s just about looking at ‘heavy’ from different point of view, different perspective. We’ve definitely become more self-aware of what we’re doing and that means way more self-criticism than when we started, as well. 

 

It feels kind of weird when people call us ‘the veterans’ of Latvian scene, because it definitely doesn’t feel like ages for us. It still feels great to write new music, explore different ways of writing it, and if there are people who appreciate it, it’s a defining part of the driving force behind it.

 

 

E: What keeps you on going? I am afraid too many bands (at least in Lithuania) split up after the release of their first album. And you guys are playing since 2005. What is the recipe? 

J: I’ve always thought that there’s some fine line between letting it all to happen organically and ‘pushing’ too hard. I think we’re completely aware of that, and somehow it always has worked out for us, and we haven’t had any difficulties or struggles with that. At some point, around almost 8 years ago, we felt that it all was getting too hectic and routine at the same time, and we decided to take some time off, and it definitely helped us a lot. It was just before finishing writing of ‘IV’, and we had some time off, actually just few months, and somehow it gave a new life to what we were doing at that point. It’s important to know when to let it all go a bit. I think there are many bands who try to gasp too much at the early stage of playing together and that burns them out. That happens to many bands also here in Latvia. It feels kind of weird when people call us ‘the veterans’ of Latvian scene, because it definitely doesn’t feel like ages for us. It still feels great to write new music, explore different ways of writing it, and if there are people who appreciate it, it’s a defining part of the driving force behind it. I guess it’s important for us no to think or worry too much about it. It’s a lot about the feeling, and when everyone’s excited about what they’re doing, it’s kind of timeless.

 

We’ve toured with Neurosis for couple weeks… In a way it felt like an effortless journey, we seemed to click right away and their humble attitude made it all really comfortable and stress-free.

 

E: You toured with Neurosis. The American veterans seem to adore you. I definitely see why, your warmth and sincerity is defeating. But could you tell us more how did you meet with Neurosis? How did it feel touring with them? Have you learnt anything from them?

J: Before touring we played several occasional shows with them, here in Latvia and Germany. We met them on those few shows years ago and it was great to hear that they remember us and were really positive about what we were doing. Earlier this year we got ‘signed’ by a great label and booking agency My Proud Mountain from Germany who are also handling all Neurosis tours here in Europe, as well as releasing some limited edition vinyls. Our paths also crossed because of several people known to both sides, and somehow all the circumstances resulted in us sharing Neurosis European journey, with their approval and consent, of course. We’ve toured together for couple weeks. We feel beyond thankful of all this. It was an experience we will never forget, for sure. Not only in a musical way, but also personally, because they’re great was people, humble and completely down-to-earth, and it a positive thing end-to-end. In a way it felt like an effortless journey, we seemed to click right away and their humble attitude made it all really comfortable and stress-free. I think there are not so many influential bands in heavy music as Neurosis, and to share the stage and watch them play night after night was just unbelievable. There’s so much to learn from them, both as individuals and collective, it’s an invaluable gift. Their positive attitude towards us and their appreciation of our music means a lot to us (to say the least). Hopefully this is not the last time we shared our paths with them and there’s a lot to look forward to.

 

I’ve always considered drums as an instrument in whole, even a particular cymbal sound could change a lot, and I’ve always tried to pay a close to attention to what everyone is doing, and I think that’s the most important thing to me as a drummer.

 

E: I absolutely love bands with drummers-vocalists. Janis, I saw you drumming, screaming, managing the effects all at the same time. How come you are able to do all those things? Any advices for other drummer-vocalists?

J: We think a lot about what we can accomplish sound-wise as a three-piece band, and sometimes you just have to figure out how to do several things at once. When you do it more and more, it doesn’t feel as difficult as it may look, but of course it takes some practice and coordination. But honestly, sometimes I admire what Karlis and Davis is pulling off with their instruments way more. It’s a different level for me, and you get used to it and it seems like a usual thing, but when I recap on what they’re doing it’s kind of amazing. It’s a great thing that we are aware of each other’s capabilities and it makes us all think on the same level. I’ve always considered drums as an instrument in whole, even a particular cymbal sound could change a lot, and I’ve always tried to pay a close to attention to what everyone is doing, and I think that’s the most important thing to me as a drummer. I’ve seen many drummers paying attention mostly (or only) at their parts, and for me it’s kind of strange. We pay a lot of attention to each other and ‘just doing your own part’ thing has always seemed odd to me. So, if there’s any advice I could actually give (or even if I’m adequate to give), I would point out the importance of interaction and listening to each other.

 

 

video from Amplifest

 

We definitely always try to handle as much of the overall process as possible, staying in charge of mostly all things happening within the band. That’s what we’ve been doing for more than ten years, and it has always been really important to us

E: What are the politics behind Tesa? Do you manage TESA purely DIY or have someone to help managing the band, tours, etc?

J: We come from punk scene and we definitely share a lot of ideas with it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are a political band. Punk ethics and ideology is important for us, but there’s no way we actually incorporate that message in our music. We’ve always tried to put emphasis on music which might also explain why we have no real song titles. It’s about leaving a space for individual interpretation, for each song and the band as whole. We’re honest about what we do and you might call it a ‘personal stance’.

We definitely always try to handle as much of the overall process as possible, staying in charge of mostly all things happening within the band. That’s what we’ve been doing for more than ten years, and it has always been really important to us. Recently, we’ve met really nice people at My Proud Mountain label who now helps us out with booking tours and releasing our music. It’s really great to have people around who appreciate what you do and help you out with reaching more and more people, and we’re really fortunate about that. I think we always had and always will cherish the DIY ethics, but I won’t deny that it’s nice to have people around who are on the same page, and it gives you more time to actually focus on writing and playing music. But I’m sure that if there is a point when we don’t feel comfortable with the decisions we have to make, we’d keep on doing it the same way we’ve always done all these years.

 

There have always been many things going wrong in this world, and it has fuelled a lot of heavy music for sure. But I, personally, consider heavy music inspiring and occasionally uplifting in a way. 

 

E: With all the things happening in the world, music can be a refuge from the misery of life. Would you agree with me on this one? What does music mean to you?

J: It has always been something special and dear to me. I cannot imagine my life without it and I’m pretty sure Karlis and Davis cannot as well. I think music will always have a great value and importance in life, not only as a refuge. The misery of life could definitely give it more emotion and meaning, but so can joy and happiness. There have always been many things going wrong in this world, and it has fuelled a lot of heavy music for sure. But I, personally, consider heavy music (not all of it, of course..) inspiring and occasionally uplifting in a way. I guess, music has a different value and meaning for everyone, and so does the scene. For some it’s a place to hide, to escape from, as you say, misery of life, but for some it means even more – a reason to actually get up at morning, or it’s a thing that just keeps you going. Of course, this is quite an extreme example, but I just want to point out that, in my opinion, music can be unbelievably powerful. 

 

E: Do you have any other projects?

J: We all take part in various projects around Tesa, actually quite a few, some active and some less. Karlis plays bass and sings in a really great band called Anna Kijeva, which he and some other guys formed couple years ago. They haven’t been so active lately, but I think they still practice from time to time.  Davis has a band called 9horizon, which is actually even older than Tesa. I consider that band as some kind of a misunderstood gem of the scene (sounds weird, I know). They’ve been doing their own thing for more than 10 years, and have just one record which is completely different from what they do now, at least of what I’ve heard the last time. But I admire them for still playing all these years just because of the pure joy of doing that. I also take part in some musical projects besides Tesa, but those are mostly irregular appearances and I’m just doing my part of filling in for some other drummers or a recording session. Me and Davis occasionally write music for theatre spectacles, but it doesn’t happen too often. So I could say, that I, personally, focus almost entirely only playing in Tesa. I think it’s great to explore different musical directions, because it helps your creativity a lot.

 

E: What can we expect from Tesa in the future?

J: Well, who knows. We’ve been fortunate to be a part of many great musical experiences lately, and it has been a great year so far. We’re focusing on writing new music at this point. It’s exciting and every time you start doing that, it all feels like some kind of new beginning. We’re really looking forward to what’s next, but we’re definitely trying to let it all happen naturally, and we’ll see where it all takes us.

 

video from Amplifest