Interview with Tomáš Niesner
Tomáš Niesner, along with his buddy Jakub Šimanský1 is one of the few solo acoustic guitar artists from a country that should get more attention musically. After a gorgeous guitar album with Šimanský, a contribution to Tompkins Square records solo guitar compilation Imaginational Anthem Vol. X2 and a handful experimental recordings, Niesner adds his first solo acoustic-guitar album to his catalogue. To get some insight into the inner workings of a Bohemian rhapsodist3, enjoy this interview conducted by Jakub Ďuraško.
Tomáš Niesner - Aurora
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N°124, mc / digital, Stoned to Death Records
Tomáš Niesner started his guitar player path long while ago when he co-formed noise rock band Unna. Loud noise quartet stir the waters of little czech avant rock pond with music written directly to the precomposed beat of drummer Jakub Šimanský. Loud shows played all around Czech Republic took its toll and and by 2017 they turned down the DB to death low. The band was over. Jakub Šimanský was living in their former practice room in Přerov, playing acoustic guitar daily and he was heavily inspired by american primitive guitar. Tomáš Niesner moved to Brno. He formed another part-time band called Vlněna and started working at Bastl Instruments, a company focused on home made synths and diy instruments. He got into the spirit of early electronic minimal music and debuted with great collection of ambient drones on album called Silencia (released by ACR, London, 2019). The same year, his pal Jakub Šimanský grew tired of playing solo shows and invited Niesner to join him on his guitar ventures. Back then Šimanský has already shook off the strict sound of american primitive and started feeding in inspirations from czech folk traditions (among many others). Niesner's second guitar was welcomed addition and duo Šimanský - Niesner soon after debuted with acclaimed album “Tance neznámé”. The duo played tenths of shows and in the meanwhile they worked on their second album which is due late 2021. With busy schedule on, Niesner still found time to compose and homerecord 8 delightful tracks for his another solo record called “Aurora”. To my surprise, they were as far away from his debut as possible, all acoustic and only digital contributions are field recordings. “Aurora” finds its place somewhere between british early folk music and Robbie Basho's long epics, all that with massive Niesner's signature handwriting stamp. If you happen to find “Aurora” an addictive place to be, then use this link as desert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dKdIvqlsGg
Released on tape (150 copies), mastered by David Šmitmajer, duplicated by Headless Duplicated Tapes, cover artwork by Roman Havlice.
Tomáš Niesner - Aurora
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Tomáš, I can remember your musical beginnings in the noise rock band Unna where you played guitar. How does one end up experimenting with synths and meditating with an acoustic guitar?
Unna was my first band and that was the only one where all my energy was directed for a long time. A lot of it was about playing together, being able to influence each other and learn from one another. Around the time when Unna was releasing the last album, I was going through a major crisis in my approach to guitar playing and at that moment our drummer Jakub (Šimanský) was starting to flirt with fingerpicking, which opened my eyes and a new horizon appeared. I was also very lucky and started working at Bastl Instruments, which opened the door to electronic music. And having been listening to labels like Kranky, Root Strata, etc. with great admiration, it was very obvious to me how I was going to handle this opportunity. From the very beginning, I just tried to be open-minded and develop those influences that affected me the most.
But in the end you stuck with some loud rock music. You have another group called Vlněna, with which you have recently released a new album. So you've actually stayed between a lot of directions. How do you manage to switch when one minute you're working with delicate synths, the next you're playing tender guitar music alone or in a duo, and then there's a burst of loud, straightforward rock?
Yes, I was going to mention that I actually continue to play in a band. I don't have a mental problem with this dichotomy, but rather I'm running into the limits of real life. At one point it became so intense that it was unmanageable. Then you have to get your priorities straight. On the other hand, it should be mentioned that not all activities run completely in parallel and often it was to the detriment of my solo work. In fact, if it weren't for the complications caused by the coronavirus, we probably wouldn't be able to talk about any new solo album right now.
Are you trying to keep yourself up to date with heavy music somehow? I would say that metal or hardcore is often quite an interesting cradle for musicians who later take the experimental path. And it often happens that they drop listening to heavy music or limit it to a bare minimum.
I try to keep an eye on it, but it's true that it doesn't quite match up and I'm more selective, unfortunately. The energy of loud bands is of course totally unique, it can be the most resonant live. But I rarely listen to anything like that at home anymore. Plus, I've been experiencing pain in my ears for the last year, so I tend to lean towards other positions.
And what about the guitars? Is it more of a tool or an obsession for you? Are you trying to catch up with an ideal sound or do you play anything from a certain level of the instrument? Which guitars do you have right now?
Any instrument should ideally tempt you to play it, which for me means a combination of playability, aesthetics and sound. But I don't think I put as much demand on an electric guitar as I do an an acoustic. For example, the first instrument in Vlněna I bartered for a bag of weed, and it was just enough that it was some sort of unidentifiable copy of a Stratocaster, so it was at least close to that idea of sound. If it just serves the purpose sufficiently, I don't tend to look elsewhere. Unless I have the money for it. But I don't like to make a fetish out of it. Even a sub-standard instrument can inspire you, and the perfect sound is a chimera to me. However, when a guitar suits me a lot, it's hard to imagine losing it. Over the past year I've gotten rid of what I thought was unnecessary, and now I could count the current state on one hand. The acoustic I appreciate the most is the Taylor 510, even though it's had a bit of a run and isn't quite perfect.
I remember your guitar from Vlněna quite well. I think it was found after your Psych Tent/Fluff gig the year before last, and about a month or two later you finally asked for it. Where else do you look for inspiration when an instrument doesn't lead you to it?
I feel like inspiration is always coming from two directions that influence each other. The first one is internal and I can draw from it for quite a long time. The second one is the result of trying to look around, and it can take very little to spark more inner creativity. Other than that, I work rather intuitively and like to improvise when composing. I've also recently become more aware of the importance of learning processes. Sometimes it's good to stop, re-evaluate your current approach and listen to a completely different genre, learn a new playing technique or try a different instrument. For example, open tuning, Indian classical music, some piano pieces and the so-called "primitive" school played by musicians like Jack Rose or Robbie Basho they all had an undeniable influence on the new album.
What is the album Aurora actually about?
This album has been crystallizing for about four years, so there were a lot of things reflected in it: everyday life in Brno, stays in Vysočina, travelling abroad, but also different places, people, animals, trees, seasons or experiences and memories. I wanted it to create a hopeful impression. I don't want to go into more detailed analyses and meanings, let everyone have room for their own interpretation.
What was the process of recording Aurora? You recorded the last Šimanský-Niesner album all by yourself in your home. Was that how this album was made as well?
Technically it was quite similar. I recorded Aurora last year during May and June, alternately at my country house and at the Rello Il Torrefattore coffee roastery in Brno. I had time and freedom to experiment with the space and different strings, microphones and to choose which room was more suitable for each song. Then I recorded a few more instruments. It's not a routine for me, but I was a bit more confident after this. When recording with Jakub, we were limited to only four inputs, which was OK. We wanted to keep it simple and the whole thing was done in a few days in the summer in our living room.
Your new Šimanský-Niesner record will hopefully see the light of day already this year or at the beginning of next year. Do you have any plans for your solo work? Will you keep shredding the guitar or will you return to electronic stuff?
To be honest, the guitar didn't come out of the case for a few months after the recording. In the autumn I mainly helped with mixing Rafał Marciniak's new album and it was only at the beginning of this year that there was space to dive into electronics after a longer period of time. Instead of starting to create right away, my primary focus was to explore new approaches. I've also been reading a lot and generally consolidating my knowledge. However, during the various exercises, at some point you forget about the technique and start playing, so it's good to be prepared to record, as the result is usually impossible to replicate. With the guitar it's different. I have a plenty of ideas, but I usually come back to them after a while and then I work them out further. Maybe I'll try to revive the idea of connecting these two worlds. I'm also tempted to do some collaborations, but I don't want to anticipate anything.
How do you live in Brno, does this city have a significant influence on the way you make music? Can you imagine the sound of Aurora if you made it in Přerov?
The biggest advantage I see is that I know and meet a lot of inspiring people here. I see my solo work as being inseparable from these influences. Of course, Přerov has obvious limits in this regard. But then there is the question of the impact of the place in general, and for me Přerov holds an absolutely unique position. A town where one grows up and then spends almost twenty years simply cannot be forgotten. This relationship and past was partly referred to in the previous release Silencia. Aurora, by contrast, is more focused on the contemporary, and since I unfortunately don't come back to Přerov as often as I used to it is not reflected so much. However, I must say that I have one concept in my head that is connected to this region. Let's see if I will be able to realize it this year.
Your music, and what you do with Kuba, encourages you to play it in unconventional places. I've done a couple of gigs for you myself and your setup actually supports the idea of breaking the rock standard at a gig, just the fact that you can sometimes do it without electricity or with just a smaller PA in difficult conditions, which expands the possibilities quite a bit. What venues do you remember or what was a top experience within the Czech Republic? The variety of special places and natural spots where you played is really quite extensive...
This possibility to play almost anywhere is one of the great advantages. At first we even played purely acoustic, but unfortunately the experience in some places kind of forced us to switch to pickups. In general we like a more intimate setting, which can create a nice atmosphere and allows more focused listening. I also feel that people can be more sensitive in a non-typical environment. I have noticed the most outstanding talent for organizing events in unconventional locations is in South Bohemia: events in the middle of the forest like Výletiště or in the village of Zlatý zbuch were simply magical. I also remember very fondly the Návrší mountain hut under Kralický Sněžník, Soulkostel, Pelhřimovy, Šamana Ztráta near Prachovské skály or the rubble site on the northern platform of the Smichov railway station. I would also like to mention the only show outside the Czech Republic, which took place on the coast in Sardinia. I have to thank everyone who is involved in organizing such adventures.
Final question: where do you get your inspiration from? What places do you visit, what do you read and what do you look at (think of it broadly as visual art)?
You never know in advance what will resonate with you. In general, I don't think I do anything unusual in this regard: I follow various tips, reviews or get recommendations for music, films, books or exhibitions and make long lists that I then refer back to. Unfortunately, I can't generalize in any way, and either I'll be too vague or I won't include it in one answer... So if I had to recall something specific from at least the last year or so that caught my attention, I would choose these books: Of Walking in Ice (Werner Herzog), Intermediary Spaces (Eliane Radigue), The Music of Life (Hazrat Inayat Khan), Patch and Tweak (Kim Bjørn), The Red Book (C. G. Jung) and Suttree (Cormac McCarthy). I was enthusiastic about Sisters with Transistors (Lisa Rovner), Communism and the Net or the End of Representative Democracy (Karel Vachek), Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Stanely Nelson), Annea Lockwood / A Film About Listening (Sam Green), The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky), F.L. Věk (František Filip), Lekár umierajúceho času (Miloslav Luther) and Herz aus Glas (Werner Herzog). From the exhibitions I remember most the woodcuts by Josef Váchal and the paintings by František Skála.
I also wouldn't want to leave out the importance of nature, which is absolutely key in what I do and where I draw a lot of my inspiration from. Apart from Brno, I am now mostly in Vysočina and I am fascinated by its unpretentiousness and rawness. At the same time, I am gradually discovering the local culture, topography and witnessing the transformation of the landscape, which is fundamentally shaped by the bark beetle calamity. Jan Zrzavý used to say Vysočina is sad, tragic. I don't know what he would say today, but it is clear that, in addition to the beautiful scenery, I am seeing the consequences of climate change right in front of my eyes.
Links to all of Tomáš Niesner's online channels
Conducted by Jakub Ďuraško (Stoned to Death records), translated by Jiří Štěpán (of the band Národní Divadlo)
Apologies for this dumb word play - Tomáš is not a professional reciter of epic poems ↩
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