In any genre of music there tends to be two types of women performing on stage: tough girls versus nice girls. Tough girls like Patti Smith and PJ Harvey get some kind of respect for displaying the attributes that society usually honors in men. You know, the direct, balls-out confrontational effect. On the other hand, nice girls like Sarah McLachlan or Dusty Springfield gain our admiration with the sweetness and conformity that we tend to associate with femininity. It's all a false dichotomy, of course, since no one is purely sweet or purely strong. This is the case with Jana and Vesna and their band "All Strings Detached". They appear vulnerable and openly defiant and fit mostly into a shadowy third category of calm, down-to-earth women artists. "All Strings Detached" was formed in 2013 with two main figures: Jana Beltran on acoustic-electric guitar and Vesna Godler on bass guitar and drums. Their debut album "Heavy Rain" is filled with the sounds of somewhat classical melodies, blues rhythms, and rock'n'roll. They're effectively mixing their expressive vocals with minimalistic arrangements which are filled with grief, pain, love, sweet and sour memories. The lyrics are emotionally expressive, vulnerable, laced with anger and sadness, but never stereotypically feminine, coy, or girlish. I had a little chat with Jana and Vesna about their first album "Heavy Rain", their future plans, and their story. Grab a cuppa and read on.
What brought you together to create the "All Strings Detached" band? Have you already known each other or did you come together by pure chance?
Vesna: It was meant to be :). I met Jana two years ago and I liked her music very much. She seemed like a very interesting person. We started hanging out and Jana said: "Let's do music together," and we did. It was a very natural process. A lot of hard work, enthusiasm and joy for the music.
Jana: I was invited as a guest singer in Vesna's band "DidiWa" one night in Maribor. We had some rehearsals together and after that event I had this idea that we should do music together. I borrowed a Fender stratacoustic and put a bass guitar in Vesna's hands and so the story began.
What were you doing before the formation of this band?
Vesna: Seven years ago I started singing with a band "DidiWa", this autumn we are releasing our first album GREVA. I was also singing at jazz evenings "Ladies Sing The Blues" with band Krivec/Drašler/Petrušič. I was working on some projects with a writer Miomira Šegina. I also perform solo art exhibitions, the last was from Svetlana Jakimovska Rodić. In 2012 I had a solo concert in MGLC where I introduced afro-american blues/jazz women singers with Jošt Drašler as a guest on double bass. And as a guest singer I'm also performing with a band called "Aritmija".
Jana: I learned to play the piano and guitar in music school where I was introduced to classical masters like Beethoven, Bach, Chopin... and some years later I slowly started to write my own tunes. When I was 17 I went to Germany and had the first performance with my songs on a guitar and vocal with a violinist Alex Stolze from Berlin, with whom I later did some recordings. After that I continued writing songs for piano and vocal, or guitar and vocal - that never saw the stage :). In 2005 I joined a jazz band "Torpedo Quintet" as a vocalist, and in 2007 I started to work with a guitarist Bor Zakonjšek as a singer/song writer - we formed an ethno-jazz duo called "Koza-Riba". And then I met Vesna :).
Is there a story or any kind of symbolic meaning behind the name of the album - "Heavy Rain"?
Vesna: Heavy rain is a title that describes the mood of the songs and stories perfectly... There were some heavy feelings this year, a lot of strong emotions that are expressed on this album.
Jana: For me "Heavy Rain" presents the state of mind I am in when I sit alone inside and a heavy storm rages outside. I just listen to the drops that shut all the unnecessary noise around me and leave me to contemplate. There is something calm and heavy about it, because it usually brings me to the deepest things that lay inside. "Heavy Rain" also carries a scent of catharsis for me.
Is there anything particular that affected your approach to writing and recording the album? What was the biggest inspiration behind it?
Vesna: Simply to express my view on life, dealing with my personal stories, pain, and also the beauty of life. The biggest inspiration was the love for music and knowing that we can create something beautiful and strong together with Jana. We knew that we have something to say through music. There are many artist that inspired me. Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, rock'n'roll music, EKV, first Rolling Stones records, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, the cellist Jacqueline du Pre, a young pianist Nils Frahm, in general the whole classical music: Chopin, Satie... And then Memorize in the Sky, Julia Holter, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, PJ Harvey, Björk, Koza-Riba, and on and on... These are just a few that inspired my ears and heart.
Jana: My approach towards making music is very intuitive. I try not to think too much at the beginning, I just want to get myself in the mood that I've chosen for a theme and try to express it the best way I can, musically and lyrically. When the sketch is done I use the brain :). I listen to the recordings, analyse, and try to improve it. The inspiration for the main theme (lyrically) on this record came from our personal life. The two records that I was listening to a lot at the time of writing music for "Heavy Rain" was Anna Calvi's album "Anna Calvi" and Nick Cave and the Bad Seed's "Push the Sky Away". They both made quite an impression on me. Anna Calvi's talent for composition, the color of sound, her virtuosity on guitar, and the depths of her vocal overwhelmed me. She is a master of creating mood through music. "Push the Sky Away"... well, Nick Cave again brought many images to my mind with his lyrics and interpretations. I'm drawn to his voice which can be so calm and wild at the same time. The instrumental part of the record was also very inspiring, so melodic, and unsteady in its vibration. The inconstant tempo gives some kind of a disperse feeling, but still it holds the continuity and solidness in its character, it's just amazing. And then the work of Warren Ellis on keyboard and his violin, so subtle, vicious and great... If I cite Nick Cave: "Some people say it's just rock'n'roll, oh but it gets you right down to your soul"; I think this line says it all about how this record affected me. The musical inspiration for Heavy Rain's sound also came from different music I've played and listened to in the past, including J. S. Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Erik Satie, Bill Evans, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Julie London, Sarah Vaughan, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen... the list is practically endless.
Your music style is quite unique, consisting of melancholy, minimalism, beautiful etheral melodies and two sets of strings. How would you describe it?
Vesna: Rock'n'roll with a lot of silence. Deep, rough, gentle, and true music.
Jana: I think many music genres influenced our sound, it's hard to label it with just one or two words. The main focus while making "Heavy Rain" was first on the lyrics, we wanted to say something sincere, deep, and meaningful. Then I had to support them with chords that expressed certain moods/vibrations the best way possible. I think jazz influence was the strongest, not so much in the chord changes but in the sounds outside classical major and minor chords that gave an open, delicate and sometimes unsteady feeling. It was also very important to give the lyrics the right melodies so they could support the text and give the best output for the vocal interpretation. There's a lot of blues sound and jazz phrasing in the vocals, we were inspired by many singers from blues and jazz music world. The melodies I used for backing vocals were inspired by Gregorian chorals and by great violin composers as Vivaldi. When I sing I imagine myself in an old dark church singing with a choir or being a violin in an orchestra. And of course there's the rhythm that makes the whole thing running, the rhythm influences came from the rock, blues, and rock'n'roll world. A very important aspect in our music is also the use of dynamics in the volume and in the amount of sounds in a certain moment in order to emphasize the importance of another moment, creating a sort of a tension and release. I definitely learned that from classical music, especially from Ludwig van Beethoven. The minimal sound goes hand in hand with the dynamics I explained before and sometimes two tones on a bass guitar can say much more than a three minute guitar solo - Erik Satie was also one of my teachers at this.
What kind of feelings are you striving to evoke in your listeners?
Vesna: I don't think about this a lot. I want to give everything through music when I'm on the stage. To be totally honest... If I succeed in this and people get something out of my music, it's a nice feeling.
Jana: I just wish that people listen to and enjoy our music, however they interpret it and whatever feelings they experience.
How do you feel about the critical response from the media world? Does it affect your creativity in any way?
Vesna: I'm open for criticism, positive and negative. From the good ones we can learn. A negative critique must be explained in order to be taken seriously. At the end I will do it my way... The way I believe in :).
Jana: When we were making this record I had a clear idea about how it should sound, how to sing, how and what to play, the arrangements, everything. It's good to hear other's opinion, it makes you think about your work. I like strong critiques because I can learn from them, but it's also good to know what to listen to. People often have suggestions about our music, we hear things like "you need a drummer", "you should play chords like this", "you should scream more often"... That's all fine. It's ok that people have an idea about our music, but the decision for this kind of minimalist sound, the calmness, the intimacy that each of us expresses in our own way whether it's loud or silent, slow going... that wasn't something that happened by chance. Everything that you hear on the record is just the combination of our sounds and it's the way it is for our own reasons. We didn't want to fill up the whole musical space with sounds. We wanted to leave some emptiness in it that goes hand in hand with the lyrical theme and it also makes the music breathe more easily. I must say that the response from the public is very good, it's something we didn't expect. So I'm quite surprised and happy that it turned out this way :).
What is currently rocking your playlist? Any über-cool bands that we have to check out?
Vesna: I'm listening to "Porcupine Tree", an amazing English band, one great singer Miriam Wallentin and I must not forget Carla Bazulic... She's crazy!
Jana: Right now my ears are resting, but on such a rainy autumn day I could put on Sara Serpa and Ran Blake's "Camera Obscura" or "Dictaphone's Vertigo II".
What are the plans for your career in the future?
Vesna: Create, write new lyrics, practice, have as much concerts as possible... Music, music, and more music :).
Jana: Promote our record, practice new material, and prepare for the new record.