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Interview with Renat, Slovakia, 2008

Your artwork... What does it means for you?

For me, the artwork of a CD should convey something of the atmosphere of the music inside. I’m usually very careful with this, and while I’m not artistically gifted myself I always make sure I get help from someone who is. The artwork for my first two albums, Backwoods Crucifixion and God Is The Other Face Of The Devil, both of which I recorded in London in the early 1990’s, reflects a very dark period I was going through, after a long period of drug addiction. These problems started first in London, and continued when I moved to New York, where I had a band (Khmer Rouge) for five years. They continued when I moved back to London again, where my band finally split up in the mid 1980’s. I didn’t manage to get away from hard drugs until 1988. These first two albums reflect the aftermath of these dark experiences. In contrast, Blue Highway (Indies Records), the first studio album I recorded with Southern Cross after moving to the Czech Republic, has much lighter colours and design. For me, it reflects the feeling of liberation I had after escaping New York and London and all the problems that had built up for me in those cities. Dead Flowers For Alice which we recorded in 1999, is different again. On this, we tried to capture a very Victorian, magical feeling, with this very young girl carrying a bouquet of flowers, almost like Alice in Wonderland. With my second, Berlin-based band, Fatal Shore, the artwork is very important too. With this band, we are very fortunate to work with with Ollie Peters, a very gifted graphic designer with his own studio in Berlin. The design he created for the last Fatal Shore CD Real World is particularly inspiring. Posters, too, I believe, should be something special. Everything should work together to create a complete picture of the music you are presenting, and this includes other visual elements such as the clothes you wear onstage. After all, it’s about communication, and a band should communicate visually as well as with sound.

What kind of way was your music life changed after you arrived to Prague?

I think moving to Prague gave me the chance to develop my music away from the media-driven culture that prevails in places like New York and London. It’s important to be aware of new currents and streams in music, and to take inspiration from them. But if you live in London, you tend to get much too influenced by passing musical trends, and everyone is waiting to jump on the next popular movement. Because of the importance of the media there, it’s not such a natural environment in which to develop. It’s more about hype and media manipulation than it is about music. Living in Prague gives me much more freedom to go in my own musical direction.

Why just Prague?

Well, I came here as a tourist in 1991 with a Czech girlfriend I had met in London. I immediately fell in love with the place on some personal level. Not just because of the beautiful buildings and the astrological clock and all that tourist stuff! More because I liked the down-to-earth and pragmatic vibe of the place. I immediately felt good here, like it fit with my personality somehow. I came back again in 1994, and learned that my first solo CD had become quite popular on Radio 1. I left a copy of the second CD with the radio station on this visit, and some songs from it got heavy rotation airplay. Because of this, I was invited by a Czech band called Tichá Dohoda to come over and tour with them. They learned my songs, and in the summer of 1994 we did a ten day tour of the country. During this tour we recorded a live CD with was later released on Bonton Records (Phil Shoenfelt with Tichá Dohoda – Live In Prague). And also during the course of this tour I met Jolana, the woman who is now my wife. So I guess you could say my move here was a combination of personal and musical reasons, though somehow I feel it was all a pre-destined thing.

Your opinion about czech music scene. What do you like about that and what don't?

Most of my czech friends think I’m joking when I say this, but I actually think the czech music scene is very vibrant and healthy. There are a lot of clubs, and dozens of festivals in the summer, and believe me, so many bands from England and the USA really want to play here. Of course, the money isn’t so great, but when all things are taken into account I prefer playing here more than anywhere else. With the possible exception of Greece, where we have quite a big following because my second CD was a big radio hit there. In Greece the audiences are really emotional and are incredibly knowledgeable about music, a situation which isn’t always so true here. But it’s changing in the Czech Republic now, and there is a whole new generation of young bands coming up that are very hip about the history of independent rock music. My favoutite czech bands at the moment are Secret 9 Beat, whose first CD I produced, and Please The Trees, whose CD was produced by Amak from the band Sunshine. These bands, and many other young czech and slovakian bands, are now showing much wider and more contemporary influences than the old underground bands like Plastic People Of The Universe, Garage and Psi Vojaci. I love these bands too, but to some extent they are stuck inside a time capsule of 1970’s progressive rock. Sunshine, Please The Trees, Secret 9 Beat, Rest In Haste, Nihilists (before they split up) – are all capable of competing on an international level with top-notch indie bands from abroad. I do find the festival scene a bit repetitive, though. The organisers tend to go for either mainstream MTV-type bands, or bands that have been around for 30 or 40 years, because they all want to be the biggest festival and attract the maximum amount of people. So they are quite conservative, in my opinion, whereas they should be using the opportunity to introduce new bands. That’s one of the reasons I prefer to play at smaller, more intimate festivals, rather than these big events like Trutnov or Rock For People. For me, these big festivals are too conservative and boring.

How is your relationship to people on your gigs? Do they inspire yourself?

I normally try to create a relaxed, intimate atmosphere, without trying too hard to get the audience involved. This involvement should happen naturally as an outcome of the music itself. I hate it when bands become angry at the audience for not dancing, or whatever, and start telling them what to do, and how to behave. For me rock music is about freedom, not about marshalling people into some kind of army! I don’t like these „cheer-leading“ bands like U2 either, where everyone is expected to lose their individuality and merge into one big, flag-waving crowd. This is more like a football mentality than a rock and roll mentality, and I can’t stand that. I prefer to try and create an internal psychological space where people can lose themselves and dream – not be part of some big, anonymous crowd like you’d find in a sports stadium or an old-style communist party political rally.

Rock n´Roll cliche... What do you imagine about that when you hear that and what do you think about it? Do you like any cliche? What kind?

I try to avoid cliches, but to some extent it’s unavoidable in a popular medium like rock and roll. Have you ever seen the film This Is Spinal Tap? This is the best satire on the pomposity of rock music ever made, it’s absolutely spot-on and hilarious. When bands like Kiss and Aerosmith saw it, they were horrified at how accurate the film was, and recognised all their own pretentions and bullshit in it. If you want to know what rock and roll cliche is, then definitely download this film and watch it.

What kind of question do you like to get a what could be your answer?:)

I like questions that I can get my teeth into. Something like „What is the meaning of life?“ I’m joking, of course. But I do like questions that aren’t just restricted to rock music, and which touch on wider matters. These could be anything really, from social issues to philosophy, literature and art. I don’t restrict myself to only music anyway. I have also written a couple of books: „Junkie Love“ (Feťáská Láska in czech) about my former drug addiction; and Zelený Hotel/The Green Hotel, a bi-lingual edition of poetry and song lyrics. So I like interview questions that reflect these wider interests I have myself.

What is your favourite fairytale and why?:)

Well, you’re gonna think I’m a soppy old romantic when I say this, but my favourite fairytale is „Cinderella“! It shows that a pure heart and true beauty will eventually prevail over contrived effects, and that that when true love strikes, you will do everything you can to make it real. Like I said, maybe I’m too romantic here, maybe even a little naive, but that’s the way I feel about things anyway.

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