Toxique: Bringing a progressive edge to Czech pop music scene

09-01-2009

One of the most exciting bands to emerge on the Czech music scene over the last 12 months is the funky and progressive pop group known as Toxique. Headed by singer Klara Vytisková (who some have described as a Czech Gwen Stefani) the band released its debut last year – and soon shot up in the charts. The single Two Sides is now widely well-known, while an appearance in last year’s Eurosong (the national round of the Eurovision contest) only added to Toxique’s popularity. The band is the focus of today’s Arts.

Many have called Toxique – headed by charismatic singer Klara Vytisková and guitarist Patrick Karpentski – one of the biggest surprises on the Czech music scene. The five-member group, which draws inspiration from performers like Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse and others released their debut last February and since have grown in popularity, performing concert after concert. I recently caught up with Klara Vytisková and asked her to tell me more about Toxique’s debut.

“We worked on it last year until the end of January and February. But it was really hard: we spent a lot of time on it. The recording was one thing, then there was the booklet and the design. But, you know, I like that. For this first album I brought in many of my own songs. I have been composing since the age of 15, so a lot of these were teenage songs. We worked them all together, made all the arrangements. Often I or someone else brings in some chords or a melody or a bass line and we work on it together.”

The idea for Toxique came together when Vytisková was studying jazz at college, meeting Patrick Karpentski, her teacher. The two discussed forming a band; as far as the music was concerned, the idea was to mix different styles - something which has become a core trademark for the group.

“All the guys and me were listening to completely different music. There’s Led Zeppelin, Vilda listens to Eye-remix. I like Gwen Stefani and I also really like old Motown: the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and the Temptations.”

Whether they realise it or not, many Czech listeners will have now heard the band’s single Two Sides at least once, and probably many more times than that! Klara Vytisková says the idea for the song came to her in a flash:

“It was funny with Two Sides. It was ready in like five minutes! I had just come home and was next to my piano and suddenly it was like oh, I really like that. So we added a bass line with the guys, and that was it! It’s funny: sometimes you can have half a year go by and ‘nothing’. And then at other times it’s like five minutes!”

The video for the song, which you can see on youtube, has also proven highly popular:

“It was shot in a studio, but I prepared the set, so it looks like a flat. The guys play my husbands and I play their wife. It’s a bit of a parody of American hip hop videos where they always have all these pretty girls: the opposite is a wife at home with her husbands. We had a lot of fun with it.”

Attention to detail is perhaps one secret to the band’s success, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t always room for improvement. Vytisková explains:

“Yeah, we don’t really practice a lot because the guys are playing in like eight different bands! So we played, played, and played until we felt we were ready! But still we need to practice more to avoid those little mistakes. Mistakes no one else would ever notice but which as a band member you know are there. It’s not good!”

Since, many have noted Vytisková’s talent as both a singer and a performer, as well as noted her passion for retro fashion, lounge-style couches and colourful theatrics. All are essential in the band’s performances.

“It’s pop and for me pop is connected with good shows. You know Justin Timberlake’s show is great but of course he has money! So my idea was to have a great pop show but without any money! So I have all my stuff there: I dress up, and I have my sofa and carpets and pillows so that on stage I feel at home. It’s a pop show and that’s what I wanted to do. I like unusual clothes and preparing costumes, so I just tour all the second-hand stores looking for outfits. Maybe in the future I’d like to have my own store, featuring my own creations.”

Compared to North America and Western Europe, the singer says vintage fashion in the Czech Republic still comes fairly cheap. But there are other differences, too.

“You know, there is a problem: here if you go out here crazily-dressed they look at you like you’re mad! I spent time in Berlin and also in New York City and there were a lot of great stores there with vintage clothes but it was still much more expensive. They are very well aware of the value of some of those items, while here you can still get some things fairly cheap. A super old Adidas jacket for 50 crowns which would cost 100 dollars there. Here I can find super boots which don’t cost much, that’s what’s good about here.”

Since their debut, Toxique have performed a lot but are now taking a brief hiatus. But Vytisková says they’ll get together soon enough to begin putting together material for a new album. All that’s needed now is a little inspiration…

“Often ideas come when I am in the pub with my friends, without a pen or paper, having to run to the bathroom to at least record it on my cell phone. It always come when you don't expect it. I don’t sit around at home saying ‘It’s good’ or something like that.”

09-01-2009