These Semi Feelings, They Are Everywhere by dné (AKA Ondřej Holý) recently won the Vinyla alternative music prize for Czech LP of the year and is also in the running for the Apollo award. Recorded in large part in Holý’s Prague bedroom, the mesmerising, keyboard-based album came out on German label Majestic Casual and has been making waves internationally in a way most Czech artists can only dream of. When I stopped by at Ondřej Holý’s home, I first asked him about his beginnings in music.
“Then when I was over 20 I started to play guitar and piano, by myself. And that’s it.”
And who were the artists who inspired you? I’ve been reading comparisons, names like Sakamoto and Chopin, in connection with you.
“No, that’s ideas of other people about my music. Sure I like Sakamoto, but not on some huge level, like inspiration.”
So who are the artists who inspired you?
“If I should name one name, it’s Khonnor. He released an album in 2004, it was his only album, called Handwriting.
“I just like the sound design and the whole mood of the record. I think it really got into my musical style.”
Your own album took five years to make. You were stopping and starting. Why did it take so long?
“Because I was looking for the right sound and I wasn’t fortunate enough to find it for three years.
“So then I established a concept for myself: piano and human clapping. And it went kind of smoothly from there.”
We’re now in your bedroom, by the street here in Prague 6. Does the fact that you record here influence your music, or inform your music?
“Now I’m calmer in my life. I did it. Finally the album’s out and whatever happens now, whatever.”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think I have any abstract influences, like weather or some feelings. I just need to make music. If I succeed, I’m happy.”
Tell us about the actual process of making These Semi Feelings, They Are Everywhere. How did you go about it? Over how long were you actually doing it? Did you throw away a lot of material?
“No, I don’t throw away material. I don’t have a bag full of other songs that are not that good.”
So there won’t be an extended version in a few years with all extra tracks?
“Yeah, there might be five other songs, but they’re just not that interesting to be heard by anybody.”
I guess after all the time it took you to make the album it must be hugely gratifying now, when you’ve won the Vinyla award, you’re also nominated for the Apollo award…
“Yeah, but mainly for myself… I’m really relieved that I did the album and now it’s part of me.
“Now I’m calmer in my life. I did it. Finally it’s out and whatever happens now, whatever.”
How long were you sitting on it before it was released? I know artists often have an album ready and they’re excited about it but not many people get to hear it for a long time.
“Because my manager and I were making a deal with Majestic Casual and I was the first one they signed, so they had to prepare everything from the ground up – the deal and everything.
“We were shooting a video and doing new mastering and it just took a lot of time.
“And we didn’t want to release the album in the summer because my album is not like summer songs, or whatever.”
The label you’re on, Majestic Casual, is a German label, and I first came across you on a live video you did for them, a version of Asos Model Crush. How come you ended up as a Czech artist, and I guess relatively unknown, on a German label?
“It’s just a matter of whether you find the right people to work with.
“And I was lucky, because I met my current manager, Josh Christopher, and he has a lot of connections in the relevant music business. It wasn’t hard.
“So make good music and find the right people.”
But still, how do you go from a Czech bedroom to a German label? Your manager is English, right?
“Yeah, my manager is English.
“It’s really from the internet. We’re not in the 1990s anymore.”
Yes, but still, everybody’s on the internet. How do you get through all the competition?
“Just make a good album, you know [laughs]. I don’t know what to say. That’s about it.”
“I want to make live shows kind of rare. I don’t want to be a guy who plays in Prague every month to 20 friends.”
As well as having a British manager, you were a recommended artists or something on Spotify [one of his songs was on a Spotify playlist entitled The Most Beautiful Songs in the World]. You have a brilliant video that looks like it was made in LA, by an American director, Lauren Rothery. You yourself have scored videos for W magazine. You’re reviewed in international magazines. Are other Czech artists jealous of you? Do they go, How come this guy’s the one who’s so international?
“Maybe, but I didn’t notice. Maybe people I don’t know. That’s a possibility.
“But my friends seem OK with it.”
Is it a kind of abstract success, when you’re on this Spotify list or your live video is viewed 300,000 times on YouTube? I expect there isn’t much money coming your way from this big exposure.
“Not yet, but I think in a couple of months it should start to pour in.
“The thing is, it’s a kind of illusion of success.
“Because the Spotify and YouTube things are based on playlists, so people might like your music, but they don’t know it’s you.
“They listen to it when they’re doing stuff. It’s not too personal. It’s not like I have thousands of fans.”
You have fantastic song titles, including one that immediately grabbed me: Driving a Car While Listening to Bill Burr’s Podcast. I also noticed that you make references on Facebook to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Where does your interest in American comedy come from?
“We don’t really have any good Czech comedy and when you speak English you do yourself a favour when you take interest in what’s happening around you, and not in the Czech Republic.
“And US comics are the best in the world, so it was kind of natural.”
Any other favourites apart from Bill Burr?
“I kind of have problems with Bill Burr. I like his podcast, with some breaks – I don’t listen to every podcast he makes.
“But his stand-up is basically one hour of yelling. His voice kind of changes. And I can’t stand it. It’s too thought out. The podcast is better for me.
“And other comics… I love Eric Andre and Louis C.K. And some others.”
I know you work with some other Czech groups and musicians. You produced, for example, the band Videos. Who do you regard as your peers in the Czech music world?
“Dominik Gajarský – he plays as Slowmotiondancer. He’s my BFF and he’s a good musician.
“I have a couple of other friends, but the connection is not that strong, like on the music and friendship level.
“Igor Bruso is cool. But he lives in Berlin and he’s Russian, so he’s not a Czech guy, I don’t think.”
He has the band Deaths, who you are playing some concerts with soon. Have you played a lot of live shows? Is it something you enjoy?
“Yes, I played live shows a lot when I was younger, but then I stopped.
“The thing is I want to make them kind of rare. I don’t want to be a guy who plays in Prague every month and 20 friends are waiting for you – it’s not interesting to me.
“Also I don’t want to have gigs in the Czech Republic too much. I had them in the past and it’s not my interest to have some tour and gain… fans.”
Your music is intimate and quiet. Is it hard to get that across to an audience?
“Well, we’ll see. Because I haven’t played a gig in a year and a half.
“In a month I have this short tour with Deaths, at the end of March, so we’ll see.
I was at a concert years ago of the band Low, who were quieter then than they are now. In the audience some people were talking and there was almost a fight in the audience. The band stopped the concert and said, Talk or don’t talk, but whatever you do, don’t fight. But people do talk at gigs – will you have to ask people to shut up, or what do you plan to do?
“No, I’m not going to force anybody to listen to me. I’ll just do the gig and leave everything up to them.
“If they want to talk, they can talk… Hopefully there’ll be somebody next to them to tell them to shut up. But it’s not going to be me.”
My final question is, what’s next for you? Are working on new material? I know your album only came out in November, but are you looking to the future?
“Yeah, I’m looking to the future. I want to start to make new music in April, because I have these gigs at the end of March and then in April I’m free to do whatever.
“So maybe some other opportunities will come up. I already have some demos I’d like to work on.
“And I’d like to have a short EP of songs finished by Christmas. This year.”
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