Interview: Instrumenti

“The central idea of the album is humaneness,” says Gatis Zaķis from the acclaimed Latvian band Instrumenti, who have just released their new LP called “Atkala”.

It’s hard to put Latvian band Instrumenti into particular music genre because their musical scope varies from experimental electropop to minimalism, but aesthetics and mood can be provocatively aggressive or calmly contemplating. One thing is clear – their ability to reinvent themselves as characters and musicians is phenomenal.

The first public appearance of Instrumenti was rather fun because two guys wearing panda masks cheerfully sang about life jacket under your seat. Later they took off the masks to introduce themselves as well dressed abstract black & white creatures from some kind of a modern fairytale. But this December, Instrumenti changed the rules of the game by introducing themselves… as themselves.

Their latest, fourth album “Atkala” is all about humaneness where banality is the new normal. Beehype met with Gatis Zaķis, one of the three members of Instrumenti, who is also brilliant sound maker or as he calls himself – artistic director – to learn more about the idea behind “Atkala”.

I have the impression that in Instrumenti you are responsible for the sound, the mood of the music. What is your role in Instrumenti?

Gatis Zaķis: The overall sound is one of my responsibilities, but I am also responsible for the content of the album. You see, every song has to be filtered and processed if you want it to develop and put certain emotion into it.

For example, usually we decide together if it’s better to use strings or piano in a certain song. But mostly I have a final word when need to find technical solutions to finish the songs.

When we were working on “Atkala”, there were 20 songs. Then we decided to work with 13, but at the end only 10 songs got into album. But that doesn’t mean that the other 10 songs were weaker. We decided to keep some trump cards for the next album.

It’s been three years since Instrumenti’s previous album “Iekams” was released. How did “Atkala” start?

After “Iekams”, each of us started separate projects to satisfy our individual ambitions. But after two and a half years we got back together because we understood that it’s impossible to reach so called Instrumenti zone by doing things separately. So we started to think that we should do new record.

For the start we didn’t know what we’ll do, because we hadn’t any finished songs. There were only previously written lyrics without music. So for the first time we started to compose music considering the lyrics. Actually I like the idea that music comes after lyrics because in that case lyrics dictate the rules for music to come.

For the first time, Instrumenti released an album in Latvian – previously you were singing in English. What’s the story you are telling us in “Atkala”?

The central idea of the album is humaneness. Yes, it may sound banal but for us humaneness is a new phase. You can see that also in our appearance.

Yes, Instrumenti first appeared wearing panda masks, later the band members became some kind of black abstract characters, but now you look like ordinary guys.

Panda masks were used because it was easier to do things. But black and white period of album “Procrastination” from 2013 we introduced whole new reality with certain rules. Now we are in the phase of humaneness even if it sounds banal.

“Atkala” is aesthetically diverse – there are some typical aggressive sounds and then there are not so typical sentimental songs.

You see, we live in interesting times when everyone is bored with the idea that banality is banal. People are not afraid of banal anymore. There’s some fairness renaissance in society. For me there’s also need to do in music something completely different.

It seems that Latvian music still tries to mimic Western music, but I don’t want to do that. That’s why in “Atkala” you can’t hear any trendy sounds. I think “Atkala” stands out of time. But such albums can exist only if you don’t follow musical trends.

Instrumenti collaborated with legendary Latvian painter Džemma Skulme whose painting reproductions makes the visual side of “Atkala”. Why did you decide to work with this artist?

Idea to collaborate with Džemma came up when we were thinking about the face of the album. We gave her demo versions of the songs and she made a painting for each song. Her paintings made impact on the further development of “Atkala”, because the palette of the paintings gave strong atmosphere.

One more thing I noticed about Atkala that it contains musical and emotional references to Latvian music of 1980s, also poetry. Was it done on purpose?

No, it was not our purpose. But when we discovered that it has that sound, we decided not to change anything. We didn’t even worried that album could sound like Latvian oldschool. But, yes, there are many references to so called Latvian code.

Stream “Atkala” LP on Spotify.


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