Arts Tim Smisek: an American singer-songwriter living in Prague
Tim Smisek is an American singer and songwriter living in Prague. He regularly performs at Restaurant Anna and various other venues in the Czech capital. For this week’s edition of the Arts Tim visited Radio Prague’s studio to talk about his music, plans for the future and work on a new album. Lorna Stephen began by asking him how he came to live in Prague.
“I was living in Paris for two years performing and recording there with some other musicians and then this past summer I went on tour playing many concerts in different cities around Europe. That was the first time I played a concert in Prague and visited the Czech Republic. I liked it so much that I decided to move here.”
With a surname like “Smisek”, what’s the Czech connection there?
“My father’s side of the family has Czech heritage. I was actually born in Minnesota and most of my family comes from a place called New Prague, Minnesota. There’s a very high Czech population there and a lot of people speak Czech and there are Czech restaurants and everything so it kind of felt like a home away from home when I came here and saw Prague for the first time.”
How long have you been doing music, what’s your background, is that what you studied as well?
“Yea, I studied music in Chicago for 4 years at Columbia College Chicago and before that I had basically been playing music my whole life with my family. My dad is a musician and he plays guitar and sings, my twin brother plays bass, my older brother plays drums and my little sister sings. We’ve had a family band my whole life and started playing for parties and company picnics and in bars, even as young as 11, 12, 13 years old.”
Are there other artists here in Prague that you’ve been able to work with or is there anyone who you’ve got in mind that you’d like to work with?
“ Yes I’ve met a couple of other musicians that I’ve done some shows with here in Prague; Tom Zivor is a nice piano player that I’ve met who does a lot of film music and film scoring, Igor Rubinovich is another guitar player, he’s Russian and we’ve put some shows together here before. So yes, some great musicians!”
“Yes, I’ve got a few things coming up; on Saturday February 23rd I will be playing at Café Potrvá near Hradčanska with a guy called Cosmic Boxer; that will be my first time playing there so it should be cool!
“Other than that, I’ve got another show coming up on April 6th at Jazz Time again with my friend Igor Rubinovich the Russian guitarist and singer. The last thing is the Prague Future Shorts Film Festival. I have a friend (Kateřina Motylová) who is organising that - they did one before and now this is the winter screening. It should be a pretty cool event. They’re going to show seven short films and then in between we’ll have some live music, DJs, food and drinks. That will be on March 27th at Galerie Tiskárna.”
Do you have a preference for live performances or do you prefer to be in the studio recording the music?
“I like both, they’re very different. In the studio you’re always pulling your hair, hoping that you can get everything perfect and spending a lot of time on one thing. It’s a very different experience but it’s really gratifying when it’s finally finished and the songs come out well, the albums finished and you can finally start having people listen to it.
“But playing live is also really fun. When I was on tour this summer it was probably one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We went around all of these different countries and cities that I’d never been to before and played a mixture of public shows in clubs and then I also did some cool private shows in people’s homes.
“For example in one place in Barcelona this guy threw a party on the top of his roof and we had a barbecue and a party and he had some friends that were filming it for their film company. It was just a blast - there was the Sagrada Familia behind us and lights and summer heat and it was wonderful so I really do like the live experience and it’s a nice way to meet people.”
That’s true. So can you tell me a little bit about “Glass Petals”? Where does the name come from, does it have a special meaning?
“The name “Glass Petals” comes from the lyrics to a song that I wrote which is on the first album. The lyrics for the song actually came to me in a dream and then I thought that it really worked well as a name for the band and also to describe the music. Often it can be quite beautiful but at the same time a little bit delicate and so this idea of glass petals, maybe for example a broken piece of glass or a window, seemed to fit quite well to the music.
“I started the band in Chicago after writing that song and coming up with the band name and I had some musicians there that helped me record the first album. I then continued using the band name as I moved to Paris and then now Prague.”
You’re currently working on the new album and you made the last one Glass Petals in Chicago in 2010. How is an album being made in Prague going to be different? For example are there different influences here, I would imagine it’s a totally different setting to Chicago?
“The music scene is different here and obviously the feeling of the city is quite different so I imagine that that will play a big role when you’re in the studio and recording the songs here. I think in general over the past 3 years since I recorded the last album - or at least it was released 3 years ago but when we began the recording that was maybe closer to even 4 or 5 years ago - I think I’ve grown a lot as a musician and changed a bit in my style and my choices and what I’d like to do.
“I would say my experience in Europe in general both in France and now in the Czech Republic has reshaped my thinking as a musician and given me some new and exciting influences to draw upon. I think that that will have a big impact on the album, how it’s made and the choices I make with instrumentation or the style or the overall sound of the next album.”
As a musician, which process do you find most rewarding; composing, writing the lyrics, performing or recording?
“I really like writing lyrics; it’s probably one of my favourite things to do. I love recording and performing but the writing and the composing of the music and the lyrics and even the arrangement (I do all of the arrangements for strings and horns and other instruments) is my favourite part because that’s something you get to do every day.
“I’ll be walking down the street, waking up in the morning or in the shower and I’m thinking of lyrics or melodies or sitting down at the piano and thinking of some new songs. That’s my favourite thing to do!
“I love poetry and lyrics and so that’s quite interesting for me and it’s always like a puzzle – how am I going to put it all together perfectly? You sort of just know when it’s right and when it’s finished and you have all of the right elements together. I really enjoy that.”
Would you say there have been any highlights in your career as a musician so far?
“The first song on the album “Slipping Through My Hands” had a video; the guys that we recorded with in Chicago did a video shoot and a few months after the album was released, the video was put on the front page of YouTube for a few days, so that was pretty cool! That boosted our views quite quickly and was just a nice achievement. We were honoured to have that happen.
“Maybe the other highlight as far as a live performance… there is a venue in Paris called the Bus Palladium and with the band members that I had there, we played a show on November 11th 2011 so it was 11.11.11 and we had purposely booked the show on that date. 11 is also my favourite number! That was a great show so I think that goes down as being one of the more memorable ones.”
What other projects have you been working on so far in Prague, for example could you tell me about when you sang about fire safety to Czech children?
“(Laughs) I give music lessons at some schools - I teach a music class and for one of the music classes that I was teaching to a group of kids, the theme was safety and I chose the song “Fire Safety”. I had always remembered that song from when I was growing up - I think it was Allstate that initially had some big commercial about fire safety so I taught the kids the hook (sings) “be cool about fire safety”…
Earlier I was listening to the song “Lateral Line” and I know you like performing it live, so seeing as you’ve got your guitar with you here today, would you like to play a little bit of it for us now?
“Yes! This song is called Lateral Line and it was written by my twin brother, Andrew Smisek.”
Here is a link to Tim Smisek’s previous album: www.glasspetals.bandcamp.com