Perhaps the most famous Lithuanian artist abroad, for the young generation, is 40-year-old Darius Mileris, an acclaimed singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer with over a dozen albums under his belt, and who has been known to fans under his artistic name of Nojus, or Noah in English. Being a fan of Irish music and culture and, perhaps, feeling a bit “tight” in the provincial town of Alytus, in southern Lithuania, the musical extraordinaire, already in the early 1990s, established folk-rock band “Airija,” meaning Ireland.
“Irish music and culture have had a great influence on my tunes,” says Nojus, who dissolved the band in late 2000 and decamped with his family to Ireland. Unlike other aspiring musicians who emigrate, Mileris has always cherished his Lithuanian roots. And, unlike other Lithuanian expats, he is a frequent guest in Lithuania, where he now performs solo and where he has compiled several albums. Some of them, in fact, have secured spots on major radio station Top 10 charts. Nojus agreed to take questions from The Baltic Times.
For most great, acclaimed artists, it is usual to start chirping melodic tunes already when in diapers. Were you different?
Frankly, I did some other things in diapers… I had not been involved, in a way, in musical activities until I reached 16, when I started plucking the guitar. I got interested in it after I went to listen to a guitar solo concert, where songs by famous Lithuanian poet Paulius Sirvys were played. They were accompanied by guitar, which gripped my heart. Since my older brother played the instrument, I asked him to reveal the secrets of the guitar chords to me. When he did so, I got hooked. Until 16 I was quite keen on sports, particularly swimming. No bragging, but I was quite a decent swimmer. My first attempts as a songwriter were also in my teenage years, when I wrote two songs – ‘Elderly people’ and ‘Marionette.’ The lyrics for both were written by my classmate. When it came to my academic performance at school, I was really good at physics, but, eventually, music overwhelmed me.
Was that when the band “Airija” was born?
Well, first, in 1988, while still at school, I established my first band, “Terra L.,” which, interestingly now, rehearsed in the storeroom for military equipment that we used in the military preparation classes. I had tried out quite a few musical styles and local bands before 1992 when I, along with my buddies, founded “Airija.” Eventually it became a household name in the town and beyond. During ten years in the band we gave over 350 concerts, as far away as France and Russia. But in late 2000 we dissolved the band. The reason? One of them was that the band members decided to seek a better life abroad. Me included.
Why did you choose the moniker ‘Noah’ instead of sticking with another biblical personage?
Frankly, it is pretty hard now for me to explain this. Perhaps it was the aftermath of the Bible reading, which I did a lot in those days in search of spirituality, for God and myself? I only remember now that I came up with the name in early 1992, before a young artists’ competition in the resort town of Druskininkai.
By the way, I won it.
What does faith mean to you?
Faith is a sacred thing to me, meaning hope and significance. Trusting God means to me being a better person to others and to God, whom I keep inside of me. I talk to Him and even argue with Him, to tell the truth. I really know that He helps me, gives pieces of advice and protects me as well as my loved ones. One can believe in many things, but, in my case, the manifestation of my faith is my music. It makes me better, more open and more real.
How was the beginning of your life in Ireland? What did you go through in the beginning?
I’ve been living in Ireland for 11 years now. Sure, the beginning was tough as I had to shuffle between quite different jobs in order to maintain my family. Sometimes quite irrelevant ones, like being a bouncer at local pubs, or working as a delivery man and a manager. I’ve always been a gym geek, so the bulky look has helped me a lot in getting jobs. And, most importantly, it helped me to “feel out” the frolicking Ireland. The bouncer experience turned out later to be very crucial in making connections in the music field. Where else could I better learn of it if not in the local pubs kicking rowdy patrons out? Seriously speaking, Irishmen cannot imagine their weekend evenings without having a drink at a local pub. But even juggling the music-unrelated jobs for over six years, I’ve never forgotten music. In fact, I had my first concert in Ireland two months after I arrived there. After a year, I released my first album in Ireland. Quite a good start!
You‘ve devoted yourself exceptionally to music in recent years. Does music pay your bills?
As a matter of fact, it does! Now I write songs, record and release my albums, go on concert tours and promote some other artists, as well as do music managerial work. It means I’m finally in my shoes. Perhaps it could not have been otherwise, as music has always been my lifestyle. I am happy now it is my main source of living in Ireland. I really believe that the decision to quit all other jobs and pursue my career in music was right. In the pursuit, I even enrolled in a course given by the trendy magazine “Hot Press.” The presentations by some famous Irish performers and producers have driven me to devote myself to music. At the end of the day, doing what I really like, I started doing much better, earning even more than before. I’ve calculated: if I produce at least three concerts per week, I make my living.
How do you see Lithuania’s music life from Dublin?
I really believe that the life is simmering! There have been a lot of new bands created, and they produce live and real music, which, music-wise, is eternal. There are plenty of interesting Lithuanian DJs and electronic music producers and a throng of aspiring and promising artists there.
How has Lithuania’s music life changed over the 20 years since the restoration of independence?
First, I reckon, it is different in terms of its technical quality. Nowadays, Lithuanian musicians can reach out to listeners at low cost, and they expect it to be easier to find their own audience. And, certainly, the Internet has completely changed the distribution of music and its consumption.
What is the main difference between Lithuanian and Irish music? Where is it easier to make inroads into?
I believe the model is the same in both countries. Only the roots, history, musical education and openness to the world and, sure, the language are different. Nevertheless, what is characteristic to the Irish musical life, is that it is very active, exuberant and highly competitive. I cannot definitely say where it is easier to stand out, but I strongly believe that if one has some important and sincere musical message to tell, the necessary musical skills and the drive, he or she won’t go unnoticed.
Why don’t the Lithuanians performers make it to the level of the world’s top artists? Is it because of the language barrier? Management? Or lack of talent?
No doubt, the language thing plays a major role here. It is not enough to sing in English, as much more is needed to tune in to it. A small music market and economic potential are among other reasons to be considered. Anyway, Lithuanian performers have already been acknowledged for two consecutive years by winning the MTV awards in the MTV Baltic Act category. Nevertheless, this has just sent out some ripples in the waters. A world celeb’s status needs a whole lot more than that.
When will Lithuania win the Euro song contest, Eurovision? What do we need to win it?
We need a good circus-like performance! Something similar to the LT United performance in 2006, when the song clinched sixth place in the finals. But a Eurovision-winning performance has to be a lot stronger and impressive to be noticed across Europe.
Do you have any favorite performers in Lithuania and Ireland?
I really wouldn’t like to discern some names. I am always keen on live-performing singers, musicians, from acoustic music to rock-and-roll.
Has life as an emigrant changed your views about Lithuania, and life itself?
From a distance, I always see the beauty of Lithuania, the splendor of its nature and architecture. Speaking of the vices, politics, societal relationships, sometimes quality-lacking service come to my mind first.
You’ve always been known for fostering Lithuanian-ness, here and in Ireland. How do your children speak at home?
Sure, only Lithuanian! Our family keeps in touch with Lithuanian friends; we actively participate in Lithuanian events. I regularly perform at Lithuanian gatherings. I really don’t believe that living somewhere else can dent the thing of being Lithuanian and spurring one’s roots. Unless the mentality is different.
How often nowadays do you come back to your native town of Alytus? Is it changing?
I visit Lithuania four or five times a year. I give concerts and visit my extended family here. And, every time I come back to Lithuania, I visit Alytus as well. Every time I see it, it seems to be nicer and livelier. But the most important thing to me is that the local people seem to be merrier and more smiling. That’s a good thing!
You tend to speak only of nice things in Lithuania. Is there anything that vexes you there?
As I said, there is a good deal of insincerity and phoniness in service field. I really cannot stand that. There are still some chilly relationships in the society. And when it comes to politics, a lack of conscience is often obvious. However, perhaps it is a global thing. Right?
Are you cherishing plans of moving back to Lithuania sometime?
Not for now. With no borders across Europe, and living in Ireland, I feel as if [I’m] living at home. Over the years, I’ve established my life in Ireland. The longer our family lives in the country the more interesting we find it. And as long as I come back to Lithuania four or five times a year, I feel as if I’ve never left. I’ve never felt being out of touch with Lithuania and its events. Besides, being an artist and musician goes beyond any borders. So I am quite settled in Ireland for now.