VILNIUS - It's taken long enough to happen, but that's Lithuania for you. At long last though - and not before time - Saules Kliosas finally released its first album this month, much to the delight of their many fans, who until now have had to make do with catching the band live.
After four years of featuring regularly on the Vilnius live scene, the new album "Stubidubap" perfectly captures the irresistible energy and musical playfulness that made the group so popular with locals. But Saules Kliosas has always been first and foremost about fun. Whenever I go to their concerts, I am always carried away by the sheer, boundless joy the band seems to take from being on stage. That's probably why the group, all eight members of it, along with vocalist Daiva, has become the headlining act at most music festivals.
Musically, the album is pretty much Saules Kliosas live in a bottle. It's jazz. It's funk. It's disco. It's pop. And yet it's not.
"We certainly try to approach pop music, but it does not quite work out. When, in our opinion, we play a pop song, people say it is jazz. This means either we don't know what we're talking about, or they don't," says drummer Laurynas Sarkinas.
But when you witness the audience jumping around like crazy at one of the group's concerts, it's hard to believe that they haven't been able to secure a record deal for all this time. Saules Kliosas has been harrying record companies for two years to put out an album, but all to no avail. If the record companies bothered to give an explanation as to why they weren't interested, it generally went along the lines that the group's music just wasn't profitable enough. So in the end the band members decided to finance the release of the album themselves.
"Stubidubap" is a compilation of 10 songs performed both in Lithuanian and English. It's hard to overstate what a breath of fresh air Saules Kliosa is in the almost unbearably stale world of Lithuanian music. Most popular bands are just a very poor imitation of a perceived notion of Western music. But unfortunately the bizarre economics of being a Lithuanian band means that the group has a rather high turnover in its members.
"The music we play doesn't make a lot of money and so people don't hang around for too long in the band," Sarkinas explains.
The group has had to find replacements for almost half of its members, including its first vocalist Viktorija, who decided to split and form a new group of her own. Whoever said that pop was a fickle thing?
Due to all the strange and disorientating comings and goings of band members, Sarkinas says even he considered putting an end to Saulas Kliosa. But somehow the group got through the worst of its personnel problems and for now, at least, seem solidly together.
The most criticism the band attracts isn't even connected with its music but with vocalist Daiva's penchant for punk style. Her long unkempt hair and, um, skin is a little avant-garde, believe it or not, in contrast to most popular Lithuanian female singers, who basically do their best to be a Baltic Britney.
I personally hope that Saulas Kliosa succeed, quite apart from the fact that they make damned good music, because the music industry here has to learn to start supporting what precious little talent there is around.