Born into a music oriented family on the outskirts of the windy, undisputed home of Latvian rock, Liepaja, it is only natural that 23-year-old Miks Dukurs has stayed in the family business to make a name for himself as a singer/songwriter. Having competed for Latvia’s spot at this year’s Eurovision with the first English-language song that he himself wrote the lyrics for (Sweet for Me, featuring Latvian rappers NBC), and with another of his songs, “Tu Mani Cel” (You Lift Me Up), becoming a recent hit in Latvia, Dukurs’ star is quickly rising. In between playing with his group, Positive For, early this summer in a long list of concerts, the singer/songwriter sat down with The Baltic Times to talk about the influences of growing up in the rock-oriented Liepaja, the current state of affairs of Latvian music, and his aims to make a name for himself outside of Latvia.
Can you start off by telling us a little bit about how you came into music?
The influence on me was my father, Edijs. He was a rock musician before I began to play. He was playing with popular Latvian singer Igo – Rodrigo Fomins, the older brother of Ivo Fomins. Together with Igo, my father recorded many CD’s and played in many concerts. Even when I was a very small child, I was being taken in a baby carriage everywhere, listening to rock music.
So perhaps it is a little difficult to imagine a career other than being a musician?
I think I would be a writer. I could not imagine myself working in an office or in a shop. I am writing the lyrics for all of my songs as well as some other projects. I think that if you are a singer you should write the lyrics yourself, because then you are singing from your heart and you know what the song is about.
It is my understanding that Igo is from Liepaja and was a key figure in the rock scene there; however, are you not from Cesis?
I was born in Priekule, near Liepaja, so I am always saying I am from Liepaja, but I also feel at home in Cesis, where I moved later in my childhood. Now, however, my place is in Riga because everything is happening here and I love this city. Especially now, with summer coming and so much happening.
How important is Liepaja in the Latvian rock movement and your own career?
Liepaja is where rock music in Latvia was born. Liepaja has its own style of music and it can be heard in the bands that come from there. It is Liepaja’s own unique style and it is true rock music. When I was little, [Liepaja rock group] Livi was my favorite band. When there was a talent show at school, I would lip-sync Livi songs.
Obviously, you were close to Igo growing up. How has he influenced what you are doing?
For a long time Igo was my favorite singer and I am hearing an influence from him. Of course, I am doing my own thing, but I am proud to say he has played a role in shaping my music. It is important that you are following the right musician, who is singing in the right way, so I am glad that my father was in a band with him.
That is interesting, because I would suggest that the music Igo was creating is a little heavier than what you are doing now...
My first group, Pent-in Dreams, was a crazy rock band. Latvian radio stations would not play our music because it was considered too heavy. I was 16 years old and I was screaming and getting my anger out. That was a real rock band, but it just died, like every good dream. It was great while it lasted, but now I am in Positive For, and that is where my energies are.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Positive For?
It is a family project, as my sister and I are the singers and my father is the bass guitar player. The other two musicians are like family as well. We are like a big family. I love playing together with my family. There are not too many examples from other groups of where sons and daughters get to play with their fathers.
We are doing a concert show for the whole summer. There will be many gigs and people are calling all the time, so we are giving them the show with the name of my hit single, “Tu Mani Cel.” The group is only just beginning to grow up and does not yet have a hit of its own, so that is why we are performing under the name of my solo song. We will be releasing our new single in the next two weeks – “Dveseles Juriste” (Soul Lawyer).
Is this new single going to be part of an album any time soon?
The new album does not yet have a name, but it will be released in autumn. Hopefully, following that we will have a tour in the spring. I show a lot more of my emotions on the new album and I hope that people will see and understand that. I am still discovering myself and changing my thoughts all the time. That is perhaps why the band’s name is Positive For, because we are positive for music. It is not only about taking the music in one direction. We are going new ways all the time and changing our styles and mixing them to create something new. You will hear this on the new records.
It seems to be a big move away from what you started out doing...
I love it that all kinds of people are listening to my music. In Latvia you cannot only play one style, because then it will only appeal to a couple of groups. That is why I decided to grow up and do something more mainstream, for a bigger audience, because in Latvia if you are playing something underground, then there are, maybe, only 200 people listening to you, so why are you doing this? So I decided to go a little bit mainstream, but at the same time try and continue to do what I like for a bigger audience. Of course, it is still hard when we are such a small country, but now in the 21st century, when you have Youtube and Twitter, I think everything is possible.
You can live here, or even perhaps outside of Riga in the countryside. You can make your own studio, which nowadays is nothing more than a Macbook, sound card and a mike. You can live in an environment you are comfortable in, sitting by a lake and listening to the birds, but still become popular throughout the whole world... if you have Internet, of course (laughing)! You put a post on Facebook or Twitter then place a video on Youtube and the whole world can see what you are doing. You can then use your own camera, make a film and that can go with the song. That is the whole music industry nowadays. A lot of musicians do not realize that. It is not important for you to be from England or America. You just need to think big.
This is my dream and something I am working on achieving right now. But first, it is still important to become popular in your own country. Once you prove yourself to your own people, then you can go forward.
Aside from the work you are doing with Positive For, you have also collaborated with other artists, as well as doing some individual stuff. Can you tell us more about the song you performed with NBC at this year’s Latvian Eurovision qualifiers, and perhaps why you think it was not a winning effort?
That was actually the first song that I did 100 percent myself. I wrote the music myself. I am very proud of it and it is my favorite song... except for the new one that is about to get released! I was wondering what went wrong at the Latvian qualifying stage for Eurovision. I could not understand what the judges did not like... whether it was because I also used rappers (NBC) or because of, maybe, the show I put on. I do not understand why some countries – not only Latvia – are sending an old school type of music to Eurovision and nothing original. They think that Eurovision has some type of format, but it doesn’t. Every year a different type of music wins. My sister was also competing independently, so it was difficult on the family as we were doing two different types of shows, making it doubly hard. We did not have sponsors either, so we were doing it on our own money, which I also do not think is right.
You mention the money... is that a problem with trying to make music in a small market like Latvia?
If you are making music you should not have to be thinking about money. At the moment we are trying to find some people to finance us. We have a lot of ideas, but to realize them we need money. It is sad, that to be famous outside of Latvia there are costs we need to meet all the way. All we can do is keep writing the music and continue to think of ways to promote ourselves.
Aside from what you are doing, what do you think of the state of the music in general being made in Latvia right now?
I think that my generation is doing a lot of stuff, but it is all a little bit sad and mellow. Some of it is really good, but it is still quite dark... it seems like they are thinking in a very sad way. That is why I made the band Positive For, because I think my generation is thinking in a negative way. I am not sure why they are singing like they have never seen happiness, because joy is everywhere and you can see it every day. I am not sure why... maybe it is because of the big hipster movement here right now, and they are taking a little bit too much from that. I like their style, but I think they are taking it too far.
Thoughts on the future and advancing your own career away from Positive For?
I will always have a chance to advance my solo career and I continue to release work with other groups, but it is something I want to focus on when I am old and with a white beard. Not yet!