Living with stardom

  • 2002-04-11
  • Jorgen Johansson
Pop sensation Prata Vetra - known internationally as Brain Storm - are by far and away the most popular band in Latvia, and could become one of the country's biggest exports. Jorgen Johansson spoke with charismatic lead singer Renars Kaupers, who's sure he's just a step away from the big time.

Brain Storm caused a stir by coming third in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2000, with the catchy, sublime pop tune "My Star." But despite critical acclaim throughout Europe for their last album, "Online," there's been only modest commercial success outside Latvia.

But they're not universally respected. They were heavily criticized when they turned down playing at Riga's 800th anniversary last August, and there were nasty rumors that the band's local success had gone to their heads.

Very little has been heard of from them since then, but Brain Storm's fame has undeniably been growing throughout Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. With an eighth album on the way - and this one, too, in English - Kaupers and his fellow band members are poised to conquer Western Europe as well.

When you decided to be a musician, did you expect to become this successful?

I don't know if it was expected. The dream started when I saw Depeche Mode's 101 tour. When I saw them playing on stage barely moving, and I thought, wow, they're not doing anything and the crowd is just going crazy. I thought, this is what we should do.

So your biggest musical influence is Depeche Mode?

Personally mine, yes, because Depeche Mode was the first band I heard after Modern Talking, Bad Boys Blue and all that kind of eighties stuff. I actually don't like eighties music at all, but there are some exceptions - and those exceptions are strong - like A-ha and Depeche Mode, who I really love and still do to this day.

So, when and how did you know you wanted to be a musician?

It all started when my mother took me to music school. I was in a choir, plus I had to study the flute and piano. But it wasn't like I wanted it or liked it. I didn't want to go, and was hiding all the time under the stairs. You know, when your teacher is 15 minutes late you can go home. So I was sitting there looking at the clock thinking, okay, three minutes more and I'm off home.

Brain Storm is by far the biggest band in Latvia, but who do you think are your closest rivals here?

It's very hard to say because they are all participating in all kinds of shows. And when I look at DJ Ozols, for example, I think it's cool what he's doing and the crowd is going crazy. But I am also thinking about how long it's going to last.

The band Hobos are really great. I've heard their new album. It sounds very seventies - very sweet, but at the same time moody and intelligent. I see them as a long-lasting band, and this is what I'm interested in. This is what we are trying to do.

You're very successful in Latvia, but how do you feel about not having made it big outside of Latvia?

Brain Storm has never been a competitive band. We never liked to participate in competitions. The best lesson we learned was in America two years ago. We met with the director of Jive Records, and it was just a five-minute discussion.

He asked where we were from and what we were doing there. We said we were from Latvia and we were just looking for some kind of luck. He asked if we were popular in Latvia. We said, "Kind of, yes." "Are people coming to your concerts?" "Yes, some 5,000 to 8,000." "So why have you come to America? Just stay in Latvia and work on your home market, and then be like a spider - spread your net."

And this is what happened after Eurovision. We became really famous with "My Star" in Belgium, Sweden and Finland, and it's not like nobody knows about us.

You said you don't like competitions, but you took part in Eurovision. Do you think this has helped your career?

Definitely, yes. After Eurovision, Scandinavia, Belgium and some parts of Germany are places where people know who Brain Storm are. Eurovision is a great chance to show the world who you are for three minutes.

Brain Storm could be Latvia's biggest export. Have you received any help from the state to promote yourselves abroad?

I don't want to make a mistake and forget anyone who's supported us in any way, but Latvian embassies abroad really want to communicate with us, and they have really helped to promote us.

But here, cultural committees still don't appreciate rock'n'roll or pop music as one of Latvia's cultural messengers. This is why we are struggling on our own. Of course, we have very good sponsors, like Krajbanka, which has been supporting us already for two years. Without them it would be very hard to do anything outside Latvia.

There's a rumor you didn't play at Riga 800 last summer because you didn't think the pay was good enough. Is this true?

There was a budget of 3 million lats ($4.86 million) and hundreds of thousands of lats went into building big stages and big screens. But when it came to the musicians we were told simply that it would be a great honor for us to play at Riga 800. Yes, we know that, but treat us like the people who built the stages and the screens. Of course, we can play for free, but we don't want to be fools. I see that man is driving a Porsch and that man is driving a Porsch and I am playing just because it's cool for me.

Has fame changed you?

Probably it has changed me. We are always trying to be down to earth. I've probably become braver and my shyness has gone away.

Have you considered a solo career?

Yes, I have thought about it, and many people have tried to push me to do it. But the main thing for us is to be happy and feel happy, and I feel happy making music together with my friends. I can imagine that if I was alone I would get more cash from the concerts and from record deals. But it's not a question of money. It's a question of feeling good, and I feel good with my friends. Not only playing for big crowds, but also just to come together for rehearsals. You feel so relieved at those moments. It's like when you haven't had sex for a long time and you become nervous and stressed, and then playing feels so nice.

Do you write your songs in English by yourself?

With the album (before "Online") "Among the Suns," Udritis, the lead singer of Hobos, helped a lot. "Online" I did it mostly myself. Songs like "Maybe" and "Online," and the next album we're doing ourselves as well.

What's the best thing anybody's said about the band?

I really liked what Michael Stipe (lead singer in massive U.S. band REM) said about our music on the album "Among the Suns." He said - and I agree with him - that the music on that album signifies that we could be a long-lasting band.

What's next for you and Brain Storm?

Making our next album in May. We just came back from Los Angeles, where we were looking for studios. And we are looking for producers for the album. There's a need for a little change. I have been looking for producers for three months already. Then we have a tour of Latvia.