'Library is my sanctuary & travelling my freedom'
PEOPLE WITH PASSION
WHO I INTERVIEWED: Zdenka Trvalcova
Singer / Songwriter at VOILA Band & Actress
PASSION: Music & Travel
Getting the first interview done in Prague and I feel a little nervous. Will it be different to the interviews I’ve done abroad? Zdenka arrives and I sense a ton of positivity and dreaminess around her. The conversation flows naturally and I instantly get lost in her world. Her world is calm, yet seeking new adventures. She’s the kind of person you’d want to travel with...take a guitar, hop on a train, meet new people and get inspired by the journey rather than the destination.
We met at Neustadt Cafe which was Zdenka's choice, so I asked why this place
A lot of people know Neustadt Cafe quite well and they love to keep coming back. For me personally, it reminds me a lot of Berlin - not just because of its name, but because of the atmosphere. I often visit Berlin with the band, where I love going to cafes and other spots which have similar vibes. Not that I don’t like Prague - I love this city - but I love to travel, and if I don’t have the opportunity to travel, I choose places which remind me of other cities. And this spot is exactly one of them.
I remember the first time we went to Berlin - we sang on the streets and met Cameron Morgan there. Our song James Dean from Berlin is about him. And since then we've been visiting Berlin quite regularly. We’ll actually be performing in Berlin on 3rd and 4th July at the Club Kaffee Burger.
What inspires you and makes you passionate
The most obvious thing is music...different rhythms and different kinds of sounds. It’s been changing throughout the years. My love for music has always been there, but my taste has changed.
However the older I get, the more connected I feel to the nature, the sea...completely different factors which used to get me distracted when I was a teenager or in my early 20s. Other things that make me passionate are encounters with other people while travelling and being generally on the move.
When I travel, I always feel like a different person which allows me to collect unbelievable experiences.
What do you mean by being a different person while you travel?
I think a lot of people relate to this. When we travel we tend to feel more free, more relaxed - therefore being able to do more crazy and spontaneous things. With this mindset we start to attract people who feel the same, so we all begin to gather experiences which are a little farther from reality. At least, that’s how I see it and experience it. The wildest moments were from the times I was travelling. It’s not that I plan on creating these wilder and free-er moments, they just form naturally.
Do you still enjoy living in the city or you’d rather move to the country
You’ve picked out a very fresh topic. I’ve been living in the city for 18 years, but I grew up in a little village which has 300 people. I moved to Bratislava when I was 15 and I’ve always enjoyed the city life - the opportunities it gave me in all of it's glory. Whether it's the cultural side or me just going to a cafe to either work or meet people. I love how the city spontaneously carries you with it’s flow...you meet people on the streets and join them in their journey.
At the moment I’m more inclined to the countryside though. Maybe because it’s such a busy time of the year, so naturally I have the need to get away from the city rush. My boyfriend and I are constantly switching between the 2 - a bit of the city, and then a bit of the country.
WHAT are your favourite spots around Prague
When I’m here, I love to spend a lot of my time in parks or I often go to Naplavka - it’s great to be able to sit by the river. There’s actually a beautiful green area right next to this cafe, which not many people know about. There’s a view of Prague and I recommend we go there once we’re done. It used to be a place where drug-addicts hang out, but they are putting a lot of effort to open it up to the public now - I think it’s really beautiful.
Parks, rivers and cafes are my getaway spots but my utmost favourite hiding place is the library. I love books and spaces with lots of books. My colleagues always laugh at me, because whenever I get a break between theatre shows, I escape to the nearest library. My favourites libraries are the Municipal Library of Prague, the branches in Vinohrady, and I also like going to the Vinohrady Library, but most of all I love discovering other libraries across the city.
My favourite coffee places are all branches of Mamma Coffee (there are 4 locations) - love their coffee. Other places I like going to are: Kavarna na Pradle (Cafe on Laundry), Malkovich Bar - also quite a Berlin style place, Kaaba (cafe), Dobra Trafika (cafe), and of course let’s not forget Muj Salek Kavy (cafe) in Karlin (making a reservation here is highly recommended).
I love to eat at the Loving Hut (a Vegan restaurant). Even though I’m not a vegetarian nor a vegan, I prefer to eat vegetable based meals. Another place I like to dine at is a place called Moment in Vinohrady - it’s also a vegan cafe / restaurant - they have great lunch menus there!
When did your passion start
I’ve been singing from my early age, but the time I started to take it a little more seriously was when I was 9 - during competitions. To my surprise I started winning these competitions and that’s when it all started. The competitions weren’t how they are today. There weren’t any talent shows. We just attended regional competitions around Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Then I went on to study at the Conservatory in Bratislava where I studied opera. At that time, if you wanted to get into singing, your only option was to study opera. I thought I made a big mistake when I got there at the age of 15. I wasn't really convinced that I'd be the type to sing opera, but now I’m glad I’ve had the experience, as it gave me a great base to what I do today. When I finished my studies at the Conservatory (at the age of 19), I moved to Prague where I got my first role in a theatre, more specifically in a musical, and that’s where my new theatrical roller coaster began. I also studied at the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory there, where I learnt to dance, act, sing for musicals, and I also learnt Czech.
When I was 27 I met an accordionist called Michal Mihok, an amazingly talented artist, who started to talk me into creating our own band and who encouraged me to write music. I thought the idea was absurd at that time, because I thought that it was way too late for us to start anything. But I wrote my first song, and that’s when the new chapter in my life began to form. I’ve been writing songs (many together with Michal) until today, and most of them have been created from the inspiration of my travel experiences. The latest 2 songs have, however, been created more from ideas of the unknown - for example I’m planning a trip to Ibiza later this summer, so I’ve created a song on the basis of how I’m imagining the trip to be like.
Why did you decide to go to Prague when you were 19
I never planned to move to Prague, neither did I plan singing to become a part of my life and career. Just like most things in my life - it just happened. My mom told me about an audition for a musical in Prague. At that time, auditioning for a musical didn’t make any sense to me. I loved art cinema, classical opera, and musicals were the last thing on my mind.
However, I decided to go for it. The idea of experiencing Prague sounded extremely exciting at that time - inspired by some legendary movie classics such as Septej and Samotari. Getting a role in a musical was so life-changing for me, as I was only used to getting paid for window cleaning and babysitting before. :)
I soon took the role as Edith Piaf (Zdenka has been the youngest performer to take on this role) and that’s what changed my life. I didn't know any French, and even my English was quite bad then, so I took on the challenge and learnt both languages. My role as Edith Piaf went on for 10 years, alternating with the Radka Fišarová who is well known in the Czech Republic.
Are you still acting
Three years ago, I made a decision to cut down on acting and concentrate more on our band. Not only because it was difficult to do both in regards to time management, but I felt the 2 roles I played completely clashed. In theatre I used completely different vocal techniques, and I never really considered myself as an actress. Even though theatre gave me the biggest life lesson and I got to work with amazing people, I kind of felt that it was a layover - I wasn’t yet at my destination. So I used that time and money to learn and travel. I kept getting parts and I kept accepting them. One major thing that theatre gave me was the ability to get me out of my comfort zone. I am more of an introvert, but this experience has helped overcome that. Everything that I do today - on stage - with my band Voila, are bits and pieces taken from my lessons through theatre. It’s not only about singing during our performances, it’s also about being able to create entertaining shows - and that’s where acting comes in handy. I’ll still be performing in theatres from time to time - next dates are set for September and October at the Broadway Theater in Prague.
How do you remember your childhood
Together with my brother and sister, we grew up in a small village surrounded by a beautiful countryside. It’s a childhood I’d wish for all kids to experience. Being able to play in the creek few steps away from our house, our dad taking us out to play hockey or the usual sibling wars - always 2 against one, alternating.
There weren’t any professional musicians in our family, even though our grandfather played the violin and sang and our mom also enjoyed singing to us. So I’m very grateful to my family that they’ve always been so supportive in whatever we have done, without really having the experiences and knowledge of what would life be like along this road. I know people who have had difficulty explaining to their parents that it is actually possible to become a professional artist / performer.
Our father is a producer of bells. He makes very large bells (such as church bells), carillons, chimes and even cannons. He’s created a company and now he’s producing them together with my brother. My father has a rich history - he was generally very active and ambitious, he used to run marathons, and he had a dream to one day make bells. Our family never had the knowledge of how to produce bells, but my dad was determined to find out. There’s a secret formula to casting bells and it took our father 10 years of practice and research to be able to create them. He accomplished his dream and now he’s the only person in the whole of Slovakia who casts bells. And that’s exactly what I learnt from my dad - not being afraid to dream - on the contrary, we were always encouraged to pursue our dreams which was the biggest gift of all. I admire my parents - my dad for making his dreams a reality and my mom for being such a hard-worker. They are the perfect team.
My sister has been in Prague for the past 7-8 years. I love having her in the same city. I’ve been away from my family since I was 15 and because I'm such a family girl, I really appreciate having her here. She’s only 5 mins away from my place, so we see each other all the time. We have a great relationship.
How would you describe yourself
I’d describe myself differently every day. Today is a more relaxing day for me, so that kind of an environment makes me more of an introvert. The most important people for me are my family and friends, and with them I feel great wherever I am. I also have specific locations where I am able to get away and feel comfortable. Travelling is definitely something that allows me to be myself. When I’m travelling it doesn't really matter where I’m going, it’s about soaking up the energy of the present moment - I actually wrote my first song about this - called ‘The Woman of Wind’. It’s about a woman who loves the wind - the freedom of moving around, not having the responsibilities of the every day life and not being bound to one place. And that's exactly when I’m the happiest.
What makes a good friend
It’s a difficult question to answer. I have amazing friends and they are all different. The most important thing between our friendships is trust. Even if we don’t see each other for some time, we know that we’ll have the connection and love for each other no matter what - things won’t change between us. It’s like a marriage - in good and the bad, and that’s how it works between my friends too. My closest friends are those I met in Bratislava while I was studying there and also in Prague, because I moved here quite early - I consider them as my family.
My sister and I always think how lucky we are to have such great friends in our lives. And they are all over the world. For example, one of my great musician friends are all the way in Brazil - Mustache e os Apaches. We always check on each other’s progress, which is fun and inspiring. Because I’m such a traveller, our home is an open-house. We're always hosting and meeting new people, and that’s what we’ve done with this group of musicians. We invited 6 of them to stay at our apartment when they visited, and we've been in touch since then. They’ve become quite famous in Brazil, and it's been such a joy to have watched them grow into such a professional band.
Travelling around with Mustache (video above)
What inspires you about other people
Travel experiences inspire me the most. When I meet people who are energised from their travels. I also love colours - so when I travel and see people in colourful clothes that also inspires me - their creativity to put things together in such a vibrant way.
People who inspired me when I was a little girl were: Darinka Rolincova, Robo Grigorov and Marika Gombitova - she was the first singer who really delivered the meaning to her songs, and it was because of her that I wanted to become a singer.
During my puberty I was inspired by classic singers like Whitney Huston.
And then came my years of opera studies, so my inspiration came from opera singers. A very important figure would be Maria Callas - who was the most renowned and influential opera singer in the world. Originally from Greece, where she also studied. She had an unbelievable voice, but she was also an actress, which was very unusual for any opera singer to mix acting with singing at that time. She starred in Pasolinin’s (Italian film director and an intellectual) movie Medea.
It was not usual for opera singers to act while they were singing, because it was important to concentrate on the vocal techniques and not be distracted by anything else. So I began to enjoy discovering singers who would add elements of acting into their performances. Edith Piaf was one - she always came on stage with theatrical energy, and that’s where the meaning of Chanson (Realiste) would come from - a theatrical performance.
I love and always listen to Billie Holiday at home. Then there’s an amazing singer and an artist from Norway called Phaedra - quite unknown worldwide and in Norway, which blows my mind! Her album The Sea is definitely my favourite album and it’s really a shame that we don’t hear much about her. She has just released a new single 'Lightbeam' and her new album 'Blackwinged Night'. - Phaedra's Facebook Page.
There are so many people that pop to mind... here in the Czech Republic for example it’s Lenka Dusilova - Baromantika (performing this weekend at United Islands of Prague) - I love her album and she’s got a great personality. I had the privilege to meet her, but what made my day was her giving us feedback about our music.
Another very interesting person is my friend Ivana Mer, who I’ll be travelling with to Ibiza this summer. She makes really great ambient music. She’s from Slovakia but has been on the move quite often. She’s lived in Ibiza, Berlin, Prague - where we met and lived together for a while - and now she’s heading to France, Ibiza (again) and then to India. Her song actually ranks on top of the Slovak Music Charts, for the second week now. The song is called Diamond Fields - (listen to song below)
Where are you travelling next
So my plan is to go to Ibiza with Ivana as I mentioned before.
Then, I’d love to go to travel somewhere nice with my boyfriend (he’s got a band called Circus Problem - their style is something along the lines of Disco / Balcan / Gypsy). We’d like the trip to be relaxing, but we’d like to play music too wherever we decide to go. I’ll take my ukulele and he’ll take his accordion, and we’ll make it a fun musical trip.
I’ll also be travelling to Romania with the band. We’ll be performing at the festival called Banat (19th - 23rd August). The fun thing about it is the actual journey by bus. You can buy a ticket to join the bands on the bus, where we’ll be playing and singing on the way there. All musicians are going there to support the locals of Banat, so all money from the festival will go towards that. The nature around is absolutely stunning and would recommend everyone to see.
What are you looking forward to next
Experiencing the next stories and writing songs about them. Also, finishing up my 4 new songs - one of which is about the experience of Summer. I'll probably call it ‘Prazdniny’ (meaning Vacation).
What’s your most memorable experience
I have so many beautiful memories, but the memory which stands out the most is probably the ambiguous feeling from childhood. And that’s what the Summer Song I mentioned earlier is more or less about. The thoughts from the care-free summers, when I used to look out of my window - onto the fields, and see the forests and hills in the near distance. I’d always wonder what I’d discover if I walked through these forests and over the hills. These feelings often come back to me, and if I could put these feelings of freedom and adventure in a perfume bottle I’d spray myself with this mixture each and every summer. This is my favourite memory - when I dreamt of everything being possible. I love how children have the ability to truly believe in what they envision - they are not yet handcuffed by the pragmatic things in life. And that’s what I always used to do and carries with me until today.