Interview by Luc Brunot.
Original version of the interview published in Bands Of Dixie #54 (January - February 2007)
If we were to add a fourteenth star on the Southern flag, it would probably be to honor the Czech Republic, breeding ground of the European Southern rock. The Cell is one of the most talented band born of this wealth and, perhaps more than its colleagues, seeks to assert itself at an international level, taking advantage of the presence of a Louisianan singer. While waiting that The Cell comes one day in France (hopefully!), let's make some acquaintance with this European Southern rock band more than promising.
Hello The Cell,
When and how was the band formed?
David and Milan knew each other from a previous audition for a band that Milan was in. About three years later, in a chance meeting at Ikea, David and Milan started communicating again. After this meeting, David got together with Milan to play a new song that he wrote and their vision of The Cell began to take shape. They recruited Michael Benes (Editor's note: on guitar), Leos Koudelka (Editor's note: on bass) and Veronika Mohaplova (now Veronika Milatova) (Editor's note: on background vocals) and formed the nucleus of The Cell. Later, a third guitar player (Milan Matousek), keyboard player (Tomas Homuta) and second vocalist (Vladka Sobotkova) joined the group.
I know you did a demo in 2003. Did you record others things before "Are You Ready"?
No, our demo CD was the first and the only thing we recorded before the "Are You Ready" album.
Between the two records, the band composition has a little evolved with the departure of a guitar player replaced by a keyboard. Why this evolution?
We did have a change of guitarists, Milan Matousek replaced Petr Boska on guitar, but we did not actually lose a guitar. Our band always had three guitarists and we then added an Hammond Organ player, Tomas Homuta, to the line-up.
Thus, why on "Are You Ready", Peter Boska is credited only as guest? And why Milan Matousek isn't crediterd?
Peter Boska was just leaving the band. It´s why we have signed him as a guest. Milan Matousek was crediterd as guitarist in same moment (Editor's note: not on the disc). But he didn´t play on this CD.
I see that it's Patrick Snobl, who is credited on guitar on the demo and not Peter Boska. Another guitarist in the history of the band?
Patrick Snobl was a first guitarist on our band with Michal Benes. He has leaved to play on the boat.
Could you present to us the actual different band musicians, their story and influences?
David Gore is from Lafayette, Louisiana and has been living in the Czech Republic for the past 13 years. He loves southern rock and hard rock, and considers the melody the most important thing he can bring to each song. He writes all of the songs together with Michal. They are a perfect songwriting team, even though their influences are different.
Michal Benes is a Czech native and is the main guitarist and co-songwriter for all songs. He is a bluesman at heart and loves playing the blues. Although he writes and plays southern rock, rock, ballads and blues songs, for every style he plays he always has "one foot in the blues".
Leos Koudelka is a Czech native and is the wildman on bass. He likes a variety of music, from heavy metal to jazz. His thunderous bass lines hold the songs together and really add to the cohesiveness of the band.
Milan Milata is a Czech native and holds the groove down with Leos. He is the southern rock soul of the band. Solidly in southern rock, he counts this as his favorite style of music and influence. He is the most seasoned musician of the band and is the local manager for the group.
Milan Matousek is a Czech native and is the counterpoint guitarist to Michal. He is a fan of heavy metal as well as country and older rock 'n roll. He just graduated from the music school in Prague and, together with Tomas on keyboards, is one of the youngest members of the band.
Tomas Homuta is a Czech native and a bluesman through and through. He and Michal are the blues soul of the group. Tomas is a very talented musician, playing piano, keyboards, hammond organ, guitar and harmonica. He is the youngest member of the band but from hearing his playing you would think he's been playing a lot longer than his age shows.
Veronika Milatova is a Czech native and the original background singer for the group. She's been a professional singer for many years. Although her influences are traditional Czech music, she is comfortable with singing any style of music. Her strong vocals are very important to the performance and sound of the band.
Vladka Svobodova is a Czech native and the newest member of the group. She is a fan of blues and soul music, counting Ella Fitzgerald as one of her main influences. She has been a professional singer for many years and was a member of the famous Czech music group "Laura and her Tigers" together with Veronika.
Is it important to have an American singer?
Actually, it is a bit of a drawback in the Czech Republic. Although we've achieved success in our country, this success is limited by the language barrier. We would definitely be more successful at home if David sang in Czech. Although hearing David speak his bad Czech, we consider it a blessing that he sticks with English. But we consider ourselves an international band and will not compromise on the language just to achieve success in our home country. Singing in English is mandatory when playing outside of the Czech Republic and that is the market we will hopefully appeal to.
How did the sessions of "Are You Ready" take place?
Our list of original compositions increased since the release of our 2003 demo and by mid 2005, we believed that we had an enough good material to make a full album release. So in the summer of 2005, we started making preparations to record our first CD. We recorded 16 songs at a studio in Kolovraty, which is located right outside of the capital city of Prague. Recording was finished by the end of the summer in 2005 but due to a delay in the mixing and mastering, the CD was finally released in March 2006. Although we recorded 16 songs, we decided to only put 11 on the final CD. It's not that these five additional songs are bad, we just thought that we could improve on the recordings. Some of these songs, which include "Someday", "Let it Ride", "Hanging Rope", "Pieces of Wild" and "Rock Star", may appear on our next release.
How was the mood during this sessions? Can you tell us about this recording sessions?
Very workfull. For the whole band was good experience in the studio.
Is it Michal Benes the lead guitarist and David Gore on rhythm guitar or is the roles repartition different?
Michael Benes and Milan Matousek are the lead guitarists and David plays on rhythm. David's main role is singing and he plays on guitar to fill out the sound. Michal and Milan take care of the solos and meaty guitar work.
Veronika Mohaplová sings "Back Door Woman" on "Are You Ready". How and why did you choose Veronika to sing and not David?
This song is actually sung by both Veronika Mohaplova and Hana Vanikova (guest singer on the album). David came up with the lyrics for this song and wrote it specifically for the ladies in the band to sing. It's inspired by the well-known blues song "Back Door Man" (from the famous bluesman Willie Dixon) and later covered by almost every blues-based band. David thought it would be interesting to put a different slant on this song from a woman's point of view. In this version, the woman is slippin' out the back door instead of the man and she's a man-eater rather than a woman on the side. Eat your heart out guys!
You use female background vocalists. Could you tell us about the importance of this component in your music?
We wanted our sound to be full and dynamic. Veronika is a fantastic singer and her voice is a perfect match to David's vocals. We took inspiration from the Lynard Skynard Honkettes but took an additional step in making the female voice a more integral part of the bands sound. With the addition of Vladka Svobodova as a full-time singer, we've finally achieved the background vocal sound that we wanted. If you get a chance to hear them sing together live, it's a wonderful thing.
Four songs of the disc were on the 2003 demo. Did you write the others songs that appear on the CD a long time ago or just for the "Are You Ready" sessions?
Our 2003 demo songs consisited of "Burnin' Like a Fire", "Third Bitch in a Row", "Fall Into the Sky", "I Haven't Got a Lady" and "Hanging Rope". In 2004, the songs "Someday" and "The Blues Never Stops" were added to this list of demos.
All of the songs which appeared on our demo CD were re-recorded for the "Are You Ready" album (although "Hanging Rope" and "Someday" were not included on the final release).
From 2004 - 2005 we wrote the songs "Ready for a Ride", "Out of Time", "Dreams Inside my Head", "Backdoor woman", "Down" and "Long Gone" which appear on the album.
The disc is excellent with great songs. How did you create the songs?
The songs were a collaboration between Michal and David. Michal would come with the musical idea and David would then take this base to create his vocal melody and lyrics. We are very lucky in that both Michal and David respect each other's role in the songwriting process. Thankfully, overinflated egos are not a problem. They both accept each others musical ideas without question and their collaboration melds very well together.
And the others members: they don't have any part in this process?
Of course we have made all arrangements together. Rhytm sections creates their part, vocal singers create sounds of vocal. Etc.
How many shows does the band play in one year?
On average, I would say that we play about 30 - 40 shows a year.
Can you live of your music with the Cell or do the members have other professional activities?
Each member of the band has civil job.
I have some videos (not of the 2006's edition) from the Mlejn Southern Rock Festival. Where is it?
Mlejn is an old flour mill that is located about 50 miles outside of Prague.
How old is this festival ?
This festival was 11 years old this year and continues to have a strong following of loyal southern rock fans. It was an honor for us to be the headlining band for the past two years and this concert is always one of the highlights of our year.
As I have read, the bands who played this year were Southern Station, Lemon Nashville, Stetson, MBA Band, Tom Jegr, Under The Influence, Sweet Pain and, off course, The Cell. Do all these groups play Southern rock?
Most of the bands play classic southern rock, but not all. For instance, we are not what you would call a pure southern rock band and "Lemon Nashville" plays 50's style rock and roll.
Do you consider yourselves as a Southern rock band?
Although our original vision was to be a southern rock band, we did not end up that way. As you can hear from the songs on our album, we do not play true southern rock. Our songs are a mixture of southern rock, blues, rock and ballads. We all love southern rock but in the end, we do not try to be a southern rock band. We play what we feel is the best for song and this does not always work out to be the classic southern style. Let's say that our soul is southern rock.
Then, how could you define the Southern rock?
Blues, rock, country, hard rock, everything together. A lot of mixes.
It seems that there are or were many Southern rock bands in Czech republic, more than in the majority (maybe all?) of the others European countries. How could you explain that fact?
We really have no explanation for this, but you're right, there are a large number of these type of groups. But even so, most of the public does not know about southern rock. In fact, earlier this year Milan Milata organized a Southern Rock Festival in Prague, together with the largest rock station in the country (Radio Beat 95.3). As part of a promotion for this festival, Radio Beat devoted a whole weekend to play just southern rock songs. David was a guest on both Saturday and Sunday and was responsible for putting together all of the songs for the radio station to play during this weekend. This was a huge hit on the radio station and it was the first true mass media introduction of southern rock to the country. We are very proud of this and hopefully turned a lot of people on to the southern rock groups and this type of music.
Will you organize this festival again?
Was the festival taped?
As I know, you're an exception and all the others Czech groups are singing in Czech language, while the main part of the others European Southern rock bands are singing in English. Why this particularity of the Czech bands?
From the southern rock groups we know, most of the lead singers do not speak English. This is one reason for singing in Czech, but there are also some singers of these groups who speak English but do not sing in English. I believe that this is to achieve more success in the Czech Republic by singing in native language. This is crucial to success in the home market. Also, I imagine that these groups did not have the interest to play concerts outside of the country. Singing in Czech would make international concerts extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Some of the bands were recorded on anthologies released around 1991 - 1994 ("Whiskey & Fazole", "Whiskey & Buráki"). Were other anthologies released later?
No, these were the only ones.
Was it possible to play Southern US rock at the communism's era? When did southern rock rally exploded on the rock scčne in your country ?
It was possible, but not official.
After the year 1989 this music developed in our country.
One of these bands was General Lee, where Milan Milata, your drummer, was in . Is this band still alive?
Unfortunately, they are no longer together.
You played too this summer, if I remember, with W.I.N.D and Flatman (am I wrong?). Could you tell us about these experiences?
It was last year in 2005. W.I.N.D is a great power blues trio and it was really fantastic to hear them play. You really need to see them live. And we had the chance to play together with Flatman both in Germany and the Czech Republic.
We also played with Lizzard (Germany), Sugar Mountain (Spain) and the great Japanese blues band Savoy Truffle. We consider ourselves very lucky to play with these bands and see how very talented musicians from other countries are playing.
We also went to Italy earlier this year for a mini-tour and had the chance to play with some talented Italian groups, Voodoo Lake and Silver Trane.
We saw W.I.N.D in 2006 in France, at the Charmont festival. I hope one day it will be possible to see The Cell! Don't you have any contact in France? With French bands?
Unfortunatelly we don´t have so many contacts in France. But we hope that this situation will be better. Because we really would like to play in France. And of course we are looking for a good booking agency in France.
We have made an interwiev for radios in France (Radio Coteaux).
We don´t have contact with French bands.
Do you think it would be a good thing to have more communication and coordination between Southern rock fans and musicians in Europe?
Yes , it would be a really good idea. We have some preparations for meeting of southern rock bands in Prague. We would like to develop our cooperation. We have friends in Italy, in Spain, in Germany etc.
How would it be possible ? Website? Yahoo's (or other operator) forum? Others things?
Would be great to prepare international southern rock BIG festival in Europe.
What are your others great memories as a band?
One thing that really stands out was one of our first concerts we had on New Year's Eve 2002. We played in Prague's Old Town Square in front of about 5,000 - 6,000 people. Czech TV was broadcasting, as well as one of the German satellite TV stations. Our band had only been together for about 3 months and here we were playing to this massive crowd. At this point in our lives, I think that this was the biggest concert anyone in the band had ever played. It was cold as hell, we were all bundled up on stage and by the end of the evening the entire gel coat on Michals main guitar cracked in about a hundred places. He's still playing this guitar with the cracked gelcoat, four years and many, many concerts later.
On stage, I presume that you play the songs from your disc but I suppose you play other stuff. What is your set list?
We play all of the songs on the disk plus the four that were recorded and not put on the disk. We also play a new song called "Time of my Life", which is David's story about coming to and living in the Czech Republic, "Rolling Man" which is sung by Michal, "The Cell" from Leslie West (which is where our band's name came from) and "I'm no Angel" from the Gregg Allman Band.
I was just thinking about to ask you the origin of your name. Why did you choose "The Cell"? Leslie West isn't considered as a Southern rocker, is he?
We play the song « The Cell » from Leslie West and we love this song. And when we were thinking about the name of the band, we we have said together would be good name of band.
What are your projects about recording (CD and DVD) and shows?
We do not have any immediate plans to record a new CD or record a show and put on it on DVD . For live shows, we just want to play as many concerts as we can outside of our country, within Europe and elsewhere. For next year, we already have some concerts planned in Spain together with our friends from the Spanish rock and roll group Sugar Mountain.
Because your singer is American, do you plan to tour in the USA?
This is one of our dreams. David is working on a tour for us in the USA, but it will mainly be centered on his home state of Louisiana and the surrounding southern states in the US. Hopefully, he can work this out.
What are the best Czech Southern rock's bands?
There is a band called the "MBA Band", from Mlada Boleslav (where "Skoda" cars are produced), which plays strictly southern rock and are good friends of ours. They are great musicians and are one of the top southern rock bands.
What are your favorite Southern rock albums?
It's hard to list specific albums since the list could go on for days so we'll just list our favorite southern rock bands: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special, Van Zant, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Copperhead, Tangier (just the "Four Winds" album), Blackfoot, Four Horsemen, Outlaws, Point Blank.
Milan Matousek - Michal Benes - Tomas Homuta - David Gore - Hanka Vaníková - Leos Koudelka - Milan Milata - Veronika Milatova