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For me, finding my own sound and vocabulary has been a very long and complicated journey, but one that I desperately needed,“ says Never Sol. | Photo: artist's archive
For me, finding my own sound and vocabulary has been a very long and complicated journey, but one that I desperately needed,“ says Never Sol. | Photo: artist's archive
Ondřej Pečenka -

Never Sol: In Music, I Look for a Powerful Emotion that I Can Connect to

Ten years ago, her career took a turn when she sang the title song of the Czech film In the Shadow (Ve stínu). Since then, she has become one of the most prominent personalities in the Czech music scene and she is also known abroad. But Sára Vondrášková, aka Never Sol, has a much broader artistic scope—in addition to her own music and concerts, she also accompanies dance performances, hosts her radio show and made a video series for about producing electronic music. Why did she start composing her own songs while studying singing at the jazz conservatory? Which synthesiser does she not let go of? And how did British Muse influence her?

I'll start with something quite general—what do you listen to when you travel somewhere? Do you stick to electronic music?

I would say that in general, I don't really listen to electronic music—or not purely electronic music. I like a lot of projects that have a lot of synths, but I'm actually gravitating more and more—but I guess I've always gravitated—towards listening to guitar-based tracks and rawer sounds. I'm personally less and less into the kind of production and programming that's been associated with electronics for the last few years. It doesn't inspire me much. Somehow a dirtier and more acoustic sound has a more emotional impact on me.

But I think it's more about the processes of creation. I honestly don't know what exactly defines the genre of electronic music these days. Is it music where there are a lot of VSTs and electronic instruments or is it music that is based on post-production, programming and editing on a computer? Or is it music where there's simply no bass, guitar, drums and vocals?

I've been listening to Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Frost, Zen Mother, Dessert Sessions, Idles, Nadine Shah, Sasami, Emma Ruth Rundle, Anna Von Hausswolff... But yeah, I also like Kate NV or Holly Herndon, and then modular female icons Helene Vogelsinger, Lisa Bella Donna and Catarina Barbieri. These last few years I've been looking for a strong emotion in what I listen to, purity, a certain type of sound and feeling that I can connect to authentically and deeply. I guess that's what guides me.

Do you go to concerts? What was the last one you went to or what are you planning to see?

I love going to concerts and it's always a great dose of both inspiration and listener satisfaction for me. Now I've done myself a favour and I'm off to London to see Beach House, one of my favourite bands who are touring with their new record. Probably the biggest experience for me last year was the Anna Von Hauswolf organ concert at Salvator's Church in Prague.

When did you realise that music affected you so much that you wanted to create it yourself?

I probably found out that it affected me in a way that I needed to share it as a performer when I was a child, maybe around the age of twelve, but I didn't start creating my own songs until I was at conservatory when I became a bit tied down by the songs we had to rehearse at school and felt the urge to express myself in the way I wanted to and felt inside. Then it was a long journey. It took me years to hone my own vocabulary and learn to refine my work into a true reflection of my inner idea and feeling.

What is your musical background?

From the age of fifteen, I studied singing at the Prague Conservatory and then at nineteen I went to the Jaroslav Ježek Jazz School. I was then inspired a lot by the various courses and workshops I have been attending for the last few years. There I learned more about what I am doing now. RBMA (Red Bull Music Academy, ed.) and Hackers Lab at the CTM Festival were definitely turning points for me.

Do you remember your first synth or another instrument?

My first synth was Juno G. It was used by Grimes who I was listening to a lot at the time. I was also considering a Yamaha, which Bat For Lashes was playing, but the Juno G was more affordable, I think, and it could do more. I still have it.

What about the first concert? Do you have good memories of it?

I don't think I can remember. I've been going to a lot of concerts since I was a teenager but probably the one that hit me the hardest was Muse, the Black Holes and Revelations tour who I loved a lot in high school. We went to see them in Munich back in 2006 and during one song I felt like I was totally connected to the universe (laughs), like something had come over me. I don't know if I've experienced anything more powerful at a concert since then. I'm not really into what Muse is doing now. I don't like the commercial position they've moved into but their first three records were very influential in my life.

Which synth could you not do without, so to speak?

Definitely without my Prophet. And now not even without my Modular which I'm slowly trying to expand and shape its sound to my liking.

You have done lots of events in the Czech Republic and abroad. Is there any way to describe the difference between the Czech approach and the foreign one?

It's hard to say. It's a question for a whole interview. The Czech alternative scene is great. Maybe the support for the cultural scene in general is different and better abroad and many other things depend on that. It's also different for clubs outside of Prague and Brno or for clubs that have already built up their audience network. But so many great little festivals, initiatives and productions have been created here over the years...

They focus on original niche music. I don't know if that's ever been present here to this extent before. I think there are diehards everywhere and that's the bottom line. I guess I can't sum it up in a few sentences. Mostly it always depends on the specific people, both in the audience and among the promoters.

Ten years ago you collaborated on the theme song for the film In the Shadows. How do you remember that work now, in hindsight? Did it move you forward?

It was definitely a turning point for me. Before that, I was just writing for myself and playing standards and other people's songs with a jazz quartet. It gave me confidence, space and drive to compose and commit to my songs more fully and to believe in my work more. It also pushed me and spit me out into the world for the first time. I think a lot of people heard about me for the first time because of that.

I'm still very grateful for that, but an awful lot of time and years have passed since then and there have been many other important directions, shifts and changes. My work is still the same in terms of feeling but my musical articulation has changed a lot. Sometimes I feel like some listeners expect something that has been gone for a long time.

You don't just play music at concerts, you also do it for dance performances—how is that job different?

The creative process is different—I don't create freely for myself, without any boundaries, but I try my best to complement the bigger whole and someone else's idea. But it's pushed me a lot further again, a lot in terms of the form of the songs. Also, a couple of years ago I started playing live on the modular for the first time, thanks to a performance of Constellations III with the Spitfire Company.

I was lucky enough to work on these performances with very exceptional performers Markéta Vacovská and Miřenka Čechová. I'm very inspired by how they think, how they approach improvisation—and especially how they think about time. That's probably the most important thing for me that I take away from the dance performances and that I've reframed in myself—to move and work within time a little differently than I was used to.

It also made me start playing a more experimental modular set as Never Sol. I improvise, compose differently and pay more attention to small gradual changes in sound than changes in harmony and melody.

Listeners of the Czech Radio can also hear you every Monday on the show Sedmé nebe (Seventh Heaven). How do you choose the songs and create the programme?

Based on what I like. (laughs) It's such a mishmash of songs that come to me through blogs, articles, Bandcamp, Instagram, Spotify, friends, concerts... Sometimes I play something that doesn't communicate with me right away, but I think it's a well-made or interesting track that might interest the listener. But mostly I pick stuff that just speaks to me and I find it somehow powerful or special.

Botanical Sessions concerts were created in your Strahov studio. Will there be more?

That was made before the pandemic. The idea was to create really good live material for bands and projects. But then covid came along and everyone had awesome videos of their shows with awesome sound, which is great, but that need was fulfilled I think. So suddenly these sessions lost their original purpose and meaning. Maybe in the future, it will be revitalized as a concert series, but for now, I don't have any production ambitions. (laughs)

For you are now creating a video show, probably the first of its kind in the Czech environment, where you explain the basics of synthesis and electronic music in general. What is it about and what can viewers look forward to?

It's a show that aims to make people more familiar with creating sound on a synthesiser. The first couple of episodes are dedicated to explaining some basic parameters and what it's used for, and then we go on to look at creating different sounds on different synths.

I explain everything as I understand it. I'm sure many producers would describe it more precisely, but that's probably not my point. It's a very subjective outline of my creative process—how I create and what guides me; but I think that the choices and decisions that everyone then makes based on how they feel, or their context, are somehow communicable and transferable.

I hope that these videos will inspire someone and lead them to create their own sounds. For me, finding my own sound and vocabulary has been a very long and complicated journey, but one that I desperately needed. So maybe these tutorials will help someone on a similar journey.

Tagy Never Sol Sedmé nebe Prophet modular syntethisers Juno G Grimes Bat For Lashes Spitfire Company

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Ondrech Alex Péča