J. Stever
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J. Stever


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"Jay Stever: Nothing Limits Me"

We met with Jay Stever in the last week of August, in the studio where he is working on his new solo album. It’s partly ready, and Jay believes that it may be available to listeners in October. We talked about how the album is coming along, about the latest things that have been happening in the musical world, and how these things will be reflected in the musician’s solo project.
Q: How long have you been working on this solo project?
A: In truth, it’s been happening for my whole life. These are not songs that were written recently. I wrote all of them some time ago, and now I wanted to produce the material. I didn’t want the songs to remain in some drawer someplace, I want people to evaluate them.
Q: When did you start to write songs?
A: The oldest ones are probably from 1993 or 1994. The song that you’re listening to right now [the song “Suddenly”, which also features vocals by Linda Leen, can be heard in the studio - author] was written together with my teacher, Masta Edward, in America. He is a co-author of the lyrics. In fact, I have a lot of material - enough for three or four albums. I can select the songs that I like best.
Q: I hear that your new songs use more in the way of electronics - something that was not all that common in the music of Shake & Bake.
A: This is definitely different music from the music of Shake & Bake, it’s more in the way of two-step and R&B style. At the same time, of course, it’s also pop music. We have used much less in the way of live instruments in the recordings - synthesizers dominate. On all of the songs, you will only hear a guitar and harmonica, which Raimonds Macats has recorded for one song. The guitar is played by Kaspars Zemîtis from Time After Time and Andrejs Jevsjukovs from Shake & Bake.
Q: What do the other members of Shake & Bake think about this?
A: Everybody’s been working on sideline projects, and I think that I was the last to get aboard that particular train. Raimonds works with Olga Rajecka and Dâmu Pops [Raimonds Tiguls also works with the group Caffe and the solo project Moonlight Sound Design - author]. Andrejs is playing with Petroleum Funk and in the rock opera “The Chronicles of Henricus”. Norberts is playing in so many projects that I have a hard time keeping up. Mâris Ozols works in television, and Indris is working with Pits Andersons. Of course, I have also worked with other projects as a producer and arranger.
Q: When can we expect your solo album to hit the stores?
A: I think that it will be in October. The project is moving forward, and the songs are basically ready . I have a small musical studio on the second floor of my house in Talsi, and I have all my synthesizers, my computer and all of the rest of the equipment there. That’s where I arrange the song as I see fit, and then I take the files to the studio. I can’t record vocals or guitars at home. I’m not a sound engineer. You might say that the first draft is produced in Talsi, and then the work is completed in the studio.
Q: Why do you like working in Talsi? Is it because nobody disturbs you there?
A: When I’m in Rîga, I always want to go somewhere, but when I’m at home in the periphery of Talsi, where can you go? Sometimes my friends come to visit, and then I relax, but otherwise I sit in my room and work. That causes me to mobilize myself.
Q: Will the album be followed by solo concerts?
A: We’ll have to see what level of interest there is in this project. If people like it, I can develop the project further. If not, I’ll look for something else, something that people fancy.
Q: It seems that people in Latvia are not really ready to accept R&B.
A: That’s a disaster, and something has do be done about it. I think that young people might like this music, age 15 or 16. That’s the age when people’s perceptions are still free, there are no limitations that the past puts on one’s hearing. These young people monitor things that are happening in music in America and Europe, and they don’t perceive it as anything alien.
Q: You probably aren’t the kind of snob who wrinkles his nose and makes foolish judgments about what is and what is not commercial music.
A: It’s hard to draw boundaries here. If someone tells me that Eminem or Limp Bizkit produce non-commercial music, then I can only smile. People buy the music of underground groups just as well as they buy pop music. Anything that is bought and is popular is basically pop music. My solo project will be commercial. If Asher or D’Angelo, who are all but unknown here in Latvia, sell millions of records, then you can’t say that it’s non-commercial music. The fact that there are not too many people in Latvia who understand the music is a different matter.
R&B, hip hop and boy bands are in the greatest demand in America rights now, and the boy bands are taking up the same niche that oom-pa-pah music singers take in Latvia. Nobody talks about them very much, but their recordings are sold at a huge volume.
My arrangements are subordinated to the song. I don’t care that two-step is the fashion now, and I don’t think that I have to follow along.
Q: What are your latest musical discoveries?
A: I have a fairly non-traditional taste. I like this guy, for example [he points to the Musiq Soulchild album “Aijuswanaseing”]. I’m still listening to D’Angelo’s “Voodoo”. Among new artists, I like Asher. The American music business looks at the charts and develops its offers accordingly. Nothing of the sort is happening in Latvia - we can do what we want, and the issue of whether people buy the album or not is not the decisive factor. No album in Latvia will be bought by more than 20,000 or 30,000 people, and even that number would seem enormous. That’s why I can do what I want - nothing limits me!
- "SIRUPS" magazine September 2001

"Inspired by Love"

Despite the fact that some music critics have declared that soul and rhythm & blues are styles which have no roots in Latvian music, JAY STEVER creates music which is much more closely linked to the black bluesmen of the United States than it is to anything else. Jay’s music knocks over old ideas about what kinds of music the “typical Latvian” likes. Jay recently released his first solo album, “Inspiration”. All of the songs on the album are consistent in style, and Jay sings in English. There are several other important facts in Jay’s biography which deserve attention - if only because he is just 25 years old. He has four years of academic vocal training, he was the song author and lead vocalist for the band Shake & Bake, and he has studied rhythm & blues with the great Edward Masta at the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, California. Jay takes part in all kinds of musical projects. He is a backup singer for Laima Vaikule, and two of his songs made the finals of the Latvian national finals of the Eurovision Song Contest. Asked about his future as a musician, Jay says that he believes that he will be part of the European music scene in five years’ time. This is a musician who is purposeful, with self-confidence and a pragmatic approach to what he does. His songs are lyrical and sensitive, and the music is the best way to describe him.
My goal is not a good impression,
I just need to have some conversation
People know me the way that I am - I’m like a car with a huge motor which picks up speed slowly. I develop slowly. The music business is not without its crust. The life of a musician who performs on stage is much more complicated than the life of an ordinary office clerk or lawyer. You have to be a clown, and everyone watches you. At the same time, though, you can’t have any excessive ambitions or pride - “Look at me, here I come!” You first of all have to get over yourself. I’ve never had to do that, though - I’ve been singing as long as I can remember. I went to a children’s music school, I sang in various ensembles. I never had that first big moment in the light. Maybe there were transitional periods during which I concentrated myself to a greater degree. There have been times when, while performing, I have worn glasses with lenses through which I cannot see. In that way I don’t see the many faces which bother me.
The lesson that I learned in Los Angeles - I didn’t understand it at first. I understand it now, though, two years later. I’m an introverted person, and a stage performer has to be an extrovert. That’s what I learned. I used to think that it was enough just to go out on stage and to start singing, and then everyone would faint. I didn’t understand why you should dance around and twist your hips - a show? Why should I put on a show? But you have to ask why the artist produces the music in the first place. It’s not just important for you to feel good on stage, it’s important for the audience to feel good, too. That’s not an easy lesson to learn. Any musician on stage is an actor, and that is his role. I give the audience my energy, I can’t just sing to the bare walls. Otherwise you can just as well close your eyes and get off on your own vocal skills.
A great minus is that people don’t often receive the deeper meaning of a song, because they don’t speak English. I perform international music, and my lyrics are in English. The phrasing arrives in my head in English. If I tried to write the lyrics in Latvian and then translate them into English, that wouldn’t work.
The music, maybe, is my confession,
And love for me is inspiration
The status of your soul, certain emotional moments, something that touches on the senses - that’s what creates inspiration. It doesn’t have to be anything shattering. I can hold a cup of coffee in the evening and look at the stars, and I find inspiration. When I’m stuck in a traffic jam, I sometimes sing to the driver in front of me to get him to move faster. I usually come up with phrases - music and words, and I always carry around a little tape recorder so that I can record them right on the spot.
Lots of musicians from Latvia can get to the “Grade C” level that Prâta Vçtra (Brainstorm) are at right now. You sign a contract with a Scandinavian agency, and off you go to all kinds of national festivals. You’re not an A-List artist, but there you are. The problem is with the quality of the music. You have to improve on it all the time, and you have to work for every market. I’m focusing on Europe, even though America is not impossible. My music is closer to America in style, after all. Still, this kind of music is in great demand in Europe right now. I’m planning to record a single that we’ll send out to the leading radio stations and publishing houses in Europe. We’re already working with clubs in Estonia and Lithuania.
Even if you sit down next to an important producer, you can’t achieve anything unless you’re carrying a certain amount of musical “baggage”, unless you have certain trump cards in your pocket. The global music market is enormous, and it’s all but impossible to surprise anyone any more. In America you can pay a producer just to get into his office, but there are no guarantees. The biggest problem in Latvia is that there are no professional music managers, and there are no investments. You can build up your own universe, but nobody will understand it, nobody will buy the music. Many people know how to sing and dance and play an instrument, but if the product is to be commercial and viable in the world, it has to be something extreme, something different. Much of this is out of our hands, though. You can do everything that is dependent on you, and you can do the work very professionally, but there are aspects of the international music scene that you cannot control. If someone likes what you do, then everything happens.
Free like a symphony
Which is written in my heart
The school was full of international students and musicians. I had lots of friends, and I felt great there. Music theory was easy for me, because I had already studied that in Latvia. Classical theory is taught at a much higher level here at home, so I felt superior in that respect. I organized a band there. The time that I spent in America was very nice, except that I had to watch every dollar that I spent, so I couldn’t be much of a Bohemian. There were people who scattered money everywhere.
There were two kinds of students who really attracted my attention at the school. Some of them were powerfully gifted young musicians, but there were also people on the other end of the scale - people with no voice who nevertheless looked right. They had dollars, they had an image, they had come up with a stage name. The “truth” is somewhere in the middle of all of this. You need a strong musical foundation, but you can’t make do without a show. If you are missing one of these elements, then you’re either boring or laughable.
I was massively inspired by the music of Stevie Wonder when I was a teenager. My teacher at the school once put me into his car but wouldn’t tell me when we were going. When we got out of the car, we went into a building that was called “Wonderland Studio”, and I understood that it was Stevie Wonder’s studio. I felt weak in the knees, and my heart was pounding. The studio is built up to satisfy every need. Stevie Wonder can spend the night there, there’s a weightlifting room, there are game machines. The studio is in an area where nobody would imagine that there’s a studio - the gate opens up, and out comes a limousine.
I could have stayed in America - I was guaranteed survival and more. I could have stayed and played in all kinds of clubs and bars, but I didn’t want to invest money in education so that I could then play in a bar. I know that I won’t ever be without work. I have a foundation, and I’m sure that it will never get worse. If everything falls apart, I can go to a restaurant, play some old standards, and get enough money to live.
The planet Earth is life intention,
The sky could be a destination
If there’s a problem, there’s a problem. If you get upset about it, it means that the problem will get worse. There are eternal optimists, there are eternal pessimists. They look at the same thing and see two different things. It’s very important to stay optimistic. If I have problems in my life, I just put on Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.
I’m not a fanatic who sees the presence of God in every aspect of life. God will not do my work for me, I have to do it myself. There are things in life that we cannot change, however. I know that if I do my work as best I can, there will be results, but whether the results will be even better - that’s not up to me. I can’t influence these processes, so there’s no point in getting all wound up about them. That’s the area of life which I completely entrust to God, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to work and that someone else will live in my stead. I have a pretty pragmatic approach to this issue.
We’re not very powerful creatures, are we? As soon as we face a crisis, the first thing we think is, “God, help me!” That’s not enough, though. Either you’re with God all the time or you’re not, but that doesn’t mean that you should foist all of your problems off on Him.
- "SIEVIETE" magazine January 2002

"The Pioneer of "Black" Music - Jay Stever"

Singer Jay Stever has come into Latvian music scene slowly and quietly, carrying everyone away with his love of "black" music, musical education in Stevie Wonder's class in USA, and beautiful and romantic songs. Beginning as a member in duet "Shake&Bake", he chose to continue as a solo artist, writing all lyrics and music himself. Jay's music is far from the schlager, popular in Latvia's countryside, therefore his music is popular mainly among city dwellers who are more common with the international music tendencies. Foreigners evaluate Jay's music very highly and say it doesn't stay far from the original black music quality in USA. In summer it will be possible to enjoy his performances both in Estonia and Lithuania.
Many singers like to show off with their sexual attractiveness and you seem quite quiet and orderly in comparison with others. What's your attitude to saying "sex, drugs & rock'n'roll"?
In my career everything is strictly put in order and I can't afford any orgies, I almost don't use alcohol as it disturbs my work. Music is my calling and it's so serious that I can't allow to drown it.
When I hear the word "calling" then it seems like something coming from above...
Yes, music for me is connected with religious things which I have always tried to solve. I am too weak to get over everything all by myself. There have been so many unpleasant things both on the stage and in my everyday life. There are many temptations all around that disturb reaching of your goals. My interest in God arose from gospels - they always contain some Christian message. Besides 99 per cent my authorities in music are religious people who say the first "thanks" not to their record companies but God. However, I wouldn't call myself a deeply religious man as to my mind a singer can't be a priest at the same time. Therefore I chose to be a singer not like other musicians who are preaching too much. I think that one should prove himself with his work not mouth.
In your latest song "Kopa" together with hip-hop artist Ozols you sing about very worldly things...
In this song I sing about my love to a girl, not Ozols, therefore there aren't any deviations, the text is very beautiful. Maybe somebody is unlucky but for me with girls everything has been OK - I've never suffered too hard or been left. I know that for others it has been the other way round but I think I shouldn't sing about troubles - how lousy life is. I just feel like singing how good life is.
How did you start your collaboration with Ozols?
He offered it to me. It seems that Ozols is a pioneer in his style of music like I am in R&B. It unites us. It's better for Ozols as he works for the local market but I take it as a responsibility that I have to do everything so good that people like it abroad too. If you've been thinking locally all the time, it's hard to start thinking internationally in one day. There are specific rules abroad and not everything that is popular here, will be bought abroad. And of course, it's language which is the biggest problem. It was a long time when I couldn't sing in Latvian - I guess one has to achieve some certain level to be able to do that. Now I feel comfortable about it.
Can we look forward to songs in Latvian?
Yes, of course. I'm already back in studio, recording the new album which will be in English but alongside there will be radio singles in Latvian which could be included in different local compilations. "Brainstorm" also has chosen this way - to sing both in English and Latvian.
Do you continue your collaboration with Laima Vaikule?
We have periods of both work and silence as I work with her only in tours and TV shows. It's not like I go every day to factory and just work.
Everybody has to earn money - where is your "factory"?
Now in my appartment in Riga district - Purvciems where I am working with song arranging and writing new songs. Though Talsi Town is the best place for composing - I go to my parents, urbanisation is disturbing me. Especially if you want to compose something romantic. Although I was born in port city Ventspils, I consider Talsi my native town. We have an estate 8 km from the centre where we live in summer. I plant cherry trees together with my father, he has bees, my mother takes sunbathes - they are both retired.
How do you usually write your songs - at piano, keyboards or otherwise?
In different ways. Not long ago I bought a new mobile where I can record some quick ideas. I let time pick out the best phrases and then I write the most successful one. There are so much good music in the world therefore I don't think one should polute radio stations. If you write, then only good music!
Didn't you take it as a loss that you didn't get into the final of Baltic competition "Fizz Superstar"?
No, because the rehearsals were interesting and useful and a lot of international music business representatives visited the competition and noticed me. Exactly they gave me the highest marks. It shows that contests are often a game of luck where sometimes the best one can also lose. I have never been interested in easy way because I am a struggler. I've had different experiences till I understood that I can count only on myself. If you had money, you could sell some 15 Latvian singers abroad but you need to have that million for advertising. To make somebody interested in you, you have to be not just good but ideal. I also develop not only my vocal and producing skills but hire a choreographer and clothing designer. Now when watching my old videos, I immediately notice the mistakes. It seems it was another man. You can't change only on stage, you have to change also personally which isn't easy as you have to break yourself all the time. At the same time I want to be maximally natural...
Are people carried away not only by music but also by its author and performer?
In my case it's definitely music. Image is working for example with Ozols. My audience is very wide - from teens to people above 60. Teens like the modern arrangment of my songs while elderly people - the melody.
- "RIGAS BALSS" newspaper July 2002


Albums: "Don't Turn Away" (1999), "Inspiration" (2001), "Paliec Tepat" (2004).

Singles: "Brown Eyes" (2002)

+Various compilations


Feeling a bit camera shy


Full name: Jay Stever

Genre: R'n'B/Pop/Soul

Musical education: Bachelor's Degree in music conducting, Riga University of Pedagogics; Vocal Department of Hollywood Musician Institute.

Competitions: Laureate of International pop music competitions: New Wave 2002, Discovery 2003.

Experience: Started working professionally at the age of 6. Formed his first band in music school, then had more than 10 projects that gained popularity all over the Baltic States. Has released 3 albums ("Don't Turn Away" in English, with Shake&Bake; "Inspiration" (in English), "Paliec Tepat" (in Latvian)). Leads an active concert life in Baltic States and Russia, also had concerts in the USA, France, Ukraine, Azerbaidzhan, Israel, Sweden and Germany.