Matěj Ruppert talks about Monkey Business

The Czech funk band is working on a new album while it hits the festival circuit

Monkey Business has grown to become one of the most popular live acts in the Czech Republic since it launched 17 years ago.

Lead singer Matěj Ruppert sat down with Prague.TV at the recent Metronome music festival, where they played on the same stage would later see Sting as the headliner.

While Monkey Business is popular domestically with its funky sound, they have not made a huge splash abroad. Nevertheless, the band performs its songs in English. “We can't write lyrics in Czech. We don't have the influence for it. The kind of music we are playing is more English or American. It is very hard to put Czech language or lyrics into the music. The rhythm of the [Czech] language and the rhythm of the music is not the same, so it would be very hard,” Ruppert said.

Usually keyboardist Roman Holý writes the music first. “After that we had some meeting in a restaurant usually, with our co-song writer Vratislav Šlapák and me, Pavel Mrázek, he's the bass player, and Roman Holý … and we think what this song could be about,” Ruppert said. Šlapák then writes the lyrics. “So it is cooperation,” Ruppert added.

The band's most recent album was Sex and Sport? Never! from 2015, and they are back in the studio working on new material while continuing to tour. The process is a bit different this time.

“Roman has written about 20 songs and we are now at a stage where we are writing lyrics. This is the first album where we started with the lyrics before the music was finished. It is going to be done a little bit more together,” he said.

“Roman is working in his studio and if the songs are ready I go there for three or four days or a week and I sing,” Ruppert said, adding that Holý has his own studio so that gives the band a lot of flexibility.

The band explored funk in the Czech Republic when that genre was not so well-known or popular here. But they try to do more than that.

“We are not only a funk band. We mix together things and music that we love. For the first album, the whole band loved P-Funk, Funkadelic, Parliament and this kind of musict,” Ruppert said, adding that the influence is very clear on the first album.

“One of the first guests we had was Fred Wesley, he was he head of James Brown's band for a long time. He told us 'This is very strange. You are playing our music but with your thinking, with your Eastern feeling. It's good because it's groovy, funky, but it's not us. It is something different.' And this I think for us was the biggest compliment because we don't want to sound like a normal funk band from where ever. We are carving something [new] out,” Ruppert said.

Founding band member Roman Holý was already famous for the band J.A.R. when he started Monkey Business. “The feeling in the music audience in the early '90s wasn't for this kind of music. It was more for metal, hard rock and maybe folk. And Roman and J.A.R. tried to do something different from the beginning. They were one of the first rap bands in the Czech Republic. And [Monkey Business] climbed up over their shoulders. When we started Roman was a big star in the Czech Republic so his new band had a very good opportunity to be very popular,” Ruppert said.

The band puts on a fun show, and appeared at Metronome in matching red costumes. But there is more to them th. “I think [fun] is just a part of Monkey Business, the main part. But for example we had on the second album [Save the Robots] a song called 'Batteries & Dynamite' about the catastrophe on the Exxon Valdez or on the first album [Why Be In When You Could Be Out] the song 'Silverstrings' that Vraťa wrote about the superstring theory of the universe,” Ruppert said.

“And as we are getting older and older we are thinking more about social problems and political problems,” he added.

In the show at the Metronome festival, Ruppert surprised the audience with a short operatic sequence. “I studied opera singing many years ago. Every time I sing this opera [aria], we wonder why it has so much success. Maybe because people think classical music is something more, something higher,” Ruppert said, adding that he was making up fake words when he sang as he didn't know the real ones.

The band has appeared outside the Czech Republic, but has not toured extensively abroad. “Every year we play in London, but just for Czech people living in London,” he said.

“For example, in Argentina, we played one of the biggest festival in South America, Personal Fest [in 2007], in front of 30,000 people. We released our album there,” he added.

But practical considerations now keep them closer to home. “I think we are too old and have too many kids to sit in the van and go 3,000 kilometers to have a small gig in a small club for a few people, no money, and then go back. Seventeen years ago maybe,” he said.

They also had a chance to be the opening act for Jamiroquai in 2002 on 10 international dates, but opted not to. The issue was that Monkey Business would have had to pay all of their expenses on the road. “We made the financial calculations and talked about it for a few minutes. That was a big possibility to reach people outside [the Czech Republic], but we didn't have [the money],” he said.

But Ruppert is happy with the band's success. “It is a very good life because it is not my job it is my hobby. I am not a millionaire but I have a beautiful life with my wife and in September I will have two kids. But we have had so much luck. Good people together doing good songs. We have good popularity. We are not as big as Kabát or Chinaski, but still we can have two tours every year and the summer season with the festivals,” he said.

Still, he has a long-term dream. “I can imagine a concert in New York City in Central Park in front of 50,000 people,” he said.


For more about Monkey Business visit www.monkeybusiness.cz or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/monkeybusinessprague

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