Taking their name seriously, Carnival Youth have globetrotted across many countries but keep on returning to their home base in Latvia. The trio – sometimes quartet – is based out of the country’s capital, Riga, and consists of the twins Edgards and Emils Kaupers, Roberts Vanags, and Aleksis Lurinš . 2019 marks the release of their fourth LP Good Luck and in anticipation of the band’s extended Europe tour we saw it fit to catch up with the three musicians to chat about their journey from Latvia to international success as well as their musical inspirations.
Latvia, to me, is a pretty exotic country mainly because I have never visited it nor deeply studied the culture or traditions of the Baltic country. Setting out into the industry from their home country, Carnival Youth quickly gathered local audiences and grew to play big stages and brought a piece of Latvia with them. But the band does not want to be confined to the borders of the country. ‘Touring outside of Latvia is challenging’, they say ‘but we like a challenge.’ And so it is no wonder that the band has been touring internationally for five years. This is also why they choose to write most of their songs in English, instead of their native tongue. ‘We try to write in English because it opens gates for us to play all across the world.’
Being exposed to international bands, the four musicians turned to English songwriting early on and found a way of expressing themselves through the language. Even though they do get less airplay on domestic radio stations, the younger generation of Latvians speaks English well and does not struggle to understand the poetic messages embedded in the catchy indie rock anthems. But the band also acknowledges that ‘of course, it would be easier to hit the heart singing in the native tongue’. That is why, to honor their country and its 100th birthday, they recorded a full album in Latvian, Vienā Vilcienā.
The Singing Nation
Music, like in many countries, has a strong cultural and traditional importance in Latvia. Even though the import of international acts often overpowers the local scene, when it comes to young music enthusiasts looking for inspiration, the traditions are rich in musicality. ‘Latvia is known to be a singing nation and we have a massive song festival every four years,’ the group tells me. ‘Choirs from all parts of Latvia come together to form one massive 20K large choir. But we only have a few bands that make a living out of being musicians and the scene is quite small. Occasionally, some good indie bands pop up but many never make it to the Baltics.’ In a country that does not attract many big bands, the band often had to travel to see their favorite artists like Bon Iver, The National or Radiohead.
These influences resonate into Carnival Youth’s own compositions. The catchy melodies and well-composed instrumental arrangements create a layered yet, defined sound. Guitars, from gently picked to crashing down like on Only The Moon Can See The Sun, and keys spicing the melodic progressions like cooling sprinkles, show the playful character of the band. These instrumental parts are the first thing the musicians tend to when writing new material. The lyrics come after. Comparing the last two records, one in English and one in Latvian, they seem to come from a different approach towards arranging the instruments. Carnival Youth say, that ‘for the last album we collected a lot of ideas over the last few years and wrote the songs more individually’ leading to the variations. This musical and lyrical growth can be traced over the entire span of the band’s career, pointing Good Luck out as the highlight of artistic understanding of music.
The Lucky Ones
Boys Do Cry is not only lyrically a contemporary classic but also the gentle instrumentation slowly building up to the incredibly catchy chorus makes this one stand out. Using violins and some mellow synth influences, Carnival Youth unite classic indie rock sounds with modern technologies. Yet, the single is kept to a minimal, which gives each element the appropriate time to shine and to develop its flavor. The single is referring to the obsolete gender stereotypes of men not being allowed to cry. Boys Do Cry is an ode to the gender equality we are on the way to reaching, but are not quite there yet. ‘Gender equality is still a problem in our country but we are trying to make these things better. The video represents the only thing that can make men cry these days – women. As the majority of our population is female, men in Latvia cry a lot’, the band jokes.
‘There is an irony flowing through the whole album. The melodies contrast the lyrics often and the title is a reflection of that in some way’, Carnival Youth comment on the album title, Good Luck. Combining seemingly trivial and playful titles with intense lyrical themes, the band dive further into the ambiguity. Between noisy rock and gentle ballads, the record tends to every mood. But the title was actually inspired by an incident during the band’s recording sessions in São Paolo. After an unsuccessful try to record a song, the producer ironically wished the band ‘Good Luck’ and sparked the idea to use that phrase as an album title. ‘It can be taken as a genuine wish for good fortune or figuratively, as it is often used, with an ironic smirk, when someone is trying to accomplish something challenging or something that at the moment seems impossible.’
Just a click away
As a young band looking to inspire a more international audience, Carnival Youth, like many others take to the endless abysses of the Internet to promote their music. For creative people platforms like Instagram or Facebook hold a great opportunity to connect with audiences that would not be within immediate reach otherwise. The band’s song Desktop on the other hand is poking fun at the downsides of our virtually-orientated and Internet-dependent culture. In the limbo of a love-hate-relationship, they compare it to the Matrix. ‘It feels like in a couple of decades we are going to spend our lives sleeping in digital beds whilst robots take care of our bodies and we are connected to virtual realities. It is sad but we cannot fight it as we also want to connect with our fans and social media is one of the main ways to do that.’
And to honor Carnival Youth’s heritage, here is one Latvian tradition they still live up to. ‘We still celebrate midsummer solstice, which in Latvia is called Jāni. One of the pagan traditions is to jump over bonfires and, of course, to drink a lot of beer.’
But you do not need to travel to Latvia to take part in these traditions, instead, catch Carnival Youth on one of their many trips to Europe.
All Photos by Liv Toerkell for NBHAP
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