In 2005 when he saw the 1992 Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert on VHS, is when Lady Gothenburg frontman, Leo Łowczyk, then 13 years old, decided he wanted to be in a band. The set played by Guns N’ Roses which took place in London, some 1,300 miles away from his home town of Vilnius, captivated the young Lithuanian musician. However, it wasn’t the music which initially drew him in. “I remember watching Guns N’ Roses,” recalls Łowczyk a decade later, “it was more about their style and the feeling they had on stage.”
The style still remains with the 22-year-old. “So, the first person who inspired me was actually Slash,” he says, “because of his charismatic figure.” And charisma is something Łowczyk has in spades. About 6”5, wearing a brown leather jacket and drawing on a “proper strength” Marlboro, Lady Gothenburg’s guitarist continues to recall how Slash influenced him.
“In fact, when I woke up this morning I thought, “oh, where’s that t-shirt I had from years ago?” he continues. He’s then cut off by Waldemar, his younger brother by three years, and Lady Gothenburg’s drummer. “Hey, I found it!” interrupts the younger Łowczyk, sporting a beard, a blonde top-knot and dressed in shorts; a mischievous, frenetic ball of energy. A contrast to his older sibling’s brother’s relaxed vibe.
Waldemar goes on to reveal his brother is wearing the same Rolling Stones t-shirt Slash wore 23 years ago during the Freddy Mercury Concert – the same concert that also inspired him to take up drums, because he thought they “would be the easiest instrument”; something the 20 year-old is happy to admit “turned out to totally not be the case.”
Ignoring his brother’s interruption with an eye roll and a laugh, Leo wraps up the anecdote. “So, in 2005 when I saw this concert, I decided to quit playing basketball and start playing guitar. I actually bought this shirt – it’s 10 years old and still fits me!”
Introductions: who’s who in Lady Gothenburg
At this point, it’s a good time to introduce the rest of Lady Gothenburg. However, one of Vilnius’ best potential rock exports hasn’t always been this group of six bright and confident early 20 somethings lounging around a table in a bar in central Vilnius.
The story of the band begins five years ago with just Leo and Waldemar. “We started jamming at home, then afterwards, we got a few friends to join and create a “proper” band, which we really weren’t”, the elder Łowczyk laughs. “But hey, at that time, it was a great opportunity to play and all this and that.” However, Leo’s confidence in his abilities wavered and he thought he should “try and do something sensible, instead.”
Despite disbanding, the music bug still thrived within both Łowczyks. Around a year later, they created Lady Gothenburg with the help of one of Waldermar’s school friends, bassist Daniel Juodis, who joined the two brothers after asking “can I be in your band?” A question that also precipitated a switch from guitar to bass.
“I just came to some of their rehearsals and listened to them,” explains Daniel when questioned about how he came to be in Lady Gothenburg, “I asked them “maybe you’d like me to play bass in the band?” and they answered “yeah, sure!”
“That was quite funny, actually,” he continues, “I’d started listening to Metallica and decided I wanted to play guitar. Everyone told me “are you fucking kidding? you’ll stop within three months!” However, Juodis just got on with it. When joining Lady Gothenburg, he switched to bass and along the way, picked up drums through Waldemar who by that point, he’d known for 12 years. “Like it’s written on our website, I am the music and the music is me,” he says with a smile.
The other members of the band are Kęstutis Vaitkevičius on guitar, Simonas Šipavičius (otherwise known as “Sheep” due to the Lithuanian pronunciation of the first three letters of his surname) on saxophone and Justė, the backing vocalist. Like Daniel, they didn’t go through an audition process. In Lady Gothenburg, if you fit, you fit. No bullshit. “I’m the new girl in the band, and they just asked me because they needed one more voice,” explained Justė.
“They knocked on my door and said they’ll beat me up if I don’t join” joked Šipavičius; the saxophonist in of another of Lithuania’s most interesting current bands, Sheep Got Waxed. “No, they just asked me, to be honest…”
For Vaitkevičius, his arrival to the band as another guitarist was, like Daniel, a matter of simply asking.
The progress the band has made from being two brothers with a guitar and drums to an almost polished article with six musicians in a year or so is something the band can be happy about; an emotion expressed by Waldemar as he leans over the table and whispers, “now we have six members! It’s amazing!”
From Freedom Rock to New Wave
With the introductions over, the topic switches to where Lady Gothenburg fits into the context of Lithuania’s rock music tradition; a movement which appeared during the perestroika period of the Soviet Union as a vehicle of expressing independence. Ask the band, and it becomes clear rock music among younger Lithuanians at least, is no longer an expression of independence, but more about love, life and the country’s social context.
Fast forward 25 years, Lithuania is now free from the shackles of the USSR. The rock sound has shifted from Freedom Rock to New Wave as a result of borders opening, and the adoption of foreign music into the Lithuanian music scene.
“We’ve had more opportunities to take influences from music all over the world,” explains Leo. “That’s given us this new sound, which to be honest, is nothing new in a global context. However, it’s new for Lithuanians at least, but that depends on what kind of Lithuanian music you’re talking about.”
In a nod to his friend and bandmate Sheep, Łowczyk describes Sheep Got Waxed as “something fresh and interesting” for the Lithuanian music scene. He’s then off, outlining Lithuania’s relative current anonymity in the global music context. For Lady Gothenburg, it’s now all about shouting “hey, we may be living down here, but we’re also creating good music,” a point Daniel weighs in on. “It doesn’t matter whether we’re from Lithuania or Poland or wherever,” he emphasises, “we just want people to like our music from all over the world.”
The problems of export
While all six members of the band agree Lithuanian music is exportable, the main problems in exporting it to Western markets boil down to funding, irrespective if a band, like Lady Gothenburg, has a manager, performs in English and organises itself in the same fashion as a Western contemporary.
It’s simple – wages in Lithuania are around four times lower than in for example, the United Kingdom. The other problem aspiring artists are facing is a lack of recording studios. If they can use one, there is also the cost issue; something all members of Lady Gothenburg are experiencing as a result of combining studies with musical ambitions.
This time, Waldemar, in a similar anecdotal trend to his brother, animatedly explains the situation.
“A good friend of mine summed it up nicely,” he begins, “in the UK, for example, if you work a normal job, you can have around a spare £200 to spend on whatever you want. To have that amount of money left over in Lithuania, you need to work about three months for that. That’s one problem when it comes to going into a recording studio – we simply don’t have a lot of money to spend. The second issue is that there aren’t many.
Despite a wild overestimation of recording studios in one area of London, Waldemar’s on a roll. “In London there are, I don’t know, maybe 500 recording studios in one area of town? But in the whole of Vilnius, there are maybe five.”
He suggests studio hire prices are on par with a Western country, but the quality of the equipment used in a Lithuanian studio is not as high as that found in a Western counterpart. Subsequently, he feels the quality gap leads to the accusation that the music “is good for Lithuania,” instead of being recognised as good music for good music’s sake.
“Maybe that’s one reason why people may say “oh, it’s good for Lithuanian music” he admits. “They listen to the record, don’t like it, so that means they don’t want to see the band perform live. To me, that’s totally normal.
“If, however, a Lithuanian band recorded in a studio in London, then I guess there would be more popular Lithuanian bands.”
Why not Lithuanian?
The affiliation to England and the English language is evident, and the conversation shifts to why the band chooses to sing in English, as opposed to their native Lithuanian, or second languages of Polish or Russian.
The question is met with an oddly surprising answer. “It’s just more flexible for us,” explains Daniel, who along with Leo, pens the band’s lyrics. “I had some ideas we could try singing in Lithuanian…” cue Waldemar usurping his bandmate with a broad grin and joking “but yeah, then it sounds Lithuanian” – something the band is evidently not angling for. Export, remember?
Despite his role as Lady Gothenburg’s drummer, Waldemar highlights the intricacies of the Lithuanian language as a mismatch with their unpolished, gritty sound – think Lithuania’s answer to the Black Keys and you’d not be wrong. “There are a lot of bands and performers in Lithuania who sing in Lithuanian, because their style of music fits the language, but for us,” he pauses to take a drink, “there are a lot of words in Lithuanian that aren’t as broken in English. For example, in English you can have four or five words, which have three letters each and they form a sentence. In Lithuanian, you have five words and there are 150 letters. That makes it really hard to pronounce in fast music…
“Like Daniel said, and he’s a writer after all, it just works easier in English.”
Furthermore, the band’s confidence in their language abilities certainly influences how they’re acting in the interview.
For a young, unsigned band, they could be forgiven for trying too hard in order to impress; sure, cigarettes are smoked, and there’s some fruity language dropped, but the impression is they know they’re good at their craft and any of the stereotypical rock band behaviour is avoided. Being in the company of six of Lithuania’s bright young things – people the country has an abundance of – is a genuine pleasure.
Confidence or blagging it?
According to Leo, this confidence has trickled down into their playing. That, however, hasn’t always been the case.
“I don’t think I could even fake this confidence,” he reveals. “Lately, it’s completely natural when I’m playing a gig, but when we had our first gigs a year or so ago, we were trying to make a show of things, but it was forced. I was always thinking “oh, maybe I should move about a bit more because it looks cool” or maybe I should light a cigarette.”
Fast forward to 2015, and the band’s live performances have been more about playing the music they enjoy as opposed to showing off and trying to impress. “People will realise this if you’re trying to force this, and after our most recent shows, there were no comments like “oh, you guys look like a sack of douchebags,” which is followed by Waldemar adding “yeah, that’s always nice when someone tells you aren’t a douchebag anymore.”
The confidence topic continues, and interestingly, Daniel points out the theory of a band performing as a unit is a method of breeding that confidence. “I just feel more confident on stage than in front of my family,” he explains. “When someone in my family asks me to play something, I always actually say no. But when I’m on stage, I just feel more at home. I don’t know why…”
For Waldemar, the concept is black and white and far more bullish. “I feel confident in my playing, but that comes from practicing. If you’re doing something but aren’t confident in that ability, then why the fuck are you bothering, and why should you be there?” he asks. “You shouldn’t show you’re scared, even if you are. You don’t want people to see you as a coward or something. They should see you as an artist who can perform professionally and that’s that.”
As the interview begins to wind down, I ask Leo and Waldemar on whether being brothers affects band making decisions – something Leo answers before I have the chance to finish the question.
“Yeah, it’s much easier we’re band members,” he laughs. “Because he’s my brother, I can tell him to fuck off or something and he won’t get offended,” a statement Waldemar counters with a healthy dose of sibling rivalry and an almost salty, British sense of humour.
“I don’t pay attention to what he’s saying most of the time, anyway,” the younger brother grins, “I’m looking at him and he’s become an even bigger douchebag than he was a few months ago. I hear what he’s saying, but you know, they’re just words and then they fly elsewhere.
He gesticulates to Leo with his thumb, then pokes him playfully in the ribs. “I love you, brother,” he laughs, “but look at him, he’s like Jared Leto.”
And those final few minutes really sum up Lady Gothenburg. If they had to be described in six words, intelligent, fun, confident, no bullshit, talented and exportable would not be too far wrong.
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Photos by Giedrė Statkevičiūtė