or ten years Jan Muchow lived and breathed soccer, devoting all his time to practice and competition. Then one day after being impressed by The Cure as a teenager, he took his devotion to sport and put it into music. Muchow picked up a guitar and tried the band's simple chord progressions himself. "I didn't want to just watch and listen," he says with typical directness. At 24, Muchow is the youngest Czech musician to break into the international market with his band, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa.
Early in 1993, the young Czech four-piece band named after St. Theresa's pleasurable communicative experiences with God appeared on the British indie scene. They played some rave-review London gigs, recorded a session with John Peel, scored a contract with one of the most important British independent music labels, Go!Discs, and got a single into the British Top Ten indie charts.
At the height of their success, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa sound was characterized by hushed echoes of female vocals, sublime rushes of swirling guitar, and sampled atmospherics. They were slotted into the ambient guitar category, somewhere between Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine.
Today The Ecstasy Of St. Theresa is a solo project. Three members have left the band, but Jan Muchow still plays under the name, collaborating with friends like a female vocalist from British trance-dance group Wubble-U. Together they recorded two new tracks, with an undoubtedly British flavor, which Go!Discs will release later this year.
Muchow worked on a four-track album with the band Color Factory, which Monitor/EMI has just released, and is now shaping material for his own album. He writes most of his songs in his childhood bedroom, deep within a block of panelak apartments. He records directly from guitar to tape, sampling his own takes and using headphones so the neighbors don't complain. The raw material then goes to a London studio, where he oversees the mixing.
Discussing his up-and-coming career over lunch, he has a sadder story of the local music scene. "At present, nothing is going on. It was different in 1991. There were many young Czech bands trying to do something new and people overseas talked about 'the Prague scene.' But most of those bands broke up. They didn't get the chance to release anything," he says, because the Czech record industry wasn't mature enough to support local acts. Success meant moving to England or America.
To remedy the situation, he is in the process of creating a new record label, called Beat In!
"The idea is to give a chance to young bands who really don't have any hope of getting a contract with major labels. The major labels want albums. We will release EPs." Muchow says he is talking to several interested record companies about the project, which, along with recording and distribution, may also entail a record club, a promotional radio show, and live monthly peformances.
In the long run, however, he'd like to be in movies. This summer Muchow will play a lead role in a Czech film titled Septei (Whisper). Although he's got charisma and is already a professional performer, Muchow doesn't have the vanity of an actor; he wants to be involved more on the creative end of producing and directing.
"Nothing is going on in Prague, because no one is doing anything," he says. "We'd like to get things moving again."
If something can be done, chances are Muchow will do it.