Interview with The 405
We met Grzegorz Kwiatkowski, Tomek Pawluczuk, Wojtek Juchniewicz and Rafał Wojczal at their rehearsal space in Gdansk’s old town to talk spiritual mantras, John Lennon and the new album Jolly New Songs.
So you guys have invited me to your rehearsal space here in Gdansk but I’m not the first guest you’ve had here. You’ve also hosted Jonathan Poneman of Sub Pop. How did you guys meet him?
G: Jonathan was a guest of OFF Festival the first time we played it back in 2013 because he’s a friend of Artur Rojek. Saxophonist Mikołaj Trzaska had sent our ++ album to him previously and he came to see our performance. After our gig we spoke a lot and after that we were speaking via email for a while. He came to Gdańsk to meet us again and hear our new stuff. He’s a kind of a supporter of our group and he really tries to help us any way he can. For us, it’s really an honour and almost a fictional situation having him as a real fan.
How did you guys get this space?
G: We are here by accident.
R: This place was given by the city to some artists, who are our friends and they invited us here, so we came here and we’ve stayed here.
Can you tell me the idea behind the title for your new album Jolly New Songs?
T: It’s actually the title for one of the songs on the album ‘Jolly New Song’, which is Wojtek’s idea.
W: It was originally going to be ‘Only Good Weather’.
G: With the last album Headache, we wanted to name the album after the best song on the album, and we all felt ‘Headache’ was the best song from that album.
With this album we were deciding between ‘Only Good Weather’ or ‘Jolly New Song’, but we felt ‘Only Good Weather’ was too obvious for us as a psychedelic band, it’s too cheap. ‘Jolly New Song’ in my opinion is the best song on the album but it’s also a nice title and not so cheap. This album is not as sad as Headache, it’s lighter and it’s got some bright sides and sometimes these songs are jolly and the title fits.
How do you see this record in relation to where Headache left off?
G: We couldn’t make the same album as Headache because it would be pointless. We work by meeting for rehearsals, playing sketches, recording sketches and after a year we sum up and choose the best ones and make songs from them. We had 20 songs and then narrowed it down.
T: We record one album every two years, so it’s actually kind of a diary of those last two years.
G: Of course we are wiser now, so it’s evolutional and we think that Jolly New Songs is a smart step after Headache but it’s not revolutionary. I really like Headache but it was a really psychedelic album and was stuck within the psychedelic rules and Jolly New Songs is really a kind of a weird album. There are many problems with the classification of this album, about what genre it is.
The album feels like a very beautifully balanced mix of contrasting ideas and influences. How is easy is it to balance everything?
G: It was weird because normally when we’ve done the recording and we get the mix it’s really easy to make a tracklist. On this record, we had four different tracklistings and I think it shows that these songs were like a puzzle and we could make many different narrations with them.
For two or three months we were arguing with each other about which track list to take. Whilst we were testing the album on the music industry and with journalists, they said that the album wasn’t so immediate that the listener has to give it two or three listens to create their ideas about it. The more the listener puts into it the more they’ll take from it.
This is the second time you’ve worked with Michał Kupicz, who seems to be involved in a lot of the best music coming out of Poland at the moment. What has it been like working with him again?
R: He’s a great guy, he’s a very good artist but also a very good technician. This makes him great because he understands us, as well as a lot of, as you say the best bands in Poland. He understands the way artists work and the way technicians work. He’s also a great human being, who you can talk with for hours.
G: We had eleven days to record and we made the whole album in the first five days because the atmosphere was so good because of him. He’s a great professional and a great artist, which is why the music he works on is so great. Not that we are the Beatles but he is like George Martin.
R: He knew exactly what we needed and we trusted him one hundred percent, whenever he came up with an idea it was great and there was never an argument about them. The mix and the mastering you hear on the record is the first take. We did try some more mixes to make it sound better.
T: But we went back to the first mix, it was perfect.
G: It was the same with Headache; we ended up using the first mix.
This is kind of a spoiler alert, but the title track ‘Jolly New Song’ ends extremely abruptly. Was it your plan to throw the listener out of their safe space?
W: We didn’t know how to end it!
G: Of course it’s not our invention, there’s ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’.
R: Do you know the story behind it? Lennon just cut the tape and said this is it. We didn’t record on tape though we listened to the recording and we were like now. Anytime someone asks about this song we know they were listening to it and paying attention, it forces you to rewind and listen again.
‘Love Supreme’ with its repeated mantra is obviously a nod to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme which was a deeply spiritual record, whereas in the past you’ve been called nihilists in interviews
G: I watched a documentary about Coltrane and his album. For me it wasn’t my aim to make a quote from Coltrane but we played a rehearsal and it just came out, then we changed the mantra slightly from ‘A Love Supreme’ to ‘ The Love Supreme’. Of course, it wasn’t originally from Coltrane but he was influenced by church sermons.
In the past when we’ve done interviews, people have said our music is very pessimistic or nihilistic, with these new songs I really think they are more spiritual because they are not so obvious. It’s rather a pessimistic song but on the other hand, it’s beautiful in some bizarre way. It’s got different layers and I think many songs for example ‘None of Us’, which is a really sad song in the beginning but the end is really triumphant.
R: I would consider the ‘Love Supreme’ song just a beautiful song I don’t think there’s a need to get deep inside and explain it in a spiritual way, just whatever you feel when you listen to it it’s your feeling.
G: Of course this repetition started on the Headache album on the song ‘Wasteland’, we really like repetition and mantras. For me it’s not easy, it’s exhausting but it’s a spiritual way when we are inside one wheel that’s rotating.
R: It’s like a steam machine that just keeps going, you don’t need to think about the next step because it’s spinning around.
G: Our music is the combination of the four of us. It’s a really rare situation that the band is very democratic. Everyone has the same voice and it’s hard sometimes to make compromises but we are doing it. Normally in a band there’s a leader or frontman and the rest of the band is playing what he says. For me sometimes this is alright and sometimes it feels too samey. In all of our songs, you can hear elements that are ideas of different members. In every song, we have ideas from each member and then we try to mix it.
Is not having a frontman another idea you take from Jazz?
R: Jazz is great because of this, but we didn’t really think about it. We all really like jazz, but I don’t think we can play it because it’s too hard. If you have a leader it’s more like a business or a company but when you have four guys they sense each other and they get into a spiritual way of thinking.
You recently played shows in Gdansk and Warsaw premiering the new material how was it received?
R: The two shows were completely opposite, the two places completely different. In Warsaw it was a small club, in Gdańsk it was a professional big music venue called Żak. It was great in Żak, it is one of the few places we know where you can get really spiritually into the music because you’re thinking only about the music as the sound and technicians are both really good.
Are there any further plans to tour?
G: We have two festivals in France, which we will play for two or three weeks, we will have to change the track listing a little. We can’t play the whole album in a festival situation.
T: We will combine the last two albums.
Have you got a bit of a following in France because of your label Ici D’ailleurs?
G: It’s our first time playing there actually.
R: We will try to play some more there. The gig situation is great because it’s always amazing to see people enjoying your music.
T: It’s always a real test of your music.
G: We also learn from many things at every gig, even if it’s a failed gig. If something went wrong we will still learn from it.