Grzegorz Kwiatkowski on the Polish underground, Lana Del Rey, and their next step…
For the past decade, alt-outfit Trupa Trupa has been holed up in their hometown of Gdańsk, steadily releasing intricate and intense soundscapes into the world.
Mixing elements of garage rock, dream pop, and something wholly original, the Polish quartet has cultivated a rapidly growing international audience.
Clash grabbed singer and guitarist Grzegorz Kwiatkowski to discuss the release of their biggest album to date, ‚Of The Sun’, as well as DIY ethics, boutique festivals and Lana Del Ray…
So it’s been a decade since Trupa Trupa formed, here you stand not only a rare breakout group for Poland but also with a new album for prestigious international labels. How does it feel? How did it all happen?
Of course, it feels good, not bad. We are really lucky to have had good feedback, a good audience, and great friends in this music industry. It all really started in 2015 with our first international release – the ‚Headache’ album released on the Blue Tapes label from Great Britain.
So we had really good press in Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, American Newsweek, The Quietus and more prestigious outlets and our songs were broadcast by the BBC, KEXP, NPR, and more international stations. In this spreading process, touring played a very important role, not only as a platform when we played songs but also as a place to meet great people and great new friends.
As a result of all of these situations, our new album ‚Of The Sun’ will have an international release thanks to the cooperation of Moorworks, Lovitt Records, Glitterbeat Records, and Antena Krzyku. We’re also working with Paradigm Talent Agency and ATC Live. In this whole new setup, the most important thing is the moral and ethical air, the anticolonial way of doing things a rather intellectual than business atmosphere, an atmosphere full of professionalism, respect, understanding, and dignity.
It’s really amazing that these people dig this strange little band from Poland who explores rather dark and rather frighting sides of human nature, but of course, we do it to disarm this evil side by being conscious about who we are and what is our evil potential.
I think times have now changed and more people than ever are more interested in really weird and more often non-mainstream stuff because usually there is a collision – business versus spirit.
Your music can be both calming and intricate yet brutally intense. Was this something you four set out to achieve from the beginning? Or something that happened more organically?
The things that are happening with music and with this band are made organically- and also as accidents or even mistakes. When we plan to do something, usually it doesn’t happen, or it happens differently than we planned. And this is because we are four people with four different characters and we’ve got a democracy system on board. So everyone is pushing in a different direction. In this kind of situation, it’s not easy to make anything according to one solid plan. Effects of this democracy state are very often weird musical objects cause of these four visions inside. But I think this is our strength. Usually, there is a leader on board, and he is formatting everything to his own strong vision. I guess our strength is in some ways our weakness too.
You’ve previously discussed your DIY ethos and natural approach to live shows. Do you think this purer and humble relationship to your craft and songs has helped your growth?
For sure, but I am not saying our method is the best. I just say it’s the best with the kind of people we are. It just works in our example, but for sure it’s a rather rare situation because it’s really hard to deal with the democratic process in a band, but in my opinion, it’s just more fruitful and unexpected.
How did your relationship with the wonderful OFF Festival begin?
This year we play at OFF for the third time, so it’s a kind of a science fiction story for us. Because usually, bands play at this festival once or twice. The first time we played in 2013, than in 2017, and now we’ve got 2019. Every time there is a great atmosphere around, and Artur Rojek (artistic director) is a big big friend of the band. Big supporter.
It was at OFF Festival we first met many friends who are still our friends and members of the Trupa Trupa family, for example, Jonathan Poneman (Sub Pop Records co-founder).
For you, what makes the OFF Festival spirit special?
I think that alternative stuff has usually got more spirit inside than regular mass media stuff. It’s like with literature. Less and less people are reading, especially poetry, but when you start, then you will see how fruitful a land it is and how exciting and full of power it is. So I guess OFF Festival is great because of its programming line up – alternative, non-cynical, full of quality and spiritual power.
In your opinion, do you think the rise of more boutique and mid-sized festivals, as well as the birth of streaming, is giving more international groups greater exposure?
Definitely. I think our interview is going around one question, one topic really – how to be good and how to exist as a band when you are not really big but an indie group.
Some time ago I thought these are too easy terms – mainstream and indie – and kind of generalisations, but now I am pretty sure that the world of cynical money makers creates for us, for consumers, very false and very flat stuff that couldn’t change you radically or give you any kind of enlightenment to just wake you up. Because in their opinion you shouldn’t wake up, you should be in this hibernation state and just buy. And enlightened stuff happens more often in indie. Of course, these are my subjective thoughts and of course it’s this way and that way. Depends who is listening to the stuff. Easy answers are usually bad answers.
As an example against my earlier thesis: I really love Lana Del Ray’s ‚Ultraviolence’ album, and it’s spiritually waking me up so maybe I am wrong or maybe this great album is made by accident? Because it’s really great, genius stuff from a Twin Peaks hell area, and it says a lot about the culture and horrible tradition of humiliating others.
Which homegrown Polish talents are you currently championing? Who’s a permanent fixture in your headphones?
I really like The Kurws, Wczasy, The Saturday Tea and Guiding Lights. For me, not only is the music important here, but also the ethical stuff around it, and I know most of them, and they are really great people in moral terms. Music is great – they are great. It’s almost impossible combination. But as we can see, sometimes it really happens.
There had been a lot of discussion on the ‚death’ of guitar/alternative music in the past decade, but public opinion seems to be changing recently. As one of the more individual alt bands currently around, what are your thoughts?
I think we can now see an uprising of this guitar alternative band situation. The biggest proof of this is bands like IDLES and Fontaines DC. Also, a big player in this is Partisan Records, for sure. I guess they are a really great home and platform for bands who are equally successful in a spiritual and artistic way. And this truth message works. People love these new bands. Not millions but maybe hundreds of thousands? It’s still a big big number. I think it’s really amazing.
You’re still based in Gdansk and have mentioned that it’s had an impact on the entire band. Do you think it’s proven an integral component to the music? Are you planning to stay?
For sure we are planning to stay, and for sure this place has had a big impact on the band. It’s a place surrounded by great nature – massive forests line from the south of the seashore from the north because the city is by the Baltic sea. It is also the city where the Second World War started. On the other hand, Solidarity workers movements begin right here. And Artur Schopenhauer was born in this place, and he is the biggest pessimist in the history of philosophy.
So Gdansk is a city with a lot of that mixture inside. It’s very transgressive. Very into history and ethics and ideas. There is also nowadays a situation connected to this city which changed our band and had a big big influence on us – and this story is a really cruel one.
A few months ago, our mayor, Paweł Adamowicz, was murdered by a person influenced by right-wing hate speech. It was a big shock for people from Poland, but especially from Gdańsk. And our city is really a city of freedom, so the shock was even bigger. So we are now more aware of this reality.
Our hearts were always on the left-hand side, and we’ve always banded against nationalism, hate, humiliation, and terror, but it’s more clear now because history just knocked on our rehearsal room – we dedicated this year’s SXSW gigs to our murdered president. It’s worth saying that some of our songs were always close to such historical, political and bloody stuff.
For example, the song ‘Never Forget’ is talking about ghettos and is related to Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust documentary Shoah. And on our new album, we’ve got ‚Remainder’ song which is in my opinion pointing the finger at those whitewashing history, and for me, this anti-fascist song is dealing with Holocaust denial.
And most shocking for me is that this song is almost everyday broadcast by KEXP, BBC Radio 6 music and more, so media outlets are not afraid to touch this kind of rather hard stuff. It’s really weird. But I also hope this is a good sign for the future.