Interview for Louder Than War
Trupa Trupa are a fascinating band. They are a gregarious bunch, and any time spent with them involves a fair number of drinks and a raft of increasingly absurdist stories and jokes; all in the best Polish tradition. They are also a band that unlock many things in their listeners.
This writer first wrote about their LP, ‘Headache’, back in 2015, wondering how the band’s music “trundled around the outer wall of your consciousness”. Singer Grzegorz Kwiatkowski once bayed out “we are a simple band, very simple” at Liverpool Sound City; something that is patently absurd in one sense (given their superbly crafted music), but maybe a statement that also masked other truths. Their music is certainly adept at opening up a number of intriguing psychic contradictions, or emotional opposites. After a number of chance meetings in a number of countries (Lithuania, Slovakia, England) we decided to take the plunge and drop the voluble Kwiatkowski a line. In true Trupa tradition, a set of initial, fairly simple questions became something much more complicated.
LTW: Are you a gloomy band? Or are you driven by irony?
Grzegorz Kwiatkowski: Firstly, I have to say that we are four different people. We’ve got democracy in band. The key is that we are different characters. And we really love polyphonic music. So we are able to produce many vibes in one situation or in one song. So, to answer your question, I think we are both gloomy and driven by irony. Usually we are very funny people [the interviewer can attest to this]. I mean: when someone spends time with us it’s normally full of laughter, and can become a festival of absurdity, seriously! But we’ve also got a rather pessimistic view of ourselves and other people, and the state of the world in general. so there are many psychological states in one place and on one album. A kind of vital pessimism, if there is such a state.
LTW: Talking about your pessimism, I sometimes think you are from another age, somehow you evoke moods and ideas like past writers. Do you want to live in these times?
GK: I think that a better question would be: do you want to live? [Laughs] I can answer: no. But of course it’s all very complicated and everywhere you go you see this mix of vitality and pessimism; or just realism, because when you really see things from a certain distance, you can see objectively that most people, most living beings, suffer for most of their lives. Especially animals. And of course it’s not a good state at all. It’s not good to be born, to suffer and then die.
…But I think you’re right about us connecting to another age. I understand it in the way that we don’t try to follow some trends and fashions, or the zeitgeist. I promise you, we are really doing what we feel; and we play and compose for ourselves. We don’t calculate or think much about our audience. Of course when we play gigs we care, and we want to play as well as possible. But firstly it’s us who should be satisfied with gigs and in the studio and the rehearsal room. And of course if others like it, it makes us happy. But there is no obligation or expectation. And this state of perfect isolation (from the reality of the music business and all the rest of it) is freedom for us.
…I am also a writer, a poet. Poetry is a perfect land of freedom; almost without any expectations. Probably because there are not so many readers of poetry. Almost none really [laughs]. I really like this state of doing things mainly for yourself. To satisfy yourself and your own vision.
LTW: You are surreal band, or you play with a form of surrealism, you often invoke a dreamlike state, which seems to be a Polish trait in many disciplines: writers like Bruno Schultz to filmmakers like Andrzej Zulawski.
GK: I think it’s very often even kind of state of lunacy. Not only surrealism. You think you are realist but many years, you start to see what a surreal, lunatic, paranoid person you are. You know what I mean. It’s of course all in balance between these two worlds. Here, of course, I am only speaking my own thoughts. I guess my friends have got their own point of view on this. But the older I become, I can see through more of this fake routine stuff. I always thought that my life was very strict and solid, and that this routine made my life normal. But after all this, I can see it has a lot to do with living in Neverland, and at the same time in a sort of wasteland. And of course all of these things influence the music we make. And yes: Bruno Schultz is a real master. This Polish Jewish writer is a big treasure and big lunatic.
LTW: Polish music can be very romantic and playful and in love the experiment; Baaba, Andrzej Korzynski, Inner City Ensemble.. do you feel any affinity with this trait?
GK: On one hand, I love to think about music as a situation without thinking about what country it comes from, but on the other hand, I think some of the Polish music scene is special because of isolation. We had a time of hard communism and earlier we had the war. We were devastated and isolated. And because of these traumas and isolation and romanticism, because of believing in things that probably didn’t exist, (outside of our heads) we created something special which is not connected to world trends and money and fashion. In some ways I think it’s unique. I would compare the music scene to characters in Werner Herzog’s movies. Look at Stroszek and Bryan Scott Fitzgarald. They are big lunatics. They are big failures. But they win because they live in a dream and those dreams will never end. I love these stories.
…I also think trauma situations like war creates very unique art. And Poland is a place where the biggest genocide in the history of world took place. It affects all of us even if we don’t want it. So I guess when you’ve got these very traumatic vibes around in the air you can just live in your own dream; a surreal lunatic life, as a kind of protection. But if you talk about your traumas in art you can help others. I really believe in the therapeutic power of art. But of course, first you have to try to help yourself.
LTW: Can you tell us about some other art forms that gave you some therapy? I’m interested in what you wanted to address, personally or maybe in a wider context.
GK: Well, for me art that gave me therapy is an art which shows that I am not a good person, that I can improve, and that I should be more responsible. So I really like “moral” art. For example movies by Harmony Korine such as ‘Gummo’ or ‘Julien Donkey Boy’ or ‘Trash Humpers’. For me it’s a take on TS Eliot’s Wasteland. Stories of total nonsense absurdity and nihilism, and that’s why it’s also a story about me. So this kind of stuff always produces something positive in my consciousness and I try to behave in a nicer way.
LTW: Tell me about your poetry.
GK: I really love a poetry book by Edgar Lee Masters called ‘Spoon River Anthology’. And I use a bit of his method to write kind of epitaphs, stories of people who speak about their lives from death’s perspective. I must say, I am really interested in genocide; as a tragedy. This is my main topic. There is this great book ‘Images In Spite of All’, written by Georges Didi-Huberman. I also think this tragic past should be as visible or available to read as it can. We shouldn’t forget because it can easily happen again. My family history is connected to it. My grandfather was a prisoner at the Stutthof concentration camp. So that’s why I’m very interested in history. And I explore not only the conflicted pasts of Central and South-Eastern Europe but also the paradoxes of contemporary genocides, for instance in Rwanda. I try then to put these facts in my poetry; which is not so easy. But at least I try. And I very often use real voices, whether perpetrators, victims or bystanders. Other patrons of this kind of poetry are Raul Hilberg and Claude Lanzmann.
LTW: How do you see the band’s music developing? I remember a couple of your early records had a math rock or post-rock feel, now – I feel at any rate – you are deep in Syd Barrett territory (well I think so).
GK: I think that all our albums are dark but we try to compose and sing these dark stories and psychic dark stuff with different vibes and methods. We are really proud of ‘Headache’, ‘Jolly New Songs’ and ‘Of The Sun’. These are different albums, but often they are very similar. And I really love Syd Barrett, so for me it’s a great compliment. I like personalities like Syd Barrett or Bruno Schleinstein who played in Herzog’s legendary Stroszek. We don’t believe so much in progress and we don’t want to be a part of any competition. And what is most important: we believe in freedom of expression and in democracy in the band, and in the freedom of doing things in wrong way, and in a stupid way, or in unprofessional way. Whatever we like. We really, really believe in polyphonics and freedom. Everyone of us has got his own vision and we try to put these four visions into one song and one album. That’s why so many people hear different things.
For example; for me, the new album is a kind of fake one. And I love the idea of faking, or breaking a situation. These songs, on ‘Of The Sun’ songs pretend to be normal regular songs but something is definitely wrong with them. They are all, in some way, broken. With no entertainment at all. And I just love it. I think it really says you something and turns you onto some dark pessimistic vibe; but at the same time you are whistling along.
…I totally agree with you regarding Syd. I remember when I was listening to his albums for the first time, without any introduction to his tragic story. I was listening and liked them and I didn’t like them at the same time. Because I thought, “someone is a bit stupid and can’t play these nice songs in a nice and proper way”. And in some way I was right. I guess he couldn’t play in a different way. And this is brilliant. To accept your broken identity and to express is. Not hide it. Of course I don’t want to compare our music to his brilliant music. Just the process is a bit similar. The effects are different. He is a real master.
LTW: Somehow you have no image. You seem to be invisible – just four normal Polish lads (you said something similar last year playing Liverpool Sound City). Is that fair?
GK: I am very happy that you wrote that! For me this invisible situation is just perfect. So the focus should be on this polyphonic voices, for this new structure. Not for me or for my friends in the band. But for music. In some way just for its spirit. In my poetry it’s hopefully the same, you almost can’t see the author. Of course I am in some way visible but I am almost invisible. Because it’s not about entertainment but rather about exposing some paradoxical stuff.