Interview with Backseat Mafia
Trupa Trupa is a psychedelic no wave band from Gdansk, Poland. Their stylistic approach recalls work by bands like Shellac, Swans, Slint and Beak>. There is such discordance, tension and intensity in their compositions that it feels like the band is genuinely inclined to deconstruct the traditional rock format.
Despite the tensions inherent in their music, Trupa Trupa employ counterbalancing, phosphorescent melodies that, coupled with deeply macabre lyrics, help the group craft their own distinct identity. Humour, photography and psychogeography (the art of walking) also play major roles in developing their sound. When combined, these stylistic tendencies place the listener in the existential head space that mirrors Malcolm Bucknall’s ‘Falling Dog‘ from the cover of ‘Down’ by The Jesus Lizard: perpetually still, forever in motion, woefully uncertain about its fate and panic-stricken to the core of its being. Already three albums into their career, with the fourth long player, ‘Jolly New Songs’, set to be released on 27 October, the band have been receiving a wealth of positive critical responses from the likes of The Quietus, KEXP, BBC6 Music and even Jonathan Poneman of Sub Pop. Backseat Mafia caught up with guitarist and singer, Grzegorz Kwiatkowski, following Trupa Trupa’s recent show at Katowice’s OFF Festival and asked him about the band and its motivations.
Backseat Mafia: Hello Grzegorz. How did the gig at OFF Festival go?
Grzegorz Kwiatkowski: The OFF gig was awesome. The best show of our lifetime.
How did you all meet and when did you start playing together?
We met couple years ago, about 2010. We are really a group of friends and this is what’s most important. Friendship first. Music second. Tomek and Wojtek were studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk, so they’ve known each other for many years. Rafał and I met them later. It’s really important that half of the band graduated from a fine art academy, because me and Rafał, we learned to think about music other ways, kind of like landscapes.
That’s an interesting analogy. Does location play a major role in the creation of the music?
Of course. The city of Gdansk has a very specific history. The Second World War started in Gdansk. Arthur Schopenhauer, the patron of pessimism in philosophy, was born in Gdansk. Stutthof concentration camp is near Gdansk. But on the other hand, Gdansk is by the sea and we also have a lot of beautiful forests and lakes here. It’s really beautiful and marvelous. Gdansk was a German city for many many years, but has been a Polish city for about 70 now. You can feel the compilation of west European culture and Polish culture. Our studio and rehearsal room is in the oldest part of town. In the 17th century, it was a reformatory for kids. Then it became a slaughterhouse.
Judging from some of your lyrics and poetry, you have a macabre sense of humour. Were you by any chance wandering graveyards and coming up with stories from the information written on the stones?
Yes. For some time, I was on a writing residency in Graz and Vienna and, almost every day, I would be walking in a cemetery searching for stuff to write. This is my obsession and my literary benchmark is the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.
Are there any other locations or methods that you use to explore the poetry of place?
When I am in a new place, I always try to go first to a graveyard or to some historically dark place, such as a concentration camp. I am also open to noting down accidental situations, such as hearing what someone says in a bus or train. However, we are all different types of artists, so each of us takes to the band their own non-musician skills.
I’m interested to know that two members of the group went to art school. Would you consider the band to operate in the same philosophical sphere as art? If so, in what way?
Yes. I studied philosophy at University of Gdansk and wrote a dissertation on Nietzsche and Christianity. For me, the most important philosophers are Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. They are both very connected to nihilism, pessimism, will to power and the theory of art. I guess you can find all of these topics in our music, but not in an obvious way. Rather as shadows of ideas. I am pretty sure that my philosophical studies made an impact on the band, just as their fine art experience impacted on me. We are all really different though. For example, Rafał Wojczal is a very good filmmaker and photographer and I am sure all his creative aspects help build our music. We are not the same and that is our big advantage.
Your unusual song structures remind me of Fluxus experiments with sound, poetry and happenings. What do you try to achieve when you sit down to write a song or album?
It’s good moment to say that we are all writers of music and lyrics. We like the DIY/Fugazi way of working. No leaders, frontmen or rock ‘n’ roll atmospheres. There is a lot of fun in that way of doing things, because your intuition guides you. But we don’t try to achieve anything, really. For us, the best thing is the process of composing without highers reasons.
There is a song on the new album called ‘Love Supreme’. Is it a ghostly reimagining of John Coltrane’s Acknowledgement or just a reference to his 1965 album of the same name?
While we were composing this song, I watched a documentary about Coltrane. So yes, there is something from Coltrane in there, but only in the lyrics. The music was composed in autonomy from Coltrane. We really like the contrast of dark lyrics and bright notes, or bright lyrics and dark notes. For example, on our song ‘Only Good Weather’ you can sense an optimistic tone, but then the second part of song is kind of deconstructive and pessimistic. We really like these paradoxes and play with different emotional states. The new album, ‘Jolly New Songs’ is our Fitzcarraldo: an opera house we’re building in the jungle.
What other musical influences play a role in shaping your sound?
I know it will sound banal, but we are all very much into The Beatles and The Velvet Underground. But our paths are different. Every member has got his own inspirations such as Sonic Youth, Elliot Smith or Glenn Gould and David Oistrakh.
Repetition is very present in your compositions. Is the use of repetition an attempt at achieving clearer communication with the listener or simply an aesthetic technique?
I think it’s a technique of pleasure. It feels very clean when make repetition. We all like this feeling while playing and it helps to communicate with listener. Of course, sometimes we prefer chaos.
What is the most chaotic thing that has driven your work as a band?
Because we all have very different ideas, we are fighting with chaos all of the time, trying to go from chaos to good sonic architecture. But we like it that way. Wille zur Macht.
What is your experience of UK? Are you looking forward to coming over to play in London? Is it more difficult to grow an audience here rather than Poland and the rest of the Central Europe?
Last time we played in London was at Cafe OTO (August 2016) and it was big fun for us and a great experience. The audience was great. The United Kingdom is in some ways the motherland for us, because Dave, the owner of Blue Tapes and X-Ray Records, found us and released our last album, ‘Headache’. In the past, many many years ago, I was living in Liverpool and worked as a street musician there, playing guitar by the River Mersey. So yes, the UK and London are very important for us. I hope that the gig on Saturday, at the Lexington, will be as good an experience for us as the last time we played at Cafe OTO.