Interview with TQ zine
Trupa Trupa are an avant-psych-post-punk band from Gdańsk, Poland. Their 2015 album, ‘Headache’ (Blue Tapes/X-Ray Records) brought their skewed take on underground rock to the attention of respected voyagers such as Tristan Bath at The Quietus (“always clever, often beautiful and at times very angry guitar music that defies definition”) and Sasha Frere Jones of the LA Times (“one of the best rock bands doing business right now”).
The band’s fourth album, ‘Jolly New Songs’ was released by Ici d’ailleurs in conjunction with Blue Tapes and X-Ray Records on 27th October. In the meantime, if you’re anywhere near a computer, check out the woozy video for lead track ‘To Me’, directed by Benjamin Finger.
TQ’s Paul Margree hooked up with Trupa Trupa guitar and vocalist Grzegorz Kwiatkowski to get the skinny on the band’s history and their new record.
TQ – Tell me about how Trupa Trupa started.
Grzegorz Kwiatkowski – We are all based in Gdańsk and we met many years ago, first as friends and then as musicians. We are a group of friends, which is the most important thing in our band. Friendship and then music. Every year our relationship gets closer and closer.
How did your musical style evolve between the start of the band and ‘Headache’? The bits I’ve heard on YouTube seem more psych-rock orientated.
I hope with every album we are more weird and open. But you are right – at the beginning our records sounded like psych-rock, even very close to The Doors. When we started, we didn’t know much about recording and sound engineering, so we worked in a very DIY-accidental way, which wasn’t always great.
With our first album, the keyboards were mixed really high, so we had a lot of reviews that said we were like The Doors. We were a bit frustrated about that because it wasn’t our direction. On ‘Headache’, we started working with a great sound engineer called Michał Kupicz, and he became like a fifth band member for us. We like similar things and we think about music in a similar way. That’s why as a band we are proud of our music since ‘Headache’.
What were those early days like? Did you play lots of gigs?
For many years we didn’t play many gigs. For us the most important thing was rehearsing and recording. Over the past years, playing gigs has become more important and now we want to play as much as we can. We woke up but for many years we were in winter sleep. But we don’t regret it.
Is there much of a music scene in Gdańsk?
Yes, Gdańsk has got a very good music scene and although we’ve got a lot of friends from this scene our band is still rather off the beaten track. We played in many places outside Gdansk or outside Poland, mainly in festivals. That was kind of a mistake!
Do you see yourself as a particularly ‘Polish’ band? Are there other Polish underground-art-rock bands we should be listening to?
In an ideal world, we would feel like a band without any nationality. But of course, it’s not possible. And yes, there are a lot of great bands here. The British music media are more and more focused on Polish music and it’s given us big support.
Why do you think the Polish scene is so vibrant, especially for experimental music?
I think it could be that we are fresh because of our level of living – we are not into luxury and we are not so bored as people in well developed countries. We are also a bit angry and ambitious. I guess it’s good mixture for art.
How did you encounter Blue Tapes? Did you send them a demo, or did they contact you?
Dave from Blue Tapes is also a journalist. He reviewed our ‘++’ album and after that he proposed releasing an album on his label. For us this was and still is a dream situation.
Many things changed for the better. Dave is kind of a father figure for our band. He likes weird stuff and we also do. He trusts us and he sees in us weird musicians who play weird music. Not rock musicians who want to entertain others and make rock and roll fun.
I read somewhere that ‘Headache’ was recorded in a synagogue and an abandoned marine machinery plant. How did that happen?
Not ‘Headache’, the ‘++’ album (2013). They were great places to record, especially the synagogue where we were recording for a few months. Gdańsk’s Jewish community were very welcoming. It was the only synagogue in the city that wasn’t destroyed during the second world war, although we mainly chose it because it has a great great sound inside.
Did you expect ‘Headache’ to be such a success?
After we got the mix of the album from Michał, we knew it will be our best album. So, we were happy from very beginning. But we didn’t think it will have such a great reception – for example, Sasha Frere Jones’s statement about us being one of the best bands, the great review by Tristan Bath for The Quietus or your (interviewer Paul Margree’s) great review on We Need No Swords.
You’re too kind…
After ‘Headache’ was released, we were approached by many labels. We made deal with the great French label Ici d’ailleurs, who made remastered and reissued ‘Headache’ on vinyl. Because of ‘Headache’’s great feedback, we have now this international cooperation for ‘Jolly New Songs’.
Did you have any specific ideas or approaches in mind when you went into the studio to record ‘Jolly New Songs’?
We wanted to record it in the way that we play songs live, without recording separate tracks for instruments. In most of songs we succeed with this ‘live’ method. Michał Kupicz recorded, mixed and mastered it.
We used the Dickie Dreams Studio, which is in the oldest part of Gdansk. In the 17th century, it was a reformatory for kids. Then it became a slaughterhouse. It’s also our rehearsal room so its feels like home in there.
‘Jolly New Songs’ feels more melodic than ‘Headache’, almost summery in places! Was this deliberate?
We didn’t want to make ‘Headache’ Part Two. But we prefer evolution not revolution, so this is our next step after ‘Headache’ and we hope it’s not the same.
Both ‘Headache’ and ‘Jolly New Songs’ are also quite psychedelic, without sounding retro or old-fashioned. Are you fans of psychedelic music?
We are fans of different genres, including psychedelic music. Every member of the band listens to something different, for example Glenn Gould, The Cure, Swans, Fugazi or Elliott Smith. But we all listen to The Beatles and the Velvet Underground. We love these two bands. So, we are quite psychedelic but we are not true believers of any genre. We just like weird things but also very simple and melodic things. We also love repetition.
The lyrics seem very dark: burning trees, coffins, etc. Is this a response to the terrible things happening around the world?
We all have a rather pessimistic point of view and we are a bit afraid of other human beings. Maybe this has some influence on the lyrics. On the other hand, we are full of life and joy and Wille zur Macht [will to power, from Nietzsche]. So, I think our music is a natural mixture between death, joy and life. We are also very much into a paradoxical and absurd way of thinking. We like oppositions and absurdity, which is also visible in our lyrics.
I’m also interested in your lyrical style – often songs are made up of just two or three phrases, repeated or varied, like a mantra or a spell. What’s your technique for writing lyrics?
We write mainly in an intuitive way during rehearsals and playing. I guess my interest in
history of poetry and literature has some impact.
You’re a poet as well as a member of Trupa Trupa. Has your poetic craft helped you write your lyrics?
In Trupa Trupa we do everything together, writing and composing, and even if someone is author of each lyric this text is a result of our band atmosphere, so it’s also common. I am not the only author of texts but of course you are right. My knowledge of history of literature and my poetry skills helps me a lot.
The most important in poetry but also in Trupa Trupa lyrics is the maxim: less is more. I am big fan of Larkin, Eliot, Hughes, and many more English, Irish and American poets and writers. For example, the very simple text of ‘To Me’ was inspired by poetry of Walt Whitman, because Whitman is so vital, so strong and so simple.
In tracks like ‘Jolly New Song’ or ‘Mist’, there’s a kind of call and response, with a very subtle mixture of change and repetition. Is this a deliberate poetic effect?
The main writer of these two songs is Wojtek [Juchniewicz, who plays bass and guitar and shares vocals] so I can’t answer for him. But of course, I like response and repetition effect both in Trupa Trupa lyrics and in my poetry. I use it very often. And Wojtek too. For example, he used it in ‘Give ’em all’ from ‘Headache’. We love change and repetition in music and in our lyrics.
I dig the unexpected changes and structures in your songs. Do you plan these out, or do your songs arise naturally and organically from playing together?
They arise naturally and organically. We don’t like to feel boring and that’s why we try to make things more dynamic and unexpected. It’s also connected to this joy in absurdity and paradoxes.
Are you playing any more UK gigs to promote ‘Jolly New Songs’?
We have played twice in London, but we would like to play more – in fact, to play as much as we can. So, yes. Hopefully we will promote ‘Jolly New Songs’ again and again in UK and in different countries.
Trupa Trupa seems to be one of the bands making rock music interesting again. I get frustrated with many rock bands because they seem so boring and conventional. Do you agree?
Thanks for your kind words. I hope you are right. We are also a bit frustrated with ‘rock’ term cause of a lot of bad stuff around. On the other hand, music is the land of freedom of expression so it’s great that everyone can do what they want.