by Rich Quinlan
Like the work of legendary artist Zdzislaw Beksinski, the
music of Gdansk, Poland’s Trupa Trupa is dreamlike,
haunting, and stirring. The four-piece has a unique sound,
but the messages behind its work are larger than art. Guitarist
and vocalist Grzegorz Kwiatkowski daringly addresses topics
such as Holocaust denial in his work, as he has numerous
personal connections to the worst atrocity in man’s
history. Kwiatkowski was kind enough to answer a few questions
for me about his band, the state of music and politics,
and how each individual can participate in rejecting global
ignorance and hate. It was an honor to speak with him, if
only via email, and Trupa Trupa is a band to celebrate,
both for the originality of their sound and the critical
nature of their words.
Q: Trupa Trupa's sound has a distinct nature, reminiscent
of early American "alternative" acts such as Sonic
Youth, in my opinion. How did the band's sound evolve, and
did you look to any particular bands or genres for inspiration?
Trupa Trupa is a very odd band, I guess because of its
democratic structure. As far as I know, it is not the usual
situation in rock groups. What is more, every member of
a band has highly varied tastes, and we each like different
stuff. What is most important is that none of us are really
into rock and roll as a way of life or even thought of it
as a career. So in some way we are a band that should not
exist. But we exist. And that is the (revered German satirist
and children’s author) Don Kichot point. We are kind
of an accident in this rock and roll world. I am not saying
we are special. I am just saying we are not into fulfilling
any expectations cause in some way we do not know what we
are doing. Going back to your question: we've got this strange
mix inside because one of us loves Fugazi and Sonic Youth,
Glenn Gould, Beethoven and Franz Schubert, and another person
loves The Beatles and Velvet Underground and Eliot Smith,
Q: Why did the band decide to release an EP ("I'll
Find") rather than write and release a new full-length?
Are any pieces on "I'll Fine" left over from the
Of The Sun sessions?
I think that these four songs create some strange not obvious
psychedelic landscape. I do not have a feeling that we should
tell more. And yes – these songs were recorded during
the Of The Sun sessions, but they did not fit into “Samuel
Beckett Lonely Hearts Club Band”. We knew it was something
else. And we wanted to separate these two different worlds.
In some way I think that this new EP is a kind of counterpoint
to the Of The Sun album.
Q: There has been an unsettling rise in anti-Semitism
globally, ranging from the United States to Eastern Europe.
Do you have any theories as to why this hate has returned,
or do you believe these sentiments have always existed but
have become more public in recent years?
I think that hatred of others was always inside of us,
but in some little way in the past we were trying to fight
with this dark side, and for sure for most of time we were
not proud of it. And this new Zeitgeist is a very terrible
combination. It appears today that people are proud of this
dark side of nature and they are proud of their hate. It's
almost unreal but it is unfortunately very real. You are
asking why-I think it is in some way the fault of cynical,
capitalistic marketing games that create super egotic egoistic
personalities that really think of each other as gods and
hate everyone who is different. Of course it is also an
outgrowth of cynical, right wing, populistic games. Politics
have long been about using people and tapping into their
demons. But anyway, the center of this whole evil is not
outside of us but inside of us. This is this tragic knowledge,
but I hope that because of this knowledge we could try to
be a bit better. We should start to be more critical of
ourselves. I think this is the first good step; hate your
inner hating ability. To try to win with it. And not only
once, but everyday.
Q: Could you briefly discuss the band's songwriting
practices? Is Trupa Trupa a musical democracy or do you
have a greater say?
We are open for every band member's idea and we test it.
Sometimes in a song there is a reflection of one person,
and other songs are the result of a different member’s
contributions. And sometimes we are all into one strong
vision, acting as one person. I think that the important
thing is that in our democratic structure each member has
got an opportunity to bring himself into a song and composition.
He can do it as he sees fit-it’s up to him. And finally
its all about testing. Playing and testing what version
is the best version.
Q: The intricacy of your songs are dazzling; how
challenging is it to recreate in a live setting, and how
have audiences generally responded to your music?
James Thornhill from Under The Radar magazine who was on
our two last gigs wrote: “Every audience I have been
in watching Trupa Trupa has left stunned, gasping for more
but not fully understanding why – that is a special
kind of band.” And the head of our previous British
label, Blue Tapes, wrote about our music that it is “Too
strange for humans to like’. There is something in
it. I think that this is a very strange proposition musically,
and not for everyone. But the audience continues to get
bigger as we play more and more. I just think that this
audience is a special one who loves really odd and non obvious
Q: Has your work concerning Holocaust studies
led you down historical paths you did not expect? Any specific
stories you can share about encounters with children of
survivors or survivors themselves?
I am not only a musician, but I am also a poet; however,
I am not solely one or the other, but a combination of the
two. I think that poetry and music are almost the same thing,
so these two worlds are one world really. For me, this genocide
issue is a family issue because my grandfather and his sister
were prisoners of Stutthof concentration camp and after
the war my grandfather lived in a trauma state and his sister
was mentaly ill. And of course it had a tremendous impact
upon my father and then on me. And I am the first person
who is trying to speak about these issues. As you know,
in 2015 we made this discovery near the site of the museum
of Stutthof concentration camp. Me and my friend Rafal found
hundred of thousands shoes which are artifacts and symbols
of the Holocaust and genocide and they were just abandoned
and treated like trash. There are a lot of such stories
in my life, but most people in Poland do not want to talk
about such situations and about their roots. This dark sites
of history are still dark, and people would like to think
about themselves in a better way or other way or ignore
the horrors of the truth.
I will give you an example. My wife’s grandmother
was hiding in the forest during the Second World War and
her mother was imprisoned because of an allegation of Jewish
roots, but after all they let them free. Of course, I do
not know who “they” were and why her mother
and children after all survived the war. I don't even know
why my wife, grandmother and her family were even hiding
in the forest near the city of Rzeszów. Why do I
not know? Because they do not want to talk about it. This
all happened in the past-their past. This is their trauma.
So I am trying to search and to understand and to shed some
light on the dark mechanisms of human nature because of
my family’s roots and my wife's family secrets. In
my poetry, I don't want to blame anyone and I don't want
to be a smart one. I just would like to understand; to somehow
try to understand. And of course I think we should not forget
about this tragic past because it will come back. And what
we can see now is slowly this mechanism happening once again.
This tragic past is returning. So we should protest and
be conscious. Yet, not we-me. I can say only about myself
and my obligation towards myself, but if each person considers
what they can do, then real change is possible.
Q: Do you believe that music can still arouse people's
attention to critical political and cultural issues in an
age of social media and seemingly shorter attention spans?
I think that music is just perfect for such role in this
modern times. But I also believe that one should make something
which is “his” topic and his “vision”.
That is why I like artists like William Blake or Jim Jarmusch.
They've got their visions. If this vision is closer to reality
than it can resonate in a bigger way and be helpful, but
I believe in the non cynical impact of art on people. I
prefer art than politics. Maybe I am very naive, but I believe
in the magic of great art. In some way, I believe that great
art can radiate; “Shoah” by Claude Lanzmann,
for example. I think he did not make this documentary because
of educational purposes, but he did it because he felt that
he had to do it. It was his life’s mission. It is
so full of emotions and high quality spiritual values that
it radiates and in some way makes this world a bit better
Q: There appears to be a heightened darkness on
"I'll Find" throughout the EP and particularly
on the title track. The lyrics include a debate playing
out in real time by the protagonist of the song, with the
battling of refrains of "I'll Find" and "No,
you won't". Was there a specific target of this confusion
and angst, or are you reflecting a general sense of frustration
with contemporary global conditions?
Well, I think I am singing here about myself. I am learning
all the time, and I am learning when someone is telling
me a truth which is not my truth. I am learning because
of the polyphonic, multi-voiced, situation around me. I
am rather narcissistic and obsessive, even egoistic, as
a person as I guess most artists are. But the source of
my art is not really from me, but from listening to others.
Therefore, my egoistic voice is singing that he will find
and he is super proud of it, but the second voice is trying
to make him more real and humble. This is kind of a discussion
which is inside of me and that's why I am trying to move
forward and become a better artist and more ethical person.
But of course, I know I am not succeeding, and I think that
this demythologisation mechanism is super important. People
who usually claim that they are good are not good really.
The whole secret of real evil is that really evil people
think about themselves as wonderfully ethical people. So
I think we should each focus on ourselves to battle and
hopefully overcome our inner narcissistic demons. Not we.
Q: Finally, any plans to bring your gifts to the
U.S., and are there other bands with whom you play throughout
Poland that more people should hear?
In June, we are coming back to the U.S. for two weeks of
shows that will be full of surprises. It will be a really
special thing. More to come. In Poland, we've got some great
artists, especially Guiding Lights, MIR, The Saturday Tea,
The Kurws or Wczasy.
Trupa Trupa’s new EP, "I’ll Find,"
is available here.