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Making postpunk in the shadow of history: an interview with Trupa Trupa / Volume 1 Brooklyn

The music made by Polish post-punks Trupa Trupa finds a haunting balance between intensity and off-beat melodies, even as the group’s lyrics juxtapose the absurd with the harrowing. Their next album, Of the Sun, is due out next month on Lovitt Records, and they’ll be touring the US in October — including a stop at Union Pool on October 8. I talked with singer-guitarist Grzegorz Kwiatkowski about the group’s music, his poetry, and the place where they all converge.

As someone with a foot in the music world and one in the world of poetry, how do you balance the two? Do you find that the two are very separate for you, or that your work in one influences the other?

In the past I tried as much as I could to separate my poetry and Trupa Trupa stuff but I couldn’t cause I am just one person and I can’t pretend I have many faces. Generally speaking, my poetry deals with the topic of genocide, and very often Trupa Trupa is observing the dark site of human nature. Our violence and murder potential. I think we should be really aware of it and because of that we can in some way improve our and other people lives.

I also think that writing lyrics for Trupa Trupa is totally connected to my poetry method. Its very repetitive, very minimalistic and very often I am using mask lyric, different personalities, different voices and polyphonic situation. I am very fascinated by Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters and I try to use his methods both in Trupa Trupa and in my poetry. I also like to use absurd and paradoxical figures just to show some processes for example process of humiliation and lying.

Something I’ve noticed when listening to your music is that it’s simultaneously very dense and very stark: each of the instruments comes through very clearly, but it doesn’t feel at all restrained. What is your process for recording like?

I think you are right. Our albums are very different than [we are] live. I think our music on the albums is more clean and clear. Anyway, we are recording albums not on separate tracks and individually, but we play in the same space and at the same time. We are very happy because of these two different worlds. Our gigs are very often very energetic and almost aggressive. It’s very intense. And music on albums is more meditative, it’s more about time. I think that the new Of The Sun album is kind of Samuel Beckett’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In my opinion it’s about time and nothingness. Not only but also.

Of the Sun features one song called “Mangle” and another titled “Angle.” Coincidence, or are you messing with language a bit here?

Very often we make things in an unconscious way and after some time when we have distance from stuff we see a lot of such coincidences. So I think you are right. We really care about language, about lyrics. They all have got some sense and role.

How would you describe Of the Sun compared with your previous albums?

I think its more melodic, you will find there more regular singer song writing stuff but I also think it’s just pretending. I mean its pretending normal regular songs and entertainment but it’s too repetitive and too dry to fall in love with such stuff. I guess this is the point. This bloodless situation. Cause this is music composed and recorded in a place where the biggest genocide in the world took place. All German death camps were on the territory of Poland. And Poland was totally devastated and crushed during the Second World War and we still have feedback from it in family histories and the psychological profile of people. So it influences our music in a very tragic and pessimistic way even if we don’t realize it.

Recently, the CBC did a broadcast about your discovery of the remains of thousands of shoes outside of a concentration camp. There, you raised concerns about historical amnesia — to what extent does the art you create speak to that?

Actually it was almost half a mililon shoes from all concentration and death camps in Europe. Me and my friend from the band Rafał Wojczal found it and for 4 years we are — let’s say fighting — with officials of Stutthof Museum to do something with it. After all of it, after a few years and many press media battles, they secured them. They took them from the forest but now they’ve got a super stupid idea. They want to bury them once more but now on Museum territory. I am in one big shock. I am sure it should be visible. These are all artifacts of the Holocaust. There is this great book Images in spite of all written by Georges Didi-Huberman. I also think this tragic past should be as much visible as it can because we shouldn’t forget because it can happen once more. Unfortunately I guess most people don’t care. And in my opinion this things has got big influence on Trupa Trupa and my poetry. Especially my poetry that deals almost all the time with the topic of genocide. 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 conflicted pasts of Central and South-Eastern Europe but also the paradoxes of contemporary genocides, for instance in Rwanda.

Were some of those themes also reflected in your earlier song “Never Forget”?

Definitely. This is song that deals with history, with tragedy of the Holocaust. This song was influenced by the great documentary Shoah directed by Claude Lanzmann. I think it’s a good time to say that we are totally open for different interpretations and we have a democratic structure in the band. That’s why this song can be read as song about ghettos from the Second World War time, but also it can be read as a song telling about modern city ghettos, etc. There is also a new song on the new album called “Remainder,” and in my opinion it’s also a song about the Holocaust. This time about the denial process. I think that this song fights with it. But I didn’t write this particular lyric. My friend from the band did. And I guess his idea was to not giving it one interpretation. So we are open for many interpretations of our stuff, but I personally find stuff everywhere which I am super close to and I guess everybody does the same.

Over the years, you’ve worked with a number of labels — most recently, Sub Pop and now Lovitt. Have you found that your music has resonated with audiences in one country or region more than any other?

I think we’ve got really great feedback especially in USA. We played two times year after year on SXSW and our gigs found their way to the Rolling Stone, Chicago Tribune and NPR best acts list. So it was super successful and amazing for us. And because of that we had many propositions of cooperations. We really met great people in USA and we’ve got a lot friends there. We also work with Tom Windish and Jeff Molek from Paradigm Talent Agency. So our team is great and vibes are really cool and I think it’s getting better and better.

This year we will make our first USA tour. So we will play in Washington, New York, on Desert Daze Festival in Lake Perris and in few more places which will be announced very soon. I think we as a band really care about relations and we are building some good community around the band. And there are many great American members of our family – Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Zach Schonfeld, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Kevin Cole, Jim McGuinn, David Fricke, Greg Kot and more. And we are super happy about our new American assets. Its really big thing for us – being in Lovitt Records – a cult postpunk and hardcore DC outlet. And Lovitt is a sister label to DC-based Dischord. They share a manager, offices and distribution, but also ideals. Releasing music by their friends. Great bands who didn’t feel the need to fit into some system: Fugazi, Minor Threat, etc. To think about this space – physical and moral – really ethically felt like the right home for Trupa Trupa. So on one hand I am not optimistic and I am rather afraid of human beings because of this evil potential inside which our art deals with, but on the other hand we are very lucky to have this great Trupa Trupa family and great partners and we really feel safe cause of them.

Tobias Carroll,