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, etc.
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 things.
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 place.
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. Me.
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.