Saturday, September 25, 2010

Interview with, uh, Grzegorz Tyszkiewicz

The following interview was conducted by Grzegorz Tyszkiewicz for the new edition of Poland's M/I magazine, which has just been published. Because the interview, however, is in Polish (naturally enough), however, I have decided to make it available here as well, since there doesn't appear to be any other platform for it. Self-indulgence is something I try to avoid usually but, firstly, I appreciate both Grzegorz and M/I magazine's support of my endeavours and. secondly, I think this reads quite well and may help provide some light towards my own activities.

It was originally conducted in February 2010. Przemek Chojnacki must also be noted for his help with the translation for the magazine.

GT: It's a long way and a lot of time since you set off on your musical journey. How did little Richo come to be interested in music?

RJ: Like so many people from my generation, I first became interested in music when punk blew apart the UK's landscape on a wider scale in 1977. Although I was very young, I'd had virtually no interest in music until punk came along. In fact, I used to deliberately goad my brothers with claims I preferred classical music to the pap I constantly heard spewed from the radio they liked (which was true, up to a point, anyway, although I was no expert on the matter). Before then, my biggest passions were old horror and science fiction films, HG Wells, comics, Monty Python, drawing and reading. However, I was a paperboy when I was 11 or 12 and I not only remember older kids at my school beginning to look a little strange and interesting (with spiked, coloured hair, safety-pins in their blazers, tight trousers and brothel creepers) but also the front pages of the newspapers I was delivering being full of pictures of punks or, of course, the Sex Pistols. These people all looked liked the very same aliens and creatures I loved already from films, or imagined from books, and already drew me in on
level alone.but I then, of course, got to hear about the music through friends and soon started to listen to it myself. I began with Blondie records and then, during the next two or three years, bought others by the Pistols, Sham 69, The Boomtown Rats, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, The Jam, The Skids, etc. but it was PIL's debut 7" that really hit me. I bought it not long after it came out and thought the sound was from another universe! Around the same time, I'd also go to these Friday night village discos near Canterbury, began to flirt with some punk-ish appearance myself (a pyjama top with badges and safety-pins on was my first choice) and loved just pogoing to all these great new records with other teenage punks. It was all very exciting. Far moreso than school or the restrictions of life in a family.

Around 1979/1980, however, I found that most of the punks at school had moved onto the next things (Two-Tone and a mod revival). Much as I liked The Specials, I didn't know where to turn, although I remember another kid, younger than myself, giving me singles by Crass and Honey Bane.and, a short while later, my hearing The Damned on a radio show one evening when I'd finished at sea cadets (yeah, I was in them, due to my parents.). After that particular drive home, I found the show again and, of course, it turned out to be John Peel's! I then became seriously addicted to the Peel show and always had a cassette at the ready to record anything interesting (I discovered Killing Joke and The Cure here). My parents also moved to another town during this period, too, and there happened to be an older punk working in the record shop there, called Kerry (still a good friend). I'd tell him what I'd heard on Peel and he'd recommend all manner of other records stocked in the shop. Not only punk but stuff like The Residents, who really transported me to places I'd never thought existed before. What with my then, through Kerry, meeting lots of other people interested in the same music (such as Gary Levermore of Third Mind Records, who lived nearby), my being invited along to concerts by them in London, and a couple of other friends from my previous village introducing me to Bowie, Zappa and Beefheart, my enthusiasm for this whole world just turned a huge corner and, a little later, compelled me to do something about it.

GT: Were you involved in any musical project in the 1980s?

RJ: I commenced Grim Humour 'zine in 1983 (following a year or two of my putting together a few dummy editions I still have somewhere), and took over Gary Levermore's Fourth Dimension label the following year, but it wasn't until 1985 that myself and a few friends gathered at a church hall every week to begin rehearsing some ideas we had for a group. I then named this Playground and, during 1986, we were caught between playing long, drawn-out noise pieces with backing tapes, etc. very much inspired by T.G. and early Leather Nun, a kind of shambolic take on punk inspired by post-punk and US hardcore and noise music, and covers of ATV's 'Splitting In Two', Black Flag's 'Slip It In' and Flipper's 'Sex Bomb'. We also stupidly covered 'Wild Thing', but I should probably never mention this again, I feel. Whatever, Playground then continued until 1989. We got signed to an independent label, played many concerts in and around London, supported all from And Also The Trees, Mudhoney, Gore, Fugazi and Into A Circle to Nitzer Ebb, released a few records, made all of our live shows available via cassette, like Whitehouse, and later became Splintered when I'd had enough of our not progressing in the manner I personally envisaged.

GT: How did Splintered come about? Where do you personally think it achieved most?

RJ: Splintered came about because, for me, my previous band had reached a standstill, or were even regressing. The problem was that Playground had finally come into their own during 1988 and 1989 and yet were held back by a desire within the rest of the group to play something akin to US hardcore punk. I was not so interested in this, plus did not want to try and fit in with anything. All the groups I liked the most at the time were never so easy to define or categorise, plus my own artistic interests were expanding and creating new ideas and challenges for me. My setback, however, was that I couldn't, and still cannot, actually play anything. I always just wrote words, had ideas concerning how they should be delivered, and wasn't pre-occupied with notions of tapping into any particular area of music. I recall vividly the day I announced to Playground that I was no longer involved and asked who would join me in a new group that was more focussed on realising these ideas I had. I was becoming increasing interested in other forms of music, such as minimalism, drone-music and the works of certain post-industrial groups, plus felt a great need to delve deeper into emotions and ideas previously only touched on. I wanted something deeper, slower, more labyrinthine and less obvious. It had to be like this because I felt I was otherwise held back. Another corner was being turned, and I'm glad the members of Playground who decided to join me (essentially, the rhythm section, Paul Wright and Paul Dudeney) did so, because to this day I'd still contend they were the fucking best. They had the chemistry so clearly missing in other groups.

I'm personally pleased with many songs by Splintered, and have favourites from every album whereby I feel everything came together conceptually and artistically. Nonetheless, I think the collaborative album with RLW and the Moraine LP achieved this the most, but it's a subjective thing, of course, from a certain standpoint. I do know these albums were the closest to what I'd always wanted from Splintered, though. But, no matter how hard one tries to realise their own ideas, a group will always involve a certain amount of compromise. Which itself both adds to the pleasure, or the challenge behind it, and helps provide one with the necessary motivation to even continue.

GT: After a long hiatus it is to be resurrected, is that right?

RJ: There's been talk about a resurrection, on and off, for the past few years. I keep trying to get something going again, but it's difficult. The thing is, Splintered never really split up. Rather, it simply ran ashore in 1997 and has remained there ever since. I always felt we had some "unfinished business" to contend with, so anticipate returning to exactly that as soon as the opportunity arises.

GT: When did you move out of UK?

RJ: I moved from Canterbury, UK to Krakow in late 2005. And, indirectly, all because of a girl.

GT: How has your musical language changed, comparing Splintered and your current project, Theme?

RJ: It has changed in the sense that it has evolved to include different approaches to realising ideas that may have once existed, in one form or another, in Splintered. Although, naturally, other ideas have arisen since, the very same way they always will. Change is integral to what we do, and firmly embraced. When Theme began, in 1999, one of the purposes was to take those ideas into new realms or, if you like, attack them from angles completely refreshing for us. I wanted a heavier emphasis on Splintered's electronic angle, and to abandon the 'rock' forever prevalent in Splintered. I felt Splintered, at the time, had perhaps pushed this as far as possible without losing it completely, although, ironically, I have felt different about this during more recent years and would even like to return to a particular idea we first contemplated in 1992. Theme is free-er, though. Splintered were always about exploring possibilities within a primarily 'rock' framework, whereas Theme can do whatever we want depending on how we feel at any given time. Irrespective of this, however, both Stuart and myself remain interested in organic drone-based music and its inherent abilty to consume those usually latent parts of the listener entirely. We have always loved music or art of any nature that can completely absorb you. Splintered succeeded in doing this from time to time, but Theme is perhaps more dedicated to this. At least for ourselves, anyway.

GT: How would you describe Theme's music?

RJ: Difficult for me to say, since I'm involved. If anything, I feel we explore those very same waves first generated by psychedelia, musically, although there's something deeply personal at work here, too, that I at least hope translates enough to interest other people. Both Stuart and myself share interests in those many places that can transport people, plus get them thinking about this in itself. It's important for me that Theme at least attempt to do likewise. I'm interested in new corridors being explored, plus the understanding between why they're explored and maybe not others. For example. Something we do is focus on those grey areas surrounding relationships of any nature. This is partly why Theme's imagery often concerns the more immediate association with relationships. And it's purely allegorical. For the most part.

GT: You've been involved as a musician in many projects with guys like Steve Pittis (who is relatively known in Poland from Band of Pain's 7" on Obuh Records) or Ralf Wehowsky (a former member of P16.D4 Splintered had a record with) or James Hodson, later of Faust. Now you are working with Hassni Malik and Stuart Carter as Theme. What do you enjoy most about working with other musicians and artists? What sort of difficulties have you encountered when working with someone else that surprised you or perhaps made you rethink your approach to the process of making music? Do you have any humorous stories about your work with those individuals?

RJ: I wouldn't call myself a musician as I cannot play anything but, yes, I've worked with a number of people over the years. The thing is, these have mostly been friends who shared interests and whose own pursuits or objectives at least converged with mine. Of course, certain compromises can occur as a result of working with other people, but these are counteracted completely by the different perspectives at work. It's always interesting to work alongside others, but given my own limited abilities in this area I have no choice anyway. What I like to do, as a non-musician, is attempt to turn any nods towards complete and utter musicality upside down, or to add elements that I feel render it more interesting. It's this juxtaposition that I like, and which continues to feed my interest in working with others. The biggest problem is that others have to put up with my not being able to express myself musically, despite the fact I have very definite ideas I want to pursue. This has created problems in the past. As for rethinking the approach to making music, this corresponds with the new groups rather than the actual personnel. For example, I once had a project called Husk as well, and it's justification for operating separately to Splintered was that it was entirely improvised music based on some loose concepts I had, although other members of Splintered helped me realise them on the few records made under this name.

Humorous stories? Nothing specifically springs to mind, but I'd say that just about every recording session with each band has been very enjoyable, regardless of the amount of hours and hard work involved. This is imperative. Although the music can be deemed very serious, we're usually having a great time when we make it. The only pressure I've ever experienced is when on tour. Splintered toured Europe a few times, and the enjoyment very quickly becomes negated by fatigue and having to share so much of your own space with friends whose own idiosyncrasies can grate your nerves after a day or two. I'm not saying I'm above this, either, but there were times when people nearly punched each other in both Splintered and Theme within this context. Another thing is that Hodson, for example, was a complete stoner and I recall him falling asleep behind his drums as Splintered played in Switzerland in 1997. I'm far from being anti-drugs or drink, but I was not happy with him about this, as you can imagine. When I go to see a group play live, I don't want to see people falling asleep, and that's the bottom line.

GT: Theme have been confirmed to play at the Wrocław Industrial Festival in November this year. How do you feel the group fits with the very term industrial music/culture?

RJ: Yes, Theme will play at this festival, and I'm grateful for the invitation. However, I've never seen us as being a part of industrial culture in any significant way. I can understand why others might feel this, of course, since some of our music can at times be intense or work with blocks of sound sometimes found within this field, but I'm more concerned with creating a space simultaneously personal and able to transport others. To this end, our objective could just as easily compare with jazz or early rock 'n' roll music as industrial.

GT: Both Steve Pittis and you decided at some time to start your own labels (Steve Dirter Promotions and yourself FD and LTCo). Earlier, Splintered had had a record on Shock, a label run by a friend guitarist of yours, Stefan Jaworzyn. When is it, I wonder, that a musician realises there aren't any other ways of having their work released except doing it themselves? Did you consider, at that time, an option taken a decade earlier by some English groups - to join forces under the Rock In Opposition banner? You couldn't find a common denominator or was it differing opinions on aesthetics?

RJ: I had my Fourth Dimension label running before I got involved more directly with music via an actual group, so the idea of simply releasing a record on it seemed entirely natural. Given that I am a slight control freak too, this made even greater sense. Having said this, it's always good to work alongside others in this capacity if they share certain ideals or understand what we're trying to achieve. To that end, Splintered especially had records on many labels made available on labels from both Europe and the USA. As for the Rock In Opposition thing, I never gave it a thought. I always felt we were doing our own thing whilst other groups were doing theirs. Some of the music press was already trying to place Splintered alongside certain other groups already, so to have formed some kind of alliance would have simply compounded this and made their job even easier than it already is.

GT: The labels which were started by your friends back then, how are they doing now?

RJ: Steve Pittis of Band Of Pain/Dirter Promotions is still a good friend and continues to remain active with his work, which I'm pleased about as our attitude to all of this has always been remarkably similar. Stefan Jaworzyn, I understand, came into some money and has done nothing, outside a concert with his Ascension trio a couple of years back, for years. Another friend, Justin Mitchell of Cold Spring Records, is also doing well, and Stephen Meixner of Contrastate still has his Black Rose Recordings imprint going. It seems like this stuff generally stays in your blood, once poisoned!.

GT: Being an outsider to the Polish scene, with considerable insight, though, as you have lived in Poland for several years now, what is your impression of it?

RJ: I have discussed this very subject with many friends involved with music here and always find myself in a corner alone defending just how exciting things are here right now, if one digs deep enough. It seems as though there are some great things happening in all of the major cities, for example. There are people operating labels, organising shows, organising festivals, writing and playing music, etc. Although I won't claim to like all of it, I very strongly believe it all adds up to Poland being an exciting and interesting place at the moment. And, in my experience, I have seen very little of the snobbishness more prevalent in the UK. I've met a considerable amount of very open and passionate people here who are doing interesting things. In some respects, it reminds me of how things were during the early '80s in the UK, which was also a vibrant time on a more underground level.

GT: How does it compare to the UK scene?

RJ: Now? I don't think there is so much of a 'scene' in the UK anymore. What's interesting for me is that those who are still active in the UK have mostly been around for years already, or even decades in the case of some. Together, they don't make a 'scene', as such, but I do feel that many of these people now respect each other a lot, despite the many differences. If there's much in the way of new blood in the equation, I'm not aware of it.

GT: After your relocation to Kraków you started to cooperate with AudioTONG. Could you please tell us about your experience with this net label. Its position is quite strong now, not without your support .

RJ: When I first came to Krakow, almost three years before I moved here, I met Zenial through Janusz of Vivo Records. He then later introduced me to Marcin, who I clicked with immediately because of our shared interests and mutual qualities. As anybody will tell you, and Marcin included, I'm not a huge fan of net labels, but I always felt AudioTong was far more than just this and have, again, seen this huge passion, openness and dedication at work I've already noted. Of course, he's a close friend and I may appear biased on that count alone, but my objectivity remains intact irrespective of friendship. On another personal level, Krakow would certainly be far less interesting without AudioTong's work here, too. It counts for a lot, in my opinion.

GT: If you were to choose a few art figures whose work has had most influence on your worldview, your work as an artist or journalist, who would you pick?

RJ: I will never deny that John Lydon's impact on 1977 Britain tainted my heart forever, in terms of making me fully understand I should simply try and do everything I personally want to do. Of course, other musicians have impacted on me greatly since as well, but I doubt I'd even have found the channels, never mind the motivation, to explore them if not for Lydon. Only Michael Gira has come close to fanning this flame subsequently. However, outside of music, my biggest passions have been films, literature and comedy, and I could reel off countless people amongst all of these mediums who've motivated or inspired me, from Python and contemporary UK satirist Chris Morris to H.G. Wells, Albert Camus, Kafka, Boris Karloff, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dostoyevsky, Houllebecq and Jodorowsky. The important thing for me is to keep exploring, whether the past or present, and to appreciate and respect all of the pearls uncovered. And those pearls then stay with me.

GT: What is tradition in music for you?

RJ: Tradition is something very difficult to escape from, and that can still magically work its grip on you despite the fact it offers nothing new. I can enjoy a more regular song as much as the next person, for example, and for exactly the same reasons. More subjectively, however, tradition is to be fucked about with as much as possible. I have always enjoyed the idea of lulling people and then hitting them with a surprise, hence an interest with masks, facades and imagery. Tradition in music is not something I'm especially keen on making but we live in times where it appears everything new automatically has reference points thrown at it. Which is also, conversely, interesting in itself for me, to a certain extent.

GT: Currently, two of your labels are active now, LTCo and FD, aren't they? Interestingly, they seem quite different from each other. On the one hand, FD brings a series of noise 10"s, including Hijokaidan's "Ferocity of Practical Life", arguably one of the best works in the genre ever, on the other hand, there is a collection of ascetic ballads from ex-Swans Michael Gira, and somewhere in between Finnish lunatics Circle. Have you ever adopted a profile for your labels? Something like a motto, a manifesto and the like to follow?

RJ: LTCo began as a collaboration with my friend Hassni Malik, so this was the biggest difference. However, since he soon left the label, I've been facing this question with every subsequent release on it: why two labels? The biggest difference is that I'm now at a stage in my life where I am clearer about my interests and tastes. As such, LTCo has adopted a slightly more 'professional' approach to the releases and presentation of the artists concerned. It is giving me an opportunity to operate a label from the position of someone more experienced, whereas FD began when I was 18 and, certainly on the early cassette releases, reflected a certain immaturity on my part due to my being caught in the moment of it all. That's not to say I don't stand by everything, either. Each release clearly meant a lot to me at the time, but FD continues because it remains bound to the very same sense of liberation it began with. It's my 'punk' label, whereas LTCo affords me the opportunity to take a little more care and consideration over everything. Both, however, are driven by the same fundamental desires, though.

GT: Have you got any favourites in the FD and LTC catalogues?

RJ: Of course! I'm especially pleased with the Michael Gira LP on LTCo, for a whole gamut of different reasons that far surpass its simply being a great record in its own right. I love the Faust 2CD on LTCo for personal reasons, too, since it documented a concert here in Krakow I helped organise, but ultimately I love everything on LTCo and am looking forward to working with certain artists who've already appeared on it again. As for FD, I have always been especially pleased with those releases that bring art and music together in one glorious package. The KK Null 2LP, Ultimate Material III, being a case in point, as well as the Contrastate 7" and the more recent Circle vinyl releases. Musically, however, I have loved everything. Which must surely be one of the reasons for running a label in the first place?

GT: One can't help noticing increasingly frequent voices forecasting the coming of a new era in music distribution, involving an irreversible shift from a release as a physical object to the form of a downloadable file. While it is already happening in the world of majors, do you think it will have any considerable impact on the niche of experimental music?

RJ: To be honest, I think we're also witnessing a minor backlash amongst the majors, too. There have been many vinyl releases issued during the past few years, and I understand that the demand for them has increased significantly. Beyond this, I believe there are enough people around to sustain an interest in what I tend to call 'real' releases; especially amongst the realms of the more, shall we say, 'serious listener'. I'm far from alone in knowing that a nicely packaged record, especially vinyl, pisses all over a download. All the same, I'm not as anti-download as I sometimes appear and, to answer your question more specifically, this shift in music's availability has, much the same as every aspect of the internet, created many new and exciting possibilities. In the field of 'experimental' music, which already struggles against all manner of odds due to its very nature, it can only be a good thing that more outlets exist for it to be distributed and, more importantly, heard. But my objective opinion doesn't match my subjectivity. I like physical records as they, for me, are then more like art objects, or at least can be. Not that the music isn't perhaps the most important thing concerned regarding them, but I like, again, the opportunities that open up here. And I personally don't want to live in a world where all of my interests can be contained in a collection of devices that can be trampled on or lost very easily.

GT: Do you think it has already affected your publishing activities?

RJ: I don't think so, simply because my releases are generally made available in such small editions that those people who are interested in them tend to remain so. Also, I don't make my releases so readily available to download, so people have no choice should they want to hear them.

Thanks again to Grzegorz Tyszkiewicz. M/I magazine, published by Poland's Monotype Records, is now out and available from all good music/arts/culture magazine stockists.