Interview with newspaperflyhunting

ImageOver the weekend I had the pleasure of having my mind blown by a record, something that seems to happen less and less as I get older.  newspaperflyhunting is a Polish group with two full length albums, and their latest, Iceberg Soul, is a stone cold classic already (forget future prognostications, it already just is).  I reviewed it here, but felt compelled to know more beyond just what my ears were telling me, to get to know the artists.  So I contacted Michal Pawłowski, one of newspaperflyhunting’s guitarists and vocalists — he’d lent us the album for review — and he graciously agreed to present the following questions to the group.  They have responded generously.  Note that an email and twenty bucks will yield you one stone-cold-already-a-classic rock and roll record, and the one preceding as well, which, measured by the tracks I’ve heard, may also be well on its way to Proghalla.

How did the band get together? How did it find its name?

The band started in the summer of 2006 as two teachers (Michał Pawłowski and Krzysztof Gryc, both guitarists) and a student (Krzysztof Sarna – drums) from the same language school decided to improvise together a bit. Gradually, it all began to take shape, Gosia Sutuła came in on bass, later Krzysztof Gryc left to be replaced with Jacek Bezubik. Beata appeared and here we are – a brief history of newspaperflyhunting! It is also worth mentioning that earlier, in late 2004-early 2006, Michał and Jacek had had an acoustic project named we! wtorek, whose repertoire regularly finds its place with npfh. And the name? First official version: we wanted something simple and straightforward! Second official version: why, this was the first word that came to our minds! The truth: we don’t really remember. There were many ideas for a name, most of them probably better than newspaperflyhunting, but somehow this one was chosen.

Are you full time musicians (this question could also be interpreted as, who are all of you, anyway?)

None of us are full time musicians. Michał and Jacek are English Philology graduates, Gosia is a medicine student, Krzysiek and Beata are architects. Krzysiek is a painter, too. So as you can see, our backgrounds are quite diverse. We all love music, books, cinema, and art.

Who are some of your influences?

We could write a book on that *laughs*. Let’s keep it short. Pink Floyd, we have to mention them first. Pearl Jam and the grunge movement. Post rock. Post-black metal and drone (yes, we’re glad you noticed it in your review). Classical music. Modern classical (Philip Glass). Jazz. Literature (Vonnegut, Dukaj, Bret Easton Ellis, and many many others plus SF/fantasy in general). Cinema (Fellini, Kubrick). Art (Vermeer, Dali, Beksiński). Life. Failures. Successes. Stupidity. Serendipity. Insanity. Quantum Physics. Dreams. Anything that is able to play with your mind. Music comes from various sources and it’s great not to know how it really works, how the sources blend together in the form of a song, or an album.

Your arrangements are startling dynamic, in the way light cuts through dark. Like chiaroscuro. Is this the kind of music that just comes out of the group, or are you following a particular aesthetic to make it happen?

We do not follow any aesthetic, that’s for sure. The sound comes naturally, we never consciously think “this should sound like this and that”. Maybe the only ‘rule’ we follow is trying not to repeat ourselves. Some members work really hard to prevent that;) It’s a mix of the aesthetics we are naturally inclined to as both listeners and musicians. This light and darkness thing is a very important matter for us. As are dynamics and contrast, like chiaroscuro indeed. (We could go on for hours – or pages – on how compression kills dynamics and music in general.) We are rather minor-key people, but not one hundred percent, and this contrast is crucial to our sound. This also comes from the simple need to vary things, not to sound monotonous. In other words, we play what we feel and the aesthetics appears as if by accident, because well, there’s no other choice, is there? It’s probably impossible to play ‘outside’ an aesthetics of one kind or another. But still, it’s completely secondary.

Why sing in English?

It’s a tough question. It might be mainly because it’s difficult to write good lyrics in Polish. We have fewer adjectives/adverbs, the rhymes are often cliché-sounding, there are many unpleasant-sounding consonants. Most importantly, it’s difficult to strike the perfect balance between sounding too lofty and too trite. Also, Michał and Jacek are English Philology graduates, so they are used to literary English maybe even more than to literary Polish. So we ended up with English lyrics. However, as Krzysiek writes good lyrics in Polish, it’s possible that future projects will include lyrics in Polish. Well, we only hope the English lyrics do not offend native speakers;)

Is everybody in the group writing, or is there a primary songwriter?

Although Michał and Jacek are the primary songwriters, the arrangements are worked out by the whole group. Michał says that when he comes up with song ideas they usually have the verse/chorus structure, then, in rehearsals the band turns them upside down and inside out. This is basically how it works, whoever comes up with the main idea, the end product is always the band’s creation, the input of an individual member depending on the song.

Where and how do you record? Are you doing your own producing/engineering?

The two full-length albums were recorded by Wojtek Bura, our friend, in his studio. The difference between “no12listen” and “Iceberg Soul” is that we pretty much produced the latter ourselves, with Wojtek acting more as an engineer. Generally, we want to have as much influence on our sound as possible and when making an album we learn new things about the production process, so you can expect the tendency to have more control over the recording process to continue.

What is Bialystok like as a music town?

Very metal *laughs*. There is a burgeoning metal scene and although there are many other bands, there is no other ‘scene’ to speak of. This is why we find it quite hard to organize gigs. There are some bands that we are friendly with, such as Obywatel NIP, Tempelhof, Rock Minotaur, Divine Weep, Pokrak or Ikebana but their music is not very similar to ours, or totally different. Well, we probably also have to mention disco polo, the truly awful genre of dance music that Białystok is infamous for;) However, if you are interested to hear impressive music from Poland, we recommend Riverside and Hipgnosis, two truly excellent bands. The former is quite well know worldwide, by the way, so you might have heard it.

How do you think Iceberg Soul differs from no12listen?

The main difference is that “Iceberg Soul” is a more conscious effort. “no12listen” was a snapshot of a transitional period in the band. This was the first record Jacek played on, and he still had to find his footing in the group. The songs themselves were written at different times, when the sound of the band was in the process of evolving. And, perhaps most importantly, we didn’t know what we wanted it to sound like. There are many overdubs on “no12listen”, you know – a band let into the studio trying out stuff. With “Iceberg Soul”, on the other hand, we had an idea of what we wanted it to be. We wanted it to sound as close to the band live as possible, to maintain a certain rawness, so there are very few overdubs, the guitars are much grittier, and the mood is darker and more melancholy. There is also a different approach to vocal arrangements. The ‘less is more’ philosophy is visible also in the decisions concerning when not to play. For example, on “Stop Flying” only three of us play, because this sounded just right. This approach is harder to grasp than one may think. There is also a difference in the lyrics, which are now more personal. Anyway, in the end, we are much more satisfied with “Iceberg Soul” than “no12listen” because it’s just us.

Fender Rhodes…Awesome…tell us about this and the genius process of bringing it to Iceberg Soul.

The idea appeared during the sessions for “no12listen”. Our producer and Gosia came up with the idea of adding keyboard parts to the album. Gosia played the keyboards, so to reproduce it live – as Gosia can’t play the bass, the keys, and sing at the same time… yet!;) – we decided to have a permanent keyboard player. We knew from the beginning that we wanted a Rhodes-type sound. Beata is Krzysiek’s colleague from work – she came in and stayed with us. The fact that a friend of ours had left his Fender Rhodes piano in our rehearsal space for some reason really helped. We just adopted it;)

Who do you consider your contemporaries in music, art, cinema?

A difficult question considering the band’s demographics *laughs*. Krzysiek was born in the 1950’s, Gosia in the 1990’s. Need I say more?:) But somehow this doesn’t affect us in any way. We all feel very much in tune with the late 1960’s-early 1970’s period, as well as the early 90’s. That is to say the periods in music that encouraged experimentation and self-expression. So our musical contemporaries are surely Pink Floyd and King Crimson. Beksiński as far as art goes. Cinema? Maybe Tarantino. We have to mention Vonnegut too, he is indeed our mental contemporary, if that makes sense;)

Do you think of yourselves as speaking to a certain audience?

Yes, to an audience that finds something for themselves in our music. We do not aim at any ‘genre’ audience. We categorize ourselves as ‘prog rock’ more for lack of a better term than any affinity with the genre. We would like to get to as many people as possible, but we don’t want to ‘force’ anyone to listen. If the listener feels connected with the music – we are happy people.

How do you feel about being heard online rather than on CD or vinyl or in front of an audience?

We are traditionalists in this matter – a physical release is crucial (be it a CD or vinyl, or tape). Of course there is nothing wrong with listening online, and it’s pointless to sail against the wind in this matter, but if an album is Internet-only, well, that’s not the same. So, we think that if somebody likes a band’s music, it’s a good idea to purchase the physical album to experience it in full (in addition to supporting the band). This is what artwork is for.

What are your thoughts on marketing your music? How do we get full copies of your records, and do we need to make our own newspaperflyhunting tshirts?

First of all, there are the Facebook and Bandcamp pages. There is also Myspace, but the site is almost dead, isn’t it? For the time being, we wish to get some feedback/reviews of the album and make people interested in it. We will also have a track featured on a sampler issued by an American indie label Custom Made Records. There is some minimal airplay, too. Well, promotion is easier abroad than in Poland. Here it seems that reviewers/journalists expect you to fit into a certain genre or category. For example, if you play prog rock you should sound like early Genesis. Or Pendragon. If you don’t, then they don’t know what to make of your music. Also, it’s more difficult to get people to just sit down and listen to stuff here, it seems that people abroad (especially Americans) are more open to new experiences. In any case, our aim is to be heard by people who might like us.

You can get physical copies of our album directly from us. We sell it for 10.00 USD (including postage). Just write an e-mail to “no12listen” is still available for the same price too, and soon there will be another special limited release for our greatest fans only;) T-shirts? Yes, we will have them too, we just have to get down to it. As you can see, we are a very DIY band.

What’s next for you?

More music, that’s for sure. There’s no shortage of ideas with us. There is an idea for a concept album based on a novel by the excellent Polish SF writer Jacek Dukaj, and other stuff too. Generally, we will continue the direction set out by “Iceberg Soul”. 

Iceberg Soul by newspaperflyhunting

ImageThere is a source in some high valley at the top of the earth that spills out sound like a breached dam every time the earth tips a little off its crooked course.  I’ve never been but I hear it.  It’s in the music that sounds instantly familiar while being new, carrying an exoticism that is self-defined, so that as I wonder at what I hear, what I hear comes to define the place of its source, unknowable until the moment of that thing, that liquid spirit, that exceeds the recognizable patterns of the simple modulation of air pressure inside my head.

Which is to say I now know something of Poland.

That something is newspaperflyhunting, whose new record Iceberg Soul flooded the Plain of Progarchy this weekend.  It’s hard to make a record this strange and good, one tethered to its bit of earth while allowed to float free, to feel realized and yet maintain the rough edges of exploration.  If Iceberg Soul compares favorably to certain predecessors — I hear an odd pastiche of Amon Duul II’s Carnival in Babylon and the Cranberries’ Everybody Else is Doing It, and even a touch of Lal Waterson’s Once in a Blue Moon — it may outdo these worthy companions in its marrying of songcraft and texture, where the resemblance to the great bands of California’s psychedelic revival of the 1980s and 1990s — Opal, Rain Parade, Mazzy Star, Thin White Rope, Green on Red come to mind — seems more apropos.  Noisy electro-acoustic freakouts punctuate beautiful melodies and uneasy lyrical flights, the accented English toughening the song in just the same way Nico could, not fearing to sound lovely and unpretty.  Repetition and drone play important, alchemical roles, and the opening “My Iceberg Soul” is bookended by the closing of “Your Iceberg Soul,” where the repeated title phrase turns through my head and into “your eyes burn so.”  A slight black metal or goth current shades the music towards darkness, but the arrangements, which include Fender Rhodes piano, artfully blended vocals drifting in and out of harmony, and one of the most perfectly balanced mixes I can think of (maybe Gazpacho’s Night comes close), leaven the ultimate results back to something far more complex than any monochrome mood.

Not knowing anything about the Polish music scene or even its broader culture is, I recognize, a shortcoming in approaching Iceberg Soul, but I gotta tell you is also something of a thrill.  I feel like there may be territory to yet explore, and in exploring perhaps I stumble upon a certain high valley….

Get it at bandcamp: