Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review: Kowalski - The Workman's Club

Bangor quartet Kowalski take to the stage in The Workingman's Club as temperatures plummet outside. A four count later, they have transported us to bikini clad sunkist sands, with their fabulous bright breezy, yet serious, summer pop.

Straight from the off with This Years Ideas it is clear that Kowalski are individually musically accomplished. They are propelled by the slick snare and high hat combinations of Paddy Baird and pronounced bass groves and dancing of Tom O'Hara. Louis Price's sweet tender voice is a mix of Ben Gibbard & Matthew Caws.
Take Care, Take Flight the title track from current EP is built on more throbbing disco drums and groovy bass licks. "How is your Island in the sun" enquires Price through the chorus underpinned by Paddy Conn's keys and Price's jingle jangle guitar line. Think 'Let Go' era Nada Surf. The track boogies to a close through an extended outro as Tom O'Hara pounds the stage, living every beat.

Fast forward to Navigate November the best song of the night so far, a Jimmy Eat World style "forget me not" Paddy Conn double jobs on keys and guitar to good effect especially on the Lo-Fi breakdowns.
The rhythm section continue to prosper on I.D.O. a jingly Smiths meets Death Cab For Cutie outing. This song also contains elements of cult Indie heroes The Very Most. The bass dances between slash chords and arpeggios as I.D.O. builds an ephemeral soundscape. The vocal harmony between Price and Conn is excellent. There are at least six vocal hooks in the song "Oh no love is not so clever." and "I not follow you." are among the best.

Letters From the Height of Summer (Dear Bird) is an idyllic slice of 60's pop with twin guitar interplay shimmering against one another. Think early Cardigans material; only better, mixed with elements of The Flaming Lips. The main guitar line is very catchy and hummable as is its "Little Girl" refrain. Paddy Baird's unusual drum beat and percussion are the icing on this somehow festive song.

Asleep a beautiful mid tempo escape balled, emerges from a backwards stew of noise. Price's beautifully soft vocals declare "Ghost away and you'll be fine." He also shows excellent range with flashes of falsetto. Asleep makes an unexpected turn into synth pop for the outro. Electric guitars crash as harmony vocals enter, for the sing-along refrain of "Just leave them all behind."

"This is a new song" proclaims Price introducing While We Drive before Tom O'Hara tramples the stage in a trance, showing us his finest moves. While We Drive slowly builds into a crescendo and a drum extravaganza. Perhaps Paddy Baird is Indie synth pops answer to Clem Burke and John Bonham rolled into one.

Forthcoming single Outdoors is a radio friendly mix of wobbly keyboards disco drums and a Cure style siding bass line, with yet more good harmonies. Kowalski end the set with Get Back an excellent dreamy indie disco anthem. The memorable chorus of "Get back to the place that you know" floats on cascading reverb and guitar effects.

Judging by what I've heard this evening Kowalski could be your next favourite band. Definitely one of my top five gigs of the year. I caught up with the band backstage for a quick chat

How did Kowalski Form?
"Kowalski formed in about 2005. Me and Tom were in a typical rebellious heavy metal band, we were about 16. We got sick of it because it was shite and then we decided to make some happy pop music. Then Paddy B joined us on drums shortly after that and we had our old guitarist Dan Brown. He left the band last October..." Says Price.

"He wrote a few books first" I interject to much laughter "basically he got too big for his boots" quips Price to more laughter... " Then Paddy C joined in October and we started a fresh". says Price in his best children's TV presenter voice. "and went to a cottage and wrote some songs that would become the EP that we released."

Where was this Cottage?

Price "It was in Donegal in a place called Dunfanaghy."
O'Hara "It was a cottage up on a hill and you could see the bay and there was this old man called Jimjam who gave us the cottage his name wasn't Jimjam it was James" "but we called him Jimjam" says O'Hara fondly.

Did watching the sunset every night explain how all this California style music happened?

Price "It did yeah. Well I mean, where we live in Bangor. Its a seaside town, I think the seaside and the beach comes into our music, without us even realising it. Minus the glamorous side of things, the babes and the big pimping."

How did the name Kowalski come about?

Price "It comes from a play called Street Car Named Desire there's a film as well" O'Hara cuts in "Marlon Brando plays the character called Stanly Kowalski. I was studying the book at school and we were kind of just sitting around one day trying to find a name and shouted out Kowalski and it stuck." Handing back to Price "and we where like that will do sounds great and we stuck with it. Its an angular word. its kind of bizarre. I think it sums up our music quite well."

I was expecting you to say Primal scream or the movie Vanishing Point.

Price "We get that a lot its more cultural than that though. Kowalski is the equivalent of Smith in Poland as a second name" The band go on to list many appearances of Kowalski in modern pop culture including the "Penguin in Madagascar." O'Hara chips in with "Clint Eastwood's character in Gran Torino is called Walt Kowalski." Price "There's Kowalski's everywhere, take your pick." O'Hara "We are following in an illustrious line of cultural heroes. Hopefully we can live up to the name."

How does the songwriting process work?

Price "Me and Paddy C usually jam out ideas in my bedroom or whatever little riffs and take it in to the band. I don't write all the songs myself its very communal if we have a little riff or idea on the guitar we bring it into the practice room and spend hours trying to turn it into a song"

Is he really like that or does he think he wrote them, even when he wasn't in the room?

After some awkward laughter O'Hara says "He's quite good about that."

He's generous with the song writing credits?

O'Hara "Oh he's very generous with the song writing credits."

And how does that work is it four ways do you subscribe to the whole one for all musketeer vibe?

"Well you know its sort of like that" says Price cautiously.

We will ask this lonely looking drummer man at the end here a question. Drums who's good who's bad who should give up?

Bemused, Paddy B answers "Buddy Rich he was pretty special he had some amazing snare drum techniques he could do a drum roll with one hand" The rest of the band mockingly say Ooooh.. "that most average drummers would struggle to do with both hands."

"What about the drummer from Def Leopard?" asks a smirking Price "Oh he's pretty special" retorts a deadpan Paddy B "Lars (Ulrich) should probably give up" he continues. The conversation quickly turns to Lars contribution to Metallica rockumetary Some Kind of Monster "Its so funny everybody has to see it." says Price "He asks questions and answers them himself." says O'Hara before doing a fairly decent Lars impression "Do I think this could be a song...Potentially." followed by lots of laughter

So what are the influences for the rest of the band?

Price "I'm massively influenced by Ben Gibbard and Death Cab For Cutie both vocally and lyrically for me anyway. In terms of music we are influenced by old school bands like The Beatles more recently Phoenix, Arcade Fire, Beach House and Granddaddy. We like to take a piece from all those bands combine it together and make one big pie." adding jokingly "One big pie of ripping off other bands." O'Hara "you rip off little pieces of individual bands and nobody realises your ripping them off."

Is this the Death Cab phase then?

Following much laughter Price eventually says "Yes."

So whats next for Kowalski recording wise?

Price "We are just in the process We spent 3 days in the studio before we came down here recording a single for next year."

Where did you record it?

Price "Paddy B works in a music shop with a studio and a warehouse on the back of it and we record in that for free and we rehearse in the warehouse."

Who is producing the single?

Price "We are producing it and engineering it as much as we can ourselves Paddy B is in control of the computer, Logic and stuff like that. We are sending it off to a producer to weave his magic on it."

And who is doing that?

"A guy called Tom McFall he's worked with Jacknife Lee for many years." O'Hara "He's been his righhand man on the last Snow Patrol and REM albums. He's been engineering it and Jacknife Lee has been producing. "He (McFall) produced an album for an Irish band I think it was Director."

Any plans to tour?

Price "We just got back from doing a European tour so we've got a good few months off now and we are going back over to Europe in April possibly and we'll be playing down south February or March Dublin, Limerick, and Galway I think. Galloway's so much fun."

What bands have you played with around Europe?

Price "We opened for Two Door Cinema club in the UK and Ireland in March. Paddy's brother is in Two Door and they have been a great help to us."

There is a similar sound to Two Door Cinema Club on some songs are you worried that you might get tagged with being a sound alike band?

"Thing is we started first they sound like us" says Price knocking that question straight out of the park, much to the delight of the rest of the band "we are both from Bangor" he continues "so that kind of light breezy pop aspect of our music is in common."

And is there a breezy pop scene in Northern Ireland?

Price "It's just us." Paddy C "Belfast is a funny place a few years ago there was loads of bands all doing stuff and all helping each other out And So I Watch You From A Far, Panama Kings General Fiasco and it didn't matter what you were playing we were all in it together but its all died off now The bands are all gone now." Price "The name of the game is to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible."

So whats the goal for the next six moths?

Price "Just to try and build up our fan base and get some people digging our music so we can play bigger shows. then the single will be out March or April hopefully and then we will be touring to support that. Hopefully down south the UK and Europe and try and hit it really hard in the summer try and hopefully do some festivals in Europe we've been in negotiations with some people and hopefully the Irish festivals like Indiependence."

And long term plans?

"All we are trying to do is make a career out of music. We are not trying to be the next Snow Patrol or U2 or anything. We are just trying to make some nice Lo-Fi Indie music" concludes Price.

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