Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Interview: Kowalski

Kowalski are a group of four good-natured cheeky chaps from Bangor Northern Ireland. Their 2010 EP 'Take Care, Take Flight' won rave reviews for its shimmering ephemeral pop sensibilities. Since then they've picked up celebrity fans such as Snow Patrol front man Gary Lightbody and their music has struck a chord with television executives. 2011's single Outdoors in particular has made Don Draper types the world over stop and take note. You may have seen Ballygowan's 'Drink it in' rebranding commercial on television, it is for this very reason we find ourselves in the company of one of Ireland's finest bands today.

"We got approached by Ballygowan" says Tom O'Hara, Kowalski bassist and the bands chief jester "they approached our publishing company, they liked the track and felt it fitted in with the Ballygowan brand. So we said aye let's do it, why not, it's good water" before making the first cheesy water based plug of the day adding the advertisements tag line "Drink it in."  Outdoors was released last August and though you may only be hearing it now it has kept the band very busy. Outdoors was also picked up in France "we just said as long as we get some free swag, free trainers" says O'Hara referring to Tour De France TV spot for Le Coq Sportif. with a huge cheeky smile on his face. However all mentions of swag are purely for comedic effect, rather than greed  "We wouldn't do McDonald's or anything like that" he continues.  Strangely for a Bangor band they made their first venture into television in the states when Letters From The Height Of Summer (Dear Bird) was used in the American version of Skins. " I think the show bombed but you know.... one of us checked you tube one day for Dear Bird and it come up with twenty thousand hits or something" The figure is much higher at 29891 at the time of writing "it was pretty cool we've some friends in New York who sat and watched it. there's the seeds of an American fan base starting hopefully."

When it came to creating a video for Outdoors, a trip to the woods led to unexpected and revealing circumstances, but the band have nothing but praise for up and coming video director Babysweet "It's great we know Gregg really, really, really well" Says singer Louis Price "he's one of our best friends. He used to live in Bangor as well. Him and Paddy Conn (Keyboards/Guitar) where in the same class in school. He's a great guy to work with." Paddy Conn continues "it's just easy because we're all mates and whenever we go to London we sleep on his floor"  However the band admit to being less than enamoured with the green screen process, and in particular blue suits "it was ridiculous have you seen the outtakes video" says O'Hara, before Price adds "There's quite a lot on display in those outtakes. the blue suits were quite revealing" and continued "We watched the footage back at my house that night after shooting the first day and we were pissing ourselves doubled over with laughter."

So why is Bangor such a hot bed for creative types? "You tell me I don't know there's something in the water" says O'Hara milking the water puns again with all his might. But Paddy Conn has a more introspective view "People strive to do better in places" of disadvantage "you can relate it to so many things, like post war art and stuff, you know bad times in Germany and then out came this amazing scene" before O'Hara gives credit to one of Ireland's biggest post rock outfits "The whole of the greater Belfast area everybody helps everyone out. ASIWYFA sort of started the whole thing with their little solidarity movement."

Much to Kowalski's credit they shy away from advertising that drummer Paddy Baird is a sibling of Two Door Cinema Club bassist Kevin Baird. Furthermore the band won't be drawn on whether they've received any begrudgery from other northern Irish bands because of the connection. "They've nothing but helped us the whole time, in a way its strange because we helped them when they started we've been a band longer" says Price "We helped them too well" says O'Hara jokinkly "We are not trying to hide it but we're not shouting it from the rooftops."

Since Outdoors release Kowalski have been hard at work on their d├ębut album "We only finished the album on Sunday so we haven't got a title yet, something good hopefully" Jokes Price "we started in January we tracked it mostly ourselves in Bangor in a studio that Paddy B works, so we could spend as much time as we wanted to, to work things out. Then we got" producer "Tom McFall (Snow Patrol) He came over from London last month. He spent about a week on the production side of things. We put the guts down and he came in and took out all the bits we liked out." jokes Price "It was great, really good fun. it was the first time we'd done anything of this size."

"Working with a producer was an amazing experience," enthuses O'Hara "to take that step back and detach yourself from the songs." However, Paddy Baird admits there was an initial reluctance to let go of the material "At the start he'd pull a bridge out of a song and say I don't think it needs it and we'd all be like" pulling back in astonishment "No, I really think it does. But after the first day we all loosened up a bit and it was great" Singer Louis Price agrees "Whenever you've written a song you're too close to the song to really understand whats going on cause it's all just a series of parts and you play your part. At the very start it's a song but after three months of hearing it over and over and changing this, that, and the other it just turns into parts  So it was nice to have that week and take a step back and go oh my God, actually this is a song, not just a series of parts. It was good in respect that he did change a lot of things, you don't realise till it's done and you're like oh my God why didn't I think of that"

By the sounds of it Kowalski's existing fan base will not be disappointed by the material contained in the as 
yet untitled album "it's still Jingly jangly summer pop" says O'Hara "I'd say it's a little more keyboardy than Take Care Take Flight and a little more polished." adds Price "Theres a lot about relationships and love on there and being apart from a loved one, distance. Theres also a lot about rediscovering something you had, something you lost, and getting it back again. "We wrote a song" Burning Blue "one of the few songs were me and Paddy (Conn) came up with a concept before we started writing it. And it was a concept about Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest. It has a good summery vibe, it's a communal sort of positive reflective happy sad song. I always like to retain a message of it will be all right in the end. This stuff is happening to me and it's quite bad but you know what..." 

Kowalski plan to release the album by September with a single arriving in June. The band are confirmed to play Pigstock, but are in the process of planning a tour in June and they are looking forwards to playing two songs from the album live, for two very different reasons. "There's a song, it was the last song we wrote before we started recording its called Lets Start Over, its gonna be the last track on the album but I just cannot wait to play it live to play it to people. I'm really excited about it" says PricePaddy Conn tells us about the other song "We've been playing this song Ribbons for ages and suddenly it's a different song" thanks to Tom McFall's input "we're yet to play it the new way."

One of the most endearing things about Kowalski is that they adopted a pensioner during the recording of their EP Take Care, Take Flight and continue to regularly check in on him to this day. "Jim-Jam is a hero, He didn't have a clue what was going on whenever we turned up to his wee cottage on the hill with a van . He thought we were in a folk band and we were gonna get a couple of acoustic guitars out" says Price while O'Hara eagerly whips out his phone to pass a photo of Jim-Jam around the room..  "It's thanks to him that we have Get Back, most of the EP and some of the album tracks were written in Jim Jam's as well" adds O'Hara.

Outdoors and Take Care, Take Flight are available to stream and download here

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