Here’s a lede you probably weren’t expecting: when I was first approached about interviewing Koniec Pola, I had every intention of saying no.
Why? It definitely wasn’t because I didn’t like Cy, the Polish quintet’s debut effort. In fact, quite the opposite – Cy makes for one of the more immersive listening experiences I’ve had in a long time, because it’s more than just an album. It’s an invitation into a darkly pastoral world–or an ‘imaginarium,’ as the PR notes call it–based on the folk legends in vocalist/lyricist Dominik’s home village of Zalesie. And even though I don’t speak a word of Polish, I still found the sense of mystery and sublime nature of the record’s narrative almost overwhelming.
Instead, my hesitation was born from not knowing where to start trying to talk about Cy. Musically, it’s all but unclassifiable, though it’s undoubtedly not metal. Instead, imagine Godspeed You! Black Emperor doing a radio drama, but with occasional forays into black metal(ish) territory? Oh, and I can’t forget the tools and the homemade instruments…
And already you see my dilemma.
Ultimately (and obviously), I decided to do it, in no small part because it seemed like a worthy challenge. Luckily for me, Dominik and Artur, the creative forces behind he songwriting on Cy, proved to be as engaging an interview as they are as musicians, and they were eager to discuss some of the unique aspects of the record. So give it a listen on the Bandcamp player below, and check out what they had to say.
Cy is now available from Devoted Art Propaganda.
Indy Metal Vault: Hey, so first of all – thank you for agreeing to an interview. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Cy as I’ve been prepping to write these questions, particularly on headphones, and pretty much come to two conclusions: first, this is a really remarkable album that’s unlike almost anything I think I’ve ever heard before; and second, I do not even remotely understand how its pieces fit together or why I find it so compelling. So I have a LOT of questions here, to the point where I’m not certain where to start. So why not begin at the beginning: you’re all veterans of Polish metal, playing in more comparatively straightforward black metal bands like Licho and Strzępy, and the more difficult to classify Wędrowcy~Tułacze~Zbiegi. None of what you were doing before, however, sounds even remotely like Koniec Pola. How did you come together to form Koniec Pola? How clear an idea did you have of what you wanted to do musically when you first got together?
Dominik: Thank you for your good words, but we are definitely not veterans, we are youngsters! Licho is a project founded by Szturpak, who at a certain stage of his Licho career asked us to join and make a full band. I was working with him already before (I wrote the lyrics for his Pogrzeb w karczmie debut album), but as a vocalist I joined with the rest of the guys for the new album – Podnoszenie czarów. Strzępy is a project run by our bassist Patyr. Lastly, W~T~Z is another, different story – kind of exceptional collective commanded by Sars (Furia, MasseMord) where you find musicians from all other bands and realities. Back to the main topic, the uniqueness of Koniec Pola is probably based on the fact that the musical foundation is made by someone else, that is Artur …
Artur: That’s right. To be honest, the first drafts and compositions had been made before we started playing in Licho – the entire idea of Koniec Pola does not connect with our other bands or projects whatsoever. It was quite a simple process – the story came from Dominik, all he had in his mind was put down on paper and shared with me, and then I started to visualize it with sounds. Recording and releasing it had not been our priority yet as we were busy with other projects and the daily routine. However, we made a decision last year to gather ourselves and finalize the idea of Cy.
IMV: One of things that I find so remarkable about Cy is that it essentially defies genre classification. The only way I can really think to describe it is ‘cinematic,’ and in that respect it reminds me a bit of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven – the use of field recordings, the way each track sounds like it’s arranged in movements instead of using a traditional song structure, the way it remains unpredictable after multiple listens. What was the songwriting process like for the record? Did you meticulously compose the album like one would a symphony before going into the studio? Did you take an approach similar to what Miles Davis did on Bitches Brew and create a pastiche from various studio sessions? Something else?
Artur: The musical story we share comes strictly from the words of Dominik’s poetry – although it might be hard to translate it directly to English, all the mood and emotion you hear are the reflection of the words and lyrics. We (me and Dominik) started from the main idea of how the background for each text may sound, and invited others – Grzegorz, Patyr and Szturpak – to listen and contribute in fulfilling the musical image. After a couple of meetings and rehearsals, we played one gig live in the club and the other outside in a field – that’s where our destination clarified itself.
IMV: Speaking of cinematic aspects, a majority of the vocals on Cy are spoken instead of sung/screamed, giving them a feel similar to the narration in Peter and the Wolf. Since the PR notes for Cy make it seem like the album is at least somewhat conceptual (more on that in another question), was that what you were going for as you were writing them? There are places on the album where I feel like I’m listening to the audio from a particularly tempestuous film.
Dominik: I never thought about it in cinematic categories. Cy came from poems, where you can find a lot of images that are, by definition, non-filmed – just imagined. But if you are making your own film while listening to this album, that’s great. It means you don’t have to understand the lyrics – the sounds are powerful enough. Maybe Peter and the Wolf is a right association…I like folk stories, I like music, and I like wolves too. Moreover, my second name is Peter, so our story seems more complicated here.
IMV: Since I brought it up in the last question, let’s talk about the conceptual aspect of the album. The name Koniec Pola translates as “The End of the Field,” and the PR notes mention that the setting for the album is the Polish village Zalesie, lying near the Kozienice Forest. A few minutes with Google tells me that this is a real place, but the fact that it also describes the lyrics as an ‘imaginarium’ indicates that you fictionalized the area at least somewhat. That leads me to two questions. First, what in particular drew you to that area of Poland for inspiration? And secondly, how fictionalized is your version of the area on Cy?
Dominik: I was born and raised in this village. You should know it is a very ordinary place – you can find thousands of similar villages in Poland, and – of course – you cannot find a single like Zalesie. Near my family home there is a little lake surrounded by swamps (the locals call that Zagórze – it’s quite interesting because you can translate “zalesie” as “beyond forest” and “zagórze” as “beyond mountain,” and we have in Poland a children’s saying “beyond mountains, beyond forests…” which is basically a Polish “far, far away…”). So this place is a ways from a standard fairytale for sure, it is darker than you expect. As a child I listened to those stories about unknown depths of this lake. When I grew up I wanted to explore it and then I found out other stories hidden within the swamp, the forest, and within myself.
The fictionalized matter of Zalesie is based on discovering what lies there – as I presume – but still remains hidden. Getting to the bottom. Through insignificance I have tried to reach a sphere closer to the folk legends’ environment. The very first words on the album are: “choose me ghosts / those who do not exist” – I think that’s a point. We are calling out – but we do know that probably no one can hear us. Nevertheless, this knowledge doesn’t help, doesn’t calm us, and doesn’t drown out our need to call out.
IMV: The PR notes also mention that you used tools and homemade instruments on Cy. Can you talk a bit about what everyone ended up playing on the album?
Artur: The main parts of the melody were made on the guitar and played by me. However, I had a bigger picture of using other available instruments and tools to build a complete sound story. Of course, as human beings Dominik and I have only two hands available. Therefore, we asked the rest of guys from Licho to help us out with it. Everyone brought his own ideas, going from standard ones like bass guitar, drums or percussion to completely improvised & extraordinary ones like a two-man saw, an old rusted music box, or handmade wooden stepper boxes. Long story short – everyone chose his own toys, used them to play out loud, and the record has been made (laughs).
IMV: The PR notes for Cy are a trove of potential questions, but this is the last one I’ll pull from them: they mention that one of the field recording sessions for the album was filmed by Nihil from Furia, among others. I’m guessing that’s where the video footage in the album trailer came from, correct? Are there any plans to do anything else with that footage? If ever an album asked for a visual accompaniment, it’s Cy.
Dominik: Yes, the trailer is from that film. Nihil recorded and produced the sound – it is a bit different than the music you hear on the album, with less distortion and noise, more natural and spacious. The video was recorded by Ataman Tolovy. To be honest, I don’t know what we are going to do with this footage. Maybe we should drown it? We played that session very close to the Zagórze Lake and later in the evening we played a gig there, so that was a very natural end for this séance.
Artur: Yeah, the idea was to check all the material live and outside so we might perform it unplugged. With Nihil’s help, we recorded and saved the entire session, although we were not fully satisfied with the result – some of the parts sounded really great, but there were few technical difficulties that impacted the final outcome. Nevertheless, I think we might use this footage for some extra release in the future, we’ll see.
IMV: In the end, how much of Cy was recorded in the studio, and how much is comprised of field recordings?
Artur: According to my previous answer, there were some extra aspects we wanted to include in our sound which were hard to achieve during field recording. A few weeks after, we visited the Kola Sound Studio in Humniska (a little village near Sanok where Licho recorded Podnoszenie Czarów) and decided to play the entire album once more, during one session, and record it. Actually, after setting up the instruments and the recording room, it took us one day to capture it all. We just literally entered the room after breakfast and left it in the evening, having the record done. That’s what Cy is comprised of.
IMV: Cy is being released via Devoted Art Propaganda. I know that some of your other projects are signed to DAP, but as I mentioned earlier – Koniec Pola is pretty different from any of those other bands. Was there any resistance on the label’s part about releasing something so unclassifiable/experimental? Particularly as their 10th Anniversary release?
Dominik: Devoted Art Propaganda became interested in our music, and I very much appreciate it. This is a very brave label. Look at their logo. We are also like Don Quixote!
Artur: Indeed, he’s one of my favorite stories from childhood actually. Speaking of DAP – yes, their reply to the record came really fast, which was kind of surprising, but we took it as a good omen. If they really wanted to release and help us out with this debut – why not?
IMV: The cover art for Cy strikes me as being somewhat unique, in that it seems kind of sparse compared to what Koniec Pola is doing musically. Who’s the cover artist, and how closely did you work with that artist on the concept for the art?
Dominik: The cover art is a photo made by me. The visual aspects of Cy are represented in the booklet – there are more photos capturing the Zalesie area. They act as a fulfillment to the whole. I have already mentioned that this place is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. The pictures show it all. Recently, when I walked through the melting swamps, I saw the shape of a human on the water – like a portrait of the Holy Mother in the nearby church. What was it? Well, probably nothing and probably everything you may have thought about. We look at nature and when we see words, we sow them within. But not like the Biblical sowers. Rather like Polish farmers who grow spells and sorcery.
IMV: What are your plans once Cy is released? Are there any plans to gig behind it? I’m not sure this seems like the kind of album you can tour behind.
Dominik: We are thinking about several concerts in specific places. Maybe in the ruins of a church or a synagogue? Spirits live among the ruins – these kind of place are the ones where we should call them out.
Artur: Definitely we are not thinking about a standard tour. We are not even sure if someone would be interested in organizing such for us (laughs). Single gigs in unique locations – yes, that the idea we want to follow.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I always like to leave the last word to the artist – is there anything else you want to add?
Dominik: This is the way the field ends. Not at the end but the way itself. Thanks!
Artur: Thanks, amen.