KRUK: Interview with Piotr Brzychcy
Interview by Alexandra Mrozowska
Do you remember Kruk from their interview in Fireworks #50 (a PDF copy of Fireworks #50 is available as a FREE download from our download store)? If not, think ‘70s Deep Purple resurrected, with a little bit of UFO and Uriah Heep to spice things up – that’s how the typical review of any of their albums usually begins. Founded in 2001, this Polish hard rock act has been called “a new hope for rock” certainly more than once, this status established by their successes (supporting Deep Purple, UFO, Carlos Santana or collaborating with Doogie White, to say the least). Now that the band’s fourth album Before is scheduled for release worldwide (on June, 9th in Europe and July, 8th in North America via MVD), Alexandra Mrozowska caught up with Kruk’s busy, but eloquent guitarist Piotr Brzychcy to find out more about their new effort. Piotr also shared some stories, one about his recent (and extraordinary!) meeting with Carlos Santana and the other one about the “little boy with his toy guitar”. He looked forward a bit as well, unveiling what the future has in store for the Polish band.
Before is the fourth album in Kruk’s discography and most certainly it’s not far from the band’s overall classic, rootsy hard rock sound. While announcing the release of the album, you talked a lot about going back to your earliest roots. So, what are the differences between the new album and its predecessor, Be3? Are there any?
That’s a good question, but also quite a hard one for a start (laughs) Answering this is not an easy thing for me, since my approach towards creating music is always the same – the same energy, the same spontaneity, the same kind of joy. I never calculate, I never assume things. The differences between Be3 and Before are mostly details. With the former, we had a producer who usually works on pop music – we treasured his advice, and yet, also fought hard to maintain the band’s characteristic sound. In retrospect, I realize it’s been very interesting co-operation altogether and Kruk really needed this kind of support and a brush up, so to speak. Before is written by the band only – no outward influence, no advice, no guidelines. Our way of thinking while making this album was that we tried not to think too much, to avoid the excessive calculation. We tried to capture the best of our ideas, to face our inspirations and to go back in time – back to the days when there was no Kruk, but only the guys fascinated with the music. Those days, everything was so simple yet, and the thought of releasing an album or performing on stage was only an unfulfilled dream of ours. That’s why you can find many different flavors on this record – our bluesy roots put against the heavy metal riffs. Generally, I think the main difference between these two albums is our approach. We’re so happy that we can release a new album so soon! I think the huge number of gigs we played recently must have influenced the new material as well – we’re a better band now and we understand each other better. You’ll surely notice this while listening to our new album.
Let’s talk the recent line-up change within the band. How did it influence the band’s functioning?
The new member is Roman Kantoch – with his voice, the possibilities are endless! He’s been with us since quite a while already and he went through heaven and hell with us – so to say now he fits the picture it’s merely a formality. We have to support each other as much as we can within a band or else there’s no chance for the band to exist. Especially since the realities of the music industry in Poland are so harsh… This also could have been a good reason why there had been so many line-up changes in our group throughout the years. Back to Roman’s joining Kruk, I hope he’s been through enough with us to know it all and enjoy it. And to answer your question shortly, there’s no question about Roman fitting the picture now. He does so in a hundred per cent!
How did the songwriting process look? What were the circumstances of recording the album?
Piotr Brzychcy: We started working on the new album in last October. Each and every song had to be started from scratch, since we still believe we should never recycle or reuse our old ideas. That’s why we had a lot to do – and actually, little time to do it all. To twist a little a common ‘no guts, no glory’ motto, what I always say is ‘no inspiration, no glory’ and I’m not able to create a thing without a flash of inspiration. Because of this approach, I had to take much time until I found myself one hundred per cent satisfied with the particular idea. Unlike previously, this time there’s been a few songs that went by the board even before the band rehearsed them. In December, we knew we were ready to strike. That was when we arranged things with Michal Kuczera (the band’s producer) and planned our time in the studio. We started in Maq Records and recorded the live material on 17th and 18th of January. Later on, we worked on different parts of the album, with Roman finishing off the whole recording session. Although a debutant, he did a great job! The recording process was smooth and efficient as we knew what we can expect from each other and also, thanks to the mutual understanding between us and Michal Kuczera. In early May, the mixing of the album started and now we can look forward to having it released (on June the 9th in Europe and July the 8th in North America). Right now I’m at the beginning of the huge adventure in my music life. The upcoming months are going to abound in lots of emotions… certainly lots of stress, but also lots of joy and many moments you’re gonna look back on later, at every single morning, only to realize that because of those this life’s worth living.
What’s inspired the new album of Kruk lyric- and music-wise?
Since always, the biggest and the most important inspiration of ours is a human being and their fate. That’s what the album tells the story of. There is nothing more beautiful and right than to learn how to live, how to derive happiness and joy from living, how to lead a carefree life and not to waste any chance. Although it’s not a concept album as such, there’s a kind of framing in relation to the lyrical content as the story is told about the life’s beginning and its ending – both from the positive point of view. “Wings Of Dreams” tries to encourage a listener to open up his mind and go back to the days of childhood, beautiful and simple, veiled in dreams and sweet naivety. Everyone of us has every right to escape from the harsh reality and fight for oneself. On the other hand, there’s the song “Farewell” the lyrical ego of which is someone who’s just passed away but still watches his family tormented by despair and longing. The lyrical “I” is already free and happy – and because of this, wants their loved ones to bid them goodbye with joy rather than to see them hurt any longer. The rest of the lyrics tells a story of human emotions and the whole variety of vicissitudes which you have to figure out on your own. The lyrics are not preachy, so there’s no pressure and the interpretation may be any.
Music-wise, there’s no changes to what the band’s sound was before. Kruk is a rock band and although I have different musical inclinations myself, my heart is somewhat limited to the guitar. Right or wrong, the most important thing is to feel happy about what you do and that’s what I certainly feel.
Which songs on Before you find the closest to your heart? Which do you think are the most important?
All songs are equally important to me, so that putting together a concert set list may become a very difficult choice. I love the opener “My Sinners”, showing the dark side of Kruk, but I’m also absolutely ecstatic about “Wings Of Dreams” and its bluesy flavor. I’m so glad we could do a song like this. “Ones” puts me in an absolute trance – and actually, it was also one of the first songs I’ve written while having the new album in mind. Another favourite of mine is “Open Road”, which is about us as an experienced band who knows what they want, with the wind filling the sails. The instrumental “TimeLine” is a suitable finish for the whole album. As you see, I’ve managed to favor some over the others after all (laughs).
The album’s cover artwork is very symbolic. Could you tell us more about the underlying meaning of the picture you’ve used?
When telling about the songwriting on the album, I kind of already brought this topic up. Everyone of us had been a child once – a child that has just started their journey down the road of life. It was an untroubled, vivid, fairy time… And the moment that taught us how to think, live and survive, in a way deprived us of the ability to function within the fairy aura… in the world of our dreams, every of which could have been made come true inside the little human’s mind. This picture encourages people – these who feel like doing so – to leave their problems behind for a while, to feel the same incredible emotions again and to go back to what their lives were before. The truth is that everyone of us has their ability to do it and the key question here is why they don’t…? Does one’s life have to be calculated, limited by problems, stagnation and blind ambition? No, it can be different. We can accept some things and see them in a different way. I only hope no one will interpret it erroneously! The message is simple – do what you want, decide for yourself, but don’t let the problems overcome you and don’t become a problem for the others. Enjoy your life and don’t waste it by living in a slapdash way.
The album’s title – Before – is an interesting pun, if to compare it with the title of its predecessor. Can you talk a bit more about this concept?
Before can be also spelled as Be4, a reference to the fact it’s our fourth original album. Does it matter in any way? Only for those who are into this kind of word-play. Personally I love all kinds of flavors and underlying meanings behind the albums I get as a listener. I’m glad if the album’s author makes me think about the particular concept behind an album, even if it’s only a trivial one.
About two weeks before the European release date of the new album, a song “Open Road” was chosen to promote it. Are there any reasons for having chosen this particular track?
Initially we were sure it’s gonna be another promotional song and not this one – and all of a sudden, a friend from the label calls and asks “Have you ever thought we could reveal “Open Road” as the first track of the album?” Without much thinking I nodded and said it was a great, crazy idea. That was exactly what I felt at the moment – that it’s right to go for this on the spur of the moment. Funnily enough, I got this call a while after you and I met each other personally before The Ronnie James Dio Tribute Concert in Warsaw (laughs). Back to “Open Road”… what are the reasons? It’s a hard rock piece with a combination of energy and melancholy, completed with lyrics that don’t take a lot out of the listener, that require no further consideration. Maybe “Open Road” is not a radio-friendly track as such, but on the other hand, it’s one hundred per cent representative to our own rock sound. The song’s opening is also a reference to how Be3 finished – the same riff can be heard towards the end of our song “On The Station”, the last track on the previous album.
‘TimeLine’ is an instrumental track. What is your approach towards playing instrumental songs and what do you think is the difference is a listener’s reception?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot. The act of expressing yourself by using only an instrument may be very difficult; however, only then you’ll get to really know yourself. There’s no possibility of expressing anything by usage of words and you have to transfer all your emotions into the sounds. You have to search your heart high and low to find this kind of emotions, the one that touches deeply with no words. You have to learn how to tell a story using only sounds. “TimeLine” is a composition I deliberately left unfinished; when I started recording, everything went just the way it was supposed to be. Michal Kuczera was initially flabbergasted, but finally it was him who gave the eventual shape to this unfathomable form. It was so exciting – to create music with no calculation and to base it only on one’s own emotions, the abilities of one’s fingers wrapped around the guitar strings and one’s sensitivity… everything under the watchful eye of the incredible sound expert.
Two bonus tracks on the album are sung entirely in Polish, your native language. Why do you consequently continue on writing and singing in English?
Rock’n’roll speaks only one language and that’s English. There’s another dimension to this kind of music if the lyrics are sung in English. Also thanks to this quality our music becomes universal and we can promote it all over the world – although we haven’t played any gigs abroad yet, we’ve gained a lot of friends and fans throughout the globe. If we had released our albums in Polish only, we’d have no chance for such a thing. Personally, I’d like to release our albums in both language versions, as it was in the case of Before He’ll Kill You. Yet, right now we rather focus on more important things, keeping our fans and ourselves satisfied by adding the bonus tracks.
The new album is enhanced by the bonus DVD – featuring additional material, as for instance the concert footage from the Spodek Hall, Katowice from February 2014. That night you supported Deep Purple. Is it only sentiment that prompted you to include this particular concert on the DVD?
Together with our record label, we’ve made a spontaneous decision that this particular gig should be filmed because of its extraordinariness. First of all, we’ve supported our beloved Deep Purple, secondly, it was Spodek Hall and thirdly – we knew we had the new album coming out. We also wanted to make the audience familiar with the changes within the band’s line-up. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure if it’s gonna work out right… but when I saw the cameras and our sound producer Michal Kuczera in the Spodek Hall, I realized it’s gonna be the big and important moment to the band’s history. When I watch the DVD now, I realize that in a few, or dozen, years it’s gonna be an important release in the Kruk’s discography. Although not a super-production, it shows us as a live band, a quality of ours which matters to us the most. And even though we might have performed better at a dozen gigs in comparison with this particular one, I still think the Spodek Hall gig portrayed us as a genuine rock band. Lots of emotions and playing for the pure joy of it. And no one can take it away from us!
Tell us about other video rarities you included on the mentioned bonus DVD.
As I’ve already mentioned, it’s no super-production… the rest of the bonuses are video interviews with us and a little bit of six string improvisation. Still, I think this stuff is going to be appreciated by our fans. I always try to think what I’d appreciate myself as a fan, if a band I like released an album or DVD – from this kind of fan perspective, I think only our fans will find these bonus footages valuable, but I’m sure they’ll like it.
Now let’s look back a little bit. Last year you supported Carlos Santana in Poland and I’m sure the readers are interested in the story related to this performance. Please tell us about your meeting with the Mexican virtuoso.
We played at Legends Of Rock Festival (Festiwal Legend Rocka) in Poland a few times before, but it was the last year’s performance indeed that turned out to be so memorable. During our gig – it could have been the fourth song into the set list – all of a sudden we saw some turmoil in the audience. From our perspective, we noticed a white silhouette walking down the amphitheater. It was easy to guess that Carlos Santana went for a walk (laughs). My first thought was that there’s no sense in continuing the concert since everyone in the audience looks the other way anyway (laughs). But Carlos headed elsewhere; he got onstage and I got really dizzy seeing him all-smiled and approaching us. At that moment we were improvising the intro to our ballad “Rzeczywistosc” (“Reality”) and it was Santana’s presence that made my fingers play on their own… they played things I’d never suspect myself of being able to play! That was a moment of total exaltation. Finally, I put the guitar away to greet Carlos – shaking my hand, he said something like “your playing is delightful, so I came down here to see it… your fingers make the incredible sounds with your guitar…” Upon hearing it, I felt my knees go weak (laughs). After a gig, I’ve waited for Carlos with my guitar, ‘cause I couldn’t leave without any souvenir of this special moment. But as it turned out, he went straight into our dressing room where I wasn’t present at the moment and asked the guys “Where’s my guitarist?” (laughs). A while later we met and he hugged me as if I was his old friend. I have to add that during Santana’s gig his manager approached me, saying we’ve been the best support band for Carlos during this leg of his world tour, while Santana’s chief security officer said he’s been working with him for the last ten years and he never saw anything like this. And just to think Carlos himself watched our gig until the very last note… This was one of the biggest moments in my music world – a real lesson of humility, but also an ego boost. After all, if the guitar giant says something like this – it’s a clear proof that what we do actually makes sense. Sometimes it seems to me that the whole event’s been only a dream (laughs).
Another thing we’ve already mention was being the support act for Deep Purple in Katowice, Poland a few months ago. If to sum up your career so far, which of your performances of this kind you think was the most important?
I can’t give a precise answer to this question. I’m not able to choose the most important event of this kind in our history – being Santana’s support act, the first concert alongside Deep Purple or performing before UFO at what was the first big gig of ours… all of these were huge, breakthrough events for us. I’d like to add our approach towards every single gig is exactly the same. It doesn’t really matter if we play at a huge venue alongside the rock giants or in a little club – every single concert is of the same importance. It’s because we really respect our audience and appreciate every person who feels like rocking and rolling with us.
If to allow your imagination run wild, whom you’d like to play alongside in the future?
I’ll say it straight… Led Zeppelin (laughs). It’s not a dream, it’s an answer to your question. If you can arrange this for us, I’d be really grateful to you! (laughs)
One of the band’s recent activities was a short tour Rock For Children – organized for a charitable purpose of raising funds for Ukrainian children. You played alongside the legendary hard rock act from Poland, Vincent. Tell us about this – what was the audience’s reaction?
Piotr Brzychcy: With Vincent, we played two gigs and I can say I absolutely loved what they were doing on stage. These guys simply rock! There’s a serious lack of such bands in Poland. Also offstage they’re really nice guys – maybe even too nice… You know, I’d rather not go on long tour with them, since this could be bad for my health! (laughs) I’m absolutely sure of one thing – when the two bands of the same kind meet on stage, their approach and respect towards their musical roots being more or less the same, I know it’s gonna be great. I respect the guys in Vincent so much and I keep my fingers crossed for any future co-operation. Our audience loved their stuff and I’m sure their fans liked ours – in addition, we played for a good cause!
What the future has in store for Kruk? Any promotional plans for Before?
Piotr Brzychcy: Right now we play one gig after another, another concert dates are coming up, the phone is ringing constantly – there’s a lot of things happening! If things work out well, we should play a short club tour this fall, to promote the new material. Currently we include only “Wings Of Dreams” in our set lists, but in a while we’ll add more. We can’t wait to play the new stuff and see how it works live.
If you had to encourage those among our readers who haven’t heard about Kruk yet to check out Before – what would you say?
Once upon a time, there was a little boy and his toy guitar. His father got him interested in guitar-based rock music from the ‘70s. A few years later, his mother arranged for the boy to have guitar lessons he gave up on soon. Later on, when he already was a teenager, his father took him to see the best line-up of Deep Purple. That was when, with tears filling his eyes, the boy decided he’s going to play music and put a band together. After years of searching he met a bunch of fantastic people and they’ve founded the band called Kruk. This band’s history abounds in lots of different adventures and events – it’s the story of people who fell in love with music and who gave their hearts to it. It’s also the story of how to make one’s dreams come true and the one which makes you believe everyone has a right to do so. This beautiful story being told, the band releases their fourth original album full of these memories and emotions. If you’re at least a bit interested in this story – check out the music on Before, but don’t limit yourself to doing this only once… do it a few times more and you’ll find there everything I’ve just told you about. And actually, even more – you’ll find yourself there!
Thank you very much for the interview! Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?
Thank you for the interview and all your support for the genre of hard’n’heavy. There’s less and less people who have this kind of vivid personality and wisdom you possess. I’m glad it’s the third time we talk about Kruk and I’d be even more glad if the future had in store for us at least a few more interviews. All the best to all the readers – I hope one day we’re gonna set their hearts on fire at our concerts. And if not, may it be at least our music that reaches them! Cheers!