Interview by Tarja Virmakari – Translated by Karol Skwarczewski
KAT, formed in 1980, is the most important band in Polish thrash metal music. KAT‘s most famous album is Oddech Wymarlych Swiatów (“The Breath of Extinct Worlds”), released in 1988, and it’s considered as an opus of Polish heavy metal. After 8 studio albums, in 2013, KAT & Roman Kostrzewski released “Rarities”, including songs which had not yet been recorded and never before published since the ’80’s. The culmination of this album was the “Rarities Tour 2014”, currently still ongoing, which offers a lot of material from this album. The KAT line up 2014 is: Roman Kostrzewski– vocal, Ireneusz Loth– drums, Michal Laksa– bass guitar, Krzysztof Pistelok– guitar, Piotr Radecki– guitar.
Just recently Tarja Virmakari had a chance to interview KAT‘s Mastermind ROMAN KOSTRZEWSKI. This interview once again prooves the fact that not even a huge language barrier can stop the exchange of conversation about deeper thoughts, philosophy and the meaning of metal and life itself. Also about the brotherhood and freedom to express oneself, about the power of music that unites people and generations, no matter where they are coming from or what are their cultural backgrounds. So we invite you to sit down and read what Roman told Tarja.
1. Dzien Dobry Roman, jestem Tarja. Welcome to Metal Shock Finland. It’s my real pleasure to have this chance to interview you!
Good morning Tarja, also I’m pleased. It is nice that music of KAT reaches Metal Shock Finland readers. We live without mutual awareness every day but the art brings us closer despite the distance.
2. Before we talk about the present, I’d like to go back some years…you are the legendary icon of Polish thrash metal music, formed in 1979-1980, when the metal scenes in Poland were quite difficult, but however very active. Please tell me about those first years… how was it to be a creator of the most important part of Polish thrash metal?
I do not consider myself to such a big meaning. Metal is art which penetrates sensitivity the people living in many countries with mental and cultural differences. The Fact that metal convinced us is derived from our earlier music fascinations, mostly from the 70s’ and 80s’. I live in Slask region, Densely populated, factory chimneys, steelworks, factories, noise that is hard to escape. :) The young age favoured negation of legal compulsions which touched the industrial community. Heavy music was an ideal mean of expression restless young psyche searching definition “How to be among you”. In our Polish martial law chaos it was a difficult question and I had the feeling that music will allow me to unembarrassed correspondence with other. I believed that I will find the “free spirit” in this world and tales of it are handy for someone :)
3. You’re from Katowice, is it from where you took your band name “KAT” (which means “executioner” in English) or is more like a professional choice?
Professional, which has directly a bad association. In general we don’t meet it often. We place an executioner more like in medieval ages as hooded athlete wielding a two handed axe than operator of an engine dousing chemical deadly poison. when I saw the first time Kat name on the poster I was choosy. The name was less fancy, but I was not capable to think another one :)
4. Are you still a rebel, Roman? Is this inner fire still on?
In our times, having many bad and heavy news around us, it’s hard just to wave a hand, float on a cloud of love fury, and fly away to the land of ecstasy with a small house with warm fireplace on the riverside, somewhere, in wood and to fall asleep. If I did that, I couldn’t sleep quietly, because as a man established by a culture, it is my ecstasy. Of course I love nature. When I walk alone mountain trail among beeches with strange impersonal majestatic shapes I have a feeling of calming down balance and symbiosis. I just wanted to say ‘it’s fine’ and nothing more to add but for conscious psyche, any civilization changes intrique by human measure of complexity. Here we sense the biggest passions and here we awfully express our relation to reality. Art unlike other forms of human being seems to be free of compulsion. The great release for sensitive mind in which even bad emotions can be supported for life. Yes, I am a rebel. I live in the country where like in lens problems of modern world are concentrated. Social stratification, alienation, emigration, arrogance of elites, polarization of society for believer and non believer (non believer as worse category). In Poland the impact of church officers and orthodox believers on the law makes our country stuffy, intolerant. Impossible to create climat that living in community where person irrespective of world-view is accepted and respected. In times when we reached so big level of awareness a feeling of personal freedom refines and unwillingly submits to the limits of religion feudal and capitalistic morality of past centuries.
5. Your most famous album is “Oddech wymarlych swiatów” (The Breath of Extinct Worlds) which was released in 1988. To your opinion, why this album is considered as an opus of Polish heavy metal?
When we created this album, young people were clinging to fresh trends especially from the west music. This record was aesthetically very close to independent ideas of 80’s that young people had. We were denying truths of belief preparing individuals for humility. We tend to respect personal freedom, willing to release inner power which makes us able to take some life’s challenges with an erect posture not crucified. So we had power mixed with subtle sounds interlaced in one composition. As if we wanted to reflect all range of psyche. Rage, wrath, hatred, sorrow, regret, pleasure, love, chaos, logic, precision. I think so this record could find listeners and it did. When we introduced it first time to 20 thousand people in Jarocin [Jarocin was the biggest Polish independent summer music festival] after first four tracks there was sepulchral silence then an explosion of enthusiasm followed by crazy metal dance with well known attributes like screams, headbanging, lighters.
6. You have played with the Finns HANOI ROCKS, and then also with METALLICA, MOTORHEAD, IRON MAIDEN, just to name a few… what are your greatest memories about those moments?
The most fancy memory is with Hanoi Rocks. We couldn’t go so far with Metallica or Iron Maiden due to short time of party, maximum 2 days. With Hanoi Rocks we traveled the whole country. They were amused with contrasts compared to western countries :) When I smoked normal Polish cigarettes they thought it’s marihuana because of unknown smell. After one of the concerts we had the night trip to the next city. On the way we saw some colour lights, our stomachs were rumbling and we thought that we hit some not numerous road bar, but we found a wedding party. The host invited us for food and drinks followed by Polish homemade spirit “bimber”. After two hours, we went back to our bus and set off on a journey. 1 hour later at dawn our driver realized that we were missing Andy Mc Coy, the guitarist. The decision was only one: We had to go back. After 3 quarters we noticed a figure wearing a satin coat, black hat and with a bottle in his hand. He didn’t know where to go, so he was just walking forward. His look was a huge contrast with people there. When they passed him wondering “what the devil brought here this paradise bird”. When he, Andy, sat comfortably in our bus again, he told us the story about being turned by some girl so he forgot about everything. And when he realized that he is alone, he took the bottle and set off to walk, scared because of the stories about Polish white bears but after the half of bottle drained he was sure to reach London. Funny though, as he chose the opposite direction :) We had many good vibrations on this tour and some reminiscences. And we learned many things from our more experienced and honest friends.
7. And what are the bands you would like to share the stage with, in the future?
In earlier years we had this noble feeling playing before big public and in company of beloved bands. Later we accustomed to this that we have own public and no need to promote our music this way. Of course we share the stage with younger artists willingly to believe it will support their careers. But of course it will be pleasure to open a concert for more famous bands.
8. What are your personal influences and bands you like to listen to? Polish ones, international ones?
It is clear thinking that in the early years we were under the influence of early rock music of 70’s and 80’s. In every case this music pushed us to create first albums. Later the inspirations coloured our music but not changing it basically. It’s impossible to find in our music elements of rap or hip hop. Personally I listen to different forms of music. I like music of variable atmospheres. Full of penetrating complicated forms or sometimes simple rhythmic songs. Once I was living with a punk. We were spending our time listening to sharp punk music or hard rock. I loved to manage to find influences of Janis Joplin’s voice on Robert Plant or Dylan’s voice on John Lennon or Rogers Waters. The impact of Black Sabbath on Metallica or punk music on grunge music. Apart from these analyses I remained open on present music and past centuries with Chopin and Sibelius included.
9. What can you tell me about the songwriting process? And from where you take the themes and topics to the songs?
I think my lyrics express view of reality, imagination and literature I learned. In this last case I quote willingly in admiration to creators. Vocal line based on instrumental music gives some climate and I try to adapt some words which emphasize him/her to live in ideal symbiosis. The same with content to cause that in my lyrics you can find extreme emotions. Often the contents are left unsaid as if giving a listener space for logic decision or letting out some fantasy.
10. Lately I’ve been listening very often to your older stuff, please tell me which are the “must-do” songs that you play at each concert?
Of course there are some must-do songs. For example “Wyrocznia” and “Lza dla cieniów minionych”, but even these ones, sometimes must give space to others.
11. Please, introduce me your current band-members and their strongest points, including you, of course…
I will start with guitarists. Krzysztof “Kris” Pistelok is genuine “thrashman”, so speed is his domain. Natural talent capable to surprise with inconventional move. Piotr Radecki with his wider music interests is partial to blues, rock and jazz. Earlier he played prog rock. Classic music is heard sometimes in his playing. Together they make a couple, capable to bring a listener to different domain. On bass guitar Michal Laksa, stable as a musician belonging to rhythmic section. Without fireworks he enjoys drill and dynamic. His creating interests are turned to make best use of guitar harmony. Irek Loth sits behind the drum set since the beginning. He’s crazy for hard music so it’s like his style of playing. He loves to have bigger sized drum set. He is able to present full drum sound with his heavy hand which is revealed with heartbeat or slow rhythms, Ideal for heavy music. The role of vocalist falls to me which I use with shamanistic ecstasy during our shows. I have a typical voice but different music interests so the vocals I make has different timbres and shades. If it’s strong, it must sound noisy. What is subtle, then it must be heard as lullaby.
12. Rarities (2013) is a compilation of old tracks which weren’t published before. How was it welcomed by your fans and critics?
When the public sings the songs it’s the best to happen. Some tracks have over 30 years and have been made in hard rock style. Anyway music still makes circles so tracks seem to be current.
13. Last year you celebrated your 33rd anniversary, and you are still touring currently under the name of “Rarities”. How is it going?
It was hard to gather tracks on historic record because some tracks were lost in archives. After collecting available stuff and releasing it was logic to perform ’em live. We created a special “window” for them. We knew that in comparison to new stuff they can be a bit outdated but the result was good. Among the public we can see big age range so we thought “these sounds are to the ears of older fans” however it was nice to hear when also the younger ones were singing along.
14. You recently have cancelled a couple of concerts, due to the illness of your guitarist Piotr Radecki. How is he doing now?
Ok. He is recovering, thanks. He has to sacrifice himself more in terms of health but he is working now with acoustic performance which will be promoting “Buk-Akustycznie” soon.
15. You we guesting VADER’s 25th Anniversary compilation album XXV (2008) with your song “Wyrocznia”. Please tell me about your relations and thoughts of VADER, do you think there will be some more co-operation also in the future?
Depends on live show initiatives. In Poland relations between metal musicians are close. Noting any unhealthy atmosphere :) which traps different artists. We are aware of negation of our art by establishment which bows us for mutual respect. When it happens we play together, there is always some space to discuss, express our sympathy and raise glasses too. :)
16. And what about the other Polish bands and co-operations with them, in the future?
Wherever we play live, we always response kindly for any propositions of common performances with other bands. Often with these bands, who represent skill high enough not to burn themselves on stage. As everyone knows this music requires significant manual abilities. When this barrier dissapears willingly we share stage with younger artists. There are sometimes shows with many bands, and we have possibilities to refresh our relations with national and foreign artists. We are open wide. The tours with any band is possible. The Manager initiative is needed.
17. You’re planning to make acoustic gigs on which you’re working now. What else you can tell me about these gigs? and when they are ready to be announced?
The Main tour will be placed in autumn being connected with publication of our record. Tour schedule will be available in august when we finalize deals with clubs. By way of prepremiere shows we will play some gigs in June to encourage fans to this convention of metal-wood, though guitarists will play with acoustic guitar, second part is sharp as executioner’s axe. Comparison of two different sounds will be interesting.
18. And talking about the upcoming acoustic album this autumn (on Mystic Productions). Will it contain new songs. What else you can reveal to me about it?
I am finishing work with mix of tracks so I think this month we will make decision for the date. Our initial agreement with Mystic Production places this date in autumn. We wish for September. We recorded 12 tracks, known from earlier labels, hoping that we find the way to give a taster to our fans.
19. And the next KAT album? when we can expect it?
After having our job done with acoustic one, I plan to connect my work with solo album and new Kat’s material, but to feel the effect we have to wait next year. In the meantime we intend with some phonographic design this year but I stop here with announcement because it is in phase of preparation :)
20. Besides the concerts in Poland, in what countries we will see KAT playing this year?
Not long ago we have changed the terms of our managership with pointing out directions to present our music outside of our country. It’s hard to say today what effect it will bring but I feel good about it, so I think there will be maybe some shows with Finland metallers, too ;)
21. You sing in Polish, do you think it limits you somehow? I mean your international fans and audience?
Well it’s good to know the meaning of what the band’s singing. On the other hand, there is always something intriguing and curious with sound of unknown language. The Mystery of the meaning is always easier to reveal in advanced by online translators. Surely with multiple complexity of lyrics included and advanced idioms, the automatic translator will make many mistakes but with some tiny will it’s possible to understand. The problem is that in this world not so many people are able to understand English in a perfect way which is in common use in pop music. It matches when we use simply phrases. It’s harder to carry the depth of thoughts created by persons with mentality characteristics for own country. In my lyrics there are many universal symbols, meanings, and many differences which cannot be translated to English especially when dealing with the basic life’s expressions. First Kat album was translated to English. We had many consultations how to use idioms to get closer to original version. In matter of lyrics we pushed our next records further into psychology, symbols, complexed stylistic and they included a reference to characteristical problems in our country. Personally I don’t know contents of many songs I like, but I feel the satisfaction from their sound, melodic, but regardless of content it’s possible to sense the atmosphere of songs and pleasure of sounds.
22. Now the word is yours, Roman … what are your greetings to your fans and Metal Shock Finland’s readers?
Since many years metal is a guest in hearts of people in different parts of the world with different cultures. It is a proof on how much more it connects us than separates in this music domain, which is even more valuable in time of the human alienation. In this music the public makes relations, finds partners, have feelings of community irrespective of world-view and position. I wish that Metal Shock Finland’s readers may have many metal relationships, and many adventures with metal music.
Thank-You, Roman, so very much for your time and for all you wanted to share with me. All the best for your coming commitments, and hope to see you on stage soon! Cheers! \m/ Roman, Dziekuje Ci bardzo za czas spedzony ze mna i zycze powodzenia w pracy. Mam nadzieje zobaczyc was wkrótce na scenie. Powodzenia \m/
KAT & R.Kostrzewski-Wyrocznia (Live Katowice)
KAT – Rarities (music preview)