Sundrugs: Making music is mainly a passion. You can always do it for yourself, silently hoping that someone will appreciate it one day.
Sundrugs is the solo ambient/drone project of Patryk Kawalarz, a composer and producer based in Warsaw, Poland. His debut album ‘Hidden Scenes‘ was released last spring on BLWBCK, which was recently followed by ‘Low‘ on the same Toulouse-based label. While the first album was more focused on dark ambient drone in a unified way, ‘Low’ seems to have a rather different approach. Dispersed in a way, but at the same time trying to preserve some of the previously introduced trademarks of the young, talented Polish producer. To introduce Sundrugs, Sounds Of A Tired City asked Patryk about his early and current influences, the first steps towards becoming a composer, also raising important questions about the Polish music scene and the difficulty of reaching out to the international audience. He also prepared a guest mix featuring some of his favourite tracks of this year.
How does someone coming from a small Polish town get involved with music? What were your first influences as a child, what music did you have access to back then?
My first influences were the cassette tapes of my father. Chris Rea’s recordings (about whom I feel sentimental until this day) and a lot of music from the eighties. But really, I grew up with the early albums of U2, including ‘Pop’. I loved and still love the strange climate of ‘Zooropa’, listening to ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ in winter or dancing to ‘War’. Then of course there were many new ones. As a kid I did not have access to either MTV or Viva Zwei, so I listened to a lot of radio, I was recording songs and creating various compilations. Actually, I still do that nowadays, just now instead of Duran Duran or 2 Unlimited (how much I loved eurodance!) I choose Tim Hecker and William Basinski [laughs]. Then came the time of fascination with alternative rock and post-rock. There’s a short way leading from here to ambient, not forgetting of course jazz escapades and electronic adventures.
When and how did you decide that you’d like to get creative by yourself through the infinite possibilities of music?
I bought my first guitar when I was eighteen, and for the next many months practiced intensively. After about a year I’ve started focusing only on creating my own songs. Then I knew that it will be accompanying me for many years. Since then it’s been twelve years and nothing seems to be changing, on the contrary.
Sundrugs. The name inevitably reminds me of one of the opening pieces on ‘The Ballasted Orchestra‘. What is the story behind your project?
In a way, yes. The name of Stars Of The Lid’s track fell in my memory many years ago, though its origin not really did [laughs]. I was looking for a new name for my ambient work that would totally reflect the climate of the new album and was recognizable too. Then I came up with this ethereal combination of words: Sundrugs… but now I wonder if Moondrugs wouldn’t be better [laughs]. It’s pretty difficult to express something in a single word that for me can only be done through sounds. I would’ve gone for Flickering Lights most preferably, but that seems so clichéd. So I sticked to Sundrugs. After the release of my album I remembered that Stars Of The Lid had a song called the same and I thought that naming my project Sundrugs can be kind of a tribute to their work, which I’ve deeply appreciated for more than a decade now.
You are mentioning a ‘new name’ and a ‘new album’. What was there before Sundrugs? How did you get in touch with producing ambient music?
I started this adventure about 2004, few years after I discovered what ambient music exactly was. Then there were years of intensive composing, some live shows and learning music production. In 2011 I made the first sketches to ‘Hidden Scenes’. I think it’s a beginning of my right way, among other music projects.
Who influences your musical style, do you have any role models?
I listen to tons of music, so there is a lot of inspiration, but it’s difficult to give concrete examples. Usually, compositions’ climate inspires me, especially the tone, which also is motivating. What’s next – center of Warsaw at night. I live there and spend a lot of time in coffee houses, clubs and pubs, usually at night. Sometimes weird mood is the reason for the creation of a new composition. But I just do it, sometimes without any inspiration, just slowly looking for some sounds.
How’s Warsaw like these days? How’s the music scene? More and more Polish youngsters started to experiment with electronic music. That also could be also inspiring, I guess?
Warsaw is getting more and more beautiful with each day. I am still discovering new amazing places, wandering around the city with my friends. However, I’m not deep into the Polish music scene. Indeed, there are a few new electronic bands, however nothing fancy with a few exceptions. I might not be focusing enough on our electronic scene though. I recently started to work on a new electronic project called Laudes with my friend Lena Mi. She is a great singer, I’m responsible for the musical part. After finishing the recording of ‘Low’ we began to work intensively on our first material. Honestly, it’s a 180 degrees turn compared to the Sundrugs music, because now I oscillate around climates like tech-house, chillwave and electro. Positive sounds, shrouded in the fog of nostalgia.
Tell us about your new album ‘Low’. Although its atmosphere is significantly different from ‘Hidden Scenes’, you have managed to preserve your well-established sound. Considering the inspirational and productive side, how do you feel making your second album was different from the first one? What do you think it has changed during the time between the two albums?
I wanted to change the concept of blurred musical textures. To take a step forward and try to create more complex arrangements. I really wanted to build up the mood on several levels. I needed clearer melodies, no more ‘only background’ music but also something more relevant. These are not hidden scenes anymore… I couldn’t imagine recording a copy of the previous album. People had high expectations for this album and I was one of them.
I had a lot of changes in my life before and during the recording of ‘Low’. I was happy in a new relationship, which made me very inspired and motivated to experience with new musical solutions. I found a good job, so I could invest in better equipment. First of all, I didn’t have any pressure on myself to create the most melancholic album in the history of the universe (although that would be something great). I’m a pretty positive man who now wants to show the beauty, less through the way of melancholy and nostalgia, but also through specific consonances, sometimes dispassionate, but somewhere through this warm and safe side. It’s not so easy to describe it.
I would definitely recommend this album to listen to at night, because it was created during the night. The album itself is like a relationship: there are moments of mindless fascination, moments of mature decisions and a sense of closeness, in the end there are the emotions that are trying to destroy it all. Fairly easy to hear which songs correspond to those moments.
Are you more inspired in the darkness, or do you feel more creative during the night because you have other obligations during the day?
Besides the fact that during the day I have a regular job, I think that there is nothing inspiring in what I see outside the window during the day. The situation changes completely at night. I live in a very quiet area of downtown, so nothing disturbs my work. Every now and then I can go out to the balcony, stare at the sleeping city, listen to the newly created compositions in the background.
Do you feel like ambient/drone music is always related to some kind of a melancholic or nostalgic state? Could you give us some counterexamples and name some of your favourite ‘positive’ pieces?
First I thought that you should not generalize. But when I started to look for examples of positive ambient music in my head, at the moment I changed my mind: “no, it’s melancholic… this may be… not, it’s just sad.” It turns out that the positive is only shitty relaxing music these days, though I personally prefer to relax by listening to harsh noise.
Although the album is named ‘Low’, which already suggest quite a generous amount of melancholy, I feel that it’s somewhat less dark and more hopeful than ‘Hidden Scenes’ was. I am thinking about tracks like ‘Further’, ‘Billion Of Light Years’ or ‘Somnolence Airlines’…
The album also tells a lot about this sort of solitude. You know, the kind of solitude that exists despite you having a partner and many friends around. It’s some kind of a seclusion from the world, while being a happy man, somewhere inside you feel a certain emptiness. And that’s why the album, despite the fact that it is quite positive, finally was named ‘Low’.
‘2082’ is quite an epic dark ambient drone piece with its almost 22 minutes. What is the story behind that?
I wanted to record some short [laughs], blurry track – a wink to the fans of the mood of ‘Hidden Scenes’. I had a lot of sketches and ideas. I put everything in one file, on the trot. I was listening to it, lying on a bed and trying to choose which moment is the best. Halfway I always fell asleep [laughs]. After some time, I realized that these sketches well getting along with each other, especially if set in the right order. Then I decided that it will be a long song-behemoth. I hesitated whether to release it on a separate EP or join it to other tracks from ‘Low’. Finally it stayed with the others. People keep asking me what does the title mean. My answer is that you have to listen to it as many times as the title says, then you get the answer to this question. I haven’t listened to it enough times, so I don’t know [laughs].
I have noticed that there is often a huge language gap between Polish musicians and their international listeners. Do you think this also influences the number of listeners who can engage with your music? Are you satisfied with the number of these listeners?
Most of Sundrugs listeners are from outside Poland. The whole promotion of music goes to them. In a way, I was born in a bad country for musical development [laughs], so when I go out with my music I forget about individual countries and do everything in English. I feel the satisfaction whenever I get feedback from listeners, regardless of their number.
I would say that ‘Hidden Scenes’ was quite underrated and would have deserved more attention. Why do you think promotion is so problematic these days? What would be the ideal way for you to spread the word about your music and actually sell the records?
I think that if someone passionately explores ambient records, they must have discovered ‘Hidden Scenes’. Although Pitchfork didn’t write about it, so the entire planet still haven’t discovered it. I assume that good music defends itself. In addition, we still need a bit of luck, something that unfortunately I rather don’t have [laughs]. If you are not an outstanding brand of music yet, promotion is damn difficult. If you could not get under the wing of a significant record label, if big magazines don’t write about you, if they don’t start to invite you to festivals – you are nothing. But making music is mainly a passion, so you can always do it for yourself, silently hoping that someone will appreciate it one day. And then flying dragons will come and flood everything with fire.
What are your future plans? Are you going to work on the Laudes project for now and leave Sundrugs rest a bit, or do you want to work on both at the same time?
I’m going to take a long break from ambient, since I want to focus with all my energy on the Laudes project. There will definitely be more Sundrugs albums, it is beyond any doubt. But I will most probably think about it after the first Laudes EP or album will be released.
Do you have any plans for live performing with Sundrugs? Is that something you’d like to pursue?
Because of my job and my wonderful friends I don’t have so much free time. Now I am investing all my energy in the Laudes project, so unfortunately in the near future there won’t be any Sundrugs live shows.
What is your favourite album cover?
I have a problem with questions about any kind of ‘favourite’ things. I always have a couple of favourite things. I love Dead Can Dance’s ‘Spleen And Ideal’ cover. Makes me long reverie. I had the cover of ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ by Godspeed You! Black Emperor on a shirt in high school [laughs]. But still the most incredible and climatic cover for me is ‘Telegraphs in Negative/Mouths Trapped in Static’ by Set Fire To Flames. I like to clean my CD collection and watch these covers with passion.
Who would you like to read an interview with on Sounds Of A Tired City?
I’d love to read an interview with Pete Swanson here!
Tell us a little bit about the mixtape that you’ve prepared for us.
To fit the mood of the interview, I collected the most interesting ambient tracks released in 2014 – according to my opinion. Although this year, like the previous one was in many ways quite poor…
GUEST MIX by SUNDRUGS
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