Encoule - What was it like growing up in Cracow under the Communists?
Smolken – “Dull and grey but really pretty normal. My friends and
I got into fights, played football, set stuff on fire... same things
kids do everywhere else. We were probably less trusting of adults and
authority in general, though.”
Encoule - What was the original inspiration that kick-started your
life's journey into music?
Smolken – “When I was a teenager living in Texas, my father bought
a guitar at a garage sale for 25-cents and then spent more than that
on a bottle of wood glue to put it back together. The neck was too
warped for it to be playable, but with the strings loosened, it made
a horrid rattling clatter. That was my start. Some time later my
brother found a much more functional guitar leaning against a
Encoule - We understand that as a youth you were influenced by
peasant folk music, cabaret & anti-Communist sung poetry. Would you
mind expanding on that a little for us?
Smolken – “That's just what my parents listened to when I was a
kid: Ewa Demarczyk, Piwnica Pod Baranami, Jacek Kaczmarski & Maciej
Zembaty's translations of Leonard Cohen, etc. Much of it was never
officially released and circulated on home-dubbed tapes. My father
copied and distributed these illegal tapes so the house was always
full of them. I got to hear a whole lot of that stuff.”
Encoule - What were the 'political reasons' that forced your family
to leave Cracow for Texas in 1986?
Smolken – “Basically the government didn't really want my father
around and didn't have any objections to us going away. My mother was
having a hard time dealing with things like a black car parked under
our building with two guys making notes on who's coming and going.
She wanted my brother and me to have a better future somewhere else,
so we took the opportunity.”
Encoule - Why Texas?
Smolken – “Luck of the draw, really. We got passports (which was a
clear sign that the government didn't want us around!) and three-day
tourist visas to Italy. Like most people who went on pilgrimages to
Rome at the time, we headed for the refugee camp in Latina. There we
were asked what country we wanted to sign up for. We chose the US,
because out of the countries that took Polish refugees at that time,
they had the shortest wait. Ten months later we were sent to Texas
because there was a charity in Dallas that was willing to help us get
on our feet. They picked us pretty randomly out of the huge waiting
list of immigrants who had refugee visas.”
Encoule - What were you up to between 1986 when you arrived in the US
& 1996 when you formed Dead Raven Choir?
Smolken – “Normal life: school, learning to play American sports,
university, work . . .”
Encoule - You formed DRC in 1996 with a 'mysterious' woman. What can
you tell us about her 'mystery' & the birth of DRC?
Smolken – “I can tell you she recorded some vocals . . . but had
smoked so much pot, she doesn't remember the recording itself!”
Encoule - Wolfmangler were born in Texas circa 2004. What can you
tell us about their inception?
Smolken – “I'd been talking about recording something with a very,
very, busy guy for a few years. Eventually we settled on doing free
improv, because that required the least time investment. That was
Garlic Yarg! Wolfmangler was basically Garlic Yarg ‘modified’ with
specific themes to improvise around and the general instruction to be
slow and not happy.”
Encoule - What is Taint Meat?
Smolken – “Me and a few other guys improvising terrible noise,
very vaguely inspired by rockabilly and country. This stuff was
released on CDr, fortunately on a label that soon gave up the ghost,
so I think a total of five copies of two albums were sold. I like the
challenge of taking these absurd, hideous and just plain idiotic
songs and recording new versions of them . . .”
Encoule - All your projects employ similar unconventional
instrumentation. Was this out of choice or necessity?
Smolken – “At one point, I had accumulated quite a few
instruments, from mandolin to bass fiddle, so I definitely had plenty
of choice! I ended up selling almost all of them, though, and only
kept the basses. Again, this was my choice . . .”
Encoule - Regardless of moniker, your music would appear to these
ears to be totally uncategorizable! How would you define each of your
projects in terms of genre?
Smolken – “Dead Raven Choir: redneck black metal . . .
Wolfmangler: jazz doom . . . Taint Meat: noise . . . Garlic Yarg:
free improv . . . I also play bass for a children's choir.”
Encoule - You describe yourself as a 'horrid blight upon Black
Metal'! What do you make of the current world extreme metal scene in
Smolken – “I have no idea. I haven't paid much attention to black
metal or any metal in over a decade, really. I practice mainly
classical music and jazz, and listen mostly to country. I've recently
enjoyed what I've heard from Eibon La Furies and black metal rednecks
Blood Cult, and I keep in regular contact with Averse Sefira.”
Encoule - The internet has totally revolutionized the music scene for
extreme art & outsider music, enabling thousands of artists to reach
an audience they may never have found previously! Where do you stand
on that statement?
Smolken – “The Internet does make it far less laborious and
expensive to earn a reputation and become known. It enables me to
live in a country with a relatively low cost of living and have
almost all my fans in rich Western countries. This is a nice way to
supplement my income, I'll admit . . . but I don't think the Internet
is half as important as the huge drop in pressing costs (especially
with CDrs - I remember when they cost $10 each and burning only
worked in half the time!) and the improvements in cheap recording
technology that we've had over the last dozen years or so. That is
really what's made so many small labels and home recordings possible!”
Encoule - Which of your releases thus far are you most proud of?
Smolken – “You're always supposed to say you're most proud of your
most recent work, right? But to be honest, the ‘Cask Strength Black
Metal’ vinyl edition was the biggest ego boost. Maybe I shouldn't
admit to this, but how could I avoid feeling proud knowing someone is
willing to go to that kind of effort and expense to release my music?”
Encoule - We understand that you are currently recording a new DRC LP
featuring your trademark interpretations of country standards! What
can you tell us about the concept behind it, the recording process &
when it is likely to see the light of day?
Smolken – “There isn't much to the concept - I've recorded a few
country songs before, this is just a whole album of them. The
recording process was pretty simple . . . click tracks, bass guitar
(to have a pitch reference), bass fiddle, additional bass fiddle
parts, vocals . . . then sent the charts and tracks to the drummer,
and he showed up to record a couple of weeks later. Everything was
recorded with a microphone that is about 30-years old, a cheap mixer,
and my PC. I then did mixing and mastering. Because the mastering I
do is very unsubtle, it took a few iterations of mastering, changing
the mix and mastering again to get the first song right, but after
that the rest went quickly. The whole process took maybe a month,
just working on this stuff an hour or two at a time after work. It is
called ‘Lonesome Drinking Metal’ and should be released in the
summer of 2008.
Encoule - Your are a very prolific artist - trying to track down your
back catalogue is like trying to make water flow up hill! Where do
you get that constant impetus from?
Smolken – “Most classical composers, jazz songwriters, etc, have
had a large output. I think the reasons most rock or metal bands
don't are pretty prosaic: extremely inefficient rehearsal methods
(compared to any wedding band, symphony, jazz combo, etc), the time
eaten up by touring, and simple matters of supply/demand. Unless
you're extremely obscure, releasing too many albums in too short a
time is just plain bad business.”
Encoule - Any plans to visit these shores (UK) for any live dates in
the near distant future?
Smolken – “No, no plans. I may be the only Polish guy who's not
planning to come to the UK. My job requires some traveling around
Europe, so the last thing I want to do on my own time is fly
somewhere to work. I guess I get the urge to play live out of my
system thanks to the children's choir!”
Encoule - And finally, what's on the immediate horizon for all of
Smolken – “After the country album, I have no idea, other than I'm
going to keep playing for the children's choir. I never have much in
the way of specific far-reaching plans, just a list of 100-or so
songs I'd like to record someday. It grows faster than I can record
them. I might do some session recordings for another band or two,
too. We'll see how that works out.”
Interview by Jean Encoule 09/09/09