Interview: Paula & Karol

Paula & Karol - Photo by Anna Rowinska

Paula & Karol - Photo by Anna Rowinska

Paula & Karol is not your typical boy-meets-girl story. It’s more of a boy-meets-girl-and-wants-her-to-sing-backup-vocals-on-his-recording-but-then-realizes-it won’t-work-and-the-two-make-a-better-team-so-they-start-a-band-and-over-time-their-friends-are-added-to-the-lineup-to-make-it-less-of-a-band-and-more-of-a-collective kind of story than anything else.

It might sound complicated, but founding members Paula Bialski and Karol Strzemieczny insist it’s anything but. In fact, organic might be a better way to describe the evolution of Paula & Karol, although the journey hasn’t been without its struggles either.

Nearly three years ago, the two decided to try their hand at playing music together. Although they knew one another casually, it took the suggestion of a friend for them to collaborate and discover there was more between them than either had imagined, in spite of the fact that things didn’t turn out exactly as they’d envisioned.

“I’ve been writing music for awhile and I’ve had some bands, Polish rock bands. But I was always writing songs in English so I really wanted a place I could sing my songs that I wrote in English. And I really like the idea of having a girl singing with me,” Strzemieczny said, explaining his initial plan. “But then it turns out when we met and we tried it, it didn’t really work out because I didn’t have this low strong Johnny Cash voice…it just didn’t work that way. But it turned out we had so much to talk about and so [many] ideas about the world and life and became very close and we started to write music together and…a new thing kind of happened. It turned out we could make a songwriting team and not just Paula just being my backing vocals. And then it turned out that Paula is like this natural-born performer.”

The two began writing songs, releasing their debut EP, “Goodnight Warsaw,” at the tail end of 2009. To aid them in the process, a friend of the band, Igor Nikiforow, recorded the drums and assisted in the production process, an experience which was enlightening for the two.

“We realized…it sounds so cool when you add more people,” Bialski said.

Suddenly, the two found their very personal and somewhat exclusive duo expanding to incorporate additional musicians.

“We decided at the very beginning it would be great to have people play with us and to join us, but we were kind of afraid ’cause we had our own kind of thing that we created together,” Strzemieczny shared. “But Igor kind of showed us that it’s OK to bring people in, as long as they kind of preserve what we two have as a duet.”

During the course of that realization, the two experimented with a line-up of various friends, alternating between playing as just the two of them as well as with up to as many as six people total. With all the friends coming and going, Bialski likened the project to “a big family collective.”

Meanwhile, Strzemieczny explained that the different combinations of musicians makes for an oft-changing live experience, which can be surprising.

“It’s fun going back and forth because it gives you, like, space for instruments,” he said. “All of a sudden when you’re three people, one instrument really stands out and that’s beautiful too. [And] when you have six people you can use that energy to create like a wall of voices and sounds.”

December of 2010 saw the release of Paula & Karol’s first full-length, “Overshare,” on LADO ABC, a Polish independent label. Surprisingly, the album seems to have been better received by non-Polish audiences, due largely in part to the resistance to English-language lyrics.

“It’s gotten some airplay but in Poland it’s just hard,” Bialski said. “It’s hard with alternative music when you sing in English. It’s still hard to get radioplay.”

Regardless, the band has managed to build up a buzz around itself due to underground journalists from within Poland and media outlets elsewhere taking an interest in the music.

“It starts to happen lately because of the rumors from abroad, you know,” said drummer Staszek Wrobel. “Now we’re beginning to be accepted outside Poland and that’s what makes the Polish journalists most interested.”

The band is currently on a tour of Germany, which is an entirely DIY venture, although the members credited their two managers as helping organize booking and additional tasks for the group so that they can concentrate more fully on their music. Not only that, but travel expenses were covered by an organization that endorses a cultural exchange of the arts between countries.

“It’s this foundation that tries to promote Polish culture in Germany and German culture in Poland,” Bialski explained.

The upcoming year will be a particularly interesting one for Paula & Karol, which has a North American tour in the works (including appearances at SXSW and Canadian Music Week) and an album set to be released sometime in the Spring.

And in spite of the ups and downs of life in a band, the members all admitted they have very little to complain about.

“I am not shitting you. The most difficult thing [about this band] is to name the most difficult thing,” bassist Krzysztof Pozarowski said. “Everything else is just, it’s not perfect, of course, nothing’s perfect. It’s just fun.”

And Wrobel, who has played in more than his fair share of Polish bands, agreed that Paula & Karol is something extraordinary.

“I really enjoy what I’m doing at the moment because I’m with this particular band of people, you know,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of things…and I was really looking for a band like this. Just, you know, to work as a team…because it’s not about being a great musician as long as you play in a team, and the teamwork means the most.”

That kind of teamwork is something which Strzemieczny shared is inherent in the process, and which makes the end result so rewarding.

“When I write something, and I imagine something how it could be, like, this band it brings me so close to what I’ve imagined,” he said. “I know this band can bring it to me. That’s so wonderful. And when I can find that with the band, that’s like such a beautiful moment.”

And the rapport between the members is noticeable to those in the crowd. Not only that, but it’s contagious, something which Bialski said she loves.

“I kind of like, love the interaction between each person in the audience,” she said. “It’s like I look at people and…I’m just always surprised constantly surprised that they’re laughing and kind of smiling and looking at us and I think that they’re like our friends. And you see these people that you’ll never really get to know personally but you have this really amazing moment with them during performance. And that for me is, like, just the best thing…it’s super healing.”

Paula & Karol are halfway through a tour of Germany. Here are the dates for the entire tour:
03.01 – Berlin, Madame Claude
04.01 – Hamburg, Deichdiele
05.01 – Berlin, Schokoladen
06.01 – Mannheim, Der Bock
07.01 – Aulendorf, irReal Bar
09.01 – Tübingen, Club Voltaire
10.01 – Freiburg, White Rabbit
12.01 – Bayreuth, Glashaus
13.01 – Dresden, Veraenderbar
14.01 – München, innen.außen.raum

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