She is British, born in Nottingham, but loves Polish culture and Poles. She is well recognized singer worldwide who just happened to sing about Poles, being inspired by our history. You can listen to her everywhere, from opera to folk festivals. When she was growing up, she also had found another passion- flying airplanes. However she decided to dedicate her life to music. She is a composer, producer, vocalist, she writes the songs, promoting iconic vintage style of clothes. She is called Polish patriot and some nationalists point at her, telling us to follow her example. Is she really fascinated by Poland or just found her niche for promotion? Today I am trying to find out how she really feels and what is her link to Poland and Polish culture?
Interviewed by Gosia Szwed
Hi Katy, where were you born?
Nottingham in the East Midlands, England.
How was you childhood?
I had a very interesting childhood, I spent the first 5 years of my life living with my mother in Poland and then I lived in Great Britain.
Have you always thought of becoming a singer?
I always loved to sing and won several singing competitions before I was 12 years old so I knew that singing was something that I could do 🙂
Half polish, half English- how to reconcile these roots, culture, heritage, habits in one person?
I have managed to do this finally through my music and by writing a bilingual album. I hope that I can share the love of both my homelands, Great Britain and Poland with people all around the world and share what I think is great about each nationality. 🙂
Who had inspired you musically?
I have been inspired by many forms of music including free improvisation, experimental music, John Cage, Musique concrète, Diamanda Galás, The Slits, The British Folk scene including artists like Anne Briggs, Lal Waterson, Nico and Eliza Carthy as well as music from the 1920s, 30s, George Formby, Fred Astaire and Polish mountain Gorale music.
Did you like your school?
When I was a teenager I was a rebel and a free spirit. I loved to learn and had a hunger for learning like reading and researching new topics but I didn’t like school as it was a very formal institution.
Was it difficult to wear uniform every day?
I liked my school uniform in that I didn’t have to think about what I am going to wear everyday but it wasn’t very attractive and certainly not artistic in anyway so I was always often falling out with the teachers at my school for being messy and not groomed properly. I was a punk!
Are you a patriot? Are you British patriot as well?
A patriot is someone who feels a strong support for his or her country and patriotism means to have a devotion to one’s homeland. Since I am both British and Polish I have a strong love of both of my blood based homelands which are Great Britain and Poland.
Why are you so interested in the war times?
We can learn a lot from War. I wish that all people on this planet could be safe and live their lives knowing that there will never be any more Wars but we live in very turbulent times. Many people are living in gross human conditions connected with wars at the moment and so it is important that I face these topics in my work and share them with my audiences.
You have made slightly different songs before like „Moscow Child” or „Space boy”. Is the latest album an explosion of your roots or marketing strategy?
When I write songs the music comes from my heart and soul. I am a musician and songwriter who has followed my muse and created the music I make because I am driven with passion for the subjects that I am inspired by. I definitely do not follow a ‘marketing strategy’ when I sit at my piano and write a song and to tell you the truth I don’t even know what a ‘marketing strategy’ means! My songs to me are not products like tins of baked beans, to me they are my little babies and I have to nurture them so that I can give birth to them and release them into the big wide world. Besides I am inspired by rebels and those people who overturn authority for the mass good of the people hence why I was inspired to write my recent album ‘Paszport’ about the Polish resistance movement and Polish Partisans of WWII who were great rebels and defied the occupation of both the German and Soviet occupation in Poland to fight for a free, Independent Poland in very difficult conditions.
You are admired for being Polish patriot, an opposition to Maria Peszek. Do you agree with this label?
I am firstly an artist and songwriter. I write songs that I want to write. I am very honoured that people consider me a Polish patriot but this is a label that I have not chosen for myself or for my music. I am just driven by the fact that I find Poland and Polish people a constant source of inspiration for my creative work. I have not heard of the music of Maria Peszek as she is not known in Great Britain but from what I can read about her on her Wikipedia site she has tackled subjects that are interesting to me and similar to subjects I wrote about in my previous albums including ‘Screwing Lies,’ (2001) and ‘Passion Play,’ (2003) which played on themes of Victoriana, Infidelity, Domestic violence, Murder, Feminism, Prostitution and Psychosis. I would definitely like to hear more of Maria’s music and I would always support artists who follow their hearts and create work that is true to their soul. I love the company of true artists.
You have recorded 4 albums. Are they similar to each other?
How were you developing as a musician?
My albums are a development of my creative work and life. The sounds have been predominantly inspired by British folk music with a contemporary electronic twist making it music with a sound of the 21st century. My first album, ‘Screwing Lies’ was recorded with an orchestra of 6 musicians and British folk artists who played on concertina, Irish whistles. I also recorded the drummer from British Rock band ‘Senser.’ On my second album ‘Passion Play’ I worked with musicians like keyboardist ‘Oliver Parfitt’ from ‘The Herbaliser’ which are a British Jazz rap band and Canadian music producer Jeremy Vass and we created an electronically inspired album with a British folk twist. ‘Coquette,’ my third album was inspired by my British Grandmother Dorothy and the stories I gathered from British WWII veterans. The sounds are very contemporary as I worked with British music producer Nick Crofts who is inspired by the work of Sufjan Stevens and Aphex Twin. ‘Paszport,’ my last album was inspired by the stories I gathered from Polish WWII Veterans in particular that of Kazimierz Piechowski who was imprisoned by the German Nazi’s in Auschwitz concentration camp for being a Polish boy scout and made an incredible escape in Rudolf Hoess’s car and hence I wrote my song ‘Kommander’s Car’.
I worked extensively with the British music producer for “Paszport”, Nigel of Bermondsey, to create the right sound for the album. We wanted keep the essence of the music that the Polish Partisans may have played in the forests during WWII as well as making the sound contemporary and of the 21st Century.
What is different about your latest album?
My last album is different because it is my first bilingual album in both English and in Polish and is dedicated to the Polish WWII experience and resistance movement and heavily leans on inspiration from that particular era. It is probably my strongest ‘concept’ album so far. I wanted it to sound contemporary and from the 21st Century but also to sound as though it may have been played by Partisans in the forest.
Kazik and the Kommander’s Car- you have made the song and the movie about a scout running away from Auschwitz death camp. Why did you pick up Kazik Piechowski as a person to write about?
Kazik Piechowski who is now 93 years old was imprisoned in Auschwitz for being a Polish boy scout on 20th June 1940 and his story represents one of 150000 Polish Intelligentsia who were murdered there by the German Nazis during WWII. Only 144 people escaped from Auschwitz. Kazik’s escape on June 20th 1942 where a total of 4 people escaped in the camp commandants’ car was not only very daring but also was a total act of defiance against the German Nazi regime showing that the impossible became possible.
I was gripped by the drama of Kazik’s escape and wrote my song Kommander’s car about the last 80 metres of the escape when they are just in front of the final barrier and have no passes, documents to escape and Kazik is dressed as the Camp Commander and has to do something radical to get the guard to open the final barrier which is still down.
When I wrote my song I didn’t know Kazik was alive and when I found out that he was I was compelled to meet him. Meeting Kazik changed my life because he not only shared very openly his life history with me and also in great detail about the time after his escape but also he injected me with a renewed love of Poland and Polish people. He gave me the key to explore Polish history and help share incredible stories of bravery and comradeship with a younger generation of people making it a project that all ages could be inspired by.
How would you make English people interested in Polish culture?
Though the sharing of my music, film, Kazik and the Kommander’s Car – see www.kazikfilm.com and creative work and the creation of concerts focussing on stories that I have gathered from Polish resistance fighters, spies and survivors of both the German and Soviet occupations during the Polish WWII experience.
Have you ever thought about special history lessons for schools about the dead camps, heroes, war? I think it is something worth to do so young people don’t believe for example to Barack Obama who said that there were polish dead camps in Poland.
I work already with British schools and I run workshops for British school children to share the topics raised in our film ‘Kazik and the Kommander’s car,’ with regards the Polish WWII experience. In the summer of 2012 we shared our film with 60000 British scouts on the 70th Anniversary of Kazik’s escape 20th Jun 2012 and we also took 2500 British school children through a series of 4 workshops designed to promote the understanding of Polish History in British schools. The school children responded in the form of written, artistic and musical responses. We will be sharing these in an exhibition that I am planning for 2014 in conjunction with the Museum of Auschwitz- Birkenau.
Folk and patriotic songs are quite original inspiration for an artist. Is it difficult to gain an audience interest in this type of music?
I am predominantly interested in sharing stories and so this is what I predominantly look for when choosing a song to sing which has not been written by myself. I love to sing folk songs as they have great stories and melodies. I sing songs that are considered by the Polish nation to be overtly ‘patriotic’ like” Dziś do ciebie przyjść nie mogę” and “O mój rozmarynie” but to me I am singing these because they are musically inspiring to me, because I like the poetry and words and because my heart wants to sing them.
Your music is not very commercial. Are you not interested in top position of the charts like Polish Doda or Jessie J for example?
I make music that is very personal to me and if it happens to be commercial and reaches a high chart position then that is great! I would love to have a number one record. I realise though in reality that I have developed at my own speed by releasing my records on my own Independent label, Deluce recordings. This means that I have had creative freedom to make the music I want to make but not necessarily the money or backing behind my music to push my music or promote it in the same way as artists like Doda and Jessie J. These artists have come from a more music Industry orientated angle and can reach a number 1 position because their music is led by sonic trends and also they have the music industry’s machine and financial backing to make it happen.
What is the most important thing in your life?
To love. To love the planet, the people of this world and to love my life so that I can share it with people who need to be loved, or who are searching for love.
What is your personal style?
I like vintage clothes from the 1920s and 30s as it suits my figure. I love wearing beautiful vintage hats.
How do you fight your stage fright?
I make sure that I am well-rehearsed.
Are you feeling like a celebrity?
I don’t feel like a celebrity because I am interested in first and foremost becoming an accomplished songwriter and musician and developing my craft. I write songs because I love being creative and I am not driven by fame or fortune. I am driven by my muse.
What do you want to promote?
I want to promote harmony in this world and love and compassion and understanding for people of all nationalities, ages and backgrounds.
Do you like uniform man?
Men in uniforms look attractive as do men who are properly groomed and present themselves well.
Nowadays you have your own style, vintage pin up girl- I would say. You are a vintage fashion icon. Do you think this kind of style is sexy?
I love to wear vintage clothes on stage and in daily life as they fit my curvy and a womanly figure well. Modern clothes don’t fit me at all and I find are not made very well either being mass produced in large factories. The era of the 1920s, 1930s were very elegant eras in Fashion. I love the film and music stars of this era including Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Hanka Ordonówna and Mieczyslaw Fogg who all dressed so well and looked incredible glamorous and attractive 🙂
Is English audience sometimes rude about you singing in Polish and about Poland?
The British audience loves to hear my voice and they come to listen to my music. They are never rude about me singing in Polish but understandably prefer that I sing mostly in a language that they understand which is English. British audiences are incredibly open minded and they love to hear songs in different languages – they love world music. The Polish language is now the second most popular spoke language in England so people are very intrigued to hear songs sung in Polish.
Lately there are a lot of anti-Polish racist comments in media. What would you say to English people and politicians to give them a proof that Poles are not that bad?
I think the best thing for me to do is to continue to sing and share my songs which are inspired by stories of great importance not only to Polish history but for the world at large. The themes I sing about on my album “Paszport” are about universal ideas including love, loss, death but most importantly survival and life force. People and media who make racist comments are coming from an angle of ignorance and so education and the sharing of positive information is ultimately to only way to counter balance any negative and racist opposition.
What is your favourite way to relax?
I love to walk in the Polish forests in Białowieża and to stay in the Polish mountains near Bielsko Biala. I love Polish countryside and eating Polish food.
Very often all the best songs are released after depression, they are written when you have harsh time in your life. Did you go through something like that?
I broke up with a boyfriend who I considered to be the love of my life before I wrote this album and I was very very sad about our breakup. I realised that my emotional loss throughout that experience mirrored that of the Polish nation under occupation who lost their beloved Poland to occupation and Poland lost its right to be a free and Independent nation. I wrote my songs with the loss of love in my heart but also about how it must have felt to lose an Independent Poland.
The worst time in my life…
Life is always a challenge and there are periods of great difficulty and these are often where we learn the most. I have therefore never had a ‘worst time’ in my life rather I have had times where I have had to be strong and learn a lot.
Are you making your life only from singing?
I sing and write songs now full time which has been a wonderful joy and I am so proud that I have the opportunity to do this.
Are there any things which you would never have done?
I don’t regret anything that I have done as I am very proud to be the person that I am.
If you were about to make a song about current Polish society in Britain, what would you sing about?
That would be top secret as I never tell anybody what my next project is going to be about. I have to incubate my songs before I can release them into the big world and I am very protective about my songs because they are my babies.
If you have stopped singing, what would you do?
I would be a pilot or a teacher.
Routine or go with the flow?
I love to follow my heart and so I go with the flow. I believe the forces of the universe will place me where I am meant to be.
What are you going to do in 5 or 10 years?
Stay healthy and write a lot more music and most of all have a lot of fun with all the people I have met from all countries on this planet.