For the occasion we interviewed Lukasz Polowczyk below.
CF: Who is behind SMPL THNGS?
SMPL THNGS is Graciela Maria, Maki Shimizu and myself. Graciela is the beautiful voice of the project, Maki the visual prism that transforms everything into something special (paintings and drawings) and I tweaked the knobs and added some spoken word bits here and there. Additionally, we also had our very talented friend Sneaky play cello on top of the finished recordings and Lars Kirchbach mastered the piece.
“Being aware of the ambience on the recordings, I actually started hearing life as music and became aware of sounds that I used to filter out or fully ignored”
CF: How did you all meet and when did you decide you wanted to work on a project together?
The project started with Graciela suggesting that we record something together. This was a very dark time for me creatively as I was tired of a clean sound and chasing some idea of perfection in the studio. I didn’t enjoy that laborious studio process anymore. One day I showed Grace some chopped up snippets of rhodes recordings that I accumulated over the years and off the bat we recorded our first song which was “Not The Same”. It was an impromptu recording done in one take, or two takes if you count our vocals separately. There was no over thinking, no edits involved and the microphone was set to very high gain thus capturing the ambience of that moment: the sound of the birds circling outside, children playing, a plane flying over the studio. So that became the blue print for the project: keep it simple, spontaneous and true to the moment.
The following week or so I ran into Maki at a friend’s birthday and we talked about doing something together, and this became that something. Maki joined us for the second session and she spread out all these papers across the studio floor and painted while we recorded. An important thing to mention is that we made sure we had great food and enough wine every time we met, so the point was to really enjoy this moment we shared together, to make it cozy and familial.
CF: What were some of the sonic and visual inspirations for the project?
For me the inspiration was the moment itself and the 3 of us meeting and living out this ritual of recording, and through it being aware of life and really being present in the moment. The songs have a lot of field recordings in them: the Berlin subway outside my balcony, the planes over the studio, the workers down the street, cars driving past my balcony etc. Being aware of the ambience on the recordings, I actually started hearing life as music, and I became aware of sounds that before I somehow filtered out or fully ignored. To this day the trains outside of my window are a string section to me, I can’t ignore the musicality in them. During the sessions Graciela was a huge inspiration to me. She has an amazing gift of channeling songs, improvising them in their entirety with lyrics and all the individual parts, all in one. Witnessing that was a huge gift and inspiration; and when she sings in Spanish she channels spirits, it s truly something special.
“the point of each recording session was to really enjoy the moment we shared together, to make it cozy and familial”
CF: Can you walk us through the recording process for this project?
The rhodes loops that serve as the backbone for the tracks were compiled from random recordings I made over the years, which I then chopped up into these awkwardly looped themes. A typical session started with cooking a dinner and going through some wine and finally stepping into the studio when we felt it was time. I would set up the mic and Maki would start painting. I would then skip through my folder of loops until Graciela found one that spoke to her. She usually recorded first, completely off the top. If the song felt like it needed another part, or I felt I wanted to say something, I would listen to Grace’s part and either scribble something quickly or just add some words that came to me while recording. On some songs I added the ambience I recorded that day or that week and buried it in the mix. At the very end of the recording sessions Sneaky improvised his cello sequence, over what was pretty much the finished piece.
There were also a couple of very special sessions that were a bit different. During one Graciela played guitar and that became “Mr. No Name”. The funny thing is that I forgot to plug the soundcard in, so the entire recording was captured through the built-in mic on the laptop. Another time, we came to the studio and it was fully booked, so we went across the street to a cemetery and recorded there.
CF: How did the visuals by Maki play a role in the creation of the music?
Maki’s spirit was a huge influence on the music. I don’t think it would be the same if Maki wasn’t at the sessions. I think the three of us created a special vibe and energy and from being in that bubble a shift in perception would happen. If you ever meet Maki, you would understand that she is a world in her own, not just a person. When you hang out with her you step into another way of seeing everything; you tap into a playfulness and a type of innocence that’s really rare.
CF: Are there any plans to get in the studio again and record more material?
We talked about it, we just need to find the time. For me right now this is the greatest obstacle, which actually reminds me that I still owe Grace some vocals for a solo LP she’s working on.