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Rykarda Parasol – Heart & Soul & Poland

Listening to Rykarda Parasol takes my brain into some dark bar in Poland where people are swinging around huge legs of lamb and pinching waitresses' butts.

More and more it takes a lot for music to actually make me feel something. Usually I’ll put on an album and then go about my business of eating a ham sandwich or picking crumbs out of the throw rugs, while the notes just toot away in the background. If something is especially good, I’ll listen to it more than twice and learn a few lyrics, but even then, it probably won’t take me on “an emotional journey” or whatever.

Listening to Heart & Soul Featuring Rykarda Parasol takes my brain into some dark bar in Poland where people are swinging around huge legs of lamb while taking sloppy swigs out of heavy beer steins and pinching waitresses' butts. Maybe stuff like that doesn’t even happen in Poland, only in scenes from Moulin Rouge or some shit. How do I know, I’ve never been there.

Rykarda Parasol is a pretty, blonde lady singer who currently lives in France and has recorded two albums that sound a lot like Siouxsie and the Banshees.  For this new project she jumped into an already existing Polish indie band called Heart & Soul and I wanted to ask her a few questions about it, which I did. Not to ruin the plot of the interview, but she starts out talking about music and ends up talking about Nazis.

VICE: How did you come to meet the members of Heart and Soul in Poland? What brought you there?

RYKARDA PARASOL: I first came to Poland in 2008 on tour. After a concert in Warsaw, I stayed at a ranch-like house in the forest outside the city. There was a hearth and long wooden kitchen table piled high with Polish delicacies… and umm, vodka. At the end of the table were a few of the guys from Heart & Soul. After lots of conversation, it was clear there was an aesthetic camaraderie and kinship. So not long after, I sang a song for “Made in Poland” and slowly the project of “Heart & Soul” took shape, which was encouraged in large part by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. AMI is an arts-orientated organization aimed at the promotion of Polish culture. (For American readers, this would be something like the NEA giving you an approval stamp.)

This is the first time that something categorized as Polish indie music has been brought to my attention, how do you think Poland puts its own spin on the genre?

Not surprised! To my knowledge a work visa is required for any visiting artist, which is a major expense and bureaucratic headache. It’s rare any European band makes it over…

I think the spin is objective, but to me it seems the purpose and emotion comes with more intensity. In a way, I think of the arts as “The other vodka” – it’s essential to warming the long winter, physically and otherwise. It serves a purpose that is almost religious in its supply of comfort and hope. Poland is a rising nation and it’s still pushing and pulling against the dark clouds of its oppressed past. I get the feeling no one takes the simple act of expressing themselves for granted. It’s almost like it’s their passion combined with their parents' passion. But the biggest difference can be seen in their audience. They are super enthusiastic and receptive. They’re not passive in any way. It’s like a classroom of eager students who know more than you. It’s helpful to remember that Poland is a place where poetry is still readily discussed. Figurative language and depth of meaning is part of the dialect and the cultural identity and in one sense that’s their approach to music as well. It’s a legacy they’re not apt to forget.

What sort of story would you say this EP tells?

I think this EP speaks to the universal language of music and fading of borders – probably crediting technology a bit here. At any rate, I wrote much of my parts from my broom-closet apartment in Paris. Bodek in Warsaw, Piotr in Gdansk… Each wrote independently but continuously communicating and sharing until we grouped in Lodz. The space meant everyone had a chance to lend their voice authentically. There was no label or manager standing over our shoulders commanding to write a hit or whatever. So the narrative is a more experimental almost “painterly” approach. For myself, it was a chance to step outside my usual style and collaborate. Lyrically, the songs touch on the outsider, the self-doubter – perhaps that inescapable desolation that comes with long physical and emotional winters.

On a deeper level, my taking part may prompt additional layers... I think it’s just one of many affirmations to the new generation of Poland and the older generations seem to fully support…I grew up never speaking about Poland however. My father and his entire family were rounded up and placed in their city’s Jewish ghetto before being exterminated by the Nazis. My father, the only survivor, had managed to escape and ran into the forest and later hid in Warsaw. Between the ages of 6-11 he narrowly survived being discovered and being taken to a death camp. At the end of the war, having no citizenship documentation, he was given little choice but to leave Poland. No family, no nothing. While Communism closed-off Poland from the western world, my father was a refugee, alone but free. 

I suppose the larger irony is that this is the country I’ve found my biggest audience and success in. It goes so far beyond music for me. It has brought my father and I closer for starters. Even without my connection, I’m interested in supporting Poland. It is a poetic place. What can I say? Within my father’s lifetime and the lifetime of so many of my friends in Poland, their parents and grandparents have seen Poland ravaged by the worst of humanity. Poland is a relatively poor nation, yet it is thriving in ways other European countries are not. Its progress is steadily upward and it’s for the part quite wonderful to witness. But I think this legacy of poetry and art is vital to existence and it’s deeply connected on a level that I, as an American artist can easily lose sight of. Music and the arts provide a hearth even in the most bitter of winters of all kinds. For the Pole, winter is always on one’s mind even on a hot day in August.

@WolfieVibes