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Interview with The Andrzej Citowicz Experience
15 November 2014
THE ANDRZEJ CITOWICZ EXPERIENCE
Interview by Alexandra Mrozowska
The history of rock is comprised of many stories of how bands came together and how they recorded their groundbreaking debut albums. Once upon a time, the first chapter of such stories used to be about a few spotty kids gathering in the garage at weekends, not entirely sure of how to play their guitars and drums but convinced they’re going to conquer the world. Now, with the enormous technological development, there’s more and more of music projects comprised of like-minded artists who never actually met each other but who are enabled to make music together via the Internet. Perhaps the most extreme case is the American/German/Italian/Greek act Mother Road… but The Andrzej Citowicz Experience, with band members based in Egypt, Germany and Poland, is pretty close! The four-piece project has just set the release date – the 28th of November – for their first EP ‘Jack Of Hearts’ (the band’s mastermind Andrzej Citowicz having already recorded a few instrumental albums released independently). It’s a good opportunity to talk with the four musicians involved, talking their EP, musical background and future plans as well as the specificity of their project. Alexandra Mrozowska discusses it all – and more – with Andrzej Citowicz (guitars), Patryk Szymanski (bass guitar), Dirk Arnicke (drums, keyboards, production) and Oliver Monsieur (vocals).
First of all, I’d like to ask The Andrzej Citowicz Experience to introduce themselves.
AC: Andrzej Citowicz, 38 years old. I am Polish, but currently living in Cairo, Egypt. During my childhood, I used to sit with my father, listening to music on vinyl records. The first two albums by Boston introduced me to music in a magical, mysterious way… this feeling grew in me, giving birth to me the musician… the first time I picked a guitar, my life changed forever… for better!
PS: My name’s Patryk Szymanski, I’m 24, my weight is 183lbs, my height is 1.86m… oops, it’s from another interview! (laughs) Speaking seriously, having already introduced myself all I have to add now is that I play bass and acoustic guitar on the upcoming EP and I’m the “Polish element” in The Andrzej Citowicz Experience. I think it’s something huge that comes out of what we do, if to think about the way we create and record things. The distance is enormous…
DA: Dirk Arnicke. I started making music with an acoustic guitar a long time ago and a while later I got my first electric guitar - the neighbours LOVED it (laughs). That was also the time for the first school band. Working on music started with cutting ‘Megamixes’ in the ‘80s. Using the mechanical record-pause function of a tape recorder, I started to cut a 45-minute version of ABC's “Look Of Love”. Well, on parties it never survived more than 8 minutes (laughs).
OM: And finally it’s me, Oliver Monsieur. I guess I have to be the voice of this project… as for my beginnings, you could say that music in some way or other has accompanied me almost my whole life.
What is your experience prior to this project? How did each of you become a musician?
AC: Long story made short: blame it on the love of rock’n’roll!... Two bands: Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. And then came the year 1988, and Eddie Van Halen…
PS: I’d rather not call myself a musician… not yet, perhaps! I started to play when I was twelve years old. One day I decided to browse through my brother’s VHS cassettes collection, knowing he had “some gig or other” recorded on them. What I came across was Def Leppard’s ‘In The Round In Your Face’. I’ve watched it that particular day… and even though I saw it before many times, in that fateful moment it hit me right in the heart. It was like “boom”! Rick Savage – the simplicity of his bass playing and his stage image – simply blew me away. I started to imitate him, wearing my bass guitar very low and using a pick while playing. I started practicing and kept on practicing… that’s how it all started. There’s been many bands and I can say I traveled all across the country with them, high and low. That’s how I gained my experience that now becomes so useful when I became a part of The Andrzej Citowicz Experience.
DA: In my first school certificate, when I was 6 years old, there was an additional entry - “Dirk shows a distinct musicality”. I guess it all started there. I always loved music and I loved singing. Unfortunately a few years later the voice-break came. If my voice had stayed, I'd be a singer today.
OM: Am I a musician…? Well, I’d rather put it this way – I scream my heart out and try to give it to the people so they can devour it with their minds. I feel as if I was more of the voice than the singer. I guess life has been and still is my teacher and this fact also influences the musical side of it. You know, I believe everyone is able to express themselves by transforming their feelings into music. It all depends on which way you’re going to go and which people you’re predetermined to walk with.
What were the circumstances of each of you joining The Andrzej Citowicz Experience?
AC: The Andrzej Citowicz Experience project was born a few months after getting to know Dirk online… one idea has led to another and we started planning everything before actually doing any song!... It was a time when I seriously started to return to music. And all I can say, when I think about those times… it’s crazy but wonderful story about the two musicians who came across each other and then, with help from another musician, completed the picture of The Andrzej Citowicz Experience. I have to say I’m really proud of my bandmates.
PS: I got to know Andrzej via a message board for the Polish Bon Jovi fans. I’ve read through what he posted and noticed that he lives in Cairo. Having been interested in politics since quite a while, I was surprised to see a Polish guy who lives in Egypt in such tumultuous times… especially, being a musician. Out of curiosity and concern I’ve sent him a message. We started to correspond, focusing mostly on music, and one day I joked “If you ever needed a bassist, remember to drop me a line”. He did – and here I am.
DA: After a long break in making music I returned to it in 2010/2011. And I found Soundcloud, a platform for presenting your music and listening to other musicians’ works. That was how I came across Andrzej's instrumental song ‘Summertime’. That was it. Searched for him on Facebook and made a contact – the rest is history (laughs)
OM: Remembering the day I found this music track on the Internet is always making me smile. A guy named Dirk Arnicke posted it… it was an instrumental song that I listened to, with no guitars. It turned out Dirk was searching for a singer to produce a couple of songs for a project named The Andrzej Citowicz Experience. So far, so good. I wrote to them that I’d like to offer my voice to that song. I went down to the studio, recorded what I felt while listening, sent it back to the guys and the story began. That was how ‘The One’ slowly came to light.
Did all of you meet personally in real life, or were you just communicating via the Internet?
AC: No. We’ve never met. Facebook, Skype, e-mails… it is all we have so far … but again, our music and project is a real proof that when we meet the right people in life, suddenly everything falls into place regardless of the distance and regardless of the language.
PS: Personally, I haven’t met any of the guys. We communicate via the Internet.
DA: With that huge distance between us and not owning a private jet, guess what’s the answer to this one…? (laughs) Well, Bochum is just 120km from my home, so I met Oliver one time – but it was after the work on the EP has been done.
OM: Having our work based on this kind of communication only is a challenge for all of us. But there has been more than one phone call to our cradle Andrzej and Dirk. The guys are way cool. And there has been this first meeting with Dirk not so long ago, too… well, compared to Andrzej and Patryk, he’s living in my neighborhood! (laughs)
The overall music profile of The Andrzej Citowicz Experience is a lightweight melodic rock with the distinct ‘80s-influences as well as some acoustic flavors. What are your backgrounds and influences music-wise, and are they close to the genre you explore as TACE?
AC: I have already mentioned Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. The late ‘80s/the early ‘90s was the era that influenced me the most – before grunge era came! All those bands, fantastic music, production… and those guitarists who didn’t just play their instruments but made love to them! I could easily say that those were the Gods of Rock that influenced me.
PS: As you could’ve guessed from what I already mentioned, I’m a huge fan of Def Leppard. Additionally, my other influences are Guns N’Roses, Bon Jovi, Danger Danger, Harem Scarem... all good melodic hard rock/AOR. Stylistically, as a musician I’m influenced by the likes of Duff McKagan and Rick Savage and this is closely related to how I play in The Andrzej Citowicz Experience. Also, my tastes definitely overlap with what we do in the realms of this project. All of us prefer mostly the same genres to others and that’s why our songs are so consistent in spite of the physical distance between us. Everything’s just in place.
DA: Born in 1965, I'm definitely an ‘80s freak. Even if my focus is more on metal than on rock, the music of TACE has its own magic and I love it too. And I love to give it an extra ‘80s stamp on its back with these characteristic synthies!
OM: Of course, I’ve also been influenced by the melodic rock genre of the ‘80s and the ‘90s. But it’s not the fact I focus on when I’m working on the new material. I never wonder if our music belongs to that profile, for example. The only thing that is important for me is that I can dive into it completely, to capture the essence… That´s the point. I really like rock music that was made in the ‘80s and in the ‘90s Rock music and surely we’re influenced by this epoch… but I’m trying not to repeat a style or a certain era in what I do.
The physical distance between each of you being huge, what did the songwriting and recording process look like? Did you manage to consult the ideas together, or was it more like working separately?
PS: Up to this point it was as follows – all ideas came from Andrzej, whose sources of inspiration are bottomless. It’s stunning how this guy puts sounds and chords together. Then Dirk added his drums and the next stage was for me to record the bass parts. The vocals were to be completed towards the end of the recording process, so as to give the songs a final touch – and also, I’d say – to capture their essence.
DA: Exactly. The initial songwriting part was done by Andrzej. He sent me demos of his ideas and we made a pre-selection. After that, I got the single guitar tracks, where I added drums and some keys, perhaps… and made a pre-mix to build up a structure. This pre-mix was sent to Poland for Patryk to create the bass track and then the version with the bass line added was sent to Bochum to Oliver. Therefore, in every stage everyone of us added his ideas and it’s surprising and refreshing to notice how a song changes its face a few times during this process. Everyone’s ideas are welcome. For example, the chimes in the acoustic version of ‘The One’ are Patryk’s idea. Love it ! They work simply great. So, this kind of approach feels mostly comfortable for everyone of us.
OM: Every one of us is working separately, which seems to be the best. I work on finished versions by adding tones and lyrics to them. Sometimes you have to make changes to structures, but generally the songs were sent to me in a finished form. I only had to add the melodies and words.
What do you think was the biggest obstacle related to the distance separating all parts involved?
PS: I think we had to take more patient approach towards each other because of the distance between us. It happened sometimes that everyone of us had his own vision of the song, even in spite of the musical tastes we generally share – sometimes one’s preferences were slightly different from one another’s. That’s why our approach was to trust Dirk and his sense of balance – he’s made an enormous job with the recordings. Also, we had to learn how to respect one another’s right to live their own life and take their time off. We weren’t able to meet one day at a particular hour to work things out. The recording process of this EP was like laying bricks, one after another… I think we’ve learnt a lot from it and also, that our friendship was cemented because of the time we devoted to achieve something together.
DA: Communication. When you're sitting around a table and talking about a particular topic face to face, you have the facial expressions, the gestures and the intonation with the words of a particular statement. When you have to limit yourself to the written word, you have the pure statement only. That’s how misunderstandings begin. We had to learn a lot and we still do, but it is a great experience – pun intended! (laughs)
AC: Like Dirk said, communication, distance and language were kind of obstacles as they sometimes caused some mild misunderstandings. However, we’re happy to say we were able to work it out eventually. On the other hand, sometimes there’s this understanding without even having talked things over. Music that we record as The Andrzej Citowicz Experience shows it.
OM: Someone who’s not honest with himself and not entirely devoted to the project which should be prerequisite... Costs time and leaves a bitter aftertaste. But that’s life and how the stories go sometimes. But this obstacle has left in self-pleasure and does not affect the current line-up with its absolutely great people anymore.
In what way each of you influenced the new material?
AC: I have to say I feel so lucky that those great guys agreed to follow not only my dreams but also my music… It all started with my riffs, but the further parts were being added together by all members in a totally democratic way! Our project may have my name embedded in its title but I’m not number one – we are one! We’re all free in this band, everyone having the right to share his own ideas. That’s why the harmony is there and everything works just great!
PS: Everyone had their share of work to do and did in their way. My job was to add my octal bass parts to fantastic, Rick Allen-esque drum parts recorded by Dirk, so the results have added some dynamics to the recordings. As for Andrzej’s talents, I could go on for hours talking about this… I think he’s one of the best guitarists in this world and if it wasn’t for bad luck, the biggest record labels worldwide would have fought for signing him. Oliver took our songs to yet another, higher level. His musical sensitivity is beyond words, as is his ability to create catchy melodies.
DA: Andrzej's ideas and guitar tracks are like a rough diamond. Everyone of us was asked to make a crown jewel out of it, as simple as that.
OM: Yes, absolutely. I think, if you are not allowed to fulfill yourself, you´ll end up quitting the co-operation soon. But if you listen to our music, there really is a part of me in it and I’m very grateful for that.
Why the title ‘Jack Of Hearts’ and how do you interpret it?
DA: Well, before Oliver joined, we already had an instrumental album called ‘Ace Of Hearts’. Except one song, the EP is based on the music of that album. So in reference to the previous album, I had the idea to call it ‘Jack Of Hearts’. If the singer who joined had been female, I guess it would have been titled ‘Queen Of Hearts’ (laughs).
The final version of Jack Of Hearts comprises five tracks in total. Were there any outtakes you worked on but decided to shelve them for whatever reason?
PS: Three instrumental parts from ‘Ace Of Hearts’ which were later developed into songs were chosen by Oliver. The idea of including ‘Holdin’ The Key’ on the EP was Dirk’s, while the acoustic version of ‘The One’ came out of nowhere… it was magic! I don’t think there are any outtakes.
DA: The next magic thing : No!
AC: We had it all planed and all was set from the beginning till the end. Every song Oliver started to work on was finished.
OM: Even though I was given the freedom to decide which song to work on, there weren’t any outtakes. Only time defined the end of recording and finally made it to 4 plus 1. That’s it.
Are you satisfied with the way the recordings turned? If given a chance, is there anything you’d improve on?
AC: If you look on how me made it – being so far away from each other and all, recording tracks not being in the same room with beer on the table… it is really an amazing piece of work! Again I have to say I’m so proud of everybody’s contribution as they all put their hearts and souls into The Andrzej Citowicz Experience and I believe that this is right place to say: Thank you, my friends!
PS: I’m absolutely satisfied with what we’ve done. Just think about the distance these tracks must have travelled! I’d be a damn ingrate if I started to complain. I’ll leave the judgment to the listeners, though.
DA: Like with all things, there is always something that can be done better. But with the resources we had, I'd say we did a good job. Of course, we could have booked a studio and go for a high-end production. But to be honest… we’re living in times when people spend 400 bucks on a smartphone and download illegally a song that costs 99 cents at the same time. Tell me, what could have been a reason for spending thousands for a studio…?
OM: Yes. You know, no matter how long you’re working on something or what you are working on, which may it be a painting, a poem, the lyrics of a song, another artwork or a picture… you may finally end up having a feeling you can do better. But you finally have to set the end of the line. You have to notice the time when it’s over and when you’ve done everything.
What do you think are particularly strong points of ‘Jack Of Hearts’? Any personal favourites?
AC: Personally, with all the ups and downs and all the hard work and sweat, I can see only the strong points of the recordings. There’s one song keeps stealing my heart day after day and it’s ‘Coming Home’ but its only my humble opinion… and I love them all.
PS: The strength of our music is in the genuineness and honesty of our music. As Dirk used to say, “you can’t re-invent the wheel” and the truth is that we came up with nothing new. Our music is solid instrumental parts, the amazing background and lead vocals and good production… it’s us, genuine and satisfied of what we’ve done, which is perhaps the strongest point of the entire experience. My favourite is ‘Holdin’ The Key’.
DA: The entire EP is a strong point (laughs). My favourite track off it is ‘Holdin’ The Key’ with its ingenious riff, uptempo drive and bittersweet vocals full of desire.
OM: I really can’t choose a specific song. We tried to do different sort of songs and each song is important to me in its own way. I hope what we created is a good EP full of special moments.
What are the reasons for ‘Jack Of Hearts’ being only an EP? Have you already thought about a follow-up to this, perhaps a full studio album?
PS: ‘Jack Of Hearts’ was supposed to be a warm-up before we get to work on our entirely new material – that is planned for 2015. Our EP is also a way to introduce our listeners to Oliver. We didn’t expect it to take us so long, that’s why we’ve got to work really hard in 2015 to make up for lost time.
DA: When you try to build up a “virtual band”, you can't be sure if really works for everyone, so we started with the single ‘The One’. It had a great reception, so we agreed on going on with an EP. Through this process, we were able to build up a friendship that made the whole project strong enough for more. So if nothing changes, yes - we will start working on a full album in 2015.
OM: This is my first try at working on a so-called international band/project. Also, we wanted to give the world a first impression of what we do as soon as possible and that’s why we started out with some recordings. Of course, I can’t make exact promises for the future, but I have a strong feeling that it’s not the end of the story.
In spite of a distance, do you think there’s a possibility for The Andrzej Citowicz Experience performing together live – at least once, for some special occasion?
AC: When it happens, if it happens… don’t know, but I can’t wait to do that anyway! This is my another dream related to this project… Who knows what tomorrow – or 2015 – brings!
PS: I’m the guy who believes in miracles, so… impossible is nothing, I’d say!
DA: To tell you the truth, I’d love to. But thinking reasonably, we’re all simple guys who just love music and no rich rock stars… so it’s very hard to get ourselves a live event. On the other hand, if there is one thing I learned since I’ve done the very first drum recordings for Andrzej… it is to never say never (laughs).
Not so long ago, bands spent a lot of time together which often resulted in fiery rows and break-ups. Now many band members hardly meet each other, especially the international projects (such as yours or, for instance, Mother Road). What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of such a situation?
PS: I think the main disadvantage is that the flow of thoughts and communication are somewhat disturbed. That’s why you have to be patient and focus on the project’s sake rather than your own. You have to stay humble and not efface the rest of the group. Everything belongs in its own particular place and everyone who makes a part of the project must know what to do.
DA: Personally I think you can't really set these different types of bands/projects in relation and search for advantages or disadvantages. If there is an advantage, it's that modern technology and communication make project like The Andrzej Citowicz Experience possible. It's a bigger chance to find musicians you are “in tune” with. Traditional bands, doing live music as well as doing recordings side by side have been there and always will be there.
Calling TACE a project myself, I’d like to ask how do you personally refer to this – as a regular band, or a project?
AC: Definitely a project, but in my mind and heart The Andrzej Citowicz Experience exists as our band. These guys are true friends of mine, so for me it’s something more than just a project – more like a second family…
PS: It’s a thin line between a “band” and a “project”, I guess. Personally, I refer to The Andrzej Citowicz Experience as band, because I know we’re a group of people focused on common goals whereas a project is a temporary, one-off kind of thing that quickly comes to an end. It’s different from our common desire to last long and enjoy working together.
DA: I’d call it a project..... with the chance to become a band!
OM: Maybe I need to be a part of this project for a little bit longer than I am now to be able to answer this question. But I’ve already learnt that much respect, attention, understanding, patience and honesty are required. Otherwise it does not work.
One of the songs on Jack Of Hearts is an acoustic rendition of ‘The One’. How comfortable each of you feels while playing acoustic and what do you think is the difference?
AC: Some time ago I lost my passion to playing acoustic and I shifted to the electric guitar playing, even though as a kid I had started off by acoustic playing… Recording the acoustic rendition of ‘The One’ brought all those emotions back – once again! It actually revived something in me and I will be happy to repeat it again.
PS: I absolutely adore playing acoustic, especially the way ‘80s bands did it. For me to pick up an acoustic bass and an acoustic guitar was a big fun – I love the way they sound, so I’m glad I had a chance to use them during the recording process. What’s the difference? I think it’s a humbling experience to play acoustic – you have to be more distanced and, most of all, you simply have to feel it. Not every guitarist can play acoustic well.
DA: For me, it depends on the song. I don't like the trend we had, where everybody made acoustic versions of every of their songs. So boring! But if a song has the potential to work great in an acoustic version – then yes, please! Acoustic music touches your soul, electric music influences your adrenalin rush. In best case both touch your heart and that’s how music works.
OM: I think acoustic is another kind of sensitivity as it speaks to your senses differently.
Is there anything you work on currently beside TACE?
AC: Personally, I’m preparing a small acoustic project in which I want to do also the singing/songwriting parts (in Polish, my native language). I’ve already completed material for this project and I enjoy practicing it every day, one riff after another… and I still hope to do a song with Paul Laine!
PS: Simultaneously I’m a band member of Transtime, a Gothic Rock act from my hometown Dzialdowo. I’m responsible not only for the bass parts, but also for running the band.
DA: Well, there is more in my head than I ever will have the chance to make real (laughs). Besides some small things, I'm working on a project to put Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poems into rock music. Also I want to make ‘Beast Within II’, the sequel to my first instrumental solo project which I did shortly after finding my way back into music. And there is still the idea of doing a three-part metal-opera called ‘Chronicles Of Liath’.
OM: There´s AMP, Angyan Monsieur Project, in co-operation with Tamas Angyan who’s also responsible for vocal pre-production and some of the backing vocals on ‘Jack Of Hearts’.
Other musicians in AMP are T. Jordt, H. Krause and C. Schröder.
2014 slowly comes to an end, a year that’s given us many memorable releases in rock/metal genres. As the listeners, what do you think makes your Top 5 albums of 2014?
AC: My number one’s Allan/Lande – ‘The Great Divide’, then Edguy – ‘Space Police’, Darkhorse – ‘Let It Ride’, H.E.A.T. – ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ and Richard Marx’s new album ‘Beautiful Goodbye’. As you can see, it’s a neat cross-section between power metal, melodic rock, country and good pop.
PS: I can’t pick just one right away… but if to give it more thought, my favourite would be the album Crazy Lixx released this year. It blew me away!
DA: I didn't listen to any full album in 2014 - no time for that!
OM: Could you imagine that there was not much time for me to listen to the new albums in 2014? (laughs) But I remember the albums I've bought recently – these were Richie Kotzen’s ‘The Essential’, Magnum’s ‘Escape From The Shadow Garden’ and ‘Precious Metal’, the new album of House Of Lords.
Looking forward, what are the current plans for TACE? Any solutions for 2015?
AC: To finally meet each other, first of all… But also to promote our EP, write a lot of new music, practice more and maybe… play some concert with The Andrzej Citowicz Experience? Time will tell…
PS: One word only… a LP!
DA: I’d elaborate more on this. Let’s put it this way - staying friends, hopefully finally meeting each other and also maybe doing a bit of music together…
OM: I don’t want to give too much away. Everything will be as it should - we will see!
Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?
AC: First of all, I’d like to say “thank you” to you and to everyone who supported us from the beginning! To friends, family and fans… to Rocktopia and all the wonderful journalists behind it :) I’d like to seize the moment to thank once again the guys from The Andrzej Citowicz Experience for their friendship, hard work and trust in this project! And big thank you to our wives for support and... patience ! (laughs) As I said before and will keep on saying it on and on… it is never too late to realize what your dreams are – young or old, big dreams or small dreams, it doesn’t really matter. Go for it, seize every moment, every opportunity and knock at every door because you never really know …. Believe in yourself and… keep the faith!
PS: It doesn’t matter where you live – it can be a seaside, a desert, a peak of the mountain, a big city or a village… Dream big and do anything to make them all come true, but also remember what the most important things in life… Dreams do come true!
DA: I’d also like to add that life is too short to listen to bad music, so you’d better get ‘Jack Of Hearts’ ! (laughs)
OM: Everybody be blessed – but take care. Try to think with your heart all the time and keep rockin’. And don’t forget – let love rule!