A.J. Kaufmann | Interview
A.J. Kaufmann is a Polish Poet and Musician working in the DIY underground scene. He has written and recorded over 100 albums in the last 10 years – the majority of those were solo albums while the rest were side-projects and collaborations with various bands and individuals around the world. His music is difficult to pigeon-hole into a specific genre but seems to dance around different styles of music from folk, psychedelic, punk, noise, electronic, and industrial to the ever present kosmische sound.
“The Acid Saga of A.J. Kaufmann”
When did you first express an interest in music and what were some of the albums you were listening to early on?
A.J. Kaufmann: Early on I’ve been listening to Nirvana, Butthole Surfers, a Polish noise rock band called Ewa Braun, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, stuff my father had on cassettes in his car. My first cassette was Black Sabbath’s ‘best of’ with a blue/gold cover – a pirate cassette ripped from original vinyl. It had selections from the first 5 albums on it. I was 12 or 13 when I bought it. Before that I’ve been watching TV a lot as a kid, and there was Viva Zwei – a popular German music channel – playing almost 24/7 in my house when I was not watching cartoons. Bands like Mouse on Mars, At the Drive In, Kyuss, Monster Magnet… live shows transmitted by Viva Zwei are my first vivid music memory.
When did your interest in music turn into you wanting to play music yourself?
My grandfather bought me a harmonica when I was about 9 or 10 years old, but I never learned to play it. So, later he bought me an electric guitar, the legendary Defil Kosmos. He paid for it in Pliska (Bulgarian Brandy).
That’s awesome! What is the conversion rate on Bulgarian Brandy?!
In those times in Poland, a liter of Bulgarian Brandy could easily buy you a used electric guitar. I remember driving to a nearby village to pick it up, and the guy who was selling it was really looking forward to his drinks! Anyway, I was so motivated to play that Defil, I actually learned to play basic chords with the help of a school teacher, and basics of harmony, solo, but that took some years of practice. I started writing my first songs, like ‘Flower in Asphalt’, ‘Morning Sunrise’, ‘God is the Dog’, and ‘Deep in Sun’. They can now be found on my album ‘Fairyport Convent’. That album has all of my early songwriting efforts on it, even if recorded years later with the help of my friends.
What were your first endeavors into music like and with whom?
You can hear that for yourself while listening to ‘Fairyport Convent’, the album I mentioned. That was my “folk” phase though, and when you ask “first endeavors into music, with whom” that reminds me of my friend Mateusz Nowicki, now a well-respected bass guitar teacher and musician here in Poznań. We met in the summer of 2002 and immediately started playing psychedelic rock’n’roll and recording cassettes. We cut 7 or 8 tapes I think over the summer of 2002, winter of 2002/2003 and the summer of 2003. Those were my “rock days”. A friend had a vinyl store at Kramarska Street in Poznań, and I was buying lots of music from him, bands like Hawkwind, Gong, Traffic, Tangerine Dream, Nektar, The Stooges, Popol Vuh, Cathedral… the list just goes on. And I started writing my first rock songs.
Some of those songs are available on my ‘Hippie’ album for TIBProd from Italy, and on ‘BitNIKT ate Sauer Adler’ by KakofoNIKT on Axis Cactus Records. They are ‘Alleygates of Sin’, ‘Hippie’, ‘Peace Child’, ‘1970 Avenue’, and ‘Brain Devastator’. The original tapes recorded with Mateusz have yet to be digitized, but I have begun the process this year. Maybe I’ll release a “best of” album from all the tapes? Who knows…
You should definitely release a “best of album! I think that is a great way for new listeners to sample your wide variety of sounds.
I’ll think about it, man!
“Poznań has a good vibe for experimental music, it’s like Butthole Surfers’ Texas minus heat and deserts.”
Do you think your geographic location has had any specific influences on your music?
I don’t think so, though maybe the peacefulness and cosiness of Poznań allowed me to create freely and focus on art. Berlin proved more inspiring though, and I first visited Berlin in the year 2000. Some of the ‘Fairyport Convent’ songs were written in Berlin, like ‘Green Deeps of the Outer Bay’, and ‘Morning Sunrise’. In Berlin, I also bought my first Hawkwind, Amon Düül, and Miles Davis CDs. Those were unavailable in Poland as far as I remember. Amon Düül was the greatest influence. I tried to transfer their energy to Poznań, Poland, and keep doing so for what seems like 10 years since my debut album ‘Second Hand Man’. Poznań has a good vibe for experimental music, it’s like Butthole Surfers’ Texas minus heat and deserts.
Yeah, I definitely hear that “kraut rock” influence in many of your projects.
Krautrock is about an open mind, and outer space, and the other term for this music, “Kosmische Musik”, does it more justice I suppose. But it is also about humor, and so, krautrock is also a good term. Germans do have a sense of humor, and as I learned in time, it can be more twisted than British humor. I really like it.
You are an extremely prolific musician and it seems like for a while you were releasing an album almost every day through your bandcamp. How many albums have you created over the past 10 years?
I stopped counting them to be honest, but a lot, maybe over a 100, counting side projects and experiments. However, early this year I have decided to “delete” the bandcamp catalog, keeping the recordings on my drive only, and start slowly again, releasing a new album each month that will be more focused on themes (being a concept album, or close) and my original notes. The albums will also reflect the composing, not recording, order, and bring new life to songs buried on the previous, not so well thought over releases. The working title for this series of albums is ‘The Acid Saga of A.J. Kaufmann’, and through those LPs you’ll get to know me better and travel with my music wherever you want. Lyrics will also be included, as I haven’t forgotten I debuted as a poet, not a musician or composer. The first album from the series is ‘Fairyport Convent’. It tells the “first story of my art, first hand” and encircles my first psychedelic experience at the Polish seaside sometime in 2000/2001. It’s more sound art than music maybe, but music and sound art work beautifully well together as I noticed in December while listening to Kurt Cobain’s ‘Montage of Heck’. That definitely inspired the “Saga”.
Absolutely! You and I first came into contact back in 2009 when you were mainly working as a poet and I created a book cover for one of your poetry books called ‘Broke Nuptial Minds’ released through Virgogray Press out of Austin, Texas. I have always been very impressed with your poetry and I love how that evolved into your music career. I find your poetry and lyrics to be intelligent, comical, and interesting all at once.
Yeah, and that was not our last collaboration! You were a natural choice for me to make art for the 2011 ‘Second Hand Man’ vinyl, and your artwork fits beautifully with that vaudeville rock album. Then, in 2014, you did the ‘Stoned Gypsy Wanderer’ cover, and now, in 2020, the ‘Stoned Gypsy Wanderer 2’ artwork – a lathe cut vinyl that came through your own label Herby Records with a little help from Via Kosmische.
In the meantime you did a lot of covers for my digital only albums, the Saure Adler logo, the Brain Salad Underground logo, and the cover for ‘Hall of the Menthol Chill’, an album I released under my birth name with Sour Orange Records from Maine, US. I am really grateful for all those beautiful works. Speaking of poetry into music – there ought to be more poets in the music game – to make things more creative and honest, especially in the mainstream. Thanks for complimenting my writing – especially the comical side of it, that I think lots of people don’t notice. While other kids wanted to be astronauts or policemen, I wanted to become a comedian. But that never worked.
You have several side projects and have collaborated with many bands and individual musicians over the years. What are some of your favorite or more memorable collaborations?
Oh, that’s gotta be ‘Cybernetic Spin’, the very first album. This was a spontaneous live session featuring Poznań, Poland underground artists like Roman Bromboszcz, Karol Firmanty, and Kris Kolorado. In the spirit of “Cosmic Jokers” we just tripped, plugged in our instruments, and drifted away with the music. Aumega Project released the album in 2018.
Another favorite collaboration, that’s gotta be working with Eliza Dycha, also known as Eli. We cut a whole album called ‘Starring Eli’ and released it in 2018 on First Earth Records. Eliza is a local singer/songwriter with an amazing voice. My favorite track recorded with her has gotta be ‘Diamonds in the Sun’. Her accent is just charming.
A most memorable collaboration was with KakofoNIKT – the legendary Poznań, Poland underground band. We cut a whole album together, played 2 gigs, and then it was over.
You can witness the mayhem while watching the live video from Poznań on YouTube.
“Fuck you, pop scene aesthetics.”
I really like that darkness that comes out when you played with KakofoNIKT and Eli really does have a beautiful singing voice! Both wonderful collaborations. If you could put together your own “super band” of musicians (living or dead), who would you choose for your band and why?
I would start a duet with Brian Jones. I am sure that the people having problems with my supposed ego would have an even bigger problem with us two in one band, especially if we would mix Moroccan traditional music with krautrock synthesizers on a “fuck you, pop scene” aesthetics.
Now that would be something! What is the music scene like in your home city of Poznań, Poland?
There is no such thing as a focused “scene” or “sound” here. But there are a lot of good projects and musicians. I often check the Poznań tag on bandcamp. It’s quite ear-opening I admit. I would never hear of many bands even living here were it not for the bandcamp tag section.
Bandcamp, as much as musicians complain about the fees, really is a great tool for discovering new music and getting your own music “out there”. Do you play many shows or events in Poznań?
Not many, especially because of the pandemic, but I never was really active live. Currently I can’t offer a good show, to transfer my home studio sound for the stage, so I don’t play live at all unless really small events where I only sing and play my acoustic guitar.
Tell us about some of your current and upcoming projects.
My most current project is Quilted Dreams with my good friend, bass player, and sound engineer who goes by the name of European Bass Player. He was raised in San Francisco, and came to Poland only recently to open a little studio called Karneol Recording Studio in Gniezno, Poland’s first capital. We want to go for that SF psychedelic sound combined with our love for David Bowie and Roxy Music and Steely Dan. We have recently released our first EP on my netlabel Via Kosmische. The cover alludes to Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’, and the music to our mentioned musical heroes.
I also run a monthly radio show called Czerwona Ziemia (Red Earth) on the Warsaw Radio Kapitał. It airs on Saturdays and focuses on experimental music old and new.
And in May I open up the Via Kosmische Studio and vinyl store at Naramowice where I currently live. I hope it will be a good location for experimental art and music in Poznań.
I can’t wait to visit Via Kosmische Studio in the near future!
You, and everyone with a creative, open mind are always more than welcome. I hope to have a good creative pot boiling there, writing poetry, recording new music and making art.
Any final words for our readers?
Listen to good music and stay inspired! Always follow your dreams! And buy ‘Fairyport Convent’ goddammit!
Excellent! Thank you for taking your time to give us some more insight into the world of A.J. Kaufmann. We will gladly keep an ear out for your new work!
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