Since their beginnings in the small town of Bangor in Northern Ireland, Kowalski, an indie electro quartet, have steadily gained in popularity. The release of their second EP Take Care and Take Flight in 2010 won them plaudits from celebrity fans like Snow Patrol front man Gary Lightbody. Their work has been featured in the American version of hit tv-show Skins and been remixed by fellow countrymen Two Door Cinema Club. In between touring the UK and Ireland, sharing the stage with the likes of Editors, Ash, Snow Patrol, and Two Door Cinema Club, Kowalski finished recording their first album which is slated for release in late 2012 or early 2013.
In the long tradition of bands who don’t sound anything like where they’re from, Northern Irish four piece Kowalski make glistening indie pop with an upbeat summery feel. Though in fairness its punctuated with an endearing twee undercurrent that’s a lot more appropriate to their dreary locale. They hail from Bangor, a sleepy seaside town outside of Belfast known in Ireland for being a Victorian resort and the home to more notable musicians than a town its size should, with a list including Snow Patrol and Two Door Cinema Club (who’s bassist Kevin Baird is the brother of Kowalski drummer Paddy Baird). Much like those world conquering musical residents of Bangor, Kowalski have a knack for melodies that are at once delicate and muscular, simple, yet strong enough to stick around in your head long after you hear it. We first heard about the band in 2008 when this Band of the Day writer Couchsurfed with guitarist/keyboardist Paddy Conn while he was living in Glasgow, Scotland. Since then the band has only grown and honed their sound, and threaten to join the ranks of Bangor rock royalty with the album they’re currently wrapping up. We chatted with bassist Tom O’Hara and Paddy Conn as the band gathered for a night of Euro cup viewing and Guinness drinking, tough life.
Band of the Day:
Band of the Day: What's the best thing to do in Bangor?
Paddy: Drink. It's the only thing to do.
Band of the Day: Do you have any idea why there's so many good bands from Bangor despite it's small size?
Tom: Hmm, no. A few years ago there was a really good scene and loads of us came from that.
Band of the Day: What influenced the new album?
Paddy: I would say album-wise, especially the guitar was inspired by the new M83 album. Me personally, I always go back to lo-fi, I really like Granddaddy, I suppose the new Bombay Bicycle Club album, How about you Tom?
Tom: Flee. And the Red Hot Chili Peppers. No, I don't know, I think the whole album kind of, it's very much our surroundings. Right now we're looking out and can see the sea. It's hour home town, I'm not sure we could have written it anywhere else. It's very much, it works as our album for escape.
Paddy: Yeah, we are litterally beside the sea and I think because the weather isn't so great here, we have more of a need for that tropical place somewhere, that escapism. I think a lot of music reflects that, even lyrics-wise, trying to get out of here, whether it's a real place or not, just trying to get to that place.
Band of the Day: Going off that theme of escapism, your Bandcamp page says you create music that sounds like an upbeat shimerring dream. If you could take one of your songs and create a dream scenario around it, what would it be?
Tom: That's a hard question!
Paddy: I suppose the dream is just to make music.
Tom: That's a terrible answer. Is the question not to create a dream around one of the songs?
Band of the Day: Yeah, exactly.
Tom: So we have to think of a dream and the music would be playing in the background of said dream. Maybe for "While We Drive" I'd like to be on a unicorn, and have lasers shooting everywhere. Can we say that?
Paddy: I don't know guys, Club Tropicana. Can we be there? WIth George Michael sitting pouring Heinekens.
Tom: The drinks are all free.
Paddy: I'd like to be there.
Tom: I think any of our songs could play alongside us in "Club Tropicana."
Paddy: We were even thinking of using "Club Tropicana" as our intro track at shows.
Tom: I think we should do that, and whenever we finish the set Toto "Africa" could come on.
Band of the Day: If you could only listen to one 5 year span of music the rest of yoru life, what 5 year span would it be?
Tom: Astral Weeks. Because then we could have Moondance after that and Saint Dominic's, couldn't we?
Paddy: Yeah. Even if it's not really … the music is nothing like ours, it's so inspiring that that guy came from 15 miles up the road.
Tom: He lives around Bangor, I used to serve him in a restaurant. He's just amazing. From Astral Weeks to Saint Dominic's Preview that gives us three albums.
Paddy: Astral Weeks is definitely my favorite album.
Tom: Yeah, best album ever written.
Band of the Day: You served Van Morrison in a resturant?
Tom: Yeah I used to work at a restaurant up the road, he used to come in and order a cheese board, a cup of tea and a sparkling water. Everytime. He had his own tab so he never paid, and we weren't allowed to talk to him. He's the grumpiest man in the world. He hates people, but I got to be close to him, that's all that matters.
Band of the Day: What do you guys think is the greatest song ever written?
Tom: "Club Tropicana."
Paddy: That Bee Gee's song, the ridiculous one. What's that called? It has an incredible chord progression, it's really underrated. I also really like the first track of Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy, "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot."
Tom: The greatest song ever written? Umm, I think "Into the Mystic" would be mine. Even though I like Astral Weeks as an album more I think that song's brilliant. "Into the Mystic" by Van the Man.
Band of the Day: What's a song that you've done a complete 180 on, that you used to hate but now you love?
Tom: Have you heard the song "Call Me Maybe"?
Band of the Day: Wait you didn't like that song at first?!? But It's amazing!
Tom: Now I love that song. I thought it was really poppy and rubbish, and then I truly appreciated how great it was.
Paddy: Because the 80s vibe is back, there was probably a time when I hated "Club Tropicana."
Tom: I remember being 11 or 12 and "No Surprises" by Radiohead came out, and I thought it was the worst thing I'd heard in my life. And now, obviously, I think it's great. But I remember thinking they were rubbish.
Band of the Day: I was reading on Bangor Ireland's Wikipedia page that you are listed on their notable residents page, how did that make you feel when you found out?
Paddy: I didn't know we were up there.
Tom: Well I feel great.
Paddy: Tom's dad is probably in it for being an olympic sailor, and Paddy's [Baird, the drummer] brother is probably in it for being in Two Door Cinema Club, Kevin Baird. My mum, is not in it. I don't know, I didn't know that but it makes me feel great.
Tom: It makes us feel like we live in a small town.
Band of the Day: Have you guys had any band Couchsurfing experiences?
Paddy: Whenever we were touring around Europe. In Hamburg we played in a squat and then stayed in the squat.
Tom: we had like four days off so we stayed in the squat, it was quite cool.
Paddy: It was a really incredible place, a sort of, a place for traveling artists. Whether you were a painter or a musician they would be really happy to have you stay there.
Tom: And there was a guy called Johan that did nothing but mooched about and stayed there and made us buy him grapes.
Band of the Day: How did you get involved with that?
Tom: We worked with this German booking agent, and he booked us this show and we didn't know anything about it, just kind of turned up and had some days off. We basically went on tour with no money and had no idea what we were going to do, and ended up staying there for a week.
Band of the Day: How else have you saved money on the road?
Paddy: I suppose we try to stay with as many people you know as possible. Stay with the cheapest lodges or little bed sits.
Tom: A couple of us once had to stay with Paddy Baird's aunty in Oxford. It was a bit awkward. They're quite a strange family. Paddy stayed at another person's house and they had a massive argument.
Paddy: It's great in Europe, they look after you a lot better, give you free food, give you tokens for the bar. They pay you more too, I think they just kind of appreciate the trek you've made to get over there.
Tom: They always sort out accomodation, whether you're in a squat or three people in a bed.
Paddy: They're very efficient.
Band of the Day: Do you guys all have day jobs around Bangor?
Tom: At the moment, I'm working in a bar. Paddy Baird is a drum teacher, and then the other two are currently without employment. [Louie the band's bassist arrives]
Band of the Day: You guys have a party going on.
Tom: It's for the football, the football is starting then we'll head out to the bar after, so they're all over at my house. My Dad's an international sailing judge so he's home like three days a month. So I kind of haven't got my own place for that reason. Kind of handy.
Band of the Day: What is there to judge in sailing?
Tom: There's loads of rules, I have no idea. I always hated sailing, I just know it's really complicated, I couldn't even start to talk about it. He accepted from me at a young age that I wasn't going to get into it.
Band of the Day: What is the ultimate goal for Kowalski?
Tom: I guess it's just to get as many people to hear it as possible. It would be nice to make a living out of it for a few years at least to see what happens. We always enjoy playing shows so it would be nice to get on the road and hopefully we can get this album out and it would be well recieved and we can start dong that more.
Paddy: It would be nice to be able to play along other bands, get to play with bands you love and tour the world.
Tom: It would be nice to use this as a vehicle for traveling, get out there, and hopefully people are going to enjoy what we're doing. I think the record that we just finished is the best thing we've ever done so hopefully a lot of people are going to get excited by it and we can keep on doing it until we get old and can't be asked. I'd rather have fallen in love with it than it have fallen in love with me.