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Text JF. Pierets & The Taste Of Orange
When assembling this Antwerp edition and thinking about diversity in music, our minds kept on wandering towards Mauro Pawlowski. Not only is he intelligent, interesting, sexy – hence the cover – and eloquent, he’s also one of the musicians who never cease to amaze. Both by choices in life, on the path of his music, as in the manner he always succeeds in pulling off the most astonishing side projects. Mauro himself though has resolutely remained a genuine musician, pushing himself to new limits when wide scale success seemed the easiest and inevitable option. Mauro Pawlowski became known after winning the Humo Rock Rally with his band Evil Superstars in 1994. From that moment on he became one of the key figures in the Belgian contemporary music scene. Evil Superstars was, along with dEUS, part of the first wave of the Belgian music boom in the 90’s. He played and plays in numerous bands, including Kiss my Jazz with Rudy Trouvé, Monguito and Shadowgraphic City. Being currently the guitar player of dEUS didn’t make him less productive. The Love Substitutes, Othin Spake, Club Moral, Archetypes of the Multisabanas and I Hate Camera are but some names where he’s part of. We talk to him in a little bar in Berchem, Antwerp, just after the cover shoot and he doesn’t seem to care a single bit about the lipstick that is still on his face. The Taste Of Orange was kind enough to allow us to use parts of their interview with Mauro to compliment this interview, for your enjoymen
You have quite a palmares there. Is it a necessity to keep on creating?
It is, but nevertheless I always first figure out a good reason to create. I’m perfectly happy with all the music already available so it has to replenish. But yes, I keep on producing. Not only because I’m a professional musician but also because I just love playing music.
In how many bands are you playing right now?
I think I’m playing in about 10 bands at the moment. We’ll, 4 if I just count my own bands. Than some solo projects and I’m playing in about 6 bands with other musicians. That might seem much but I always had the attitude of a jazz musician, someone who does not play exclusively in one formation. That takes some itinerary puzzling when I’m playing with dEUS or when I’m working for the contemporary dance company Ultima Vez because then we’re talking about international tours. Nevertheless, it always works out fine.
You moved from Limburg to Antwerp. Why?
I came to Antwerp because I started playing together with musicians from over here. People like Rudy Trouvé and his band Kiss my Jazz. And we played quite a lot with Evil Superstars. That’s why I ended up here. Soon I became involved with composing for the Antwerp puppettheatre Froufrou. I quickly met a lot of people and got accepted without necessarily looking for a certain scene. On the contrary, I never did any solicitations or called people to hire me.
You make it sound very easy.
Maybe it is. If you are genuine and openhearted toward the things and people that enter your world. People easily recognize a pose or fakeness.
You’re the kind of person who likes variety.
I find myself very comfortable with that kind of diversity. I never intentionally searched for this way of living but just opened myself for different situations and encounters. Also, I never specialized in one idiom and handle a rather holistic approach when it comes to music.
What’s your musical background?
I come from a non-experimental music scene. My family is a very musical family and when I was 8 years old I saw my uncle’s band rehearse in my grandpa’s garage. A bunch of greeks, poles and italians, jamming some slow, heavy 70’s riffs. In the actual 70’s. It was so cool that I instantly knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. We played fusion, jazz-rock and hit parade music. Covers. Quite technical stuff so you really needed to master your technique. There was no room for interpretation because the audience wanted to hear the song exactly as on their record. We played from 8 pm till 1 am with three short breaks, just to go to the toilet. Hundreds of drunk farmer’s sons, fighting on the floor and we had to keep on playing. It was great.
You sound a little nostalgic.
I’m very happy with that kind of experiences because there I learned the métier. When I read the biographies of 60’s and 70’s musicians – from Led Zeppelin to Prince – apparently they all started off with playing covers. Nowadays there are numerous Dj’s, so a cover band is almost an expired manner of making music, in spite of the fact you had to be a top musician to flawlessly play those songs. That’s why I shall never renounce that episode. Sometimes I hear musicians talk about authenticity and holding on to your principles but in the end that’s just a pose.
So you obviously didn’t start out as a punk musician.
Not at all. I did listen to New Wave, Industrial and Noise but in weekends I took off my Bauhaus t-shirt, washed the soap out of my hair and played Earth, Wind and Fire with Dutch schlager celebrities on fun fairs. In spite of what people think about the life of alternative musicians, these early gigs where an eye opener on what was happening in the real world. I can say that I’ve seen the most rough and hefty stuff when I was still an innocent teenager.
I really can’t without embarrassing a lot of people but let’s say I knew the definition of a golden shower at an early age. Innocent but depraved for the rest of my life.
So you start off playing Meatloaf at a funfair and the next thing you know is that you have one of the coolest bands in Belgium.
That was weird. People where very enthusiastic when Evil Superstars won the Humo Rock Rally. We never tried to convince anyone about being cool though.
Maybe that’s why.
If there’s something I’ve learned from early showbiz is that you have to show people a good time. They are paying to see you perform so you have to have something to offer. I never felt quite comfortable in the ‘90’s because it was all about being cool and acting normal. But in the best-case scenario you give your audience something to remember. Let’s call it the law of showbiz, with the splits and the pirouettes, I love it! That’s why I have so much respect for Heavy Metal with its shameless exposure. They’re singing about death, damnation, about how they’re going to kill your baby and burn your house down. Still, at the end of the concert, you had a great time. There’s always a positive atmosphere at Metal festivals. That’s showbiz.
At one hand you make music for a dance company, which is very clean-cut, and on the other hand you have your solo projects where you go totally wild. Do you need both to be in balance?
I think I do. There are some things – like when playing with Wim Vandekeybus (of dance company Ultima Vez) – you have to talk through, but don’t confuse improvising with just doing something. You can even call it a genre, a métier at itself. It’s not easy and I also had to learn how to pull it off. I play a lot with free jazz musicians who are very strict and bad improvising is just as bad as playing a false note at a classical concert. I once had an epiphany during one of those concerts, it was one of the first times I played with large names such as Marc Ribot, and I felt, well, I can only call it enlightened. I knew in my gut that this was something really special, almost religious, or maybe we should just call it emotional. That’s something you can’t demand of every musician, it’s like letting go while still having everything under control.
‘When you think about something too outrageous, then I probably have done it already.’
How is it to be a musician in Antwerp? Is there enough diversity?
Antwerp is a perfect city to live in when you’re an artist. There are numerous things happening and there’s no shortage regarding artists and musicians. Personally I find it nice working with people who live in the area and here in Antwerp you’re almost tripping over talented musicians. Also cultural life is very divers, from art exhibitions to concerts and from small performances to huge events. You can find it all, both quality and quantity. I travelled the globe with various bands so I know it’s true when I say that Antwerp can stand next to all those metropoles.
Do you need these things in order to have your creativity going?
I do, but next to that I don’t need very much. Give me a laptop and a guitar and I’m good to go. We live in times where all the stuff you need to expand a career, fits in one suitcase. When you don’t forget to live, you can get inspiration out of everything. For me it’s a combination of a thorough and conscious life – and I don’t refer to a romanticized salvage, on the contrary – and being a nerd.
I love to listen to records and read a lot. I love books and I’ve always found that people who don’t indulge themselves in classic literature don’t know what they’re missing.
So you always have to find a balance between those two.
Yes, otherwise it gets awkward. It’s important in order to keep alert. In the end you have to realize it’s still your job. Regardless how much – and happily so – you like it, its work that needs to be done.
Talking about balance; on one hand you’re the über cool guitar player of dEUS and in the next Google click of a button you’re in your undies in a video (ref: ‘Jump Needle’ by Mangus).
I guess that’s also a part of my personality. In this specific video clip, Tom Barman had an idea but he thought they could never find someone to do it. Well, that’s where I came in. I never had any problems doing stuff like that. When you think about something too outrageous, then I probably have done it already. People are always quite cautious but I hardly ever feel that way. Failure is sometimes very interesting opposed to perfectionism, which I believe is a waste of time. It’s not that I’m consciously looking for things to do wrong, but let’s call it a different approach on the subject matter. Every moment has it’s own meaning and value. When you have confidence in the positive outcome of these junctures, they will turn out fine, as they’re supposed to be.
It’s also about putting yourself in perspective?
Yes, and humor. But that’s a personality thing because it seems that when I intend to be serious, people laugh their ass off. It’s a curse, or a blessing; it all depends on how you look at it. Being earnest is a lost value.
Yet there must be a huge difference between playing live for big audiences, like you do with dEUS, and playing for smaller crowds for other projects?
There is a difference. I’m not going to walk on stage wearing a cape in front of let’s say 20.000 people awaiting dEUS and kick all equipment off stage halfway through the set. I might get some unnecessary curious looks. But I like those anomalies.
All your projects, as divers as they are, have the same high-level of quality. How are you able to keep it up?
Well, thank you. Some might disagree though. I get lots of people shaking their heads about me, tragically wasting all my supposed talent, but that’s fine. The thing is; I take my job very serious. I’m irritatingly punctual, – so they say. I have my administration in order and I like to fulfill the promises I make. Most of the musicians I work with have quite a strong personality, even unpredictable, yet they all have strong work ethics. They do what they have to do. I believe in hard work and organization.
So what we see on stage is an organized chaos.
It is. It’s a thin line I crossed numerous times, yet it’s a learning curve. Sometimes I start something with no idea of where I’m heading. Nevertheless there’s some kind of lucidity in what I’m doing. Knowing that even when it all seems to go wrong, you can always put it back on track. Retrospectively making it look like it’s all according to plan.
All your solo projects seem uncompromising. Is that true?
More or less. I’m pretty stern when it comes to collaborations. Let’s say I always choose from a pool of approximately 10 musicians I know are very professional. Together with them I create new formations. Those projects are not entirely uncompromising, but let’s say that if you take a leading role, you have to go for it. There’s no room for fooling around there.
You’re obviously a front man, how does this feel standing behind Tom Barman in dEUS?
I never intended to be a front man and always wanted to be a guitar hero. But when I couldn’t find any suitable singer in my home village, I was forced to take that task. Later on I met Tim Vanhamel (ref: Millionaire) in a neighboring hamlet but it was already too late by then. We had found our own way by that time. It might sound crazy but my career is actually based on the fact that I had to do things myself because I couldn’t find anyone else to do it. That’s why it’s great to play with dEUS because there I’m the guitar player I’ve always wanted to be. So it feels like coming home.
Do you still have ambitions?
I always hated going into the studio. It was a tedious place and I couldn’t wait to go back on stage to perform. Recordings were going to slow and I always wanted it on tape as fast as possible so I could get the hell out of there. Let’s say this mentality was tangible on the recordings but then again I thought people should come to my concerts to be convinced.But things change and lately I’ve gone through a significant attitude change. I found out I want to produce well-made records with a great sound and with lots of effort. That’s my new goal.
Why this change of mind?
I started to get intensely interested in songwriting. Not the usual ‘Flemish boy sings some English words’, but telling an interesting story. Combined with jazz and classical influences, and I got curious on how this would sound in recording. When I didn’t find the perfect sound engineer to work with, I decided to do it myself and see how far I would get.
Sounds like the story of your life.
Let’s say I never suffered a lack of self-confidence but I had to grow some patience. Lately I started working on some characteristics, which could use some improvement. For instance when I want to replace a microphone stand, I have to pick it up instead of kicking it aside. Little things in my temperament that improve my calmness and therefore improve skills that require tranquility, like recording a good record. Do take note of the fact that I’m talking about work attitude here, don’t think I’m some kind of uncontrolled mad man in my personal life.
Will do! What are the future plans?
More of the same, let’s keep things coming. I’m 43 now and I can handle nonsense more than I ever did. So bring it on!
Mauro Pawlowski in 5 songs
1. ‘Nudity’ – Pawlowski Trouvé & Ward by Various Artists
2. ‘Monkey Hands/Perplexing Trousers’ – Otot (Truth & Style) by Mauro Pawlowski
3. ‘Theme from Swamps of Simulation’ – Swamps of Simulation – Somnabula (Swamps of Simulation) by Mauro Pawlowski
4. ‘If You Cry (I’ll Go to Hell)’ – Boogie Children-R-Us by Evil Superstars
5. ‘Dirt Call’ (vinyl only) Possessed Factory / Dirt Call – YouTube
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