The acclaimed singer-songwriter and Pop Idol winner travels through orchestral pop, spiritual folk, and scuzzy punk on Clashes, her first English language album
Not many Pop Idol winners are likely to cite New York avant-garde icons Arto Lindsay and Glenn Branca as influences. But then again, Monika Brodka isn’t like many Pop Idol winners. After winning the Polish edition of the singing contest in 2004 (aged just 16 at the time), Brodka rose to become of the country’s biggest and most beloved pop stars, releasing two certified gold albums over the next two years. After a brief hiatus, she re-emerged in 2010 with her third album Granda, her most critically revered and commercially successful full-length to date. Granda was an expansive album that merged alt-rock and electronic composition with traditional Polish instrumentation inspired by her father, a travelling musician. It went double platinum in her home country and illustrated why Brodka was one of Poland’s most unique talents.
Six years on and the singer-songwriter is back with Clashes, her first English language album and a fine entry point into her world. Written across her international travels and recorded between Warsaw and New York, the album trips through spiritual rock music, orchestral pop, primal folk, scuzzy punk, and top notch balladry. Brodka cites Björk and PJ Harvey as reference points – not so much musically (although fans of those artists will find plenty to sink their teeth into here), but for the way they constantly challenged themselves musically, visually, and spiritually between albums.
You can stream Clashes exclusively via Dazed below, and get to know more about Brodka in our short interview.
Why’d you decide to record Clashes in English?
Brodka: For the first time, I had an opportunity to release my album outside of Poland, so it made much more sense. When I was working on this album I already knew that it will be out in different countries, and for me it was very important to communicate through my songs. Polish language is beautiful, but unfortunately we are the only ones in the world who speak it.
The lyrics on the album are quite abstract. Is it the same when you’re singing in Polish?
Brodka: I like to write abstract stories. I try to write in both languages. It helps me to write about common things like love without a cliché. For example the song ‘Haiti’ is about desire, but seen through the eyes of sexual cannibals. The song ‘Horses’ is very metaphorical. It’s about being an outsider rejected by the system and common standards. Horses are the symbol of power, freedom and something pure. That’s what my ‘car crash girl’ is creating in her imagination.
“The song ‘Haiti’ is about desire, but seen through the eyes of sexual cannibals” — Brodka
Do you ever worry about how western audiences will respond?
Brodka: First of all, I’m very happy and of course curious. I believe there are people who have the same kind of sensitivity like mine and they will find something interesting in this album.
What were people’s expectations of you after you won Pop Idol in 2004?
Brodka: When I won this contest I was super young. I think they were expecting another pretty face with a good voice – and that’s how I was perceived at the beginning. It took me few years to be where I am right now and to be treated like an important artist in the Polish scene. I think I managed to escape from the pop star image. I always had the freedom in my artistic choices, and that’s been of the most importance to me.
How did your visual identity evolve after Pop Idol?
Brodka: I started to treat the visual side of my albums as seriously as the music. I’m trying to create the image that corresponds well with the atmosphere of each project. I’ve worked with my stylist (Malgorzata) Vasina for a long time, and for all these years we've learned to create our own language. For Clashes, we've been inspired by the liturgical outfits of priests and bishops. So we took the colours and some cuts and we mixed that with Mireille Mathieu and futurism. A few months before I’d finished the album, we started to prepare mood boards and inspirations. We also asked students from the fashion school in Warsaw to design costumes for my new album. I also travel a lot, so I always bring clothes from all around the world. On the cover of Clashes I wear a Samurai outfit that I bought few years ago, already thinking about this album.
“I wanted to make the orchestra that would never meet in the same room. So I ended up with church organs and calimba, distorted guitars and an oboe, cellos and a saw” — Brodka
How else did those travels inspire the album?
Brodka: I’ve spend a lot of time in New York and Los Angeles, so I believe you can hear the vibe of those places in Clashes. New York is one of my favourite places in the world, but it can also really make you feel lonely. This feeling of loneliness accompanied me during the process of writing. There are also millions of homeless people, and that image strikes me a lot. It inspired me to write ‘Horses’. My Los Angeles time was more focused on work. I’ve spent many evenings on the terrace of my rented house working on the lyrics. It was perfect to write in L.A., especially during the winter, escaping the cold.
What does the word ‘clashes’ mean to you?
Brodka: For a very long time I was looking for a perfect title that would have a double meaning. So I found the definition of ‘clashes’ and I felt like it corresponds well with the music and the attitude I had while composing and arranging the songs. ‘Clashes’ means violent confrontation, or mismatch of colours. When I was choosing the instruments I wanted to make the orchestra that would never meet in the same room. So I ended up with church organs and calimba, distorted guitars and an oboe, cellos and a saw. I was very into weird combination of instruments, so the album that is full of contrasts and different colours. I felt like this title really made sense.