Literary Sofa with a Star: Paweł Rosak and Who Knows

Photo by Marcin Twardowski

Paweł Rosak, a musician, a vocalist, a composer and a producer. His latest album "Who Knows" is a marvellous, multifaceted history, which leaves a listener with a feeling of wanting more and a desire to continue an adventure started with the first sounds of the disc. With a great pleasure I would like to invite you to read what an artist says about his music passions, life and his new album.  

Monika A. Oleksa: Born in Warsaw, brought up in Warsaw and London, and currently living in Spain (Malaga). A citizen of the world. Do you think that places where we stay determine artist's work, opening him to certain cultural patterns, or if that diverse blend which can be heard on your latest album "Who Knows", is a result of your music fascinations and experiments, regardless of the places you are attached to? 

Paweł Rosak:  I'm absolutely convinced that places where we live, with their colour, vibe, esthetics, history, people, traditions and energy, exert considerable influence on who we are and, consequently, on our expression and creation. With a special emphasis on energy. Every place has its unique energy which provides fuel and inspiration and affects to a great extent our spirit, sensitivity and our grasp of reality. When I think of how places affect creation and specifically musical creations, I recall as the best examples New York and L.A. Two huge centres of musical creation with their own distinctive sound and idiosyncracies which can only be attributed to their different energies and vibe. The music of the West Coast  or sunny California has a substantially different vibe than that coming out of NY. It's often referred to and labelled as the West Coast sound in jazz, as well as pop thus transcending genres and categories. 
In fact, it's not that hard to see or hear similarities in the music made and produced in the warm and sunny countries of the south or the same latitude even on the different continents. 
My personal experience shows quite clearly the power of the places we soak up on. The evolution that has taken place over the years  in my sensibility, my thinking and my language of creatitivity can be attributed to a large extent to the places which for a shorter or longer time became my homes And thus my slavic romantic sensitivity was greatly enriched by the elements of the British and celtic traditions, as well as North American influences to be finally wrapped up by the warmth of the south with its vibe, tastes and aromas, which incidentally best reflect my natural creative makeup. The latest album WHO KNOWS is the best evidence for and expression of the above. The fusion of so many disparate traditions and elements culminates in a distinct and personal language and vision which tells a personal yet hopefully universal story. 

Monika A. Oleksa: In the contemporary world of too much of everything, where new albums are recorded in three months and books are written in two weeks, so many years of mastering one record seems to be astonishing and, seemingly beyond reason. However, perfection needs time, and the effect proves it. When did you first think about recording that solo album, and how was this idea incubating?

Paweł Rosak The album WHO KNOWS is my third solo, self written record. And it's the most personal of the three since this time I managed to fully realize my original vision in every aspect and detail as a producer, composer, writer, arranger and musician, which at times wasn't as simple as it might seem. I was able to polish and finetune even the tiniest details. Not only was I blessed to get on board all the supporting "guest actors", the best and most sought after artists/ musicians in the business, but also gave myself the time and space to fulfil this musical dream. I just followed my intuition and the inner voice of my sensitivity without listening to any voices from the outside like the fashion gurus and such lot and sticking to my life motto "Do your thing and tell your truth and your story whatever it might be". And so it was. The satisfaction of completing this project on such terms is simply enormous. I'm patting myself on the shoulder :)). The recording and production process took about a year and the tunes picked for the album were conceived over the years. For me the process of writing songs has no beginning and no end... it's an ongoing thing which takes place in the consciousnes , the subconscious and somewhere between the two. From this perspective composing and writing are a life long process. What actually comes out is a tip of the iceberg. 
Many, if not most of the so called products of our modern pop culture, the fast food culture, are totally devoid of any individuality and true creative spark which saddens and bothers me greatly but it seems to be just a reflection of the wider trend and process of pauperization of culture in general and all pervading mercantilism of our civilisation. Unfortunately music is no exception.  

Photo by Marcin Twardowski

Monika A. Oleksa: In literature, unfortunately, it is also common... :(. What kind of music shaped you and what influenced your choice to be where you are? How did a passion become a way of life?  

Paweł Rosak: Ever since I can remember music was my great love and passion which filled the pages of my daily life. And this hasn't changed to this day. It is possibly the only constant element of my life which has never failed or let me down. I really think the soul needs music just like the body needs bread and water, or here in Spain wine and sangria :)).  Music is high vibrations which fill us and whilst touching all the strings of our psyche resonate and produce the widest range of emotions from deep sadness to ecstatic joy and happiness. No other thing or phenomenon has such a power to transport us instantly to other places and times triggering off such an array of emotions.
It's a magic tool which at all times gives us access to spirituality and  mysticism which make up its core. It's also the best remedy for all the ills of the soul. 
I was very lucky to be exposed at home to all kinds of music since my early childhood. From classical to popular. When I first took up piano playing I was more drawn to the latter though I composed my first tunes as a teenager but it wasn't until I became a University student in London that I began to take my music making seriously. I played regular gigs on the London club and wine bar circuit and began to make a name for myself and my group of musician friends. The decision to dedicate my life to music was finally prompted by the totally unexpected offers of collaboration from the greats of the music world such as the legendary American soul singer Ben E King of the "Stand by me" fame , then producer Hugh Murphy and later Gerry Rafferty, the author and singer of the classics "Baker Street" and "Stuck in the middle with you". Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be approached and asked to work with such amazing artists. This kind of offers you simply don't refuse. And so unsurprisingly I went for it. 

Monika A. Oleksa: What does your everyday life look like?  

Paweł Rosak: It's pretty hard for me to describe my everyday life as it's rather devoid of the so called routine. One more or less constant element of my days is what I like to call "a stop". Every day at some point I consciously try to stop the incessant train of thoughts, switch off and concentrate on the positive, beautiful, inspiring things which so often get totally overlooked in our daily race and chase for the usually questionable goals. That's when my daily coffee break comes in handy. It becomes a kind of meditation where the actual drinking of the coffee is but an excuse. I deliberately go out and take it outside of home at some cafeteria or bar to totally switch off. It's often combined with a newspaper reading session which I like to think of as a free Spanish lesson. As it happens I'm pretty conservative in this respect as reading news on the internet is definitely not my cup of tea or should I say coffee? :)) 

Monika A. Oleksa: I discover more and more of myself in you! :). Let's talk about Paweł Rosak's music fascinations and about those who became your guides and maestros in the world of music. Who was first and how were the music tastes shaped? 

Paweł Rosak: This topic is like the Amazon river... impossible to tame and describe in a few words. And this river is still flowing and carrying new things, I guess this will never change. There were so many musical loves and fascinations and some of them passed the demanding test of time. Good music always somehow survives. It's like the good vintage wine which almost gets better with the passage of time. The best music is timeless and transcends geographical boundries. 
It's very hard to judge artistry and I try to avoid doing that but of course some artists were so much more influential and inspirational than others. I guess  it's got more to do with their sensitivity than any other objective criteria. Since my earliest childhood I was deeply moved by the music of Chopin and then suddenly I was literally knocked off my feet  by the sound of Ray Charles singing "Georgia" with the young Stevie Wonder, whose harmonica hit my soul like the Cupid's arrow. It was love at first sight or rather hearing.... and then there was Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Clapton, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Chicago.... and suddenly out of the blue there appeared jazz in my life and has been there ever since. I remember vividly how I melted when I first heard late Al Jarreau. This was a new dimension, my new cosmos with the totally new vibe. Al became my guru and maestro. He was soon joined by the likes of George Benson, Marvin Gaye, Michael Franks, Steely Dan, Stan Getz, Keith Jarrett, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny but also Sting, Joni Mitchell or Michael McDonald.  A long list but great music has many different names and that's also one of the secrets of its compelling charm and beauty. Today I know that the most important thing in music and any creation is having your own voice and telling your truth with that individual voice. Your own form and your own message. It's the hardest bit as there are thousands of copycats and clones around which incidentally is one of the major problems of our civilization as I see it. But that I guess is another topic...

Photo by Marcin Twardowski

Monika A. Oleksa: I'm tempted to talk to you about that, as I totally agree with you. But let's come back to music, what kind of it is your favourite? 

Paweł Rosak: My favourite music is the music that touches my heart and resonates in my soul. It's not of any specific genre or style... it's more to do with its authenticity, profoundness and honesty. It can be simple or complex and sophisticated but it has to come from the source, the heart, spirituality and not just the mind. I can't verbalize it better since it's more a feeling than an intellectual category. When I listen to good music I hear it with every cell of my body, every even most remote part of my soul... it resonates with me and makes me feel lighter, happier, richer, wiser and better. The best and maybe the only true test of music is how it defies the passage of time. True quality always survives. It gives me tremendous pleasure and satisfaccion to listen today to something that I fell in love with years ago and say to myself... yeah I was right back then.... it was and still is a great tune, a great performance, simply fantastic music. 
Great artists are like vintage wine... whether it be jazz, bossa nova, soul or pop. Categories and labels don't matter. 
In purely aesthetic terms my music is pretty close to bossa nova, smooth jazz ( although I don't like the term), soul and the West coast vibe. 

Monika A. Oleksa: How does an adventure with so multifaceted history like the one created on your latest record WHO KNOWS begin?

Paweł Rosak: Each solo album I record is an attempt to take stock of where I am and who I am at that point of my journey through life. And the new album is no exception to the rule. In today's world flooded with fakes, copies, stereotypes, recycled cliches, disposables and cheap instant gratification it is paramount to give even more value to and build on quality,  individualism, frankness, truth and honesty. Without them any work has little if any value. I hope WHO KNOWS at least to some extent succeeds in representing this approach and philosophy.

Monika A. Oleksa: Lulo Perez, Hugh Burns, Gary Meek, Oscar Castro Neves, and many others. How is it to work with such big names? 

Paweł Rosak: Behind these well known and recognizable names, at least to the music fans, there hide amazing, sensitive people and great artists with, as in my case, an insatiable appetite and passion for music. Obviously each has his or her unique personality and different style and way of working but in the studio the only thing that matters to them is to bring their sensitivity, virtuosity and musicianship to the project so as to enhance and enrich it with their contribution. I'm incredibly privileged  and grateful for all that they brought to my music and for leaving their unmistakable "traces" in my tunes forever. I'm convinced their enthusiasm and beautiful energy emanate from this recording. It was a true labor of love. Genuine friends never let you down.

Monika A. Oleksa: Pretty fancy words. Listening to you, I got a chill! I felt that energy. You know, I have always been fascinated with the process of creating a song. As a writer, I try to catch a suitable word, you catch a sound. How does a tune appear in your mind and how complex is a process of writing and composing a song? 

Paweł Rosak: There are no rules here. On a few occasions I literally dreamt a tune and on waking up I had it in my head ... but of course normally tunes are born at the keyboard when I simply fool around, improvise and try out whatever comes to my mind while humming or whistling on top. Sometimes tunes come in parts and need to be developed but sometimes come complete, with verses choruses and even bridges. Lyrics are an entirely different matter as writing them is usually a slow, time -consuming process, especially when they are written to an existing tune /melody. In such cases the fixed form ( i.e. number of syllables in a line etc. ) imposes strict discipline and restrictions. Sometimes the words come first but in the majority of cases the music precedes the lyrics. 
In other words each song has its own unique story from its conception to completion and as yet I have no magic formula for creating these babies painlessly :)).  But maybe that's exactly what's so fascinating and mysteriously alluring about creating something out of nothing as in the case of songwriting. 

Monika A. Oleksa:  Paweł Rosak is a citizen of the world. You are fluent at both Polish and English. What other languages can you speak? 

Paweł Rosak: I do think we are all citizens of the world but many of us for different reasons do not want or are unable to accept it. I personally like the term and embrace it wholeheartedly. To me the word European has a nice ring to it and only good connotations. 
As for the languages, beside English and Polish I speak  French and Spanish. I also communicate in Russian and German but it's a bit of an uphill struggle :)). 

Monika A. Oleksa: Why have you decided to live in Malaga? How is this place different from others that you chose it to settle there?  

Paweł Rosak: Ever since I can remember I always dreamt of the blue expanse of the sea with the mountains in the background and the sun high above. Some sort of an atavistic desire. Malaga has it all plus a warm climate, rich history, and heritage, all year lush gardens with blooming flowers, unspoilt nature, palm trees, tropical fruits, wine, sangria, tapas and.... flamenco. And the open, unprejudiced and warm people with the "joie de vivre" in their genes and their appreciation of the "here and now". What more could you ask for? Since the sixties many artists from the northern countries: painters, sculptors, writers and musicians have chosen to settle down here. After many years of searching for the life giving and energizing sun hidden from sight by the banks of heavy greyish clouds of the north  it was time to move where you can enjoy it daily Viva Andalucia!!! 

Monika A. Oleksa: You made me dreamy... An ideal woman in an artist's life is the one who understands the changing moods and the need of creative solitude, doesn't ask unnecessary questions and doesn't force to make absurd choices? 

Paweł Rosak: Ha ha... this surely helps. But like with everything else, it's a very individual and personal matter. Brings to mind the well documented examples of the women, partners of Picasso, Dali, Chopin, Stravinsky or Rivera... to name but a few. They were all very different just like their respective partners. Simply impossible to draw any common denominators. 
In my case I can only add without going into details that I like the woman to be an inspirational muse whatever that implies, and to have a passion for music as sharing things we love is about the most beautiful thing in life. 

Photo by Marcin Twardowski

Monika A. Oleksa:  Which values do you appreciate most in life? 

Paweł Rosak: We are living in the turbulent times of relativization and questioning of many, if not all norms and values, as well as the collapse or depreciacion of all moral and ethical authorities. These are dangerous and destructive trends. Personally I'm trying to cultivate and cling on to a certain basic code of norm and values, which to my mind make up the basis of all humanity regardless of the religious and ideological views. The most important of them, not necesserily in that order are: openness, empathy, tolerance, honesty, loyalty, solidarity and humility. Without them it's impossible to build any healthy, strong and valuable relations with other people. 

Monika A. Oleksa: Looking at your life in hindsight, If I had my life to live over..., would you change anything? Would you try something new, which you hadn't time for? 

Paweł Rosak: I think the key to having a happy, healthy and fulfilling life is to accept that we all have our limitations and we all make mistakes and sometimes lose our way. The only thing we can and should do is learn our lesson and try not to repeat the same mistakes, see, appreciate and concentrate on the good, positive, beautiful and develop our awareness, concsiousness  and spirituality.  
Speculating about what might have happened if we had done something differently doesn't make sense, as there is no way of knowing how things would have turned out then. That's why living "here and now" acquires even more importance and value. If we live every moment fully and with total awareness, there will be no room left for any such speculations. 
My journey through life was and still is an amazing experience. When I look back on it I see a film that is captivating, moving, intense, full of twists and surprises, joyful and exhilarating although at times painful... but definitely never boring! And it has a beautiful soundtrack all the way :)). 
And if I had to make a list of regrets, I would have to include not taking up the invitation of my late dear friend Oscar Castro Neves to visit his hometown Rio where I would have met all the legendary Brazilian artists, his close amigos.  I also would have liked to learn to play the saxophone which is my favourite "voice" after the human one. 

Monika A. Oleksa: Your latest, excellent album WHO KNOWS, perfected in every detail and really addictive, was to have the title "Mysteries of the heart". Why have you decided to call it "Who Knows"?  

Paweł Rosak: I'm truly very grateful for all the warm words about the album. Yes, in fact I was for quite a while  thinking of calling the record "Mysteries of the heart", which is the title of the song about my late friend Gerry Rafferty. A man of huge talent and enormously complex and rich personality. "Mysteries of the heart" seemed to be an appropriate metaphor for what the poets, writers, philosophers and artists have been attempting  to capture, explain, describe, break down over the centuries. And suddenly a thought struck me. On the album I was asking more questions than giving answers and so "Who Knows" became its title. It's also a little play on words when combined with: Who knows Pawel Rosak :).  A healthy dose of self irony and distance to oneself never goes amiss :)). 

Monika A. Oleksa: Are there any sounds, words or an idea for the next album, which could satisfy a hunger for Paweł Rosak's songs? 

Paweł Rosak: The new sounds and words are conceived more or less every day..... it's a river that keeps flowing, rising and falling but bringing something  new daily. Whether they'll see the light of day and be published and /or released one day.... Who knows? 

Photo by: Marcin Twardowski

Paweł, I would like to thank you for this fascinating interview, which satisfied my curiosity born while listening to WHO KNOWS. However, it did not satisfy my hunger for your songs :). It was a great pleasure for me to host you on my Sofa, and I must say that I'm not surprised by your sensitivity and those tunes in your soul that sound similar to mine :). Listening to your new album I just knew it couldn't have been created by someone indifferent to the beauty of the world. You spot the details comprising true life. I am patient, so I'll be waiting for your new record knowing that when I finally get it, I'll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed WHO KNOWS...   
Monika A. Oleksa 

Photo by Marcin Twardowski


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