The Stoned Gypsy Wanderer – An Interview with A.J. Kaufmann

Adam Majdecki-Janicki, better known as A.J. Kaufmann is an underground Polish psychedelic musician and poet that can’t be pigeonholed. His music dips into folk, noise, hard punk and electronic zones, all with a hefty amount of German kosmische influence. With more than 100 recordings under his belt, including the great Stoned Gypsy Wanderer, of which I reviewed its vinyl release on Ramble Records, he’s a creative force that can’t be slowed down.

So who exactly is this Mr. Kaufmann? To find out, I recently spoke with the prolific artist about his colorful background, the Polish underground scenes and even his adventures backstage with Amon Düül II.

Record Crates United: What first attracted you to create your music?

A.J. Kaufmann: I guess ever since I can remember I’ve been obsessed with sound. My parents had a record player of course, and many LPs and were spinning them for me when I was a little kid. Weird fables and fairytales in Polish, jazz both Polish and foreign, classical music, Marek Grechuta, Steppenwolf, which was the first album my father bought especially for me, stuff like this. I started learning guitar age 9, which was a little late according to my teacher, and that’s probably why I’m still no good at it. I also had a cassette recorder and started first recording sounds when I was about 13, which was also the time when I bought my first Black Sabbath cassette. In Black Sabbath’s music I found the “forbidden” element that was missing from most of the music my parents played me, and I immediately started wanting to sound like them and write songs like them. When I was 15, I visited Berlin with my mother, and stayed at Johann Gottlob von Wrochem’s house. Mr. Wrochem was a German pianist and composer and he had a huge library. And so, inspired by all of his books, I started writing my first song lyrics. The first song I ever wrote, back in August 2000, was “Child of God” inspired by Soundgarden and Black Sabbath.

RCU: Your sound is very diverse, so I’m curious about all of the different things, musically and otherwise, that inspire that sound?

Kaufmann: Yes, it is actually so diverse that I guess many people might just consider me a waste of time having the impression that I’m either faking it, or being lost. None of it is the case. I simply dislike boredom, and love too many bands and artists to mention. I like to spend my days recording music of different “genres”, and in fact hate the word “genre”. What is this word supposed to mean anyway? I think one of the jazz greats said that there’s good and bad music. There’s also the experimental. And most experiments are failures, but hey, I hope that at least 10% of my recorded output can be considered good music regardless of genre or other narrow-mindedness like that. Also, there are two major musical inspirations for me currently – one being Yuri Morozov, and the other Angus MacLise. I admire Yuri for his genre-less maneuvers through the world of sound – from dark ambient, through Russian folk songs, to Beatles covers, to noise rock, Kosmische electronica, and psychedelic – it’s all in his work! He is beyond incredible. And Angus MacLise is incredible because of his “primitivism,” which supposedly made many people think he was self-taught while in fact he had quite a musical education. His drumming is insane, and his poetry very mystical. Being also a poet, I admire all the poets in the field of music. Poetry inspires me, love inspires me, life inspires me.

RCU: How did you come about to record your debut album, and what was that process like?

Kaufmann: I never thought that I’d ever be asked about my debut album again. But maybe it’s time to revisit it? As far as I remember, I got back from Berlin in May 2009, and started demoing some old songs at home with just voice and acoustic guitar. Poznań is a small town, so somehow the tracks got to the attention of Andrzej Mikołajczak, who might be mostly known outside of Poland as Andre Mikola for his Coloursound Library music work and electronica. I think he also has a vinyl out recently with Very Polish Cutouts. Anyway, Andrzej had a small home studio in Poznań at the time, called A.Mix. He listened to my recordings and said “you can play some mean guitar, but go get some singing lessons”. So, I did just that. I had this idea for a vaudeville album. A bit crazy really, for a Polish Black Sabbath fan, isn’t it? Anyway, after my singing lessons we started recording the album in April 2010. The process was nice and easy, Andrzej was very helpful with everything, and he added synthesizers to my acoustic guitar, vocals, and occasional bass guitar. He also hired a female session singer for 3 songs. The album was eventually titled Second Hand Man and released on vinyl and CD with a small local label Mimics Cool in October 2011. Justin Jackley from Austin, Texas did the beautiful gatefold cover for the LP, and it was the real start of our life-long collaboration in the field of art and music. “Just for Love” and “Me and My Little Mademoiselle” were considered to be the “hit singles”, but they never made it past local radio and the album never was a success, even despite really good local reviews and big expectations. I even played a show with the legendary Wojciech Korda (Niebiesko-Czarni / Blue-Blacks) back in 2011 or 2012! My favorite song from the LP as of 2022 is “The Night Has Come”, and I still sometimes play it live.


RCU: You sent me some unreleased lost tracks that I wanted to talk about. Let’s start with “Assault and Battery,” which has an almost Gong-meets-techno kind of quality, “Drug Group with a Music Problem,” which is more of a sludgy acid rock instrumental. What’s the story behind these recordings? When did you record these and who did you record them with?

Kaufmann: “Assault and Battery” is of course a Hawkwind cover – Gong-meets-techno summarizes it perfectly I think! That was the intention! I love Gong and Daevid and Gilli Smyth! I currently only have the Live Etc. vinyl, but it’s been at my place since at least 20 years!

“Assault” was recorded with the Poznań/London Säure Adler line-up – almost the same or exactly the same as the line-up on the Ramble Records Säure Adler vinyl. I don’t remember too well, because 2019 was a pretty “hazy” year for me. I am a fan of Hawkwind ever since I heard Doremi Fasol Latido in the summer of 2002. When I played that LP to my high school friends they thought I went nuts!

The story behind “Assault” is that in 2019, I have organized countless sessions, much alike Cosmic Jokers, in my Via Kosmische home studio. I was like a local R-U Kaiser, but please let your readers know I don’t say it with a straight face. We recorded jams, originals, singer/songwriter, covers, everything that came to mind really. I have about 900 recordings from 2019 on a hard drive somewhere!

“Drug Group with a Music Problem” is sludgy acid rock, you are right once again! I recorded it with Hugo Kowicki this year. We wanted to pay tribute to Kommune 1 and Amon Düül. I think this track has been released on the Psychedelic Mayhem bandcamp as a single or mini-EP or something. I even got to meet Amon Düül II backstage in London, which was an amazing experience, but of course the initial commune that “Drug Group” refers to is a different thing really…

RCU: The other tracks, “Garbo,” “Flowerhands” and “Domino No Logic,” the latter of which is credited to another project of yours, Tall Yodas, are all vastly different from each other. Do you feel that they represent different sides of your personality?

Kaufmann: They might, but then again, what is personality? I like the Tuli Kupferberg approach: “Oh, personality… I must have left it at home…”.

“Garbo” is from my unfinished album Icons, which was supposed to be 13 or 14 tracks about the icons of pop culture. For this one I utilized a simple arranger and synthesizer patterns and drum machines. It sounds weirdo-pop I think, or similar. Maybe Ed Wood. “Flowerhands” was recorded back in 2012. It sounds bad because back in 2012, I wasn’t even starting to learn how to record music properly. Not that now I know how – I’m still learning. But I like this track because of the lyrics, and I also re-recorded it with Säure Adler back in 2015 for sentimental reasons. However, I am still not 100% happy with the 2015 version, and will surely attempt to re-record the track soon.

“Domino No Logic” is by Tall Yodas, right. The weird arrangement and guitar riff is Patryk Lichota’s idea. Patryk is a good friend from way back when we released a cassette together, also a CD and played the Kakofonikt ate Säure Adler gigs, and he plays guitars, sax, theremin, synth, and FX in Tall Yodas.

“Domino” was really his idea, I only wrote the lyrics. To be honest, I tried re-writing CAN’s “Spoon”. If you listen closely, I am sure you can hear it. This, or a bit of the Residents.


RCU: What kept these lost tracks from being released so far? Will any of these songs be released in the near future?

Kaufmann: “Domino” has already been released on a Tall Yodas EP. “Drug Group” is on the Psychedelic Mayhem Bandcamp page. “Garbo”, “Flowerhands” and “Assault” remain unreleased, mostly because the projects associated with them are not ready yet. I probably won’t release “Assault” at all, since I rarely release covers on my albums. “Garbo” should find its way on the Icons album, if I ever finish it, because I am happy with how the track sounds. “Flowerhands” still needs a proper recording – this version is only a very raw home demo, and the Säure Adler rendition is too prog-rock for my taste. It’s a simple hippie sing-along folk song, really, and should be presented as such.

RCU: How did the Tall Yodas project come about?

Kaufmann: In October or November 2021 Patryk Lichota called me and invited me for a jam session with his new drummer, Hugo Kowicki. I was expecting to play guitar, but pretty soon learned that I would get to sing and play bass. I suddenly felt like Venom’s Cronos, but it turned out we won’t be playing heavy metal at all. What Patryk had in mind was surf rock. What I had in mind was stoner and krautrock, and what Hugo had in mind only Hugo knows. But we started jamming on some riffs, and pretty soon had enough ideas for a debut album. One phone call started it all. I am glad I can be a creative part of the Tall Yodas universe! I really like the guys both as friends and as musicians so it’s a great situation to be in. Plus, I last played bass guitar ages ago, and Patryk started playing guitar half a year ago. So, we’re as fresh as it gets. It has its downside, as we don’t play our strongest instruments, but it also has its charms, as we will never get tired and never become grumpy old men. Music should be a refreshing situation, and as long as it is, it’s all good. Patryk gets to play sax and theremin too anyway. He’s my best friend locally! Oh, and Tall Yodas is also Hugo’s first band as a drummer. Absolute beginners!

RCU: So what can you tell us about your experiences in the cassette underground in Poland? Around what years were you most active within it?

Kaufmann: The cassette underground has always been here, and generally behind the Iron Curtain, but I guess it still remains a mystery to the “Western World”, even if Poland is now part of the Western World. Very few recordings from Poland pop out online. It all started with the “unofficial” music, like punk, anarcho synth, noise, ambient, protest songs, stuff like that, like anywhere else in the world, but here it was forbidden and no official label associated with the communist system would release such music on vinyl. Lyrics were censored, mind-altering music forbidden, only jazz was “official”. So, people started home-taping and releasing tapes privately with xeroxed covers. I wasn’t really familiar with it all, being born too late to be part of the initial scene. It wasn’t until 2002, when me and my friend Mateusz Nowicki became part of the local cassette underground, releasing some raw rock’n’roll psych music on limited tape. We recorded under too many names to mention. First, Brain Salad Underground, then Strange World, then Kobieta Barda… I think we cut 9 tapes or so, over two summers, can’t really remember. Really weird stuff. We recorded in a high-rise block, direct to tape, utilizing electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, Casio organ, and Mateusz’s father tape recorder and “space” FX. The adventure ended in 2004 when I bought my first computer and started recording to digital as Die Rote Erde, seeking more adventures in the world of noise, while Mateusz remained indebted to rock and pop music. One example of our original home made noise from 2002 is this recording. I can’t help but laugh when I hear it now.

RCU: What’s the experimental underground music scene like in Poland these days? Do you feel that there’s a strong community there of likeminded outsider and abstract musicians?

Kaufmann: It’s dead. I don’t get a strong community feeling at all. Bands are jealous, labels are crap, artists are envious of each other’s successes. It’s full of amateurs. But maybe it’s just my feeling. I wouldn’t want to bias anyone against the Polish underground music scene. I am an outsider after all, who rarely leaves his home studio, so what do I know about the scene and the hype it seems to currently get in certain publications? But if you ask me, the scene is dead and has been dead since at least 2002/2004. No good local gigs, few great projects, and even their names escape me now. Nothing to think about, really… sorry to disappoint you here. The last really great bands I can think of are Ewa Braun and Ścianka, both from late 90s/early 2000s I think. But now there’s nothing that interests me here. I listen to foreign music, and release on foreign labels, where the outsider and abstract community really grows instead of going round in circles like it happens here locally.

RCU: You had mentioned to me once before that you found yourself backstage at an Amon Düül II gig. How did that happen and what was that like? Did you get to meet anyone from the band?

Kaufmann: Yes. Säure Adler recorded a cover version of the Amon Düül II hit-song “Archangels Thunderbird”. Renate Knaup had heard it and said “when you’re in London for our gig, meet us backstage.”. So, it happened. It was amazing, they are true artists, none of that rock-star bullshit, none of that ego drive, just pure amazing love and art. I met everyone, the whole 2015 line-up, including Chris Karrer, John Weinzierl, Renate, Danny, Sigi, Uli, even Dieter Serfas was there – he drummed on the Phallus Dei album! I was with the band for about an hour, or what seemed like an hour – for a lifelong fan like me it could be an eternity just hearing Chris and Renate talk, talking to them, asking them some questions. They even laughed at my fear of flying! It was amazing, definitely a life-changing beautiful experience. After I got home I completely re-arranged my home studio setup and approach to sound. I also started telling everyone I’m now playing Kosmische Musik, of course, even if I was playing it since the very beginning having first heard ADII in 2001.

RCU: Lastly, what’s next for you that you can tell us about? Any new albums or performances?

Kaufmann: Psychedelic Mayhem is about to play Brussels on October 21 2022. We were invited there by Sven from Dance Mekanik Belgium. We are currently discussing the details of our show there and are very excited! Speaking of new albums, in 2022 there’s lots of things coming to my Bandcamp, released digitally by The Swamp Records USA. Also Chica Narcotica vinyl for the Texas-based Herby Records label run by Justin Jackley, and Transmitter on CD with Mike Sill’s Ramble Records. Both Chica and Transmitter are from those crazy 2019 sessions, and both will feature exclusive artwork by Justin Jackley.

For 2023, I’ve got a brand new album planned, and to be honest almost finished – it’s called Bard’s Woman in the Cool of the Summer Breeze, and should be released on CD with The Swamp Records USA early 2023. It’s a collaborative effort where I work with amazing, talented people from Indonesia, USA, the UK, and Germany. The first single is already out there to listen to and it’s called “King of Kreuzberg”.

Big thanks to Kaufmann for taking the time to answer our questions and for sending us a wealth of rare and unreleased recordings for this interview. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @MajdeckiJanicki and on Instagram @adammajdeckijanicki.

-KH


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Published by Record Crates United

Keith Hadad, the creator and manager of RCU, has been a contributing writer to Elmore Magazine and Thewaster.com and maintains a regular column, “Keith Hadad’s Choice,” in Blicker magazine. His writing has also appeared in the Smithsonian Folkways' Guest Blog and the Optical Sounds Fanzine. Also, please check out the blog's super-active Instagram account, @recordcratesunited for daily blurb-styled music reviews.

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