Meet the Polish Starlet Poised to Take On the World's Biggest Critics
When you first hear Monika Brodka’s new EP LAX, you’ll feel like you’re hearing the latest contender in Williamsburg indie-pop signee land, and that she’s kicking major Brooklyn ass. But those edgy arrangements, wacky electro filtration, and that that soaring vibrato a la Karen O or Emily Haines actually hail from Poland, and Monika has been a gold record artist in her home country for years.
So you would be wrong. But you’d also likely be more tantalized than ever.
Now based in Warsaw, the interminably pretty, very poised 24-year-old starlet started as a winning teenage contestant on Poland’s Pop Idol. In 2010, her suddenly very lush indie album Granda, which featured her father on traditional Polish instruments, earned her that gold record, and her new, English EP LAX (so called because it was recorded in Los Angeles) earned her a CMJ Marathon slot in New York City.
We chatted with her about language barriers, listening to Erykah Badu in her mountain village and why Poland stopped comparing her to Lana del Rey.
You sing in English and Polish, is there are a reason you’ve gone back and forth?
Yes! There is a reason. I wanted to go more abroad with my concerts, so I started to sing in English. But it’s not common that people from Poland sing in English, because it’s a big barrier for the audience in Poland. There are English speakers but Polish artists are really focused on their lyrics. It’s not just ‘I love you baby’ or ‘I wanna be with you’ or something silly. We’re trying to turn our lyrics into something deeper. It’s easier for them to focus more on the music when they understand the lyrics. No Polish artists have a hit song singing in English in Poland.
Your new album LAX has English songs, though.
And I didn’t know that it was going to be a hit in Poland as well! So we’re kind of breaking the language barriers in Poland. I’m really happy that it worked.
Watch Monika Brodka’s new video for “Dancing Shoes,” Kamp! remix. Click here for the original track.
What are some examples of where you go deeper with the lyrics, like you said?
For example there’s a song called “Saute,” and it’s about mixing the culinary with all the erotic sides of cooking. So it’s comparing all of the sexual situations to cooking a dish or eating something tasty or eating something sweet or sticky. It’s a sensual song for me.
What is it about the Polish music scene that made music like yours — this more quirky indie-pop sound — so popular?
I think the problem with Poland is that everything is really black and white. You have the really great alternative bands that are playing only in small clubs, they have a big audience as well but they’ll never get to radio or TV, or you have really shitty music that is everywhere, but there’s nothing in between.I’m a songwriter who loves to have a strong melody in songs, which is quite a pop way of thinking, and mixing it with a lot of weird influences and instruments, hip-hop, punk — everything, it’s quite weird music. With my album, I wanted it to change something within the Polish industry.
Sounds like you filled a hole in the industry.
Kind of yeah. For about three years it’s been easier for people like me being, being kind of in the middle, to go on the radio and TV. A lot has changed since then. All the radios are playing Gotye and Lana del Rey, and even though it’s mainstream — before it would just be house and Katy Perry and popular Polish songs. Things have changed though, thank God.
You mentioned growing up in the mountains, was it really rural?
No it was just a little tiny village. It was just a quiet beautiful place surrounded by mountains. I’m really proud of that. I think on my childhood with warm feelings.
What kind of music did you listen to?
Because my father is the owner of a traditional folk group, I listened to that kind of music. Then, I went to a music school because I was playing classical music on the violin. Then, I had my rebellious period when I was 12, so I was listening to a lot of death metal and grunge and punk bands. Then I changed to a more like 70s, 60s, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and a lot of jazz music. Then, it was all the R&B and soul, black artists with of course Erykah Badu and Angie Stone, stuff like that. Right after Granda I started to discover thousands of other songs. I got more into electro and indie pop and a lot of different bands. I think I was like a sponge.
And you were just 16 when you started. Would have definitely overwhelmed me.
I treated it as a great experience. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. When you grow up in a small village, and the TV is coming to your city and telling you that you can be a big pop star you say, ‘okay why not.’ Turned out that i won Pop Idol, it was a big surprise for me. I moved to Warsaw, went to high school there. I was a big girl for 16…I was really responsible. Was never into crazy parties drugs, or booze. I knew I wanted to finish high school, make music and tour with my band. And I wanted my parents to be proud of me.
Which I’m sure they are.
Yeah yeah they are.
Looking back now if you could say something to your 16 year old self, what would it be?
I think i wouldn’t change that much…Everything happened for a reason I think. I proved also in Poland that you can be an interesting artist even if you’re starting in a really pop program…When I released this previous album and a lot of people weren’t sure if it was a big lie from the record label, like Lana del Rey, as if I was recording some shitty music and now I’ve been transformed into some indie girl. No one really believed in my change in the beginning but then, I think I really proved a lot in concerts, because I really live with this music and I can really express it on stage, and people realize that it’s not a lie. And now, i think people forgot that i was in pop idol! Now it doesn’t matter anymore. now i have my music and i don’t have to prove anything to anyone.
Is it sort of a goal of yours to cross over to the US?
Well, it’s not really easy for a Polish artist to go abroad to play concerts. Either we’re playing for Polish people who are US citizens or citizens in London. Language is a big problem I think, or maybe they don’t really believe in themselves. I just thought it was worth a try. I’m not to make a huge career in the US or any other place, I just wanna play some concerts abroad.
Of course since I played yesterday, I would love some people to call and say ‘would you like to come to our festival next year and play in Austin? Coachella?’ But if not, I just hope that some people are gonna remember the concert yesterday, that they’ll go on iTunes…small steps.
Can music transcend language?
Well, you have Sigur Ros. They made up an entire language. And they have huge fans around the world.…I’m always curious after these concerts abroad whether or not it’s a big problem if I sing in polish or if it’s something exotic, or if they’re curious what it means. I will probably have to translate all my songs one day, but so far, it’s not a big problem.
Watch Brodka’s video for “Varsovie” off her album LAX