BRODKA: "I don't calculate, I don't try to please everybody."

Evolving from reality show hopeful to empowered pop music provocateur, BRODKA locks horns with the patriarchy on her new album BRUT.
Posted: 10 June 2021 Words: Tom Curtis-Horsfall Photos: Marcin Kempski / I LIKE PHOTO

BRODKA has made a point of taking on a transformation for each of her five studio albums. As a former winner of Poland's version of Pop Idol, the continual change in aesthetic is symbolic of her evolution from reality show hopeful to empowered pop music provocateur. And the more creative control over she's exerted, the more successful she's become.

Her latest album, BRUT, sees BRODKA (real name Monika Brodka) lock horns with the patriarchy - the battle for female agency with their own reproductive rights is very real in her home country, archaic as it may be. But this dystopian situation was the catalyst she needed to subvert women's perceived roles in society, expressed through the lense of brutalism, the postmodern movement that in her words "creates something new on the ashes of the old."

BRUT's cinematic, industrial visuals were inspired by the aforementioned, but sonically BRODKA absorbed varied sounds that reach way beyond pop music, even finding the time to work with Speedy Wunderground's mastermind producer Dan Carey on 'Wrong Party' earlier this year whose "genius" filtered into her album.

With BRUT now out in the world, we spoke to the alt-pop artist about challenging outdated perceptions, embracing feminine creativity, and rejecting the mainstream pop machine:

You said in a recent press release that “I always had the feeling that my inner self doesn't really match my outer self.” Was BRUT an opportunity to dispel how people, or society perceives you?

It was certainly an excuse to start a discussion about gender fluidity and escaping the usual patterns. I am glad that this project gave me the opportunity to start a dialogue about the things that touch me or with which I disagree. I'm sure we still have a lot to work on in Poland, but I feel that people don't like to be pigeonholed and to have gender norms imposed on them.

What can you express through your artistry that you can’t in reality or ‘every day life’?

Music is a medium of absolute freedom and has an amazing impact on people. In everyday life, I can seem very decisive and concrete. In music I allow myself to experiment, to show my weaknesses and my more melancholic or romantic side. Each album is like my diary where I reveal to the listeners a little bit of my private self, where in everyday life I pretty much protect my privacy.

You’ve created a fictional city called ‘BRUT’ as the backdrop for both of your music videos, which is also your new album’s namesake. Was this the starting point conceptually for the album?

This idea came up while preparing for the 'Game Change' video. With every album, I try to create a character that perfectly reflects the musical and lyrical content of the album. I also think about the space in which the character lives and moves. In connection with the lyrics involved in social issues, I knew that it has to be the urban space.

Because 'BRUT' is an imaginary place, it allowed us to smuggle in a lot of abstract treatments and create a retro-futuristic vibe.

What is it about brutalism that inspired you, and made the movement central to the album’s visuals?

BRUT is partly an album about being stuck in between. About not fitting in and not wanting to follow the patterns. Brutalist buildings are a bit like that. Often inserted into urban tissue, between big glass skyscrapers and old tenement houses. People don't know if they love them or hate them. Brutalism as a postmodern movement also creates something new on the ashes of the old, which fits very well the process of making this album. My goal was to record a lot of Polish folk instruments and transform them into non-existent synthetic instruments by sampling. That's why the idea of brutalism seemed so close and appealing to me.

Distinct imagery and concepts embody the different themes in each of your albums. What can you convey through aesthetics that your music doesn’t touch on? How does costume help to amplify your message for example?

The costume gives you incredible power and the ability to transform into whoever you want. That's why, for example, getting into the character of Lola, the super sexy blond heroine I've never been, became extremely easy. The video for 'Game Change' expands the message of the song but leaves a lot of room for your own interpretation. 

That's why the visuals are so important to me because they complete the story and give the impression of coherence between the music and the image. 

Musically, what inspired BRUT’s icy, assertive sound? Were there any specific artists that had influenced you on this album?

While working on BRUT, I discovered the band Broadcast, which was a big inspiration for this project. I absolutely fell in love with their sound and the amazing combination of psychedelia, noise, and dream pop. The album also draws heavily from the 90s, a decade full of emerging new genres like grunge and trip-hop. There is also a lot of post-punk energy inspired by bands like The Raincoats or Sonic Youth. The calmer side of BRUT draws from bands like Durutti Column and the work of Arthur Russell.  All these inspirations create this eclectic mix on the album.

You co-wrote lead single ‘Game Change’ with Jessica Winter of Pregoblin. How important was it to involve other female artists in your writing process?

Women play a huge role on this album not only in the composting process but also in creating the visual side. During the video for "Game Change", most of the creative team were women. In Poland, through the prism of many political events in recent years, a visible solidarity movement was formed. And that's the beauty of this project, that so many incredibly talented women created something important together. I'm very grateful for that.

You recently worked with Dan Carey recently on Speedy Wunderground release ‘Wrong Party’, which came as a bit of surprise. How did that collaboration come about?

I met Dan while working on BRUT. Oli and I invited him to record the guitar parts on the album. I was incredibly happy that he accepted the invitation because I know and admire Dan's work. The proposal to record a song together came very spontaneously, but I guess that's what the whole Speedy Wunderground project is about.  We recorded the song in a few hours and went for a beer at the pub. Then we went back to the studio and listened to music and talked for hours. I remember this collaboration as one of the coolest musical encounters of my life.

Did your experience with Carey influence the writing and recording process of BRUT in any way?

Dan has an amazing approach to sound and as a producer and musician. He came to the studio with all his musical toys in the form of unique guitar effects and custom-built instruments. A good producer can be recognised by the fact that sometimes he plays just one note that completely changes the song. That was the case with 'Chasing Ghosts'. A song that builds up tension and develops for a long time before exploding in the chorus. Dan played one head-bobbing sound that completely changed the perception of the song. And that's how you recognise genius.

You won the Polish version of Pop Idol when you were just 16 years old. Since then, you've been involved with every facet of your music, it’s production, and it’s presentation when most artists don’t have that level of autonomy. Has your career to date been a rejection of that mainstream pop music industry in many ways? 

In a way, yes. I matured quite a long time ago into an artist and not just a performer. I wanted to take complete control over my art. Winning the competition gave me recognition and I used that accordingly to start creating things on my own terms. This approach gain acceptance from fans and the album Granda released in 2010 was a milestone for Polish art-pop, which practically didn't exist before. I have always been guided by my intuition and I still am today. I don't calculate, I don't try to please everybody and that became a recipe for my success.

BRUT is out now via [PIAS] Recordings.

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