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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Kotki Dwa Staycations Album Launch Interview with Alex Ostrowski

Singer Alex Ostrowski talks about the launch of new album Staycations, and tells us why Kotki Dwa's collaboration with the National Trust is so important.

Written by Abi Renshaw

Kotki Dwa at Sutton House by Sam Parr
The band at their Sutton House album launch by Sam Parr

Your 5 track EP ‘Lunch‘ came out in November 2011. Before that, It had been a wee while since you put any music out other than your Halloween video and exclusive Amelia’s Mag song for the USB Issue. Did this help you prepare for writing and recording Staycations, plus getting you back into performing live no doubt?

Yes we tend to leave quite big gaps in between our major projects. This time around it gave us the chance to develop our sound in the ways we’d been wanting to. The Lunch EP was kind of a ‘study’ to try out some new ways of doing things, moving forwards from our first album. We’d been working out how to be more economical with our part writing, so that things slotted together more deftly. Hopefully that comes through on the new album.

Great videos have always featured pretty heavily with your singles. I was locked in when I watched Robin’s Clogs! You all look like you have a lot of fun making them. As the three of you are all a creative bunch, this must be a pretty great extension of making music right?

We do love making videos and tend to have a lot of fun making them, perhaps too much sometimes! It’s good having a different outlet for ideas.

Kotki Dwa tied to their cardboard keyboard
Kotki Dwa tied to their cardboard keyboard

Love the new video directed by Hattie Newman for the song Staycations. Plus she just played flute for a track at your gig. Where did you film this?

It was actually directed by Geoffrey Taylor but art directed by Hattie Newman (she worked with Geoffrey on all the styling and made some cool props). We’re pretty good friends the lot of us, so we all mucked in. To make the video we went on a jaunt around Great Britain, trying to take in the jaw dropping sights of the National Trust’s properties around the country, whilst also changing battery packs, avoiding parking tickets and generally trying to make a music video on the fly with only a few warm scotch eggs to fuel us.

Everyone loves a scotch egg. I’m sure many bands are kicking themselves that they didn’t come up with approaching the National Trust. Are they doing exactly as any other record label would?

We approached the National Trust a long time ago with our ideas. They’ve been great sports and have supported us with many of the resources that a record label might sort out — space to record in, help promoting the album etc. Fundamentally the setup has enabled us to operate very independently and do everything exactly how we’ve wanted to, which is good fun and never disappointing.

All the teapots inside Sutton House
All the teapots inside Sutton House

So, as you started to formulate a plan to approach the National Trust, how did you do it? I imagine no one had ever asked them to be their record label before. Did they sit and think on it or jump at the chance to be involved? You must have been dying to tell everyone…

It was tempting to tell people about it in the early stages but we kept schtum. We approached the National Trust very carefully and very directly as a band. We knew exactly what we wanted to ask, and we knew exactly what the reasons were for them to say yes, so we explained everything with as much clarity as possible so that they would understand what we were on about. They got it pretty quickly and it took a couple of months to put the plan in place, but we got there!

How did this lightning bolt idea arise? I’d love to think you were just in a castle and thought, hey, imagine recording a track in here!

We wanted to partner with somebody other than a label for the release, because we thought it would throw up some interesting challenges. We’d already decided upon the title of our new album – Staycations – which we chose for its bittersweet connotations. And so, the National Trust sprang to mind because they look after so much of the British outdoors and so many weird & wonderful places for us to record in.

Alex from Kotki Dwa at the making of the video for Staycations
Alex from Kotki Dwa at the making of the video for Staycations

How many places did you visit up and down Great Britain in all? Do you have a favourite one? Did you write the album before or after these visits?

I think we’ve lost count. We’ve been to the Yorkshire Dales, Borrowdale and Upper Wharfedale in the Lake District, Heysham Head on the West Coast, Arnside Knott, Box Hill in Surrey, Pulpit Woods, Pitstone Windmill, plenty of the London properties including Fenton House, 2 Willow Road and Sutton House – the oldest house in Hackney! We really enjoyed visiting Malham Tarn in Yorkshire, where we had a relaxing boat ride.

Any plans to do anything further with them? I guess they’re helping you by stocking it in their NT shops now right? How many did you press?

We’ve just done a launch show at Sutton House, which the National Trust look after. We also put on a special exhibition at YCN on Rivington Street which showed some National Trust bits including some amazing old postcards which show some of the places they still look after today. We have stocked the album in a handful of their shops too which is nice, only fifty special physicals in existence.

Yes I have one. It’s hand bound in cloth with a lyric-postcard set and 4-colour risograph poster. Staycations has had good things written about it by the Guardian and Pitchfork. It couldn’t have gone much better!

It’s very flattering and we’re truly delighted by the response. We’ve been working on this for so long so it’s great to hear that people are enjoying the results. Hopefully if people enjoy the album they’ll buy it via our website!

During the making of Staycations video
During the making of Staycations video

Yes, it’s great you are selling it through Bandcamp. You all must be super chuffed with how well it’s all going. Especially as your loyal fans got to snap up just 50 limited edition CDs. Your original artwork or unusual features have been a pretty strong USP for Kotki Dwa. For instance, with the yellow Robin’s Clogs vinyl, I got the CD single, a flower pressed badge and fold out poster with lyrics. You really do think about the whole package, where many bands just don’t. Do you enjoy providing all these touches on the side of your music or is it just as important?

Yeah we enjoy making the whole thing as perfect as we can. We’re a fairly small operation so when we do something we do it wholeheartedly. I work as a designer at YCN so that comes in handy on the packaging front.

For me it makes it more treasured. Plus you obviously want your fans at your gigs to know the lyrics. For instance, with the Staycations MP3 version, I’m shown the lyrics on my iPhone! Don’t think I’ve ever seen this before!

Really? Cool, didn’t know that!

The sold out limited edition Staycations bundle
The sold out limited edition Staycations bundle

Well what a nice surprise! The album launch for Staycations: A Summer Punch Up, how did it go?

We had a really great time! We recorded some of the album at Sutton House so it was nice to revisit for a party. We had some great other bands playing too — Glaciers, fronted by brilliant illustrator Nic Burrows, and Niteflights who are an impressive new 4 piece well worth a listen.

Have you had to abide by a load of restrictions, like no noise after 10pm and you have to wear white cotton gloves?

National Trust visiting hours tend to be from 11 until 5 we’ve found, although we’ve bent a few rules like that over the past year! I did have to audition in order to be allowed to borrow one of the Trust’s oldest harpsichords though. Luckily I passed the audition and got to record with it — it’s on the album!

Inside the limited edition Staycations
Inside the limited edition Staycations

Oh great! Have you pencilled in a UK tour for this year? Any other events planned like your Polish paper-cutting workshop?

Well we’re playing Midnight A-Go-Go in London on 25th August, which will be fun. Let’s see what else comes up…

You can catch Kotki Dwa playing at Midnight A-Go-Go on Saturday 25th August at The Waiting Room (underneath The Three Crowns) on Stoke Newington High Street. 9pm – 4am and tickets are just £5. Read my review of the Staycations launch at Sutton House here.

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