Distant Pulses – An Interview with Opollo

Jarek Leskiewicz understands the inner workings of ambient music. As Opollo, he weaves shoegaze guitar drones with electronic atmospheres, inspired by the beauty and mystery of the far reaches of deep space. Of A Distorted Star, the project’s newest release, shows distinct technical and aesthetic progression. Recently, teutonkhamat was given the opportunity to dive into Leskiewicz’ brain first-hand, to find out what makes Opollo tick, as well as gain some insight into this fascinating project’s origins.

[teutonkhamat]: Thank you for your time, Jarek. Let’s start with the origins of Opollo. What are your influences, in terms of style and concept?

 [Jarek Leskiewicz]: What drives me the most is the emotional mood of the moment and urge to explore the sound world without limiting myself to the rules of typical song-writing. I’ve always seen the Opollo setting as some kind of mad scientist laboratory or a malfunctioning spaceship drifting into the unknown. The influences go way back to my childhood.
As a little kid, I was exposed to Tangerine Dream’s Stratosfear and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon through my mom. I remember being scared by Floyd’s masterpiece and Stratosfear, while not very ambient, was quite a trance experience for me. I think I was programmed by both early on. On the other hand, my grandmother was working in most of the movie theatres in my hometown Opole, which basically became my kindergarten. It awakened my passion for movies and their soundtracks. The track that really planted my ambient yearning was Brian Eno’s “Prophecy Theme,” from David Lynch’s film Dune. It’s still one of my favourite ambient songs, and its influence is all over my music. It has that mysterious siren’s call quality and deep emotion about it.
I was very into science fiction (books, movies and even Polish fandom) so the classic Blade Runner score by Vangelis obviously had a shrine in my early teen room. Add to that the more intimate parts of Mark Isham’s soundtrack to The Hitcher, the absolutely precursory Solaris score by Eduard Artemiev, and the innovative sound design and audio effects of the Star Wars films and you will get the scope of my initial background. Maybe too obvious but very cinematic for sure.
Later on, I was heavy into alternative music. My adventure with shoegaze started with my love for 4AD (mostly Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil) and more industrial-rocking Curve, which I actually got into before discovering the pioneering sound of My Bloody Valentine, which influenced Curve in the first place! Medicine’s debut got me into crazy distortion, which developed my curiosity for the type of noise produced by Merzbow. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless other influences to my musical being.

That is a diverse beginning! How would you describe the evolution of Opollo and its sound? 

Opollo was born around 2009. As I was involved in some more “hard rocking” musical projects at the time, it started as my outlet for minimal, ethereal, contemplative music – something I worked on when I wanted to relax from focused, in your face productions and straightforward, defined sounds. It started as two-piece but we’ve never made a whole record together, although we played a cool live set at an ambient festival. The demos we wrote during that time have set the musical course of the project. I also decided on the NASA lab type visuals at that stage. The whole thing was obviously strongly inspired by Brian Eno’s groundbreaking record Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks. I also remember being intrigued by a photograph by my friend John Eder that depicted two skeletons in spacesuits standing at the platform of an empty underground station.

Opollo aims for a specific type of sound and concept. Are you involved with other projects that may have influenced your sound?

There were earlier projects of mine that influenced Opollo. One was Koloid, where I experimented with minimal drones and outlandish sounds, and the other one was Fault, where I played around heavy beats and developed wall-of-sound dense shoegaze-like guitar layers. That project was definitely more euphoric. Half-consciously I combined those two into the Opollo sound. Later on, I think Opollo had influenced some of my different projects, not the other way around. I started to include more ambient layers and drones in the structure of normal songs. Some Opollo ideas were also foundations for SPC ECO (“Pearls” or “Get Lost” for instance) and Zenith Myth (“Temple Dome”) tracks . One element that jumped back to Opollo was a voice. I don’t think I used any vocals on Rover Tracks but you can hear it on Stone Tapes and even more on Of A Distorted Star. It’s always used just as one of the layers though. You may hear some more similar stuff slipping into Opollo in the future. Heavy riffs, more vocals, or even live drums. It’s like that during live performances. I try to make it diverse and interesting for the audience…and myself.

Of a Distorted Star sees you returning to Bandcamp after working with a label. What factors influenced your decision?

I assembled Of A Distorted Star while working on a different Opollo record. It came more as a byproduct of it. I knew those tracks paint a slightly different picture. More intimate strokes and brushes. More emotional. Inner instead of outer space. I didn’t really want to get bogged down with looking for a label, negotiating contracts and a far release date. Creating a complete artwork takes a lot of time too. I just wanted to put it out for people to hear. To get it out of my system. I needed that.

What are some differences between self-promotion and working with a label?

I would describe self-promoting as quite hard. It’s always great to have a label to back you up with sending out promo copies to magazines and blogs. Having a hard copy of the record still helps a lot too. I wasn’t active in that aspect before digital platforms era so can’t really comment on that. I think it’s easier now for a striving artist who can have a web page as good as well-known acts, connecting directly with the audience. At the same time, there’s so much music out there that one feels like a drop in the ocean. For me Bandcamp is the best digital platform out there. Soundcloud is also cool but I usually prefer the visual presentation of Bandcamp. Each individual page looks more like a record to me. With the simple but great design tools, it’s easy to create a unique identity. 

It can be difficult to make a musical project stand out when digital releasing has become easier. Do you find that performing live is still important in the modern scene?

When it comes to live performances, yes, I think those are still the best ways of exposure and solidifying your name. To make the audience believe the artist/band is “real” and capable of performing the music. Having said that I play live sporadically. It’s always fun and quite an adventure but I’m mostly a studio hermit – that is my natural creative habitat. 

What people have helped the development of Opollo?

I think Martin Anderson of Dopedrone and Yeti Island is my best musical buddy. He always lends a helping hand and valuable perspective. I try to return the favour. He’s very talented and I really enjoy working with him on different projects. Another friend that helped a bit with Opollo is Filippo Gaetani, a producer and musician out of Tuscany. While he’s not really known for the kind of music that Opollo deals with, he’s an energetic and very competent musician. We often chat about movies too.
Marcin Lojek is a really cool designer and a fellow musician who helped with the Stone Tapes record. Marcin was always very supportive of my music. He’s also involved with excellent XAOC devices. He and the guys at Zoharum Records released Stone Tapes together.
I would also like to mention Przemek Kaminski, the man behind the Festiwal Ambientalny. He has such great taste for ambient, drone, and experimental music and each year brings top-notch acts to perform on the festival stages. Przemek has already invited Opollo twice, in 2009 and 2016, to take part in that amazing event, and both times it was a blast. The whole crew was very friendly, respectful of the artists and ultra helpful. Last year Opollo had the pleasure of sharing the stage with The Sight Below, Christoph Berg and Piotr Cisak & Freeze. Backstage I bumped into Juliana Barwick and Alex Leonard of Ebauche. All great, inspiring people.

When did it occur to you that music was more than a small hobby for you? 

As a teen, I was quite a passionate listener. I would lay down in my room for many hours or even days listening to the records. It wasn’t just background fun. My main focus was on the music played. It took me places. It was very escapist.
It was my religion and my homeworld. The courage to try and play or make the music myself was missing though. No skills in that regard. No one from my family was a musician. I was just a believer for many years.

What were your earliest experiments with music like?

It started (as it often does in the old days) with a bunch of close friends and a basement. Only one of us had an instrument. We banged on toy drums and cheesy Korean keyboards. One day I bought a very cheap, old, messed up guitar and a friend borrowed me his set of budget stompboxes. It went from there, but as I was always pretty allergic to learning things the usual way, it took me a long time to find my path. In my early twenties, I bought a computer station with an additional combination of music software and hardware, which was a milestone. I finally had the tools to express myself the way I needed to. It was never just a hobby. It was my vital fuel. My prescription drug. Maybe a bit of a curse too!

Please describe your current creative process.

For Opollo, the improvisational factor is very high. I get the best results this way, and also at the end of the day the music still has some mystery for myself. There’s usually some pre-production, though, where I collect sounds, drones, and ambiance, and later decide which ones inspire me to build upon and play around. This second phase is the most fun and the most creative. It’s where the magic happens. After that there are countless hours of tedious editing and rearranging, adding layers and early mastering, and dealing with self-doubt.

Where would you like Opollo to be in the next five years?

Five years? Hmmm… I don’t think that far with my projects. Probably to avoid some kind of creative anxiety caused by pressure. I usually know what I want to work on during the next few months or even a year, but there also come unexpected collaborations and propositions that influence the inventing process. You can’t predict what will inspire you or interest you in the future, or what surprises in life are waiting around the corner. I have a lot of unreleased material from the last two years, such as outtakes from the Of A Distorted Star sessions, as well as tracks made for live performances. I think there’s another LP or two EPs waiting to be finished and released. It’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it!

Thank you for your insights. It’s been a pleasure! I look forward to the next step in the evolution of Opollo.

Thank you for having me!

Opollo discography:

Rover Tracks (Bandcamp, 2012)
Stone Tapes (New Nihilism, 2015)
Of a Distorted Star (Bandcamp, 2017)

Very special thanks to Jarek Leskiewicz.