Christine & The Blue Drags is a band that was formed out of the Blues dancing community in Warsaw. In addition to playing for “listeners” at normal gigs, they love playing for “dancers,” and the creativity that comes with having a dance floor full of muses to be inspired by. They are self-producing their first album this summer and I very much enjoyed talking with them about it.
Greg Austin So to introduce everyone I wanted to ask a question. It is a trope in Jazz music that a song will have the lyrics talking about food, but it’s really about sex. My question for each of y’all is what Polish food would you love to write a song about and why?
Christine the Singer What Polish food I would like to write a song about?
Greg … that’s really about sex.
Christine Oh shit, Polish food. Ugh, actually I’m a vegetarian so I have a small area to choose, but maybe… yeah, apples. Because I like them very much.
Witek the Pianist Are you talking about apples or sex?
Christine Apples! They are colorful and tasty. And very juicy.
Witek I’d probably go sausage and mashed potatoes. I don’t think I need to explain.
Janek the Drummer I am also vegetarian and I would say carrots. They’re similar to something… wink, wink.
Sławek the Harmonicist Stuffed cabbage. In Polish, gołąbki. It sounds sexy, and you can remove the cabbage to get to the meat.
Laughs all around.
Greg So that was the fun question. Now I want talk about how playing for the dancing community has affected your development as musicians. Has it done so?
Christine I’m really thankful that I started dancing, because I think that the band would not have happened if I didn’t start dancing. It all started when I met Agnieszka and Konrad, who were the Blues dance instructors in Warsaw at the time, and they lead me to sing with these awesome guys. Since I was a child I have sang, first Classical music, then some Pop songs, even some Soul. I was always fascinated by Jazz singers, but I thought I would never be able to feel this music. Dancing has helped me a LOT with this. Finally I have the feeling. Or I should say: I’m still discovering the Jazz feeling.
And of course, dancing gave me a lot of courage and confidence with my body. Helping me with my singing and presence on stage.
Witek For me, it was the other way around. I was a musician first and I played the Blues for maybe 10 years, unaware that there was a Blues dance scene, altogether. Basically me and Sławek got asked to play at a dance event and Agnieszka and Konrad asked us if Christine could sing with us, and that’s basically how our band started.
And for how it affected me as a musician? Well, it’s different playing for “listeners” than for playing for “dancers.” I think I pay more attention to dynamics, for example. For dancers, I tend to choose songs that have pauses, breaks… I think dancers like breaks. Some songs that listeners like to listen to are constant in dynamics. They’re just flat. Whereas I think dancers like when there is dynamics going on.
Christine Can I add something? I think that dancing has also helped me to connect more with the audience. At the beginning I was petrified and I felt judged. Now I can relax, cause it’s my people, they don’t wait for my mistakes, they just want to feel the emotions and we share this feeling. Yeah, to communicate with them. It’s pretty awesome to sing for the dancing audience.
Sławek I think I try to pay more attention to the rhythm. It often means to play simpler, not to get carried away with virtuosity for the sake of it. I’ve never been this kind of player, but I guess I pay more attention to the rhythm.
And I watch the reactions of the people. Very often the best solos happen when people on the dance floor get crazy. It’s a feedback loop.
When I play the solo, for example, at a jam session, I usually forget about the world, I don’t pay attention to the world around me…
Greg But when you have dancers, it brings you back into the world?
Sławek No, I’d say that we are in the same, different world, which occurs during the song, during the show.
Greg If there were some new musicians, who were just starting, would you recommend that they look into the dance community as a reasonable career choice? To play for dancers?
Christine I think about it depends on genre, what music do they like to play. And it depends what do you consider by dancing. For some people it’s enough to just sit and stamp their foot or clap or move a head to the beat and some like doing the pogo dance. There’s so many different kinds of expression. But if we talk about Blues or Jazz, i would surely recommend playing for the dancers. You can learn from them and have much more fun with them. It’s an amazing experience.
Witek Can I answer the question? I would say yes. When I used to play for listeners only… this is going to be brutal… the average age was like 40 to 50 years old, here in Poland at least. Blues music isn’t really a young person’s thing. When we started playing for dancers, I suddenly noticed that the average age is more like 25 to 30. Obviously, the older you get, the less people dance, I find.
So, I would recommend it. I see great potential in it, to play for a new audience. The dancers I play for now, they’re going to be 50 years old, some day, and if I help them to get to know the music and love it, they’re going to carry on listening to it.
Greg I want to talk about the new album. If you could tell us about your new album under work right now.
Christine Basically, I think this album is dedicated for dancers. It has a lot of different types of Blues and Swing music, even some Funky stuff. Mainly we recorded our arrangements of Blues standards that we and our audiences like, but there are also some our own compositions.
Greg You’re recording it now?
Greg Excellent. You’re planning on doing a Kickstarter to support it as well, right?
Witek Yes, we’re definitely going to do Polak Potrafi, which is a Polish version of Kickstarter. Basically, we want the fans to have their input. Not only in terms of crowdfunding, but also we want them to sing some of the songs. We have some songs where we need a choir. You know, backing vocals. We’re going to take the dancers from the scene, invite them to our studio, and we’re going to have some fun.
Greg That’s a really neat idea. So if you’re a dancer reading this and you want to be part of that choir, who should they talk to?
Witek Basically, we’re going to make an event on Facebook. We’re going to try and choose a date where everyone’s free. We might actually do a few events, because it’s highly unlikely everyone’s going to free and also I think we’re going to record, say 4 people at a time. But we’re going to invite as many people as possible and have a house party afterwards. You’re also invited, Greg.
Greg Ah, fantastic, let me know.
Witek We owe a lot to the dancers, really. They’ve supported us a lot. We got a lot of gigs thanks to dancers and dance instructors –
Christine And of course we love to play for dancers.
Greg Is there anything you’d like to tell dancers, from the musician’s point of view?
Witek I would ask the dancers to talk to the musicians. Often us, dancers and musicians, we talk about the same things, but we use completely different words. Terminology. For example, we have a piece that is a Bossa Nova, and it’s going to be on the CD. Musicians would call it a “Bossa Nova” rythm –
Christine And dancers would call it “Latin Blues.”
Witek So if you tell a musician to play some Latin Blues, they might not think Bossa Nova, they might think… I don’t know… I’ll play a 12-bar Blues and try to play some Carlos Santana licks… That’s going to be a shuffle type Blues.
Witek Generally, I’m eager to create an event where we get musicians, we get all the local bands, all the local dancers, and we have a little discussion about it. Just to raise awareness.
Greg Cool, Christina, if you had the opportunity to tell the global dancing community something from a singer’s point of view, what would you tell them?
Christine Hmm, ok, I really don’t know what to tell them, because they’re always very nice. And I have no expectations. Sometimes I get lots of words of thanks, but for me the best gratitude is when they are dancing to our music. I am still surprised this is happening. So from the singing point of view, just keep dancing!
Janek One of the top drummers in the world said, “When you play the drums, and you play them like you’re playing for dancers, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
Greg So keep dancing?
Christine, Sławek, Janek, & Witek Yeah!
Want more info about their new album? Check out their Polak Potrafi campaign and help support their efforts to self-publish. Polak Potrafi is Poland’s home grown fundraising platform, which makes it easy for Poles to contribute locally. If you’re from outside of Poland, there’s an option for international transfers, and coming soon the ability to contribute using cards.
And finally, the band is hosting a choir recording session and party this Saturday, July 20th if you’re in the Warsaw area. Details here!