Thursday, May 4, 2023

Heady psychedelia: A conversation with East Village musician Franzi Szymkowiak of Lukka

Text and photos by Stacie Joy

I’ve always liked catching new-to-me music at the local New Colossus Festival, and the 2023 edition was no different. 

I was especially keen to hear East Village-based singer-songwriter-composer Franzi Szymkowiak and her band Lukka with Ashley Gonzalez on bass and Simon Fishburn on drums. Lukka’s dreamy and immersive sonic landscape was the perfect fit for an indie-pop/shoegaze showcase at Arlene’s Grocery on March 11...
A few weeks later, I caught up with Franzi in the East Village to talk about growing up in Germany, the rigors of busking, and feeding off the energy of NYC.
You studied classical piano while growing up in Germany. Where did your interest in music originate? 

It was mostly my mum who pushed me to take classical piano lessons. I didn’t enjoy it that much as a teenager but I guess years later it paid off when I started writing songs. I started playing and singing my favorite songs, and that’s when something sparked. I guess it was the combination of both that gave me the endorphin rush. 

Just as a side fact, I recently found out that my great-grandmother, who was a waitress, would also from time to time grab her guitar and start singing popular German folk songs for her dining guests to make an extra buck. That was in the 1930s, so maybe it’s in the genetics after all.

You taught yourself how to play guitar at age 15. Did you have aspirations to be a musician then or was this more for fun? 

I started learning the guitar to be able to sing my favorite songs at the time. I think I knew then that I wanted to make a living as a musician, I just didn’t know how. I got into music from the ’60s back then, I loved the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and other bands from that time period. 

If I remember right, I already imagined having my own band to perform my own songs. When I was younger, I hoped to make a living on that but you know it’s really hard nowadays. 

You spent years busking around the world. How did that experience shape you? Did you ever tire of the constant hustle? 

After I finished high school in Germany, I traveled to Australia and ended up staying there for almost four years. I played a lot in the streets there. I actually got quite professional having an amplified music performance. 

Of course, it takes a lot of strength to carry all that shit around the city. I am talking about two big heavy batteries, an electric power converter, an amplifier, a microphone and stand, cables, a keyboard, and a seat. I had one trolley that carried everything.

Once that thing got stuck in between the subway train and the platform, the doors closed and the train started moving but luckily stopped after a couple of seconds. I think that’s when I had enough! 

However, playing in the streets connected me to a lot of people, which was great. The experience also taught me not to give a damn what strangers think of me. 
January marked your 10th year in NYC. Was it always a goal or dream to live here? 

I came to New York when I was 22. Back then I was naively thinking that this is the place to be to ‘make it’ in the music industry, which of course right now I know is not true. But I loved the scene and I connected quickly with really talented artists and musicians who would inspire and support me. I have never been as creative in any other city as here.

I think that the city’s energy feeds you. (I actually have a song “Feed Me” that is derived from that.) The East Village always had a special vibe to me. What I love is that there are so many music venues and lots of live music. Lots of interesting and strange people do walk the streets, it’s entertaining in a way. For me, there is The Accordion Lady, for example, the rock’n’roll guy with the chihuahua dog, the Lady with Pink UV protection visor and too-long toenails. So many characters...I do like that. 

You’ve described the tracks on your Something Human record as “heady psychedelia and nostalgic 1980s new wave.” Who have been some bands that influenced you? 

Definitely influenced by the ’60s and ’70s bands as I mentioned before The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. After Bowie died, I got heavily influenced by the Trilogy he did in Berlin, and also the people he worked with: Brian Eno, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. That period made me experiment with synths much more. Also, bands like Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra opened my mind to different guitar effect pedals and sounds. 

How has Lukka’s sound evolved? What’s next for the band? 

I do have all the songs for my third album ready to record. It is going to be much quieter and synth-affected, and the compositions will be more complex. I am not sure how it will all come out in the end. It’s very experimental in a way. 
You can catch Lukka on June 1 at Rubulad in Bushwick, and keep up with the band on Instagram.


Simon E said...

Thank you, I’m now a new fan!

stephen b said...

Just love that video. Love

Anonymous said...

Love it!!! New fan too!!! Thanks for sharing@!!!

Anonymous said...

Great song!