Andrzej Sieczkowski “Pejo”

copyright: TETE (Tomasz Tomaszewski)

Waldemar Olbryk: Every interview is different, but whether I talk to musicians or sportspeople, our conversations always revolve around something that is key to all our stories: the blending of our passions and what we are able to create with them, which is value. We talk about our passions and about what value we create that can help us build something for ourselves, for others, and if we are lucky – make money off of it. I assume that some sets of skills that you develop as a musician, artist, sportsperson, maybe even subconsciously shape our ability to deal with whatever comes our way. These conversations usually revolve around the fact that we do what we believe in, and function in our free time in ways that support us in our professional, family, and individual lives. I call this the ability to transfer knowledge and skills between the different sectors of our lives. This is what I will be talking about with Andrzej Sieczkowski “Pejo”, a restaurateur from Łódź and drummer for the band L.Stadt.

WO: Let’s start off by talking about – success. I see success in both your culinary and artistic achievements. Where does this success come from – talent, or hard work including blood, sweat, and tears?

Andrzej Sieczkowski: I think the two are closely linked, although in the case of music, talent is definitely the leading characteristic. I am one hundred percent sure of this, I have seen so many talented people. The person who created our band, the main creator Łukasz, is incredibly talented – he knows how to write songs, he finds the right ingredients and mixes them together. I am a co-creator of the band, and I believe these two elements give a positive result. It’s hard to say whether it’s sweat and tears, I think in general we simply believe that sometimes you need to focus and go through certain stages, chew over some ideas, just like a sportsperson needs to train every day in order to improve, achieve better results and constantly progress. In the case of music we can blend a few things together and all of a sudden we get the result we were looking for. So, in this case, it’s more persistence that we need.

WO: So work, hard work sometimes, but even more importantly – persistence. I guess the person who comes up with a certain idea is important, or is this also a question of coincidence?

AS: Yes. I think that coincidence, or good luck, really help.

WO: Yes, but coincidences happen to lots of people. What influences how you consume them, or give them a life of their own? Because lots of people see opportunities, these types of coincidences or strokes of good luck, but not everyone knows how to seize these opportunities and take advantage of them. Do you have a way of determining – this is good, this is bad? Even if it all happens by accident?

AS: I think the key is intuition. You feel which direction is the right way to go. In my case, I sensed when the opportunity arose to make music and or to collaborate in business – this opportunity came from the work and time I put into it, but also from a network of contacts I created. If the quality is high – that is a good place to start.

WO: But did you have moments of doubt? Because I think that every idea you have isn’t always going to be a great idea. Again, persistence, and keeping an open mind, are key. Surely among these “wow” or “aha” moments there were times that were not so great.

AS: Doubt always comes, usually at times when you are trying to get through some hard things, and all of a sudden you start to wonder whether it is worth it to continue. This is an ongoing process in all artists’ work, especially in music. You struggle with the question whether what you are doing is valuable, and whether continuing the fight for it is worthwhile. Perhaps it would be better to change jobs?

WO: Subconsciously this need to constantly try new things, and to persist, is linked to what I call humility – would you use the same word? The feeling that success is not lasting, permanent?

AS: Not really. In general, as I see it, success is a function of many factors. There have been successful sportspeople who were famous, and then disappeared from the arena. They still have that success, though, and they can say “Okay, I did that”. There is timespan in which you can say to yourself “I was able to achieve this, I am satisfied, we were successful”. This doesn’t necessarily even have to correspond with the financial aspect of things – these are two separate things that happened because you were successful. Of course, the financial side of things is very important, but success can bring other things with it – maybe you changed your position in society, maybe you learned something, maybe you did something to improve the world, or maybe you created something meaningful and lasting.

WO: When you think of music, what gives you the most satisfaction – that you did something to advance the world, or maybe that you changed something, or learned something? Or maybe you made a lot of money?

AS: Unfortunately, no. Our biggest success as a band was that thanks to our music we were able to see the world. This was very important to us. The dream to play concerts and travel, which is the basic premise for making music, came true. The band allowed us the possibility of travel, of seeing great places, of living through unforgettable experiences, meeting people, seeing the world. We traveled, we saw, we played. To some degree this was a life experience, something that you can remember later and say “that was great.” We weren’t stuck in a room playing music, or in a few clubs – we were able to achieve something through our music, and our music stayed in people’s minds, this is also important. This builds emotions, relationships, even today. The product we created still evokes emotions.

WO: On the one hand you traveled, on the other you are very attached to Łódź?

AS: Yes, of course.

WO: And what was the biggest challenge or difficulty in achieving this success if we define it as you described: as seeing the world as a result of touring with concert gigs? The gigs were there, so I assume people wanted to listen to your music, which resonated not only in Łódź. What was the biggest difficulty in becoming this “traveling band”? You saw many continents.

AS: We were a band that did things for the first time, that helped both institutions and artists do new things. Maybe thanks to this artists can travel the world, it’s easier for them. We were a band that was nice to show in other countries. We were supported by cultural institutions, which was difficult to organize.

WO: Some of the difficulties were those of a pioneer?

AS: Yes, exactly.

WO: Was this because you didn’t know what was impossible, or were you focused on achieving your goals, and lucky? Which difficulty was conscious, which wasn’t? How do you see this, looking back?

AS: We were constantly looking for new solutions and ways to forge ahead, it wasn’t even a matter of learning from our mistakes. We tried to do what we could on our own, although of course a lot of people helped us. We tried to be independent.

WO: So a kind of musical start-up?

AS: Well, the hard part was we had no protection, no soft place to fall, we tried to do everything on our own. We used our own money, or we tried to organize some sort of financial support for ourselves, to achieve our goals.

WO: Did you have a time when you came back from your international travels and you had to prove to someone that the success will continue? They say that at some point a man can become a prisoner of his own success.

AS: Four people make up the band, I am one of them. The main creator in the band is Łukasz, he has the ability, the talent, to write very good songs and to convey to us what the finished song should sound like, he has an excellent sense of that. But we also look for solutions together, and this takes a lot of time. We’re a band that records relatively few songs because we are never really happy with the final effects of our efforts.

WO: Would you call this humility, or a constant searching?

AS: Searching, I think, humility – not so much. The way it works is that we think whatever we produce has to be better, maybe we should try one more time, maybe we can improve, it’s still not as good as it could be.

WO: When Winston Churchill was invited to speak at the Harrow School he rose and said: “Never give in, never give in”. And that was it.

AS: We often laugh about being over forty, and how despite the fact that we now rarely see each other, as a band we are not prepared to say “Okay, we’re done” and go our own ways. In the back of our minds, the band still exists. It continues to be our life project, you can call it that. We never say “Okay, we’ve built a musical career for ourselves, so that’s it, thanks.” The time for that has not come yet. We enjoy spending time together, and when we play music we create something new, something interesting and fun. The fact that we rarely play gigs now is a different story.

WO: From what you said in many interviews, my understanding is that you are no longer a drummer, but more of a percussionist. I always felt that even though there is always a frontman in a band, for example a guitarist and singer, when one person stops playing (guitar, bass, or singer) the music goes on, but when the drummer stops – there is an awkward silence. So although there is a leader in a band, the percussion is a sort of base for everything. The fact that you play percussion – is this a conscious or unconscious role you have chosen for yourself in the band?

AS: I always considered myself a good form of support, not a frontman, but someone supportive to an important degree: that pillar is necessary in the band. When I played basketball, I was the point guard, so the person who controls the ball. Maybe this person does not earn the most points, but thanks to him, the team scores. In music I’ve taken on the same role – I feel that maybe I did not have the talent to play guitar, to play solos, to sing, maybe my voice is not the best. So, I didn’t go in that direction, I thought “drummer, great”. When I was fourteen my friend showed me how to play the drums and that was when I felt that this was what I wanted to do.

WO: Can you count on each other as a band? From what you said the band still feels like a team.

AS: We don’t meet often, we live in different countries now. But when it comes to the band, we are still a group, a team. We don’t see each other socially, we may have other friends, but we wish each other the best for the holidays, we call each other on our birthdays and on other occasions. We don’t perceive the band as something that “used to be”. We used to spend a lot of time together when travelling, so when we do travel now, we don’t complain. Of course we have a laugh now and then that we’re getting older, that we are not in the same place as when we were thirty and travelling and having so much fun. Our lives have gone different ways, we have different experiences, and this probably explains why the band functions a little differently on the market now.

WO: But it still functions, so you are still on the road, it is all part of an ongoing experience?  You still have new ideas, it’s more a question of faith as to whether the moment is right. This courage, this drive to try new things, is this part of Andrzej Sieczkowski’s DNA?

AS: I am a self-taught musician, so I often laugh and say that I don’t feel like a wholesome person who could create a band on his own and take on a leader’s role in it. I have always been one of the supporting pillars.

WO: “Pillar” is a strong word.

AS: I’ve often heard that when I start playing, the music comes to life. With my restaurant the situation is similar: I am not a businessman, I am looking to create or experience something, not just make money. I want to create something of value in the space I have. I’d like people to look at the projects I create and say “this is fun, this is cool” – like with the band. This is not a band that got a gold record and played forty gigs in Łódź, in a music club like “Wytwórnia”, it’s a band with a record that people will listen to in 15 years’ time.

WO: Or a band that cleared the way for other Polish bands in Southwestern in Texas. You were the first Polish band that played at SXSW (South by Southwest)?

AS: Yes. It was a sort of explosion, or a small-scale export of Polish culture abroad. We were in fact the first band that was sent there. We always worked hard to be noticed, and lots of institutions helped us. So, I think of what I do in a wider context, of how to build things that will stay in people’s minds.

WO: I’d like to move on to a different world now, the world of restaurants.

AS: We are going through very hard times now (Ed. the COVID-19 epidemic).

WO: Yes, times are exceptionally tough now, but before these hard times came, you made the decision to start a restaurant. Before you tell us where you got the idea from, I’m curious what role you play – point guard or drummer? When you look at your culinary team: who is a soloist, who is the leader who writes the songs – or, in this case – creates the dishes? You? Or did you take on a new role when you changed businesses? I know, these are three different questions, but you can tell me the whole story, I would love to hear it.

AS: “Lokal” (in Polish: “The Place”) is a whole project, it’s more than just a restaurant, it has become a sort of culinary brand now. The idea to open a restaurant came from luck or coincidence you could say, because – apart from various contacts I had – the band also helped. One day, a group of our friends met, they were fans of the band and wanted to help my wife and I find a new path in life. They said “Look, we have some resources, you have some good energy, what if we created a place that was a combination of an art gallery and a music club?”. A place where we could meet with friends, or play concerts, and also have something to eat. We just have to make it work financially. At that time I was at a point in my life where I was looking for something new, something that could fill my time apart from my music. I had some more free time because I had just finished working on the Łódź Design festival, I was looking for a new project. So, with a pair of friends, a married couple, we said: “Fine, if you think you can try to help us, we will start looking for a place and thinking of how to make this work!” That’s how “Lokal” was born. I had never run a restaurant before, or worked in one. You know, lots of people know a lot about restaurants and bars, they work behind the bar, as waiters, as baristas, and they dream of opening their own place. I had always thought it would be a great idea to have a small coffee shop maybe, for friends, serve them coffee, maybe organize an event, hold an art show. A place that would draw people and create a lasting impression.

WO: As far as lasting impressions are concerned, I was thinking: Lemmy Kilmister, unfortunately after his death, had a Jack Daniels drink created for him called “Lemmy” , Sammy Hagar produced tequila, Iron Maiden owns the Trooper beer brand. Did you ever consider creating a dish called L.Stadt or Pejo, or maybe a drink made with your favorite, inconspicuous instrument – the shaker?

AS: No, I have a distanced approach to alcohol, I’m not a real rock-and-roller to create my own drink. But the “Lokal” menu does have a non-alcoholic drink called the “Peja Infusion”. It’s an infusion I love – ginger with honey and mint.

WO: Great for now, when you need to warm up and feel strong!

AS: Exactly! I think it’s a great drink to build strength and immunity. But, in general, I never had any ideas on food and drinks. I was more focused on building a brand, maybe a drink called Lokal or L.Stadt, more in that direction than something named for me. But these are all extras, not a base to build on.

WO: When you decided to build this new business, your restaurant, and define your role in it, did you have a mentor or advisor, someone you could ask “What would you do if you were me”? Or was it more intuitive, learning from your own mistakes, an effect of groundwork?

AS: No, we had no examples to follow. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into with this culinary adventure, so, we also had no idea what to expect. Our place not only served food, but also offered interesting events, built shared experiences. In our local community in Łódź this was something completely new. The “Owoce i Warzywa” (Polish for “fruit and vegetables”) café tried to be a place like this – they offered coffee, a bar with alcohol, sandwiches and cakes, but also a whole cultural program. This was something totally new in Łódź.

WO: So in fact “Lokal” was never a place that was meant to be strictly a restaurant?

AS: No, from the beginning food was only the basis of what we did. For a few years we were able to combine the culinary with the artistic. From day one we aimed for high quality. We were able to build a great team, and all of a sudden we found we were turning a profit! We were able to satisfy a need people had, you could see on the market, among people, that they wanted a place like this.

WO: Did you know people needed a place like this, or was this a surprise discovery?

AS: Well, people heard a new place was opening, called “Lokal”. What is it? Someone called “Pejo” Andrzej Sieczkowski is opening it, a restaurant, some food, maybe something else. People were curious. Then, all of a sudden, almost a thousand people showed up at the opening seven years ago. I thought to myself “Wow, what’s going on?”. This is not a small opening for a few people who got together to create something cool and fun, this has suddenly become a social event, a social phenomenon. Of course, the competition never sleeps, so similar places started popping up. In effect, “Lokal” also went through a sort of transformation.

WO: Is your menu in line with what you think people should be eating? Do you reject certain trends or ideas?

AS: We tried to create a place that would be consistent with our approach to life and healthy eating, we wanted the food we serve to be both artistic and interesting, unusual. So “Lokal”, even today, is not a place with a commercial menu, which serves burgers, pasta, and pizza. The menu is created by people with a passion. As I mentioned, my role is finding people to work for us. When you run a soccer team you build it piece by piece, player by player – you look for a forward who will shoot goals, a good goalie, and a strong midfielder. We look for people who may be able to cook or not, but who can bring something new to the table, something that Łódź has not seen yet. From the very beginning this has worked well at “Lokal”. Since day one we offered something new on the market. Young people with a passion ran the place. I always gave them a lot of freedom, I still do.

WO: Let’s talk about innovation, introducing novel solutions, taking risks. I think these are all elements that are necessary both in artistic and culinary activities. In current times, risk is a strong presence on our market in general. You once said that you use only a few instruments, so you have to be creative when it comes to doing something new. These limitations force you to invent new solutions. I think on the market in Łódź this is quite common, is it a golden rule to building innovation, to creating something new? Or only one tool of many?

AS: When we create music we start from small elements, like a rattle, for example. We limit the number of percussion instruments, of things that make noise, we want to create a base for this multilevel rhythm. When we created the restaurant, we also had technical and equipment limitations. We established these limits ourselves, so that the creativity of the person building the menu would be more visible. We create boundaries in order to make something using very simple methods.

WO: We keep moving between music and food. When you were small, did you play music using pots and pans?

AS: I remember jumping on the bed a lot as a child, music energized me. I don’t think I had a set of percussion pots and pans. But making home videos of our performances was fun, we used mops and brooms to replace guitars. As kids we often played creating “music videos”.

WO: An artist often has trouble feeling fully satisfied with their work of art. They feel they can always do something better. When you imagine a good day at “Lokal”, what does that mean? What has to happen for you to say to yourself “That was a good day, I can smile”?

AS: In the restaurant, regardless of the number of customers, all it takes is for someone to say something nice to us. If we make someone feel happy, improve their mood, if being in our “Lokal” makes someone feel better, or changes something in them – that is what gives me a lot of satisfaction.

WO: So again, the experience?

AS: Yes, that experience is just great.

WO: That sounds a lot like what you say after having made a recording, played a concert, or released a good album. If you had to choose: music or the restaurant, what would you choose? Is that choice even possible?

AS: It’s a hard choice, although music evokes stronger emotions in me. The restaurant is a meeting place and that is great, it’s also something I need. It’s a place that makes it possible to see, to meet with my friends, too.

WO: With music and food you can create a network of people that – I don’t mean to sound pompous – build a sort of community?

AS: Yes, exactly. The band also creates a community with our fans, but it’s more like you are “pulled out” of the crowd as the musician on stage. In the restaurant this works the other way – you host someone, it’s like the restaurant is a part of your home. That’s how I see it, you invite them in, to your place. On stage you open up to people, you express yourself, you convey your energy. In a restaurant it’s people who give you that energy, the feeling that the place is great, that they are happy to see you here, that this is an effect of your good work. The relationship works the other way.

WO: Were there moments of regret in you band or restaurant experience when you thought “I should have done something different”? A sort of lesson that made you take completely different decisions later?

AS: That’s hard to say, it was a long road. I think that as a band we could have acted faster, more aggressively. But does “faster” mean “better”? Hard to say.

WO: There will never be two parallel universes.

AS: In the band I think we could have done some things faster. We were afraid of making certain decisions, which, in the end, slowed us down.

WO: But in the case of the restaurant you showed courage in doing things that no one else did before. You thought “I’ll try, I have the support of people I can talk this over with, who will help me, I will try something new”. Do you have any ideas what comes next? In the meantime “Buffet” and “Format” happened. Do you want to continue trying, especially now, when the situation is quite specific, difficult? Or perhaps I should first ask you what ideas you had before the epidemic struck.

AS: Of course it’s a sort of battle, you fight for the place and for the possibility of making your ideas and dreams come true, or looking for new, more interesting ones. “Buffet” or the other places were short-term projects. I am now thinking of the current restaurant business challenges, it’s a very difficult time for us, so I’m starting to think: should we keep what we have, is this place needed, or would it be better to move to a new place, create something completely new and close this project, move ahead with the knowledge gained and use it elsewhere.

WO: One more question then: when I look at “Lokal” and the rules you live by in your relationships with people, I see a sort of ecology. Are there rules that helped you build this space, this place you identify with today? Do you have a sort of barometer or inward compass to guide you to your good decisions? Are there values that sometimes drive you, but at other times stop you and let you see the decision you made was the correct one?

AS: I always feel that sincerity and honesty are those values. If you feel your project is sincere, that you are giving off a certain honesty in what you do, communicating sincerity and honesty, then you will see the desired effect. On a macro or micro scale, I always think that what you do should be real, should come from deep inside you. When that happens and you add some luck, coincidence, and persistence, you will build something successful.

WO: Here we are: consistency and credibility again?

AS: People who are exceptionally sincere and honest with themselves have a certain inward consistency and credibility. Success doesn’t have to be directly linked to your career, or some financial aspect of life. I think the world is rethinking its values. We’ll see what happens next.

WO: The world is rethinking its values and today Andrzej Sieczkowski is “stuck at home”, colloquially speaking. What does this teach you, this being at home?

AS: This time at home is imposed, forced on us. I have a lot of time for different things. I love it, it’s like retirement hit me already. Running a restaurant is a really time-consuming job. You have to give up a lot of things, coordinate a lot, do many things at once, and this is very absorbing and time-consuming. Working in the restaurant business is like a constant battle in a crisis situation.

WO: For some people that is precisely what being a drummer seems like – a battle during a crisis, where each limb moves in a different direction.

AS: Now that I think about it, I am starting to have more control over certain things. For example, the percussion. This is really key, because you hold the central position and how the whole band will sound depends on you.

WO: You have experience from the kitchen, experience from the band, experience from playing the drums. Does Andrzej Sieczkowski want to pass something on to his children?

AS: I am teaching my son persistence now. He is very impatient and he expects results to come fast, while I think that it will be persistence and patience that will allow him to be successful. I think the process of waiting for certain things, and hard work of course, this is what gives us the most valuable results.

WO: So a small step forward is always better than a perfect plan that is never implemented?

AS: Yes, you can say that. I always believed that if you push the valuable things forward, even slowly, they will come through in the end, sooner or later.

WO: I hope that this will always be true for you, that high quality and value will always come through in the end. Thank you very much for this conversation, Andrzej.

*Our interview is different from others because we now find ourselves in a different reality (Ed. The country is under epidemic status due to COVID-19 ).

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