In Loving Memory of Szymon – Eva Irwin & Kubush Borzestowski on their brother’s musical legacy & the upcoming show at Splendour in the Grass

Szymon‘s posthumous Tigersapp album was quick to envelop listeners in its sublimely constructed world of folk, pop and electronica upon its August 2015 release. A stunning musical offering from a talented creative, Tigersapp unsurprisingly reaped in the critical acclaim (including an ARIA Award nomination and a spot on this year’s Australian Music Prize nominee list).

While existing as impressive musical legacy for the 23 year old who sadly took his own life after a battle with depression in 2012, Tigersapp is now set to be brought forth from its recorded form to the live stage, with a special tribute performance slated on the Saturday program at Splendour in the Grass. The album will be performed in full by Szymon’s family, while featuring some special guest vocalists,  for the first time and is expected to be a special highlight of this year’s festival.

For Szymon’s siblings, the process of learning how to recreate their brother’s music has been a technical and emotional challenge, but one they’ve been relishing in recent months.

“We’ve been working really hard at pulling this together,” his sister, Eva Irwin says. “The process has been just amazing. We’re learning everything by ear; we don’t have Szymon here to explain to us how to play bits, so it’s been a real process. It’s been an amazing process, to be able to just learn and pull it apart and listen to each stem and work it out. Collectively, it’s been a real joy to do that. It’s been a challenge, but it’s definitely been incredible.”

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Szymon’s brother, Kubush Borzestowski, who has been playing guitar since childhood, comments on the way this experience has taught him more about his brother’s musicality.

“It’s been really cool to be obviously working with siblings and good friends to pull this music apart and discover how he came up with a riff and how they all worked together.” he says. “It’s like discovering it all again and I’ve been loving the process of doing that. The music is amazing me again as to how he actually wrote it. He wasn’t necessarily a guitarist, he just picked up instruments and figured them out himself.”

“I’ve played guitar for most of my life and so now, pulling it apart, I’m going, ‘Wow – this is how he picked this song, how he wrote the guitar lines or the riffs,’ It’s been pretty special. I think we’ve all been loving working out what to play and how to play it, trying to keep it as true as we can. There’s a lot of different layers as well; we’re trying to best represent it and it’s pretty awesome!”

At the time of Szymon’s death, Tigersapp wasn’t yet a completed work. Between his family and under the guidance of EMI’s Mark Holland and Craig Hawker (now behind Eloper Music), the album as we’re able to enjoy it now was mixed and finalised for released. Now, just over month out from the album’s debut live performance, Kubush and Eva open up the idea of performing live with Szymon that had been discussed briefly when Szymon was alive.

“I suppose we never really did that with Szymon,” Kubush admits, when it comes to working with Szymon on preparing his music for gigs. “He was never quite ready to perform live; it was something that was discussed, but we never took it down that path. It was something I always thought we would get around to doing. At times, I wish it wasn’t so difficult, but it’s been pretty cool to make it all happen and work. We’ve still got a fair bit of work ahead, but it’s going to sound really good.”

“It’s an incredible opportunity,” Eva says of their upcoming Splendour appearance. “It’s just so special because when Szymon was alive, we as siblings talked about doing this one day. We were so excited at that point with him, talking about it, and he was excited even though he was nervous as well. It has been a long time in prep for this moment; we talked about it back then and after he died, we also talked about it.”

“Before we were approached by anybody, we talked about the prospect of recreating his music and how maybe that would be and how we could do that together as a family, as well as my husband. We were thinking about how cool that would be and now, we never imagined we’d ever be doing this. It’s been an amazing journey together even just talking about it. Even when Szymon was alive, just talking about this…it’s quite amazing how it’s all just come to be.”

Rehearsals | Photo: Facebook
Rehearsals | Photo: Facebook

The intricacies of Szymon’s music on Tigersapp offers the listener an opportunity to discover new layers and textures that have kept revealing themselves with each listen. Percussion crashes beautifully with poetic vocals and melodies, piano and guitar blend with haunting electronic production. A meticulously made album, Tigersapp has been a collection of material that’s had the same effect on those closest to Szymon as well.

“There are parts on there that I had never heard.” Eva laughs. “I just did not even realise they were there. The more we strip it back, the more we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh – that is so intricate’. The bass lines are so important and really intricate; I didn’t really realise that until we pulled it apart. I mean, Szym played bass and he loved the bass, so it’s interesting that it’s got such a voice on the songs. Usually, the bass will hold it together and it’s like the foundation, but there is a lot of movement in the bass lines and it’s really cool. Other random piano bits are in there too and now that’s all I can hear! Little bits and pieces that I’ve never registered before, now they’re becoming so clear. There is just so much more to the songs than what you hear, there are so many layers and it’s just so detailed.”

“He was fairly open,” Kubush remembers of his brother. “He didn’t collaborate with anyone on it [Tigersapp], but he didn’t necessarily keep it hidden. There’d often be times when I’d wake up in the morning and he’d be down there already working on something and I’d go off to uni or work and I’d come back and he’d have fully created this song. He’d often show me or sometimes he’d say, ‘Just wait.’ He wasn’t necessarily too secretive, he just worked alone on it. There were definitely times I remember him being pretty stoked on an idea and calling us in to have a listen. I think when you’re working by yourself, it’s good to have some human contact.”

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While the experience of reconnecting with their brother in this way has brought the family closer together, the idea of introducing themselves to a crowd of thousands at Splendour in the Grass for the first time in this way is one that has understandably, been daunting to think about.

“When the idea was first flagged,” Eva says. “It was like, ‘Really? Oh no, I don’t think so…’ It was just put out there and no one really thought it would be serious even though we thought it would be cool. That was towards the start of the year and then when Mark and Craig flagged it again and said, ‘Look I think this is going to happen, we’re going to get an offer from Splendour because they are so keen to have something, they love the record. They would love to see it performed live, if we could do it, how does that sound?’. We kept getting correspondence from Mark and Craig and I was like, ‘Okay boys, we need to think about this! This is potentially going to happen.'”

While their other brother Dom, Eva’s husband Josh and Eva herself were eager in getting behind the idea of performing Tigersapp live at Splendour, she admits Kubush approached the whole opportunity more cautiously at first.

“Kub is more of a perfectionist, very similar to Szym.” she says. “We all are, but I think because he knew that Kub would be one singing a lot of the vocal and playing a lot of the acoustic…it’s a lot of pressure! I think he was thinking a little more logically, so when Dom was like, ‘We can do it!’, Kub was saying, ‘Hang on a sec, how are we going to do this?’”

“He works full time as well and for me, I’m thinking, ‘I’m having a baby as well, I don’t think I can do this.’ We met up with Mark who came up to Newcastle and he asked, ‘How do you guys feel?’ and we just talked about it and asked ourselves, ‘Can we do it?’. We thought, ‘You know what? We can. We need to.’ We never thought we’d be able to play at Splendour, I thought maybe smaller gigs to start! We couldn’t say no. We love this and what an amazing way to honour our brother?”

Kubush admits that it has been hard to learn and prepare the show without Szymon here, the reality of it sinking in with each rehearsal. The special nature of the gig and the way his brother is due to be further celebrated as a result though, is definitely an element he has kept at the forefront of his mind.

“I think it’s going to be pretty emotional and special to hear it when we’re up on the stage.” he agrees. “There are definitely times during the practices where you get caught up in your thoughts a bit; you’re thinking about him, memories and so forth. We’d dreamed of playing with him and we’d discussed it as well when he was around with the label, if we’d get the opportunity to play with him.”

“There are certain tracks I always thought in my head, ‘I can’t wait to hear this one live through a big system,’” he continues. “I think this going to be a big, impacting thing for us. To be able to get up there and to hear it, it’s going to be really special. It’s something that I always thought would maybe happen; the guys who were helping him with his music were always speaking about doing it live, getting on festivals and things like that. It’s almost like a dream come true although obviously different to how we would have had it. It’s going to be a bittersweet moment.”

Rehearsals | Photo: Facebook
Rehearsals | Photo: Facebook

For Eva too, remembering the way Szymon would handle instrumentation and having that imagery in her head as they continue to learn parts had added an extra layer to the experience.

“I was talking this morning with my husband,” she mentions. “We were remembering, while working on the songs, how Szymon played them too. The way his hands would be, the way he held the instruments and how he played them. All of us were brainstorming that and everyone is remembering different aspects, my brothers especially, who were at home with him. We were laughing about it like, ‘Oh yeah! Szymon used to play it like this, you’ve got to get your hand here and play the chords like this…’ and strum things in a particular way. It’s been a cool remembering experience as well, obviously, but thinking about him and how he used to play the instruments too is an added layer there.”

“I’m really appreciative of my brothers,” Eva adds. “I love them dearly – they’re just so talented. Our voices blend beautifully and I think we were all going to be on board with Szym if he had to go on tour or if he was around, we were ready to do that. Kubush though, who is leading most of the songs, his voice is just beautiful. He sounds uncannily like Szymon. Then you’ve got Dom, who has a beautiful voice too and is also drumming and then myself, just blending together.”

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“It just renews my love for family,” she says. “Also the value that I have on my brothers and how amazing they are in pulling this together. They’ve done a lot of work, my husband too, the three of the boys have just pulled together and have done so much work in pulling out the stems, making parts for everybody which have been discussed heaps. We just really want to honour Szymon the best we possibly can and it’s brought us closer together; it’s amazing actually playing music together as a family, there’s something really special in that. I’ve loved having to see my brothers more.”

Dom, who audiences will recognise from his countless shows drumming with Gang of Youths, will be behind the kit again for this show, though he’ll also be delving more into some vocal territory too, an element of his musicality his sister is keen to see more on display.

“He surprised us at the last Gang of Youths show in Sydney actually,” she says. “Dave [Le’aupepe] was doing one of his quieter songs on the piano and out of nowhere, there was a harmony that started and I was like, ‘Who’s singing that?’. It was bizarre because there was no one onstage, really. Then the light came up and there was Dom at the back singing this harmony along with Dave. I was like, ‘Oh man…’ it sounded so good! He really loves singing too, it’s awesome that we can all bring our gifts and our talents together and really create this. He’s unbelievably talented.”

Dom Borzestowski | Photo: Lauren Connelly
Dom Borzestowski | Photo: Lauren Connelly

At this stage, fans of Szymon’s music have been given snippets of updates as to how rehearsals have been going while online, various takes on Tigersapp material have been created and published to YouTube and other music sharing platforms. Most recently, we were shown the visuals for album cut “Floods”, created by Casual Psychotic.

“All the singles that we’ve released have had a different concept attached to it,” Eva explains. “Whoever’s doing the video clips have really had their own vision and their perspective on it, it’s beautiful. Each video is so different and I love that, because each song is so unique in and of itself. I love that the visuals reflect those different sides; each visual is very conceptual and I love that.”

“Szymon was so deep and there were so many deep thematic issues and concepts and ideas, that everyone will interpret it in their own way. It’s beautiful to see other people responding to it and getting excited about it and creatively coming out with their own images. It’s awesome.”

So while we’re still a little while out from seeing the Borzestowski family and their loved ones pay tribute to Szymon in a live music capacity, both Eva and Kubush are confident about the direction the show is headed in and are each expressive when it comes to their enthusiasm surrounding coming weeks of rehearsals and putting the final touches on the show.

“It’s been really exciting that we’ve been given this opportunity to do this for our brother.” Kubush says. “We’re all really excited even though it is slightly daunting, I suppose, going from playing nowhere to being straight up on a platform like that. Regardless, I think it’s an amazing opportunity and we’re really excited to be able to do this for our brother. To give him the opportunity for this sort of exposure, for people to hear his music live – it’s another special thing that we’re able to do for him. We released the music in August of last year and that was an amazing thing in itself and now, to be releasing it in this way as well, we’re just really thankful.”

“It’s been cool to see it all unfold.” he says of the last few months. “I think our intention anyway has always been to try and release his music in the way that Szymon would’ve had it done and to have it there for family and friends. For us, it’s an amazing memory and anything else that has happened from there has just been an added bonus. Every time we have a blog that’s written about the music or an interview like this, or an opportunity like Splendour, we just love it. Obviously we love and miss our brother but we enjoy speaking of him and especially about one of the things that he loved most, the music.”

Tigersapp is out now.

The In Loving Memory of Szymon performance is slated for July 23rd at Splendour in the Grass. To keep up to date with everything Szymon, follow along HERE.

If you’re experiencing depression and you’d like to seek some help or someone to talk to, contact Beyond Blue or Lifeline.

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