Look up the Polish word kolezanka online, and it usually translates as “colleague.” But to Kristina Moore, founder of the Phoenix-based band of the same name, the word has a much richer and less clinical meaning. Like schadenfreude or the popular hygge, it’s one of those foreign terms that’s poetic in its specificity and has no exact English equivalent.
“It’s like a friend — a female friend, because the Polish language is gendered — who you kick it with, but it’s not your best friend,” Moore says. “They don’t know a lot of things about you. Maybe you go drinking, or you meet up sometimes, whatever.”
The moniker is fitting for a band whose music is as emotionally precise and tough to define as the name. Moore writes the songs and performs them with bandmates Winter Calkins, who sings and plays keys, and Ark Calkins (they’re married), who triggers the drum machine and plays bass and keys.
Perched on the Calkins’ patio in the Garfield neighborhood on a cool late September night, the trio struggles to find the right words to describe the band’s sound. “Dreamy,” “noise,” and “minimal” are tossed around and combined into various formulations. “Dreamy dream dream” enters the running for a moment.
Moore becomes lost in thought wondering what it means to be “pop” and if Kolezanka’s music fits into the genre. The consensus is yes, sort of. “But you gotta add the feelings,” Winter says.
Ultimately, the closest anyone can get to characterizing Kolezanka’s style is by comparing it to scuba diving — complete immersion, the sensation of floating but not being completely weightless, a gentle pressure against the lungs.
“Can we write this down?” Moore asks, joking. Since writing the first songs and forming the band last year, she’s struggled anytime someone asks her to label it.
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That’s partly because Moore doesn’t listen to very many other artists. When she’s working on new tracks, she deliberately avoids outside influences. Kolezanka released their debut album, Vessel, in July this year, and Moore crafted several of the songs after a trip to Europe where she listened exclusively to Grizzly Bear and Broadcast.
Though Moore composes Kolezanka’s music, penning the lyrics and laying down demos with her own synths, guitars, and beats, she couldn’t bring it to life without Winter and Ark. They’re essential to performances and to shaping the band’s aesthetic.
Apart from the Calkins’ musical skills, they have strong visual arts backgrounds and render Kolezanka’s sounds in colors and images.
Ark creates the projections that play during the band’s shows, piecing together clips of 1930s and ’40s animation, early computer graphics, and found footage from YouTube, including videos from scuba divers’ personal uploads. The projections aren’t strictly timed to each song, and there’s no direct connection between the rhythms or lines and clips, but at moments they feel uncannily synchronized. It’s hypnotic watching scenes from a coral reef play out behind Moore as she sings about swimming in anger, sinking down, and losing her breath.
“I literally just sat and listened to the record as I edited, just hoping for those happy accidents,” Ark says. “I’m maybe not necessarily making decisions based on exactly what I’m hearing, but it’s in me as I’m working, so it always ends up translating perfectly somehow.”
All three band members collaborated on the album artwork for Vessel, which features a bright photograph of a shattered earthen vase resting on delicate white lace. The image was partly inspired by a lace installation that Winter built for one of the band’s first shows, before she joined as a full-fledged member. Winter also drew several variations of the broken pottery shards, and one of her sketches became a T-shirt design and the cover for the single “bury me.” She compiled the rest of the drawings into a limited-run zine that juxtaposed her art with lines from the record. The zine sold out during their tour supporting the album.
“I’d been reading this book and was thinking about the way that a woman is a vessel, in the way that she physically becomes a vessel and the way that she can emotionally be a vessel for others,” Moore says. “So I brought that to [Winter], and she came up with it.”
Themes of femininity are central to the album and Moore’s songwriting. Vessel is deeply emotional, and the pains and paradoxes that it illustrates are especially relatable for femme-identifying people. Standout track “Pageant” stings with all-too-recognizable anxieties: “‘I’m fine’ / Anytime they ask you but don’t be too shy / If you’re soft you’re asking for it.” As the song fades out with “It’s easier to just pretend” on repeat, resignation shifts to anger with the next track, “Posture: A Performance.” Moore’s voice swells from near-whispered irritation to outright rage as she grows tired of playing nice the way women are often expected to do.
“She is so poised they say / They say so many things after she walks away … What muscles are used to be forceful with words / To be wise in demeanor.”
Experiences with gender and the physical self continue to occupy Moore’s thoughts as she works on the band’s next album. It’s only in the beginning phases, but so far, the songs she’s written circle around growing up and coming of age.
“[One] song is a lot about the way that I identified myself as a child and the gender ambiguity that I felt, then getting older, developing a woman’s body and feeling very betrayed,” she says.
With the second record, Moore hopes to work more closely with Ark and Winter throughout the composition and demo process. Rather than bringing completed songs to them, she would like to introduce fluid versions that the bandmates can experiment with together. They may try live drums and more improvisational elements.
Another big project for the band right now is making Kolezanka’s first music video, tentatively slated for release by the end of October, for the song “bury me.” It’s a natural artistic extension for the group, and it has proven to be one of their biggest challenges so far.
Moore is directing and Ark is editing. Tempe photographer Ash Ponders captured the footage, starring a cast of 13 or so women. Moore is careful not to reveal too many more details about the video, apart from the fact that it has been a massive effort.
“This is the bittersweet aspect of us doing literally everything ourselves,” she says. “We killed ourselves getting ready for tour, and we might die making this video. But it’s so rewarding when you have that because we have so much control, and all of us have different strengths.”
Between the video, the next album, and shows in town — including recently opening for Perfume Genius at Valley Bar and an upcoming gig at The Lunchbox with Chiffon and Soft Bodies — Kolezanka have a lot in store for Phoenix music fans. And plenty to keep them busy for the foreseeable future.
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All the band members are pursuing other ventures, too. Moore plays keys in the ’60s-inspired pop ensemble ROAR and will join them for tour in November, in addition to making occasional guest appearances with self-proclaimed “drone folk” group Willetta. Ark drums for Willetta (“The scene is so incestuous here,” Moore interjects) and is working on his second release as a solo artist. Winter is studying to earn a degree in electrical engineering and thinking about what her area of specialization might be.
“I would like to go to space or make something that goes to space,” she says. “I would like to make stuff that makes noise. And I would like to solve the world’s energy crisis. Any of those would be acceptable. I’m leaving my options open.”
Catch Kolezanka now before its members head off to the East Coast, or the moon.
Kolezanka are scheduled to perform Wednesday, October 18, at The Lunchbox. Tickets are $7 at the door.