The Collingwood
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The Collingwood

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"Film-Influenced Music"

Author: Brad Glanden

The Collingwood’s work has evolved against behind-the-scenes drama


In 1979, when Chris Malinowski was 9 years old, he cemented a friendship—and shortly thereafter, a musical partnership—with a young bass player named Eric Bolen. They played in several bands together, notably the ’80s “shock rock” act Freakshow, before losing touch with each other. But when Malinowski needed a bassist for his Landenberg-based band the Collingwood, Bolen obliged.

“He joined the Collingwood in 2002, after I hadn’t spoken to him in over 10 years,” Malinowski says. “He added a much-needed drive to our project, and an ambition boost.”

The very next year, Bolen lost all but one finger on his left hand as a result of a car accident. Amazingly, he recovered from this and re-taught himself how to play. But then tragedy struck again just months later when Bolen suddenly died.

“He was the first musician I ever played with,” Malinowski recalls. “He was a kind, simple, loving young man who cared deeply about his creativity.”

Bolen’s death occurred just one year after the passing of Malinowski’s father Sylvester, a music teacher with a Newark shop called Mal’s Music.

“He was so well-versed in music,” Malinowski says. “He made going to guitar lessons, drum lessons, or piano lessons a good time. To this day, at least once a week, somebody comes up and mentions my dad to me.”

Malinowski, who earned his bachelor’s degree studying film at New York’s Ithaca College, has guided the Collingwood through such personal tragedies as well as erratic personnel changes since the band’s 1999 inception.

Because Malinowski spent years fronting “dramatic rock bands,” the Collingwood’s distinctive post-rock may seem like a departure for the one-time shock-rocker. But the band does retain certain trademarks from Malinowski’s heavy metal days, minus the meticulous makeup and stage theatrics—that is, unless Malinowski’s intense delivery can be considered “theatrical.” What remains is an overpowering sense of drama, an atmosphere of mounting tension that brings an epic feel to the Collingwood’s songs.

“When the band first began, it was more or less score-oriented,” Malinowski says. “There was going to be no singing. The idea was to have a subtle rock band that sounded like a John Carpenter film score, or Fred Myrow’s score from Phantasm. There was something fascinating to me about film scores having a heavy sound without using any kind of distortion, and that made me want to play the type of music I play with the Collingwood.”

Malinowski is still enthusiastic about the musical influences that helped shape his previous bands—“early Kiss, German heavy metal bands like Accept or early Scorpions”—but current Collingwood bassist Bill Ackerman introduced him to a new source of inspiration: post-rock. Bands such as LaBradford and Pan American freshly inspired Malinowski to compose the Collingwood’s hypnotic, slow-building songs. With Ackerman, guitarist Jim Pennington, and drummer Brian Naudain, Malinowski has assembled a powerful lineup—just don’t mistake them for a “jam band.”

“We’re not noodling,” says Pennington. “We’re not up there improvising or playing long solos. We’re playing very disciplined, crafted music.”

Over the course of two EPs—Why Cough? Save. (2003) and Sylvester to the Bzz Myapp Accompaniment (2005)—the Collingwood have brought their non-cinematic influences into tighter focus, even incorporating vocals (albeit subdued ones). The EPs contain Bolen’s pre-accident basswork; Sylvester honors the memories of both Malinowski’s father and Bolen with its intriguing title and artwork.

“Bzz myapp was just a code word that Eric and I had used as kids,” Malinowski explains. “Sylvester was my father’s name.” A photo of his dad graces the cover of the EP, while Bolen’s picture appears on the back.

Of all things, Malinowski has co-opted a kitchen-appliance brand name—“nostalgia electric”—to identify both the Collingwood’s sound and its raison d’être. In the late ’80s, he rented a dozen or more videos a week (“Mostly bad telecine-transfer VHS tapes of 1970s regionalist horror films”) and stayed up after Freakshow rehearsals to watch them till dawn. These films, which typified the “feel of disused location” Malinowski experienced as a child, became the principal motivation for his lifelong commitment to both music and cinema.

“The moments that I most cared about in these films were the ‘downtime’ segments,” he explains. “The moment before or after an event has occurred. This is the main reason that the Collingwood doesn’t use distortion on its guitars, and buries its vocals on record. The restraint, in this manner, prolongs this ever-important moment, which is all I really care about in music and film.”

Of course, one doesn’t have to be a film theorist to enjoy the Collingwood, or Malinowski’s work as a filmmaker. (His “Alms,” You Say will premiere Saturday, Aug. 4 at the University of Delaware’s John Clayton Hall; see pg. 15.) Anyone can identify with the desire to recapture lost innocence, or to vividly recall half-remembered places and faces.

“I’m trying to get back to a 9-year-old’s naïveté, knowing what I know now,” he says. “Knowing that there is disappointment, but that the disappointment dissipates. I think a lot of people push that away, and that’s why there isn’t a multi-dimensional element to a lot of songwriting and filmmaking.” - Out & About Magazine


"Developing The Negative"

Inside The Collingwood's cinematic songs of loss and yearning.

by Shaun Brady

I first met Chris Malinowski when I was a guitar-wielding 13-year-old at Mal's Music, his father's Newark, Del., shop, to begin what turned out to be a few years of fruitless guitar lessons. Mal (Sylvester Malinowski, if you care to stand on formality), who taught me only briefly before entrusting my six-string future to Chris, was the perfect teacher/cheerleader. He talked to aspiring teenage guitar gods as equals, and made every kid who passed through his doors feel like they were mere steps away from rock-star status. Yet he brooked no bullshit, whether from student or from parent. It came as a profound shock when Chris and I sat down for this interview and I heard that his father had passed away almost two years prior.

At the same time that he was showing me proper fretboard techniques, Chris Malinowski led Freakshow, a makeup-covered shock-rock band that emerged from coffins onstage to perform horror-film serenades. Freakshow's bassist, Eric Bolen, later reteamed with Malinowski in his current group, The Collingwood, playing on both of their CDs before his own untimely death last October. Malinowski says that both passings, coming so close together, were devastating. "Like somebody had just taken a handful of me out of my chest."

He and Bolen met when they were 9 and formed their first band shortly thereafter. "I played my first gig with Eric at a Webelos meeting in Avondale, Pa., in February of 1980 and I played my last show with him at The Fire in Philadelphia in October of 2004." At the time of that final show, Bolen was playing the bass with one finger. He had suffered a car accident the previous Christmas Eve that cost him his middle finger and the use of two others. "We were in the studio mixing the new disc, and he brought a bass with him and started jamming along with the songs. I'm like, "My God, this guy's doing this with one finger.' He was in pain, but it was working out."

"The nuance that all of this loss has created really is inherent in all of the songs," muses Malinowski. There is an autumnal longing in The Collingwood's music, the wistful guitars and half-buried vocals evoking long-abandoned, dust-filled rooms and the last light of dusk falling on empty suburban streets. The fact that the songs were written well before any of these events makes it "an existential longing, but then these things became manifest with the loss of my father and Eric."

The songs as written express a different sort of loss, one that Malinowski finds difficult to articulate but that involves the lost ideal of adulthood as viewed through the eyes of adolescence, "and whatever enchantment I gave the tiny things that are sometimes there and sometimes not there anymore."

"Overthinking something like walking in someone else's house that I had never been in before and feeling almost a cinematic déj• vu, like I'd been there before in a film. Whatever that intangible is, I try to create that. I don't even know what I'm homesick for."

Malinowski's cinematic sense stems from a lifetime spent hooked on movies. He studied film at Ithaca College in New York, after having consumed a steady diet of horror flicks while growing up. But "it was never the ax in the head that turned me on," he explains. "I always liked the downtime moments. The scenes where the boy is spending time in his bedroom, just contemplating the situation. Establishing shots of a house or a town. There's something really comfortable about those scenes for me. I walk outside and suddenly my life becomes magical because I'm looking at something similar to what I had seen on the screen. I guess it's that immortalization of the mundane."

That feeling is crystallized in The Collingwood's lyrics, which are more imagistic than narrative, an aural slideshow of impressions that forgo the concrete for the sensual. He also hopes to capture it in Alms, You Say, a short film he's written and plans to direct later this summer. The film is "about a teenage vagabond who, via coming into contact with mundane things in his life, sends a wisp of totemic remembrance to three individuals living in this seaside town where he also lives. It's not terribly narrative, it's very vague and, like the music, is very feeling-oriented."

Wednesday's show celebrates the release of The Collingwood's new CD, Sylvester to the Bzz Myapp Accompaniment, which Malinowski hopes will find its way to people "who would really appreciate this, who would cry to it, who would fuck to it, who would laugh to it, who would shit to it, really make it their own."

"I want it to get to the right audience, that's what's important," he says. "I don't want to die without that happening." - Philadelphia CityPaper


Discography

CDs:
"Why Cough? Save." (2003)
"Sylvester to the Bzz Myapp Accompaniment" (2005)
"The Pitter Patter of Little Everything" (2009 - Recording)

Photos

Bio

“There is an autumnal longing in The Collingwood’s music, the wistful guitars and half-buried vocals evoking long-abandoned dust-filled rooms and the last light of dusk falling on empty suburban streets.” - Shaun Brady/Philadelphia City Paper

Formed in 1999 by guitarist/filmmaker, Christopher Malinowski, The Collingwood mesh cinema-driven, minor-key melodies with elements of post-rock and progressive-soul, creating circuitous compositions, both contemplative and severe. The Collingwood is renowned for its impetuous, harshly-lit live performances, equal parts drama and ass-shake. Members live, run, and photograph in Landenberg, Pennsylvania - Newark, Delaware – and Elkton, Maryland.