My love for The Polish Ambassador runs deep. I first stumbled across his music nearly a decade ago while digging online for free electronic dance music. I found a torrent file of the producer’s entire discography, downloaded it, listened to it, and was delighted to find out that TPA himself had uploaded the tracks.
This was unusual. What kind of artist would give away their entire catalog to the world for free? Even the new stuff? I had to find out.
TPA is kind of a western phenomenon. Even though he was raised outside of Philadelphia, he went to college in Boulder, and started his music career while studying at the University of Colorado. Now he lives in California, and he’s played shows all over that side of the country. He rarely makes his way East, and almost never to where I live here in Rochester, New York.
We came to the Tripolee stage in the late afternoon to find a modest smattering of fans that started growing as soon as the first beat hit. Thousands of bodies poured in from all sides, drawn in by TPA’s intergalactic dance party.
I was struck by how gracious he was. Amidst a cavalcade of over-hyped DJs in skinny jeans standing on the decks and screaming at the crowd for us to “MAKE SOME F*CKING NOISE!” it was refreshing to find this unassuming, groovy dude in a thrift store jumpsuit just dancing around, snapping his fingers, and smiling widely, radiating love.
The only time he got on mic was to express gratitude. This was, at the time, the largest crowd TPA had ever performed in front of, and he made thousands of new fans that day.
We bought yellow onesies and modified them to emulate TPA’s signature style. We built a “WE ARE ONESIE” totem and got to the stage early so we could ride the rail.
David Sugalski (the man behind the jumpsuit) noticed us and jumped off the stage to greet us. He congratulated us on our DIY jumpsuits and insisted that we join him on stage. He made arrangements for the event staff to bring us up when he gave the signal.
It was exhilarating. I remember feeling like I might explode from happiness and gratitude as we danced to the aptly titled “Center for Kids Who Can’t Dance Good” (one of my favorite TPA jams) before thousands of screaming fans.
This moment started a new Hulaween tradition, and we were invited on stage again in 2018 to cut some rug with Polish’s brand new live act, The Diplomatic Scandal.
I was stoked to get this intimate perspective for my first DIPSCAN experience, where we were able to enjoy several live performances of songs from “Land of the Lush”.
The TPA sound has seen a notable transformation over the years. His early efforts (See “Diplomatic Immunity” and “The Phantasmal Farm”) have a spacey, 16-bit electro-funk aesthetic. I still keep some of these bangers in rotation. The production is less refined, but you can hear loads of interesting potential within these glitched-out bedroom recordings.
His style has matured over the years, incorporating more real instrument sounds, world music vibes, and vocal collaborations, resulting in productions that are increasingly intricate and evocative.
The creation of a TPA live band was inevitable. David Sugalski (TPA) has been performing with guitarist/percussionist Ryan Herr for years now, adding a live guitar element to some select DJ sets, like this headlining TPA performance at Red Rocks Amphitheater in 2016:
These two would eventually go on to recruit Tyson Leonard (violin) and Jesse James (sax and flute) to form The Polish Ambassador & The Diplomatic Scandal. “Land of the Lush” is the band’s debut studio album.
The title track kicks things off with a dubby head-nodder that sways effortlessly from chilled-out, string-laden grooves to brassy, anthmeic rises and falls.
“Call of the Canyon” showcases the signature TPA bounce that his fans know and love, enhanced with tribal hand drums, funky guitar-work and a mystical fluttering flute.
“Waking Moons” finds us in a gentle, plucky daydream, but eventually speeds up and rises into a celebratory space dance. This is my favorite track on the album.
“Forest Funk” and “2080” have that distinct, jumpsuit-wearing, finger-snapping backbeat that let's you know you’re in a TPA song, but with a movie-soundtrack-like intensity that elevates them into something totally novel.
“Enchanter” surrounds with a smoky reggae interlude that found its way instantly onto my “chill” playlist.
On “Time Rebel”, synth pads and vocal samples bounce along to an urgent beat, fitting snugly into the flute and string flourishes throughout.
The album finishes with “We’re Flyin’ Girl”. A big fat bassline calls us in for one last dance. Tyson’s violin serenades, Jesse’s flute croons, and Ryan’s guitar picks gleefully along until the end. You may see, in your mind’s eye, the maestro behind it all, smiling widely, and radiating love.
There are a few get-up-and-dance moments on this album, but it’s an overall contemplative bunch of tracks, especially when compared to the latest TPA album, “Twilight Safari.”
“Land of the Lush” isn’t as edgy or as energetic as that album, but it’s more musical, and the live instrumentation is a welcome accompaniment to Polish’s sound.
I love the mellow, earthy vibe of this record, but eschewing any vocal performances seems like a missed opportunity to me. Some lyrics from TPA’s partner and other-half of Wildlight, Ayla Nereo would have meshed perfectly with the live instrumentation. A verse or two from legacy TPA wordsmiths like Nitty Scott or Mr. Lif could have punched up some of the chiller tracks. I would love to hear some of these voices (or even some new voices) on the next album. Despite this omission, this album is beautiful and the music really does speak for itself.
If you haven’t already, please give Land of the Lush a spin. If you like it, support the project by purchasing the album on bandcamp (pay what you want). Then, go see The Polish Ambassador & The Diplomatic Scandal live in concert just as soon as you can. I promise you will not be disappointed.
INTERVIEW WITH TPA
Gary Wheat: What was the writing process like for “Land of the Lush”? Did the instrumentalists write their own parts? Or were they playing music that you had written?
I archived all of that stuff away, thinking that it would make a really cool future live album if ever the right live instrumentalists came together.
So I put it off to the side on a hard drive, and lo and behold, I met Ryan Herr. We became friends after working on a few music projects together. He’s an amazing guitarist. He’s the one who introduced me to Tyson Leonard, the violinist, and Jesse James, the saxophone and flute player. Those three had actually been playing music together for some time while living together in a So-Cal town called San Luis Obispo.
So the core of the album was written by me in 2014, and once I met those guys I hired them to take some weeks in the studio. In most cases they are playing live versions of composed elements that I had written back in 2014, but injecting their own creativity and expanding on them.
GW: We really enjoyed seeing DIPSCAN for the first time this year at Hulaween. Aside from your stellar dance moves, what is your technical role on stage during a DIPSCAN set?
TPA: My technical role is a few things. I have all of these different composed tracks stemmed out, and I can control all of those. So I am running several different tracks on my computer at once: drums, bass, lead, and then occasionally extra components like a second lead, a percussive element, or an effect.
It’s more complicated than it looks, because while I’m managing those tracks, I’m creating opportunities for people to have solos, putting effects on individual tracks, transitioning from song to song, and also giving vocal cues through our internal microphone system.
So I’m kind of the captain of the ship. They can all hear me but I can’t hear them.
Sometimes I’ll joke around with the guys on stage just to get the music into a more playful zone. Or sometimes I’ll say something like “Hey Tyson, this is you buddy, you gotta rip this, get out front!” and then he’ll go out and stand on the speaker and play a solo. So I’m part motivational speaker and part technician back there.
GW: So are you using Ableton for this? Do you have a preferred controller that you use?
GW: How many jumpsuits are in your closet?
TPA: Ok, so there’s the O.G., which was a thrift store find. It was a women’s ski suit from the 70s. It was incredibly hot, so after about 3 years and sweating off hundreds of pounds, I decided to hire someone to make a replica.
So the replica was the second one.
Then we made a summertime, sleeveless version and I wore that for a while.
Then Karl Funhouse (The Sparkle Wizard) made me a sparkle spandex suit, and he also made me a purple version of that suit. So that’s four and five.
Now the sixth and latest one was made by a guy named Kevin who runs a company called Bearfruit Designs. He made me a two-piece jumpsuit that is really cool.
G: Do you have plans to make any more jumpsuits available on your merch store?
TPA: We have made about 100 of each design so far, and we’ve talked talked about doing a run of the new two-piece jumpsuits. If enough of the fans want them I’m happy do do another run, we just need to suss out the demand.
It is always really fun looking out into the crowd and seeing TPA jumpsuits, and they always seem to find each other in the crowd, which is really cool.
G: I first discovered your music when I found your entire discography in a torrent, which I later found out was released by you! I notice on your bandcamp your albums are all “name your price”. Why do you give your art away? Do you believe that music should be free?
TPA: Well, I don’t necessarily believe music should be free, but I don’t feel like it should be paid for either. If you wanted to download a discography of an artist and listen to it, I have no problem with that whatsoever. I also don’t have a problem with wanting to pay.
I don’t think either thing is good or bad because I have an awareness that it’s all gonna come out in the wash. For example, there you were at Hulaween, and you paid for a ticket, and your friends paid for tickets, and I’m able to make a living because Hulaween pays me, so it all comes back in the end.
From a holistic perspective, it’s always gonna come back to the artist. I love the free music model, and I think it’s gotten my music out to a lot more people, so I feel great about it. It will never stop for me. My music will always be free.
G: It’s been inspiring to watch the Jumpsuit Record Label grow over the years. Can you recommend some lesser-known Jumpsuit Records artists that we should be watching right now?
TPA: To set the record straight, Jumpsuit Records isn’t really a traditional record label. It’s more of a service project to help the artists that we love get more exposure. Most of these artist come to us either through mutual friends or through our demo portal. I curate the whole label myself, so anything that’s coming out I’m basically saying “I like this music.” It’s what’s in my personal playlist.
In terms of the lesser known artists, I really like Tone Ranger, I think he’s great. Rorschack put out a really cool, sexy, downtempo album couple months ago that I love. Youssoupha plays amazing kora music. It’s very meditative. I listen to him a lot. He’s actually a Senegalese priest and an amazing human. He’s putting some beautiful music and energy into the world. Those are just a few artists who I think are a little bit underappreciated but definitely worth your time.
G: Do you have any plans to visit Western New York on tour? Maybe Buffalo or Rochester?
TPA: Possibly! We’re still in the process of figuring out what this next tour is going to look like. Will it be a full-on bus tour, where I could visit smaller markets on off nights? Or will it be flying out and doing selected regions like Philly, New York, or Boston for a weekend?
We’re also tossing around the idea of doing Jumpsuit Family Gatherings in one location, like, coming to NYC, or Asheville, NC, and renting a venue for a whole weekend and doing an event with several Jumpsuit artists. We’ll have to figure out how it’s going to work still. We’re just not sure yet.
G: Have you had any different monikers other than The Polish Ambassador? How did you choose this name?
TPA: I briefly used the moniker “Ample Mammal” right after I moved from Chicago to the Bay Area. I had also exited a relationship at that time, and that combination of freshness in my life made me want to try something new. But then, for various reasons, I decided to go back to “The Polish Ambassador.”
When I was in college, I had two turntables and a mixer. I was sort of a party DJ for college parties, and I was really into scratching. I was a really big fan of The Invisibl Skratch Piklz, and Cut Chemist, and DJ Shadow. I wanted to emulate them so I got some old records from a local record shop and learned how to scratch.
One of them was this spoken word comedy album from the 70s. That record had a little part that said “Here comes the Polish Ambassador!”, so I started scratching that and putting that into my mixes. After that, my friends in college started calling me The Polish Ambassador, because of that, and because of my heritage. My last name is Sugalski, so I’m very Polish.
G: What would you most like TPA to be remembered for?
TPA: I would like The Polish Ambassador to be remembered as a guy who encouraged people to drop their desire to be cool, and encouraged them to have fun with themselves and with their friends, and to contact something beyond the ego that allowed their inner light or inner spirit to shine just a bit more.
G: What’s the most interesting book you read in 2018?
TPA: It’s called “I Am That”. It’s a book about enlightenment, and moving beyond the ego into something more real, and more present. It’s about presence. It’s by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, who is an Indian guru. It’s a fascinating exploration and highly recommended.
G: Is there anything else you want to make your fans aware of heading into 2019?
TPA: I’m working on a new record that will probably be out in late spring. It’s going to be all funky house tunes. It’ll be quite a bit different than the live album but I think you guys will dig it!