Funeral home employee doubles as a progressive metal drummer


By Aidan Gardiner

Volume 81, Number 5 | June 30 – July 6, 2011

West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

By day, Adam Romanowski is an executive assistant at Greenwich Village Funeral Home. Above, he stood next to a display coffin in the funeral home’s showroom. By night, Romanowski is the hard-rocking drummer in the progressive metal band Gwynbleidd.

Funeral home employee doubles as a progressive metal drummer

Adam Romanowski is undeniably professional. He slips a tie under his collar every morning before going to work to handle transportation arrangements and insurance paperwork. Then at night, he heads home to hammer out his hobby.

But as hard as he tries to keep the two areas of his life separate, they will always seem to share a kind of serendipitous bond.

Romanowski is both the drummer for the progressive metal band Gwynbleidd and an executive assistant at Greenwich Village Funeral Home, at 199 Bleecker St.

“I lead the double life,” he said. “I’ve been pulling it off somehow.”

Romanowski, 40, is from Warsaw, Poland, and came to New York in 1989 to be a musician. His first job, however, was as a maintenance worker at a funeral home in Brooklyn where his uncle was working at the time.

“I was the only person he’d seen working for him with long hair,” said Romanowski, who has since cut his hair. “The owner used to chase me around with scissors as a joke.”

His life is at once paradoxical (a crisp, dignified man who is in a dark, raucous band) and perfectly matched (a funeral home employee, part of a genre thick with themes of death, loss, torment). Romanowski worked for several other funeral homes before settling in at G.V.F.H. in 2003. He’s been drumming since he was 15 and joined his current band in 2005.

Greenwich Village Funeral Home, founded in 1977 by Peter DeLuca, is immaculate. It’s adorned with antique flourishes like ornate, stained-glass doors and neoclassical cornices, along with modern touches like LCD monitors. G.V.F.H. has handled locals’ services, as well as those for other notables, like Natasha Richardson, Keith Haring and miracle 9/11 survivor Josephine Harris. A framed commendation from City Hall praises DeLuca’s firm for the dignity and care it affords to families.

“We’re giving everything we possibly can of ourselves,” DeLuca said.

DeLuca said Romanowski is an integral part of his staff, whom he relies on because of his many years of experience in the industry.

“When you call up and ask for Adam, Adam will be here five days a week,” DeLuca said. “And everyone else, when Adam is off, will know whom Adam dealt with and be prepared. He’ll even, on his day off, speak to the person.

“His enormous patience and ability to listen has been a great help because he’s very much involved in the day-to-day operations of discussing things with families,” DeLuca added.

Balancing a position in a band and a full-time day job can be challenging. Occasionally, Romanowski is forced to stay out late at night to perform and then show up to work the next day and console grieving families. He said that his passion for drumming keeps pushing him onward.

“I handle it,” he said. “I love doing what I do, so you don’t mind it because drumming is something that I like doing. It’s not like I’m making tons of money doing this, so it has to be passion,” he said of the band.

Gwynbleidd — whose music has also been described as black metal and death metal — is currently in a transition phase. They’ve enjoyed some minor success after releasing their first full album, “Nostalgia,” in 2009, but now they want to go in a new direction. Two of the band’s members, Jakub Kupieszewski and Maciej Kupieszewski, are leaving. Romanowski and Michal Kacunel, currently the only other bandmate, are now auditioning new members.

They were slated to play a show in July with Immolation, another metal band, but Romanowski said that it’s unlikely that Gwynbleidd will be ready by then.

When “Nostalgia” was released, every band member was a Polish expatriot and most of the songs dealt with themes of loss and longing for home. They are often thunderous, with Romanowski’s drums pushing everything forward, but then dissipate into ornate guitar crawls. It sounds like the bark of forest trees split open to form growling mouths as the wind howls through their branches. The songs often blur the distinction between metal and folk music.

Unlike him, Romanowski’s bandmates grew up in rural country. The band consciously tried to evoke Poland’s pastoral landscapes.

“The style of music, I’m so familiar with it,” Romanowski said. “When they brought it to me to join the band and do a demo for them, it was instant connection. I just understood what they were trying to do.”

Romanowski and his wife, Eliza, who is also Polish, plan to briefly return to Poland after many years abroad.

Romanowski said that in the past he tried to put more emphasis on his music and even toured more, but was drawn back to the funeral home business.

“This is something that I know how to do so I always fall back on this,” he said. “I’ve been around this business so long that I do all kinds of stuff, meaning I do everything.”

G.V.F.H. has a small, dedicated staff that keeps the busy funeral home running.

“Here, everybody does everything,” he said. “Days are very exciting.”

On any given day, Romanowski handles almost every aspect of a funeral. He makes sure paperwork is in order, organizes services, arranges transportation for the deceased, collects payments and follows up on everything all over again.

“We cannot handle the volume of calls sometimes,” he said, pointing to the large phone with about 14 different lines. “There’s not enough time sometimes during the day to handle everything.”

“What’s terrific about Adam is that inherently he is very calm,” DeLuca said. “That calm relaxes people. He’s also very competent and that reassures people. And, he’s extremely good under pressure.

“He has a very good way of sorting out their concerns and making sure everyone is taken care of to their needs,” he added.

Music is a kind of oasis for Romanowski, a passion that helps him relax after work.

“I listen to a lot of stuff. I listen to music,” he said. “I buy a lot of music. I’m obsessed. I listen to metal. I listen to punk rock, alternative, jazz, classical.

“I have a separate room for all my music,” he added. “I’ve been evicted from certain places in my apartment because I have mountains of stuff.”

Romanowski said that he’s been diversifying his taste recently. He said that he’s currently listening to many singer/songwriters, including Selah Sue, an up-and-coming Belgian songstress, and even has begun picking away at guitars.

Still, he said, drums will always be his passion.

“It’s an instant gratification,” he said. “You don’t need to know the chord. You don’t need to know how to hold the strings. You hit it and it’s there. It’s physical and it’s instant.”