Leonardo Pavković is an ordinary man who, most of you would agree, is doing an extraordinary “job”. Keeping the progressive rock and jazz (fusion) alive via his own MoonJune Records deserves to be accompanied with a medal. If in all this mess of everyday life there would be a discipline such aforementioned keeping the genres alive, Leonardo’s MoonJune Records would definitely be the defending Olympic champion on several occasions.
Having named his second house after the Soft Machine’s epic “Moon in June”, MoonJune Records since its establishing in 2001 revokes a spirit of the golden era of the prog-fusion rule. Being a producer, promoter and tour manager put this nice man – who was born in Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Yugoslavia – to work with some of the most influential, creative and inspiring people throughout the present time.
Nick: Hey Leonardo, glad to have you answering some questions for Prog Sphere. How is the wintertime going for you?
Leonardo: This is probably the mildest Winter since I arrived in New York City in 1990. Maybe it’s age, maybe my love for tropical countries, but I hate winter and cold.
Nick: Most people know you as the man in charge of MoonJune Records. Would you tell us about how it was back then when you were at the beginning of forming a label? What was your main goal? What did you want to reach?
Leonardo: I started by accident, no real plan, really. While running a graphic design and publicity marketing company with a friend of mine, we were involved in a jazz label here in NYC with Jim Eigo, a well known jazz publicist and friend of ours. At Jazz Magnet Records we had big plans and were looking for investors, but somehow after only 8 releases and about 50-60 releases included in our “business plan”, our potential investors changed their ideas and each of us went doing other things. Then I started my own label, but in first 4-5 years I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, since I had plans to relocate from NYC to South-East Asia, but once I decided to remain in NYC, I gave another life to MoonJune Records and have started releasing records more intensively since 2006. My label was strictly built with the music of my personal friends, people I have known for many years, and the first band that came out of that circuit of friends was Mahogany Frog, which with Slivovitz is actually the only band that I have never met in person.
Nick: By looking at the MoonJune Records roster one could tell that you have a pretty colourful group of bands and musicians on your label. I have been wondering for a while in which way you get a band signed? What is the criteria that has to be satisfactory for you as an editor-in-chief?
Leonardo: First of all, musicians have to be my friends, secondly, I have to like the music, and thirdly, we have to fight the beast together. Even with bands like Mahogany Frog and Slivovitz that I have never met in person, we have some sort of virtual friendship. Once I was interested in a band from Italy, a killer progressive jazz-rock band, and had great correspondence with their keyboardist, and was ready, willing and able to support them, but once the bass player came into the picture and started being unfriendly and exercising his own attitude, I decided to cut out. I do not like attitude, I am a friendly geezer, and MoonJune is about friendship and progressively open minded and talented musicianship. I do not have criteria about what to sign and whom to sign, except, I only release things that I really like, and mostly the music of my friends. Now, I will be focusing more on edgy eclectic jazz and progressive jazz with ethnic elements, I would like to release more cds of Indonesian bands, and potentially discover some totally new and unknown bands who need exposure. My modus operandi is unusual and I am an unusual label, and that will never change.
Nick: In the world we know nowadays, how hard is it to cope with standing out from the mainstream and therefore write off any commercial success? On the other hand, do you think that collective musical consciousness as we have it today should be changed and in what way could it could be done? Education? So many young people out there do not recognize real quality and what ”progressive“ music is about, where does this blindness come from in your opinion?
Leonardo: I am glad that I am not part of the mainstream, I do not belong to the mainstream and the mainstream doesn’t interest me at all. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to have a band that sells a lot of records and plays a lot of gigs. My neighbor and guitar virtuoso Warren Haynes sells a lot of records, he plays tons of gigs either with The Allman Brothers Band or with his own band Gov’t Mule, but he is not part of the mainstream either. Keith Jarrett sells a lot of jazz records and he charges $100,000 for solo piano performance, he is not the mainstream either. Also, I am not part of any circuit of progressive rock, fusion, free-jazz or any other self-restrictive ghetto. I am simply releasing some music that I genuinely believe is very good and often excellent, I know all difficulties of today’s market, but I do not run the label to make money, I am just releasing the music and building the MoonJune concept. I wish I could sell much more records, but the music I promote, it’s not the music that sells a lot of records. Today, in order to be successful, an artist must have a very rich patron who would put tons of dollars behind the artist and place the artist in the commercial market and see what would happen. That’s entertainment, that’s business. The other way is for a young band to perform all the time. If they are good and persistent, they might succeed. It needs a lot of sacrifice, which people who are in mid thirties or forties, with decent jobs and family and kids, do not have. Take a look at Marbin. They are young and brave, the whole band is under 24 (when playing live they of course do not use Paul Wertico and Steve Rodby, who appear on the album “Breaking The Cycle”, occasionally they do some local gigs and well paid festivals with the Paul on drums), and in 18 months of their existence, they have performed over 250 gigs. Sometimes for 2 people, sometimes for 10, sometimes for 20, and sometimes for 100-150 people. That’s the way, play, play and play, without complaining. That’s why Marbin is the most admirable “new/young” band I have on my label. They were the opening act for 1/2 of thr recent Scott Henderson tour, which I booked in the USA and in March/April this year (2012), they are doing the whole USA tour opening for Allan Holdsworth, who I manage. Marbin will go very far, Dani Rabin and Danny Markovich are among the most talented musicians I’ve met in the past 20 years, and they are great and smart guys, good people and good friends. They are of course interested in achieving some sort of success, and we both are confident it might happen, it’s a hard work, but doable. And they believe too that playing unconventional non-commercial music they can go very far. Me too. We are not competing with Justin Biebers and Lady Gagas, we know there is so much blindness in today’s world, but that’s not what we do. The world is still big and generous and there is still a place and space for everything and everybody, we have to conquer our own space, and I do not expect Marbin to become the most famous band in the world, that would never happen and it is not our goal. I am more interested in the world of Gov’t Mule, Pat Metheny, Esperanza Spaulding, Mars Volta, Sigur Ros and similar, they all do well, they are all successful, without being mainstream, and they make their fans happy. Unfortunately mass media doesn’t help our cause, but with the advent of the internet and then YouTube and finally Facebook and all other social media, there are many more opportunities for progressive acts then let’s say just 10 years ago. The question is how to reach the audience? My formula is very simple. I am creating a brand name of new and unknown artists associated to my label and they all will be part of this brand. Without MoonJune, bands like Moraine or simakDialog would never have the exposure if they were a self-released artist in Seattle, USA, or Indonesia. My goal is to increase my brand exposure even more. Musicians should be playing and playing, and I should be branding, branding and branding. Easy to say?
Nick: What record from the MoonJune family you are most proud of? At the other side, which band or artist you would love to have signed by MJR?
Leonardo: Difficult to say. I am very proud of my first cd ever released by my dear and much missed friend and British jazz legend, the late Elton Dean (with Mark Hewing) called “Bar Torque”, because it’s a beautiful inspiring record and it was the MJR001, the first one. I am proud of “Patahan” by simakDialog, for other reasons, because it is the first album of an Indonesian artist on my label, a country I very much love and which I have visited 11 times, and a country where I have so many friends. Riza Arshad is a dear friend and possibly one of the most talented musicians on my label. I am also proud of Marbin’s “Breaking The Cycle”. I was visiting Chicago in 2010, and a friend of mine took me to a loft in Northern Chicago to see a young sax/guitar duo, a private gig for friends and family members, and after just 5 minutes I felt in love with two young Israeli musicians, Dani Rabin and Danny Markovich, and after the gig, I told them, they are on MoonJune, period. I am not sure I am interested in known artists anymore, except my friend Allan Holdsworth. It would be great to sign Pat Metheny or Mars Volta, that’s utopia, but I would sign for instance some totally unknown Indonesian artists, such as Agam Hamzah and his band Ligro, and a young band called I Know You Well Miss Clara. I would like to be able to release 20-25 albums yearly and to have some artists that are playing live and a lot, that helps. I will go with the flow, whatever comes, comes.
Nick: Besides running a label you also work as a booking agent, and so far you’ve worked with many legendary 70′s progressive rock and jazz fusion musicians, such as Allan Holdsworth, Soft Machine (Legacy), Hugh Hopper, Jan Akkerman, and PFM to name few. You must be feeling privileged to work with these names. What was it like it working with them?
Leonardo: I was and I am booking bands exclusively and non exclusively all around the world, and most of them are or were my friends (R.I.P. Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper and Pip Pyle). It was always fun, and with some I had a lot of fun. I have done over 40 tours of Japan alone and have visited Japan 29 times, I have done gigs all over Asia and Latin America, all direct bookings, and have handled tours all around Europe but using various agencies, and in the USA I only book Allan Holdsworth, I do not have time to book other acts, even though I have started working lately with my friend Scott Henderson. I am developing a company in Brazil, which is almost my second home (my wife is Brazilian) and I am building an agency and concert promotion company to cover the whole of South America with a main focus on Brazil. My best touring memories were always with Allan Holdsworth, because he is not from this Planet, he is a musical and guitar genius, and my funniest times were with Jan Akkerman, who is an extraordinarily funny man and one of the greatest guitarists I am aware of. He loves sljivovica and lozovaca, how couldn’t you be in love that kind of guy! I have worked with a few rock and prog legends whose attitudes I didn’t appreciate, nothing to do with me, I have never had problems with anyone, but I only like to work with good people.
Nick: What’s your perception of jazz?
Leonardo: I do not frequent fancy schmancy jazz clubs and I do not agree with Nicholas Payton and I do not own any albums by Wynton Marsalis or Kenny G. Generally speaking, jazz has more progressive and inventive elements on its own than rock.
Nick: As I am familiar with the fact that you love to travel, I guess whenever you visit a country, you are willing to explore its musical legacy in the domains of progressive rock or jazz. That’s how it went with Indonesia, am I right?
Leonardo: I have travelled to over 70 countries worldwide. The most important aspect of those travels is visiting the places, meeting new people and eating the local food. Food comes before the music. Countries like Indonesia and Brazil are musically very rich. My legacy with Brazil is profound, I’ve spoken Portuguese for almost 30 years, and it is a country that I will explore more and more in terms of music. For some unknown reasons, I do not have any artist on my label from Brazil, but no worries, there will be several Brazilian artists on MoonJune Records starting later this year and especially in 2013. Indonesia is a “new country” in terms of progressive music, there is so much talent there that it is so impressive. I am expecting another 10 Indonesian albums between this and the next year.
Nick: How long has it been since you were last in what we used to call Yugoslavia? Have you had any opportunities to listen to something from the Balkans that really captured your imagination? Maybe some bands from Serbia that you would gladly have on MoonJune?
Leonardo: I left the Balkans in 1983, and the last time I visited the former Yugoslavia was in 1989. I wish I can soon visit my native Bosnia and also visit Belgrade (Serbia) and Dubrovnik (Croatia), two cities where I have lived for a number of years. So far I wasn’t very lucky to know about artists from any of countries that were in the former Yugoslavia from the past 30 years, I am sure there are great musicians, but I didn’t have chance to find them. My memory was stocked with Indexi, Korni, Time, Leb I Sol, Yu Grupa, and many more from ol’ good days. The most interesting new musician I know of is Damir Imamovic from Bosnia, the grandson of the legendary sevdah master Zaim Imamovic, he blends sevdah with jazz and blues. I also like Dusan Jevtovic, a great Serbian jazz-rock guitarist who lives in Barcelona, Vasil Hadzimanov, Bojan Zulfikarpasic, Marko Djordjevic, The Tavitjan Brothers and lately I have discovered Matija Dedic, a fantastic jazz pianist from Zagreb, Croatia, whose parents are Arsen Dedic and Gabi Novak, very famous Yugoslavian/Croatian singer/songwriters. It would be nice got have an electric jazz band from Serbia or Bosnia or Macedonia, something in the vein of simakDialog, that have a very strong ethnic element in their music.
Nick: What is the most important factor in establishing and preserving a jazz scene or progressive rock scene? Of course I am talking about the countries in progress, the way most of the Eastern-European countries are.
Leonardo: Young musicians should play and play without any fear, engage with other people, create a “scene”. People like you are very important, so young and so knowledgeable, and perhaps, you should run a version of ProgSphere also in Serbian. I’m not sure everybody speaks English in Serbia.
Nick: What are your plans for 2012?
Leonardo: Upcoming releases on MoonJune Records:
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH – “None Too Soon” (MJR043, re-mastered)
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH – “Hard Hat Area” (MJR044, re0-mastered)
TOHPATI BERTIGA – “Riot” (MJR045, Indonesia)
AGAM HAMZAH LIGRO – “Dictionary 2″ (MJR046, Indonesia)
SHTGN – “Camera Obscura” (MJR047, Belgium)
COPERNICUS “Victim Of The Sky” (USA, first time on CD)
COPERNICUS “Deeper” (USA, first time on CD)
and later in 2012, new albums of MAHOGANY FROG (Canada), I KNOW YOU WELL MISS CLARA (Indonesia), simakDIALOG (Indonesia), DOUBT (UK/Belgium), THE WRONG OBJECT (Belgium), MARBIN (Israel/USA), S.A.D.O. (Italy), SOFT MACHINE LEGACY (UK), TOHPATI ETHNOMISSION (Indonesia) and more ALLAN HOLDSWORTH archival re-issues, and much more…
Nick: As a man who has heard thousands of records, I can’t avoid asking, what are your favorite albums of all time?
Leonardo: I have several hundreds of favorite albums, it depends on the mood and day. I have listened to a lot of albums, but still there are thousands and thousands of albums that I have to listen to, albums from previous decades, recent albums and future albums. I would always choose “classic” albums, whatever that term means:
Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom; Soft Machine – Vol. Two & Third; Hatfield & The North – Hatfield & The North & Rotter’s Club; Terje Rypdal – Odyssey & Whenever I Seem To Be Far Away; Pink Floyd – Ummagumma & The Dark Side Of The Moon; Miles Davis & Gil Evans – Sketches of Spain; Miles Davis – Bitches Brew & Kind Of Blue; Cream – Disraeli Gears; John Mayall – Bare Wires & Bluesbreakars (w/Clapton); Colosseum – Valentyne Suite; The Doors – The Doors; Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson Quartet – Witchi-Tai-To; King Crimson – Island, Lizard & Red; Van Der Graaf Generator – Pawn Hearts; Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath; Allan Holdsworth – Wardenclyffe Tower; Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced, Band Of Gypsies & Electric Ladyland; Chick Corea – Return To Forever; Traffic – Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys; Il Balletto Di Bronzo – YS; Gentle Giant – Octopus; Pat Metheny – Travels & The Way Up; John Coltrane – Love Supreme & My Favorite Things; Frank Zappa – Hot Rats, Waka Jawaka & Grand Wazoo, YES – Close To The Edge; Genesis – Selling England By The Pound; Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign and many many more….blues, rock, prog, jazz….Oh man, difficult question, where are artists like Astor Piazzolla, Milton Nascimento, Gong, National Health, Mahavishnu Orchestra, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Keith Jarrett, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, E.L.P., Jefferson Airplaine, Spirit, The Allman Brothers Band, Eberhard Weber, Ralph Towner, Focus, P.F.M., Banco, and more and more and more…. I like many new bands and albums, but I would always go for the classic stuff….
Nick: Is there anything you would love to add at the end of this interview?
Leonardo: Srdacni pozdravi i nadam se da cemo se upoznati jednog dana, pa na pice, klopu i dobru muziku…
Nick: Thank you very much for having some time to answer questions for Prog Sphere. Keep up great work!
Leonardo: Thanks for the opportunity and I wish You and ProgSphere all the best and a lot of success…
MoonJune Records on the web: