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Bojan Z: Stranger Sounds

By Published: July 31, 2006

AAJ: The xenophone sounds like a joke. What exactly is it?

BZ: I bought my first Fender Rhodes in ' 81 in a bar in a village next to Belgrade and the funny thing is that a few years ago, knowing that in Belgrade I can eventually find a Fender Rhodes cheap I called my brother to try to find something there and he found actually the same village. But he found just the shell of a Fender Rhodes and just a few keys. It was the wife of a bassist who had died and she found herself with ten euros in her pocket and fifty guitars and instruments that the guy left. So basically, I bought this for 300 euros, the price more or less of a complete Fender Rhodes and it was more to help this woman out.

And there I found the idea, you know. I like these coincidences that can have some meaning or not at all, but for me the fact that it was 25 years later in the same village that I found it. It's like, what happened here? Was there a B-52 with Fender Rhodes which fell down here? Anyway, what I did was I started buying all the parts on e-bay and basically I had different vintages and different years and while I was putting this thing together I kept all the imperfections. I actually wanted every note to sound different because it was not the point to have to have just another Fender Rhodes—I was dreaming about having an instrument that I could tamper with for Arabic scales or scales coming from cultures other than European for quite some time.

With a piano you cannot do it because you have to have your own tuner. It's impossible. But I thought finally, that's what I'm going to do with this guy; it's easier to learn how to tune it, instead of having to find some effects, distortion, treating it like a guitar and thing like this you know. That's why I call it "xenophone. Why? Besides the connection to the name of the record—it's the reaction I get every time I plug it in and play something on it and I observe the reaction from most of the people—it's like some stranger, some naked stranger has walked in. Ahh!! What isthis?!

AAJ: Xenophonia?

BZ: It was one of those words that cross your mind and you die laughing, but the more I was thinking about it the more I was like, this is a concept, this is not a joke. I'm living in France in a period of my life where it's exactly the same time that I was living in Belgrade. Recently I had a funny situation as I married a Dutch woman which somehow put me off the tracks of becoming a real Frenchman, which I was, because she is clearly not interested in my French side, she is much more interested in my Yugoslav origins. That really compromised my French integration, which is doing fine, but the funny thing is when you start criticizing things about France, which actually is a French national sport, they do it all day long. So I've done my exams, I have my diploma of somebody who has the right to do this but if I do it a bit too much—it happened with my ex-wife, which is more logical, and my best friend too who just happened to say: "Well, if you don't like it here go there and maybe it will be better.

And it was like, did you hear yourself? Just listen to yourself! Are you telling this to me? You know that I'm not completely French. Fuck you! But it was very significant because the thing is when I go to Belgrade when I meet the guys there, they're all like "Bojan, he's French; he's been living there for 20 years. So many things have changed. Which is true, but at the same time I am doing more for the music from there than any of them, just because I'm more in the spotlight than they are. So it's a funny position. You know, I guess Miles Davis never had this thing to deal with in life. He managed to be a star in his own country.

AAJ: He had a lot to deal with though.

BZ: He had a lot to deal with but he didn't have to deal with not going there, not living there, and things like this. What I'm sure is that I won't go back to Belgrade to live because the more I'm waiting for it to become normal the more it's getting smaller and smaller. It's hard to imagine what's there for me. So it's like I'm some sort of perpetual stranger. So that goes with the title—the sound of a stranger, or strange sound—however you want. But the thing is I know that many guys would not see this and the word would have the negative effect for them which is "xenophobia and that is what has happened. I have so many guys... "About this title, Xenophobia... [laughs]. Read it again. Then I'll help you prepare your questions again—see you in a week. [laughs]

AAJ: You perform a lot of solo concerts and yet you've recorded only one solo album, which was very highly acclaimed. Why not more solo albums?

BZ: Nobody's pushing me to. Myself, I'm not pushing myself either. I have to start hearing some new things. It's coming slowly. The thing is I have a strange point of comparison about productivity. I was doing my first CD, it was in New York. We did it in Seer Sound Studios in New York. The day after Dave Douglas, the trumpet player, was doing his first CD. Now we're 13 years later and you compare my discography with Dave Douglas and it's like, where's the problem here? It's on his side or it's on my side, or it's two different ways of functioning. I think he's made fifteen or sixteen albums under his name while I'm now on six. So I think I'm more diesel than benzene. It's just that I don't make records if I don't hear something that is worth putting down.

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