More than any other person, Leonardo Pavkovic has made me write some crazy shit.
Pavkovic is the primal force behind the joyously eclectic MoonJune Records
, which he established in 2001. "Established" may not be the right word: "I am truly an unusual and rules breaking call-it-record-company with a 'label' identity despite the fact that as a person and as a 'label' I go out of any categorization and labeling of what I do," he confided before our interview. "I am a stubborn Don Quixotesque romantic warrior and one-man-band army wearing many hats."
MoonJune's mission statement: The ongoing goal of MoonJune is to support music that transcends stylistic pigeon-holing, but operates within an evolutionary progressive musical continuum that explores boundaries of jazz, rock, avant, ethno, the unknown and anything in between.
Pavkovic was born in Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia in 1962. He was raised in southern Italy and studied Portuguese and Brazilian literature at the University of Bari (Italy) and Afro-Portuguese History and Literature at the University of Luanda (Angola, Africa) en route to becoming fluent in six languages. Before MoonJune, he translated artistic and scientific literature from/to Italian, Portuguese and Serbo-Croatian, and published two volumes of original poetry. Pavkovic established MoonJune Management and Booking, now MoonJune Music, in 2000, copping its name from "Moon in June," a Robert Wyatt
tune on the third album by Soft Machine
, one of his numerous prog-rock-jazz-fusion inspirations.
MoonJune Records is only part of Pavkovic's impressive music business reach. As a booking agent, he has coordinated more than 2,000 concerts in more than 50 countries worldwide. Even though MoonJune Records consumes a great deal of his energy and time, he still does not consider it his "main business"; instead, it's just one more chapter in his lifelong diary of musical surprises.
MoonJune Music is the musical equivalent of Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get: An improvisational jazz-rock quintet built around guitar, trumpet, and bass clarinet, named for a North Korean dictator and the martial arts style instructed by Grandmaster "Iron" Kim (Iron Kim Style
, 2010); jazz-rock ensemble fusion led by Israel's version of Walter Becker
and Donald Fagen
(Breaking the Cycle
, 2011); or ancient Indonesian temple ritual music and traditional gamelan percussion employed as rhythmic loops upon which jazz players can solo almost forever (Demi Masa
, 2009), to name just a few of its far-reaching flavors.
Consequently, MoonJune Record reviews seriously stretch a writer's analytic and descriptive faculties, not to mention earsthis writer's, at least.
In late 2017, Pavkovic assembled the twenty-five track compilation It Must Be Jazz
to celebrate the label's fourth-place finish in DownBeat
's annual "Best Jazz Label" poll (up from seventh place in 2016) and released it as a free digital download to thank the label's fans. Its title track was jointly composed by guitarist Allan Holdsworth
, keyboardist Alan Pasqua
, bassist Jimmy Haslip
and drummer Chad Wackerman
for Blues for Tony
, their 2010 ensemble tribute to powerhouse jazz-rock drummer Tony Williams
who passed away in 1997. This high-voltage piece of electric jazz-rock fusion was born from sentiment and experience: Holdsworth replaced John McLaughlin
for a year as the Tony Williams Lifetime guitarist, and both Holdsworth and Pasqua were members of The New Tony Williams Lifetime. This Might Be Jazz
opens just as majestically, with the title track to Indonesian pianist Dwiki Dharmawan
's landmark Pasar Klewer
, regarded one of the top jazz albums of 2016. Dharmawan's playing, especially when accompanied by just bass and drums, sounds absolutely ferocious as it splatters chords and rhythms all over the ivories, mixing up mainstream, free and avant-garde jazz piano. "Indonesia is the place of 'ultimate diversity,'" the pianist explained upon Pasar Klewer
's release. "Here, the urban cultures accelerate the 'acculturation' process, which generates changes in cultural patterns and creates new forms of musical expression. Pasar Klewer
is the answer to my search for 'the difference,' and also a valuable answer to our modern crises and urban uprooting. The album's distinctive sound originates from an ancient Gamelan tonal system called Salendro, known in the Karawitan traditional music of the Sundanese, Javanese and Balinese."
Pavkovic's uncompromising and knowledgeable devotion to music has earned in return the same affection from MoonJune's musicians. "Leonardo's perspective on music has served to encourage and inspire musicians throughout Indonesia to create the music on a higher level," explains Ligro
guitarist Agam Hamzah. "MoonJune Records has been great in its impact, helping to orchestrate so many positive changes for the benefit of the Indonesian music scene and its artists. Being associated with Leonardo and MoonJune Records as a musician and as a friend is an honor and a privilege."
"Like its namesake orb, MoonJune steadily casts its light across a commercially ravaged musical landscape without ever capitulating to the market, a rare paragon of musical virtue in ever more culturally bankrupt times," suggests guitarist Dennis Rea
, Iron Kim Style
"Because his vision and erudition know no physical or mental boundaries, MoonJune might seem an oddity founded by a starry-eyed idealist, a rather utopian proposition in our increasingly prefab musical world," muses guitarist Michel Delville
(The Wrong Object
, Machine Mass
). "But, to me, MoonJune is not just a record label pushing out alternative music. It feels more like a family of like-minded musicians keen to explore new grounds while collaborating with each other and engaging in a dialogue between the past and the present."
How enthusiastic is Pavkovic about music and MoonJune? After we finalized the following 12,000 word interview, he mused, "It's a bit LONG, but I have so much to say and what I said is only 1.75% of what I would be able to say." Leonardo Pavkovic exemplifies a profoundly personal yet widely public relationship with music. It's hard to imagine how the future of this music could be in more caring, capable hands than his. All About Jazz:
Where's the best place to begin the MoonJune story? Leonardo Pavkovic:
When I first started the label, I had no background in the music business whatsoever. After I moved from Italy to New York City in August 1990, I met the renowned Brazilian graphic artist and photographer Fernando Natalici, who created the legendary "Studio T" graphic design studio in the mid '70s. Studio T was almost a cult phenomenon in downtown Manhattan. Fernando himself was a living encyclopedia of virtually everything that happened in the New York music scene during the 1970's and '80's, and soon we became inseparable friends. (Later, I became his business partner). Studio T was known for its large clientele in the city's music business community, so I was always in the company of great musicians, concert promoters, and record labels owners and executives, from majors and from independents.
In the early 2000s, I was briefly involved with the NYC-based label Jazz Magnet Records through a jazz publicist and music industry veteran, the legendary Jim Eigo. This experience was both inspiring and beneficial. Motivated by that experience, I decided to start my own record label and released my first album, a live recording of the legendary saxophonist Elton Dean
, who I'd known since the mid '80's, while I was living in Italy. Two other live albums of young Italian progressive rock bands quickly followed: Finisterre
's Work In Progress Live
You had to know that yours wasn't the typical music industry startup story? LP:
Normally, labels will start like this: They have some capital in the bank or some wealthy business partners, they have an entertainment lawyer, they have an accountant, they have a marketing plan, they have a distribution company. I didn't have any of this. I only had some basic disposable income, which allowed me to pay some advances and cover CD manufacturing, and a lot of contacts (also thanks to Jim Eigo).
I "debuted" as a label at the progressive rock festival NEARFest in June 2001, where I had discovered D.F.A. the year before. I learned immediately that I was a "Mr. Nobody," which motivated me to promote my label ferociously.
In a matter of months, I developed an immense array of press contacts in both the jazz and progressive rock worlds. To capitalize on these new resources, I sent out hundreds upon hundreds of promos of my first three releases, to generate attention for both the albums and my newly budding company. All three albums received a great deal of critical acclaim and generated hundreds of reviews in more than thirty countriesespecially D.F.A.'s brilliant live album, which received an extraordinary amount of accolades, and from critics beyond just the progressive rock world. AAJ:
People almost always assume that musicians are expressing themselves through their recordings. But can record label owners and producers express themselves through their work, too? LP:
I've always considered life as a sort of improvisation. Life is like that famous collaboration between John Coltrane
and Rashied Ali
where Rashied Ali represents the beat of life in his drumming, and John Coltrane improvises on top of it (Ed. Note: "Interstellar Space," 1974, on Impulse!)
. That's primarily how I operate in life: I started with that sort of "organic" mentality. I never thought, "I will start a record label." Or, "I will get involved in music management or become a booking agent." MoonJune came into being from me simply helping friends, and managing to find my way through this initial phasewith some surprisingly good luck, and a strong dose of magic. I am a person who has doggedly pursued my passions my entire life; perhaps this small-scale launch's success had as much to do with hard work and determination as anything else, really. AAJ:
When did you begin to see the first returns on this hard work?
LP: In 2000, I had this crazy idea to help my old friend Elton Dean, to sort of reform or resurrect the legendary Soft Machine
based, in large part, on information I found on the internet about a "one-off" show of the Soft Ware project featuring Elton on sax, Keith Tippett
on piano, Hugh Hopper
on bass guitar and John Marshall
So I reconnected with Elton on New Year's Day, 2000, and in June of that year he performed in New York City at a jazz festival with drummer Joe Gallivan
, bassist Marcio Mattos
and saxophonist Evan Parker
. Elton stayed a few extra days at my place in the East Village, and he also met Jim Eigo. Perhaps acting on the good vibes of the situation, Elton asked Jim and me if we would be willing to help him with Soft Ware in the US. Elton asked me to talk to Keith Tippett, John Marshall, and Hugh Hopper, who I already knew from his visits to New York. They were all available and excited, except for Keith, who said he would consider it as a possible, occasional special project but not as a steady gig.
Keith's failure to make a solid commitment got Elton and I fantasizing about the fourth member. Mike Ratledge, the legendary Soft Machine keyboardist and one of my all-time personal music heroes, had made it clear that he wasn't interested in being a part of any recording or live performance music since leaving Soft Machine in 1976. We continued our thinking, dominated by a keyboard player to fill the fourth member role.
Later that same summer, I stumbled across three progressive rock festivals in the US. Around this same time, Andrea Soncini, an Italian journalist who handled the Italian progressive rock band Finisterre on his label and management and had been asking me to help get them bookings in the US, was supposed to meet me at one of these festivals. As it turned out, Andrea was unable to attend, due to personal reasons, and gave me his festival ticket. On that festival's opening day, the second band who hit the stage blew me away after only five minutes and in the break following their set, I met that band, D.F.A. from Italy, and congratulated them on their mind-blowing performance. Italian is my second native tongue, and we quickly fell into great conversation and friendship. We hung out together in New York City for several days thereafter. AAJ:
So that's festival one. Festival two? LP:
OK, so in September 2000 I attended ProgFest in Los Angeles, and got to catch up with several of my favorite 70s progressive rock bands: Italian legends Banco, French legends Mona Lisa, and Dutch legends Supersister, an old favorite of mine who I never thought in my whole life I would be able to see! Since we were in L.A., many progressive rock fans came to the festival from Mexico, and, out of curiosity, I began chatting with many of them.
I met another person at this festival who wound up being one of the key people in starting MoonJune. A guy who happened to be passing by suddenly entered into a conversation I was having with a few early Soft Machine hardcore fans. I guess we were talking loudly and proudly about Mike Ratledge, and that's how I met Ken Kubernik, who jumped right into our conversation. Ken and I went for a coffee break during another intermission and began talking about several of our favorite music subjects, such as Soft Machine, the Canterbury scene, British jazz, and much more, and during our conversation, I told him about Elton Dean, Soft Ware and Keith Tippett situation. Little did I know the fruit that this conversation would later bear! AAJ:
So where did this story move to next? LP:
In October, I flew to North Carolina to attend the third prog festival of 2000, ProgDay, and had by this time also made plans to attend BajaProg festival in February 2001, in Mexicali. Through all this time, I continued to correspond with the aforementioned Andrea Soncini, and since I had made a number of contacts from Mexico at ProgFest, in LA, I decided to try to book Finisterreand actually succeeded! I booked them at BajaProg 2001 in Mexicali, for another big gig opening for the British prog icon Peter Hammill
in Mexico City, and for six more shows in Central and Northern Mexico.
So: I had never been to Mexico before. I had never met Andrea Soncini nor had I met the band Finisterre in person before. But thanks to a few guys I met at ProgFest in L.A., I booked Finisterre in Mexico. Thereafter, I negotiated their gigs, arranged and purchased their flights, and the rest. That was the first tour I handled in my life, and that's how MoonJune Music, my booking business, started. AAJ:
When and how did MoonJune Records follow? LP:
In the meantime, Elton Dean was asking me to help him with a live recording, a duet with the English midi guitarist Mark Hewins who I also knew from his association with the reformed Daevid Allen
. D.F.A. had just sent me the live recording of the fabulous performance I'd witnessed at NEARFest 2000. In April 2001, I made the decision to release those three live albums together, and that's how MoonJune Records started!
So, in May of 2001, I had three releases on MoonJune: Dean/Hewins Bar Torque
, Finsiterre Storybook
and D.F.A. Work In Progress Live
. That summer, I decided to go to NEARFest 2001. I rented a merchandise table on a whim and, accompanied by the curious 17-year-old nephew of a friend as my helper, MoonJune Records officially became a label! AAJ:
So how or where do the Soft Machine variations come back in? LP:
At this festival, I ran into many friends I had made at some of the festivals I mentioned from the year before. One was a friend from Japan, Tatsurou Ueda, and we started talking. I asked him pretty casually, "Hey, is Soft Machine popular in Japan?" He said they were, so I shared with him that story of Elton Dean, Soft Ware, and my dream and Elton's dream to reform Soft Machine or a sort of Soft Machine. It's hard to believe, but he informed me that he had a very close friend who was a major player in the Japanese music business market, and that he would introduce me to him.
He went back to Japan and then a few weeks later I received an eMail from Tatsurou, introducing me to Masa Matsuzaki. I will never forget his eMail: "My name is Masa Matsuzaki, my company is interested in Soft Machine reunion. If you can make it possible, my company will arrange a deal with Universal Japan, and give you big advances.
Well, I was very excited, and so I contacted Elton, even though we still hadn't recruited the fourth band member yet. Keith Tippett still wasn't interested, but Hugh Hopper and John Marshall certainly were.
The following month, July 2001, I met Ken Kubernik back in LA. When I explained the situation, he immediately became excited and suggested that he could contact his old friend in London, Dave Stewart
. When I suggested Dave Stewart to the other three, John Marshall, who was mainly a jazz drummer, wasn't very familiar with Dave or his playing. But Dave Stewart was "persona non-grata" with both Hugh and Elton. It is one of those things that only musicians knowor don't know, maybewhy they dislike or hate each other. But we were left still searching for the elusive fourth member to round out the group.
That November, I met Ken in LA yet again. Smiling from ear to ear, he gloriously announced: "The next time you are in LA, I will drive you to San Juan Capistrano and will introduce you to the greatest guitarist who ever walked the Planet Earth!"
I answered, "You mean, I will meet the mighty Allan Holdsworth, one of the all-time greatest heroes of mine?"
Ken answered, "Yes, sirand THAT will be the most amazing Soft Machine reunion humanly possible!"
So as soon as I got back to New York, I phoned all three. Hugh Hopper was evidently very excited: "Holy Cow! Allan Holdsworth! YES, I want to play with Allan Holdsworth ... he is a genius, I always dreamed of playing with Allan Holdsworth!"
Hugh and Elton had never played with Allan before, but John and Allan had a history together in Soft Machine and several jazz projects, back in the '70's.
So, in January 2002, I found myself back in LA, and Ken drove me down to San Juan Capistrano, where I met the mighty Allan Holdsworth. I immediately liked Allan's vibe, and he liked mine. It was our first personal encounter, even though I had seen him perform so many times before, and after about ten minutes of chit-chat and quality draft ale, I asked this mighty, gnarly geezer: "Allan, would you like to join Soft Ware, the Soft Machine reunion, with Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper and John Marshall?"
Quickly, he responded: "You mean John fucking Marshall? THE fucking John Marshall, one of the greatest drummers in the world? Oh yeah, I want to play again with my old buddy, the great John fucking Marshall!"
So, we toasted to each other and shook hands! I really didn't have any idea what I was doing, really. Again, it was my "improvisational spirit" driving me to something that would change my life forever. AAJ:
That is an amazing story of persistence and dedication. It worked out well? LP:
You have to know about Soft Machine and be a fan of this seminal band to understand the dynamics and excitement that propelled our conversation. We had, in hand, four former members of the band, representing different periods of the band between 1969 and 1975. After talking to just a few people and several journalist friends, we realized that this would be something more than merely "special." And after some brainstorming, we decided that the name "Soft Ware" should be changed to "Soft Works." I immediately communicated our good news to the three musicians in London, who were all very excited. John Marshall actually phoned Allan, and the two spoke for a really long time.
I was already thinking ahead and eMailed Masa Matsuzaki in Tokyo. In a matter of only 15 minutes, I received an eMail screaming with excitement: "PLEASE, PLEASE, MAKE IT POSSIBLE!"
A few days later, we received an official offer of a $50,000 record advance, with an additional sum available for a potential live record from Japan whenever the band was ready to tour there. Ken and I quickly formed a small joint company in LA and in a matter of weeks received half of the advances. What a deal! We had funds before the band rehearsed one single minute, played one single minute or even met, because three gentlemen lived in London and one in Southern California! We flew to London in June 2002 to record the album Abracadabra
So "in a few words," that's how I started both MoonJune Records and my main business, MoonJune Music Bookings, which covers my bookings, management and general schmoozing and dealing in the music business around the globe. Once the Soft Works album was recorded, it was licensed to Universal Japan, to Mascote Provogue in Europe, and to Shrapnel Records in the US. The band played its debut gig at "The Progman Cometh" Festival, in Seattle, August 2002. They toured Japan a year later; toured Italy in January and February 2004; and played their last show at BajaProg, in Mexicali, Mexico, in March of 2004. In the meantime, I toured Japan, South and Central America with PFM
in 2002, and that's how I became a tour manager!
As is the case with most everything I've done in my life, nothing can really be explained fully in just a few words or a few sentences. What happen with Soft Works, which became Soft Machine Legacy and how I started working with Allan Holdsworth, is a huge chapter in my life. And how I started being a label, booking rep, tour managerit simply cannot be explained in a few sentences, paragraphs or pages. It's more like a book, and a thick one. My life has been filled with magical and completely unpredictable moments! AAJ:
You have literally seen, and recorded, performers from all around the world. Who are some of the artists you've seen perform the most? LP:
I was very lucky to see so many shows: first as a fan, then working with musicians and booking their gigs. Booking some of my heroes was both satisfying and fun. I actually counted all the Allan Holdsworth shows I saw, and saw him perform 245 shows.
A few years ago, I took over booking duties for Tony Levin
's Stick Men
with Pat Mastelotto
and Markus Reuter
, so I've seen them close to 100 times. I saw many shows by Soft Machine Legacy. I saw the Italian prog legends PFM a lot as well. Among individual musiciansbesides Allan Holdsworth and Tony Levin, whom I have seen perform live almost 150 times across many bands and projectsthe musicians I've seen the most are probably Jimmy Haslip
, Gary Husband
, Chad Wackerman
, Jimmy Johnson
, Markus Reuter, Pat Mastelotto, and Scott Henderson
. That's one of the best parts of working as a booking rep: In the course of working with these great musicians, more often than not, they wind up becoming my friends. Most everything that I have done has arisen from necessity, to help friends. AAJ:
What's the difference between a good performer and great performer? LP:
It's all relative, I believe. I was just talking to a friend of mine, a fairly well-known musician, who said that sometimes he does amazing shows then reads a review and the reviewer said the show sucked, and vice versa. This is a very relative thing. Take Allan Holdsworth: He almost always complained about how he didn't perform well, when, in reality, his performances were often quite brilliant. It's very subjective. What does "a great show" mean? It's very difficult to say. To me, a great performer is the one I liked and enjoyed during his performance. Basically, that's it. We all have different perspectives. Sometimes I can feel that a performance was not very good, but another person may think it's the best show they ever saw. Musical performances are a personal experience for each listener, and everyone's tastes and evaluations are different.
Of course, certain performances suck. In recent years it has been painful to watch one of my all-time favorite progressive bands, Yes
. I will not comment further other than to say that, for me, it's sad. Even so, many YES fans believe they remain an incredible, great group. Music is truly a most subjective art. AAJ:
You have obviously listened to a great deal of music. Did this enable you to use any other record labels as a model or guide for MoonJune, and if so what were they? LP:
No. I really never tried to model MoonJune after any other label. ECM probably ranks as my all-time favorite record label, and a major inspiration. There are others that I like, but each circumstance is different. I could not possibly compare myself to ECM: When I started I didn't have any infrastructure, any distribution, I didn't have anywhere close to the necessary capital to launch a real label. Honestly, I didn't even have any long-term plans. I just started releasing records in 2001, and suddenly became a label, without realizing at the full extent what that rally means. Once again, that live musical dialogue between John Coltrane and Rashied Ali is relevant here: It's all improvisation.
In retrospect, and to be completely candid, I'm not sure I ever had any model or guide in my life for anything! My life was always about improvisation, survival, pursuing my passions, and navigating "on the fly." I was mostly doing bookings, and the label was a side business. I released only a small handful of albums between 2003 and 2006, and wasn't even sure if I would continue. In 2004, I even thought about moving to Singapore in 2004, but I opted to stay in NYC. AAJ:
Have you ever explored the financial practicality of merging with another independent or a similar type arrangement? LP:
In 2006, I was approached by a major independent record company run by a good friend and music business veteran, Bill Hein. An offer was made for MoonJune Records to become an associate label, distributed, marketed and promoted by Rykodisk through a three-pronged line of products: MoonJune productions, Allan Holdsworth's back catalog and new releases, and progressive rock legends Nektar
's back catalog. I saw this as a giant opportunity, and Bill Hein really liked my passion for music and my unusual way of thinking.
Unfortunately, these big plans got put on hold. Bill Hein left for a larger labelEMIbut promised that EMI would put together any even bigger, more lucrative deal. It wasn't until August of 2007, when I became aware of the impending purchase of EMI by the multinational corporation Terra Firma, that I realized this deal was never going to happen. It was not only a shock but a kind of epiphany: My destiny, and that of MoonJune Records, laid in being fully and truly independent. AAJ:
If it's all improvisation, is it all jazz? LP:
That's why I called my latest compilation It Must Be Jazz
. In the light, it's really all jazz. Even music that is nearly impossible to categorizeour MoonJune specialtyis really all jazz in spirit, and all improvisation. So, you are correct.
While I was living in New York in the 1990's, I was privileged to meet Hamiet Bluiett
. He used to do recording sessions and when producers would ask him if he could do another take of a song he'd say, "I can do another take, but it's not going to be "another take;" it's going to be another tune, entirely, because I don't know what I'm going to play." He always said, "Whatever I play, that's it." The same thing holds true for me. AAJ:
In a catalog full of instrumental and improved music, how did you determine what music to leave OFF that compilation? LP:
That was actually sort of an improvisation, too. When I promote my albums, I reach out to so many different people: people in jazz, progressive rock, fusion, in classic rock, all kinds of music. Many timesespecially when I deal with progressive rock hallsI hear people say, "Music from MoonJune is fusion
or "It's jazzy or it's this or it's that..."
So I thought about it, and, yeah, I'm not a real jazz label, but actually I am. If that makes any sense. That's how I decided to make this sampler.
I grew up listening to a great diversity of music and never divided music into jazz or blues, or rock, progressive or fusion. I did not feel the need to categorize or "pigeonhole" artists or their music. I listened for the sheer love of music. When I was a teenager, I bought albums by Ravi Shankar
, Black Sabbath
, Sun Ra
, Neil Young
, Jethro Tull
, Paco De Lucia
, Ella Fitzgerald
, Lucio Dalla, James Last
, Ian Dury, and John Lee Hooker
. That much variety. For me, it was simply about embracing the music that I liked, music that touched me on an emotional level. Of course, I knew that certain music was rock and other music was blues or jazz, but to me labels were not important. It was all music. After hearing thousands and thousands of albums over the last forty-plus years, I realized that a significant ingredient of many albums was certain characteristics and/or elements of jazzand that this was true of my label, too.
I have a couple of albums on my label that would be considered "jazz" if you were to talk to someone at a jazz conservatory, a purist. I do have a lot of other jazz, so why not put together a compilation, promote that compilation, and fans can download this music and listen to different kinds of jazz?
The It Must Be Jazz
compilation provides around three hours of music, and the song lineup works nicely, I think. Some tunes are more "jazzy," other tunes are less so, but it's all jazz in the end. The name comes from a tune on one of my albums composed collectively by Allan Holdsworth, Alan Pasqua
, Jimmy Haslip and Chad Wackerman, for their album, Blues for Tony
. I named the compilation It Must Be Jazz
because, no matter what, it must be jazz. AAJ:
Your catalog features so many different guitarists. What do you like about the sound of the guitar and do you play guitar? LP:
No, I don't play any instrument. Zero. Of course, when I was a teenager, I fantasized about playing instruments, especially while I was listening to music. I didn't fantasize about any particular instrument, frankly, but about all instruments. When I was seventeen or eighteen, like many teenagers, I guess, I'd be listening to tunes and imitating Jimi Hendrix
or John Bonham, or Keith Emerson or Jack Bruce
, or another one of my heroes, playing air instruments!
Once I read an interview with Frank Zappa
where he was asked, "What type of music do you listen to now? What have you been listening to recently?" His reply was that he didn't listen to music by other people because he had his own.
I am completely opposite. I don't have my own music, which is why I listen to so much music. I am all the time listening to music. The time that musicians spend doing a soundcheck or a rehearsal, then playing the show, and touring...I'm listening to so much different music, all the time, in different situations and settings. Ironic as it sounds, the thing that many of the busiest musicians do not have much time for is listening to music!
I don't play an instrument, and I actually think that's a big advantage for me; being a non-musician gives me much more time to listen and enjoy a variety of music. Musicians have to work their craft: They either compose their own music or learn music by others; they have to tour, which means regular soundchecks and rehearsals, playing live shows, travel, and preparations. That essentially means these musicians are always playing the same music. But me, I can invest that same amount of time to listening. If I was a musician, I would undoubtedly have far less time to digest new music, investigate new or emerging talents, and propel the label.
While my label features a few all-time legends of guitar, it's only their partial discographies. That said, I am very proud to have names of the incomparable Allan Holdsworth and the amazing John Etheridge
among MoonJune's releases. AAJ:
Would you please share some impressions of Allan Holdsworth? LP:
Allan Holdsworth was a big part of my life between 2002 and 2017. He was beyond being a unique person. He was genuinely a self-tortured genius. We had a truly special relationship that was unfortunately spoiled in the last twelve months of his life by some negative forces and people who didn't understand what Allan was about at all. Many would claim they knew him, but I was the one who actually knew him very well. I was part of his life for fifteen years. I was often his best friend, his counselor, shoulder to cry on, personal financier, moral supporter, and I worked very hard to provide him with a lot of work. I never saw Allan as a "guitar hero" or "guitar god," maybe for no other reason than the fact that I am not musician. On the contrary, I always saw Allan simply as a human being, a beautiful person who wrestled with so many personal problems and demons.
Ultimately, his internal struggle proved to be his downfall. For more than a decade before his ultimate demise, "consumption" had displaced any real desire for production, I believe. I was heartbroken by what transpired in the months immediately preceding his death, and heartbroken when I heard of his death. We hadn't spoken for almost eight months, and he reached out to me one day before his passing. I planned to visit him secretly to clarify misunderstandings and obstructions which were, unfortunately, created by others. AAJ:
Indonesia has proven to be fertile ground for MoonJune, with such artists as Dewa Budjana
, Dwiki Dharmawan
. How did you find yourself and this music in Indonesia? LP:
This is a long story, but a quite interesting one, so I'll tell you. I was a big fan of Deep Purple; they're still one of my all-time favorite bands. While I was living in Italy, a friend of a friend of mine wrote a book about Deep Purple. I was also learning about Deep Purple through books and magazines (This was in the 1970's and early '80's). In one of the chapters in the book by my Italian writer friend, he revealed that in 1975 Deep Purple played one show in Jakarta, Indonesia, after their Japanese tourinformation which I also later found in other music magazines. This was their "Mark 4" lineup, with Tommy Bolin
and Glenn Hughes
, after Ritchie Blackmore quit the band. This made Deep Purple the first major western band to ever play in Indonesia. They played at a stadium with a 75,000-seat capacity, but the concert drew more than 100,000 people! Unfortunately, as it turned out, there were also some major problems: a few fans in attendance actually died, and there were some issues with the local authorities because the promoter had provided girls for the musicians. It was all about "rock 'n' roll"don't forget that this was 1976, you know? An Indonesian band called God Bless opened for Deep Purple. I was very curious about Indonesian bands, because in those days I knew of a couple of Asian bands, especially one Vietnamese band based in France called Taï Phong, a progressive '70s rock band. And I already knew some Japanese jazz and fusion artists, like Hiroshima, Ryo Kawasaki, Terumasa Hino, and Casiopea. And I am a curious person by nature, so I wanted to know more. But of course, those days weren't like today, and getting information from distant countries was challenging.
A few years later, I went into a record shop in Rome and bought maybe twenty LPs. One of the things I found was a cassette of an Indonesian progressive jazz fusion band from the '70's, called Guruh Gypsy. I talked to a clerk working in the store and told him the story about Deep Purple (which, as it turned out, he already knew). I had no expectations when purchasing that cassette tape. I didn't know the music. I guess the record store employee didn't know the music on that cassette, either. But when I got home the next day, that music simply blew my mind! Their music was exceptional. AAJ:
So it all started from that single cassette? LP:
By 1999, I was corresponding with a mail-order company called Vinyl Magic (now they're called BTF), occasionally buying albums from them. The company rep I communicated with had a love of tropical exotic countries, like myself, with interests in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. One day, he mentioned that he had in stock a new CD by a band from Indonesia that he thought I might like. So I told him to put that CD in my order. A few weeks later, I was listening to the first album by an Indonesian band named Discus
, released outside Indonesia through an independent Italian label, Mellow Records. Again, I was simply blown away by their self-titled debut. Being my typical curious self, I found two eMail addresses in the album's booklet and started corresponding with the band's leader and guitarist, Iwan Hasan, and the Indonesian label's owner, Chico Hindarto. I don't recall how or when, exactly, but sometime in the early Spring of 2000, I got an email from Iwan Hasan asking me if I might be able to help them book a gig in New York City. Discus had received a grant to perform in the USA, an invited performer at "ProgDay" in North Carolina and at a smaller progressive rock showcase in the Bay Area of California. People from the Indonesian consulate in the Big Apple weren't able to help Iwan, and he reached out to me. The band wanted to perform in New York City, regardless of the size of the room or audience.
Iwan Hasan was straightforward: "Maybe you can help us?"
Of course, I accepted the offer to help my new distant friend, who just happened to hail from a remote exotic country which I always wanted to visit! AAJ:
Had you previously promoted any shows? LP:
I had never promoted any show, previous to that. I am actually not a promoter: although I have organized a few shows in NYC in recent years, I always acted as a "show facilitator," eventually becoming a "booking representative," or "agent," for many artists over the past fifteen years, some artists who recorded on MoonJune and others who are not associated with my label.
I told Iwan that I could help find Discus a show because I knew the booking manager at the Knitting Factory. So, I booked Discus in the small room at the Knitting Factory. In the meantime, I went to ProgDay (strictly as a fan), met Discus and witnessed their incredible live performance. Two days later they were in New York, and I watched them perform again at the Knitting Factory. They decided to stay in New York for several days, just to visit, and I became friends with everybody, they're some really nice people, but particularly with their sound guy, who turned to be none other than Riza Arshad of simakDialog
. We clicked immediately. We have virtually identical tastes in music. Riza was also excited to learn that my favorite keyboard instrument was also his favorite keyboard instrument, the mighty Fender Rhodes electric piano.
Riza and I corresponded for three years. In July 2003, when I went to Indonesia for the first time, he was the first person to meet me there. Our friendship grew over the years. I considered him a close friend.
A few years later, July 2006, a few dozen people flew from Jakarta to see Allan Holdsworth perform in Singapore after his Japan tour, his trio tour with Jimmy Johnson
and Chad Wackerman
, his eighteenth tour of Japan but his first one with me. Riza was one of the Indonesians who came to Singapore. After the show, I also was honored to meet Dewa Budjana
for the first time; I knew him by reputation, but never had the opportunity to personally meet him. While we were in Singapore, Riza shared that he had an album he'd like to release internationally, and asked if I could help him. He gave me the rough mixes when I returned to Jakarta a few months later. That's how I wound up releasing simakDialog's Patahan
album on my label internationally in 2007. The group had already released four albums; I've since released three other albums by this truly phenomenal unit. I also helped him with two US short tours plus shows in Japan, China, Hong Kong and Germany. We had actually made plans for a third US simakDialog tour in 2018, on the back of a short tour in Brazil, only a few weeks before Riza's sudden, tragic death in January 2017. AAJ:
And that set your stage in Indonesia? LP:
Yes, Riza Arshad and Discus' label head Chico Hindarto were the first people I met in Jakarta in July 2003. Thanks to these two, I actually know "everybody" in the musicians' world in the Indonesian capital. Jakarta is a huge city, and it's located in the fourth most heavily-populated country in the world. While the people playing the highly-creative variety of music I follow represents a relatively small segment of the music industry there, it is a sort of "brotherhood" community, and they all know each other. In a matter of only a couple of visits to Jakarta between 2003 and 2006, I literally knew everyone who was a part of that world at the time. SimakDialog proved to be a springboard of sorts because I started to listening to the music of their guitarist Tohpati, a virtuoso player whose work as a band leader and director in the pop genre had gained him fame which extended beyond the jazz and progressive music communities of Indonesia. I then got to know Dewa Budjana, then Dwiki Dharmawan, and a couple of the younger guys. From there, I retroactively discovered the amazing '70's and '80's progressive music scene of Indonesia. Becoming more and more educated about the musical past of this fascinating country provided me with fresh motivation to seek out more still undiscovered talents. That's how it started. I currently have over twenty Indonesian releases on my label. While I never planned to have Indonesian artists when I started my label, as they were previously unknown to me, it "just happened" againthe unpredictable improvisations in life! Of MoonJune's many accomplishments, I am very proud of my Indonesian releases and of my special friendship with Dwiki Dharmwan and Dewa Budjana, two icons of Indonesian music. AAJ:
Have you ever met anyone else who works this way? LP:
I'm not sure. I really do not know. MoonJune Records never was my primary occupation. I always run my label as a "side project." I wanted to grow the label at certain points in my life, but I was always busy with my booking and consulting business.
Between the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2016, I ran with one of my best friends in New York, the legendary Derek Shulman, a consulting company called 2 Plus Music & Entertainment. Derek was the iconic frontman for the seminal 70's progressive rock band Gentle Giant, and then, from the early 80's, was one of the most successful music business impresarios in the USA. It was an exciting time. Among many other things we were dealing with, we represented in North America one of the most successful rock record labels of the past two decades, Frontiers Records. You might know them from their records by Little River Band, Jeff Lynne, BBQ Swingers
, Asia, Joe Lynn Turner, Journey, Thunder, Survivor
, Glenn Hughes
, House of Lords, Crush 40, Hardline, Jeff Scott Soto, Whitesnake, Boston, or FM. We were involved with managing or co-managing a bunch of other artists such as John Sykes, Yoso (Bobby Kimball, Billy Sherwood and Tony Kaye), Jake E. Lee, Texas Hippie Coalition, Loudness, and a few other acts. It was a good experience in music genres that weren't my cup of tea, and after dealing for five years, six years, with the rock-n-roll circus world so far from mine, I decide to leave. But Derek still remains a very close friend. AAJ:
Looking back at this experience, what do you think it taught you? LP:
Again, I don't know, nor do I even want to know, the reasons why things happen. Of course, I can analyze things after they happen, but I don't want to be stuck having to do things in a certain prescribed way. I do things, and if I do them again, the results are always different. But I think that is part of MoonJune Records' strength. That mentality is what keeps the label's output fresh, vibrant and decidedly unique, I believe. In adhering to such a loose approach, some might think that my life is chaotic; after all, I find myself unable to do much of anything that would be considered "ordinary" or "organized."
I lived in Africa between October 1988 and March 1989 in two Portuguese speaking countries, Angola and São Tomé & Principe. Despite what was a rather brief stay, I still managed to catch malaria in the late February '89, and consequently suffered for months from a mild cognitive impairment, affected by speech problems, short term memory loss and an inability to concentrate when reading. I still have speech and concentration problems at times, but instead of an obstacle, I actually see them as an advantage because they have forced me to improvise in life and develop my innate survival instincts. AAJ:
What upcoming MoonJune artists should readers keep their eye on? LP:
I just released a couple of new albums: Dominique Vantomme
, with the legendary Tony Levin
, Italian-Belgian guitarist Michel Delville
, and Belgian drummer Maxime Lenssens; and LiveR
, the new Slivovitz
Dominique Vantomme is a pianist, keyboardist, composer, bandleader, music educator and producer, equally well-known for his work with many European pop and rock acts as for being the jazz piano instructor at the Kortrijk Music Conservatory in his native Belgium. I've known Dominique for years and have always admired his Fender Rhodes playing. Vegir
is his international and MoonJune debut. It's psychedelic retro-futuristic progressive post-jazz-rock and showcases all musicians involved at the top of their game with the skill set, bravery and chutzpah to follow their instincts, and, in the process, allow the music to seek out and ultimately capture its own form. It slinks; it growls; it stalks; it devours! It grooves; it stutters; it holds you in suspense, then explodes! It's very exciting music for my taste, and you just cannot go wrong when Uncle Tony is on duty!
Slivovitz is a seven-piece band from Napoli, Italy, and a reviewer once mentioned that they "could eat Snarky Puppy for breakfast."
It's not easy for artists to emerge on the international scene if they come from the remote corners of the world, far from the spotlight and unable to play gigs that bring significant exposure on a global level. Coming from Southern Italy, Indonesia, or Serbia is definitely a disadvantage to most any musical act. If they had the chance to perform at a major jazz or rock festival, I know Slivovitz would conquer everybody's heart. LiveR
is ferociously formidable live album that deserves attention. These guys have a tremendous chemistry, huge imaginations and a tightness you don't hear in many progressive bands, these days. LiveR
captures not only all of these great qualities, but it also displays the playful, joyous nature of the band; you can tell from listening that these guys are not only great musicians and a tremendous unit, but that they are just really having a good time doing it!
Currently, I am preparing to release the new album by Mark Wingfield
, a gentleman who is not only becoming a close friend of mine, but is one of my favorite guitar playersand not just now, but maybe ever
. I am not alone in saying this, and Mark is getting increasingly well-deserved recognition as one of the very true guitar sound and guitar technique innovators. The album was recorded almost two years ago, in Spain, at the magic settings of La Casa Murada, an eleventh-century mansion converted into a recording studio by the well-known Catalan bassist and songwriter Jesus Rovira. The album will be called Tales From A Dreaming City
, and it will be more of a progressive compositional album. The last few albums we released from Mark were improvisational albums: Lighthouse
with Markus Reuter and Asaf Sirkis
; and a quartet album with Markus, Asaf and Yaron Stavi
called The Stone House
. I will be releasing several albums by Mark Wingfield; we're working on this one and we already have a few in mind that have yet to be recorded.
Then, two incomparable albums from Indonesian keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan
. The first one will be released later this spring and is called Rumah Batu
, which in Bahasa Indonesian means "La Casa Murada," or "The Stone House." It features Dwiki on acoustic piano, and the usual suspects from recent MoonJune recordings, London-based Israeli expats Yaron Stavi on upright bass and Asaf Sirkis on drums; as well two formidable musicians whom I've long admired: the hugely-respected French guitarist of Vietnamese descent, Nguyen Le
, and one of my all-time bass heroes, Carles Benavent
. I can mention one curiosity about the great Carles: Tony Levin was interviewed some years ago for a major music magazine, and when the interviewer asked him who his favorite electric bassist was, Tony said "Carles Benavent." The interviewer responded, asking, "Carlos who?" My dream is to have one day a recording session with both Tony and Carles!
Finally, after many sessions and traveling together around the world, my good friend and fabulous Israeli-born British drummer Asaf Sirkis will release his MoonJune debut, an album titled Our New Earth
featuring Polish vocalist Sylwia Bialas
, English pianist and organist Frank Harrison
and Scottish bassist Kevin Glasgow
. My good friend and the legendary drummer Dr. Bill Bruford
is a huge admirer of Asaf's work. Bill included interviews with Asaf in his latest book, Uncharted: Creativity and the Expert Drummer
, and will mark the occasion with his MoonJune debut as the liner notes writer!
Due to my heavy traveling schedule, I will possibly release just one more album this year, the new album of the ultra-talented Serbian pianist and keyboardist Vasil Hadzimanov
, whose MoonJune debut Alive
(2016) received great critical acclaim all around the world. Also, I have an ambient duo album by Markus Reuter and Mark Wingfield "in the can," and a new studio recording by the Barcelona-based Serbian guitarist Dusan Jevtovic
with Gary Husband
on drums, Markus Reuter
on touch guitar, and Catalan bassist Bernat Hernández. These will be my first two releases in 2019.
I am organizing another marathon recording session this coming May at the magic settings of La Casa Murada, the XI century mansion transformed in a recording studio, for release in 2019. A duo album of Mark Wingfield with Gary Husband on keyboards is a project I am looking very much forward to because Gary is a musical hero of mine, and one of my best musician friends, and a very special person to me. The three-headed beast Wingfield-Reuter-Sirkis will record their follow-up to Lighthouse
, and will be augmented on a separate project by Gary Husband on drumsyes, two drummersfor another set of impromptu musical conversation. And finally, the phenomenal drummer Asaf Sirkis, will record his jubilee album to be released in March 2019, in celebration of his 50th birthday, in a core trio format with Gary Husband on keyboards, Kevin Glasgow on bass, and many special guest soloists. AAJ:
And beyond that horizon? LP:
It's an exciting time for me. After almost three decades in NYC, I am considering a move to Catalonia, Spain, sometime toward the end of 2019 or in early 2020. There is something truly magical about that part of the world, and I miss the Mediterranean flavor in my life.
Of course, since my life is characterized by an improvisational, nomadic spirit, something else could happen and wind up carrying me elsewhere. But I'm really feeling the impetus to pick up and move. My time living here in New York is drawing to a close, I believe. But due to my dynamic lifestyle, I will be often back in the Big Apple or in Indonesia, where I am developing a new business with a few international partners. Of course, as in all improvisations, something unpredictable can happen and lead me somewhere else.
To that end, it seems inevitable that I will have to sort of "downsize" MoonJune Records, and reduce the number of releases. It's not easy to be a one-man army booking dozens of artists around the world while running an indie record label in today's hostile music business environment. Other, real
labels have three, four, five, or six people (or more) working for them. I have no such luxuries. I have no one but myself.
Currently, I am not in a position to take on any new artists on the label. I hope to dedicate more time, as much is humanly possible, to help wonderful musicians and good friends such as Dwiki Dharmawan
, Mark Wingfield
, Dusan Jevtovic
, Dewa Budjana
, Vasil Hadzimanov
, Boris Savoldelli
, Asaf Sirkis
, Markus Reuter
, Yaron Stavi
and a few others. AAJ:
Your comments on Cuneiform Records' recent announcement to take a sabbatical in 2018 to reconsider its business model? LP:
Steve Feigenbaum has been a very good friend for more than a decade. He is a remarkably passionate and brutally honest straightforward person, and a legendary figure. His label Cuneiform is truly one of the world's greatest. Steve's situation is very different. He's a real labelwhich is not to say that I'm an "unreal label"but Cuneiform is employing people and embracing overhead and operational costs exponentially larger than mine. I cannot afford even the expense to pay myself!
Unfortunately, I believe that several other iconic labels will follow Steve's lead. I've heard that once Manfred Eicher decides to finally retire, ECM will stop releasing records as well. The end of an era? The world has changed and I am still trying to figure it all out. AAJ:
What are some of the reasons why records are not selling anymore? LP:
I don't think that streaming and Spotify is the only reason. I am not here to whine or tell stories about the unscrupulous business conduct of Spotify. Big business has always taken advantage of artists for their own gain. Nothing new. It's a business, we live in capitalism, and it's not gonna change. Many claim that Spotify and other streaming companies are not paying a fair share to artists and indie labels; so then I ask myself, what is "fair share"? To receive $169.10 instead of $16.91 for 16,000 streams of a song?
I have only one issue with Spotify. Consumers should listen the music only once for free. Their second time, they should be given the option to purchase a digital or physical copy of the album, or just a digital download of an individual tune. Streaming IS one of the reasons, but it's not the main reason. Consumers can find more music, support more bands, and create more diversity in music. I think the reason that music doesn't sell much anymore is because we live in a different kind of society today. There is oversaturation of the market. There are too many products available for the decreasing amount of consumers. One reason that I don't sell so many records is because I'm competing with thousands and thousands of other albums that are being released at the same time, and the average consumer has only so much money to buy albums. You cannot buy everything that comes out. Apparently, there are hundreds and hundreds of record labels just in the US now, releasing an immense quantity of albums every year, plus numerous artists are "self-releasing" albums on their own. The market is overrun, demand sinks lower and lower, with more and more new albums still being released.
We live in a big world, more than seven billion people. If you are an American jazz lover, for example, you might also be interested in jazz or progressive artists not only from major jazz countries such as UK, France, Germany, Brazil or Italy, but also from Indonesia, Serbia, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, Egypt, Finland, Mongolia, Fiji, Dominican Republic, Turkey, Camerun, Bangladesh, and other countries. Then you can oversaturate yourself acquiring more music from different parts of the world, adding to the music you are already consuming. Besides new releases, there are old releases, re-issues, used CDs, used vinyl, even used cassettes and eight-track tapes!
Let's not overlook the "Steven Wilson
phenomenon": Remasters of the remastered remasters to be remastered and over-remastered; then even more remastered versions with so many bonus tracks, bonus discs, bonus whatever; then box sets, special editions, special packages, ultra-limited editions... People are buying for the eleventh or twenty-fourth or thirty-seventh time albums they've already heard so many times in so many different formats.
Then you have traditional old school fans who are still stuck with their 60's and 70's nostalgia, and who categorically believe, and wrongly, that there is no great music today, which is absolutely untrue. There is much more amazing music today than ever in the history of human kind, but no one knows it existsindependent masses confined to the extreme niche of obscurity!
How much money and how much time does a consumer actually need to buy even one album, let alone listen to everything available? How do consumers discover new artists? I know a music fan, a gentleman in his early sixties, who has collected music for almost five decades. His collection is gigantic, and he appreciates my label but has maybe only a few MoonJune albums. He said to me that he has reached a saturation point with "new music," and that he will not live long enough to catch up with everything that's aroundhe simply has no time. He has the desire but no time. He doesn't consume new music, or very very rarely. He enjoys living in the past and there is nothing wrong with that. But he is not into new music at all. AAJ:
Is it an issue of format, or of content, or of issues outside of music such as economics? LP:
People have gotten used to spending less and less for music. Those who do spend are clearly a minority, and they cannot buy everything and they don't have time to listen to everything. The reality is that the music industry today simply doesn't exist as it existed before. There are no clear-cut tools to promote the music: no magazines, no radio, no way to tell the world that you and your product exist outside of social media and the internet. Magazines and radio, both, are experiencing the same industry contractions that are decimating the recorded music industry.
The ramifications of this are that an overwhelming majority of musicians just cannot live anymore strictly from music; they have to do other things. Musicians from other genres may gravitate toward more commercially popular forms of music, hoping for some measure of success, but this would more than likely only happen for a few lucky souls.
Touring is also increasingly in "slow-down" mode; expenses are more costly than ever, while venues and promoters offer smaller guarantees and lower payouts. But who can blame them? In most cases, they also have to scrape to carve out a living, pay their rent and bills, try to survive. Throw in the "streaming fandango" and here we are. A rather bleak view of both the present and the future.
Maybe music should be free? Maybe musicians and independent labels are not supposed to make any money. Maybe that's the solution: Free music for everyone! Actually, I would like to release an album and offer it for free, just to see what happens. What else I can do when I'm selling a few hundred copies of an unknown artist from Bandung, Indonesia? AAJ:
Spotify and similar streaming services are not the prime suspects? LP:
I am not a huge opponent of Spotify and other digital streaming services, but I know that many people are. I actually like the idea. In the wake of the "digital revolution," I think it's one of the greatest innovations to emerge. Maybe the way it is done does not properly distribute income to artists, but in theory that is a very difficult thing to implement, honestly. It's a tough question, and a difficult dilemma to decipher, but I don't believe that streaming services are necessarily the only ones to blame for our present crisis. You have to hear music somehow, and let me ask you one thing: Where can you hear new music, if not online? In the extinct record shops? In the supermarkets or shopping malls? On TV or radio? What's radio today? Even truck drivers don't listen radio anymore. They play music from their iPods and phones. People listen to talk shows on radio, religious and political demagogues, but radio is not for listening to music anymore. In much the same way that Rolling Stone
really isn't about music, anymore.
Things are changing. I just see it as a change in history. We live in a different era. Who's to say that music has to be the most important thing in your life? Who says that? For our generation, music was important; for me, most certainly. But maybe music is not supposed to be the most important thing; perhaps that mentality was from a golden generation, between the '60's and '70's, and it just continued over for a few decades. Maybe, in its present form, the music industry has somehow passed its "expiration date."
Today, music just doesn't matter to so many people. Its messages and its impacts just are not what they used to be. Life continues to change, and at a faster pace than ever before. A little over one hundred years ago, people used to ride horses or walk from one place to another. Now, everyone drives motorized vehicles and travels great distances in short time spans via airplanes.
When I was a teenager or in my early twenties, I used to watch every episode of shows that I enjoyed. I listened to radio. I bought thousands of albums. But as you hit your forties or fifties or sixties, you steadily buy less albums and you go to see less shows. The audience for this particular type of music is aging. There are very few young people to support the industry; most young people are into something else.
We are aging, and the habits of consumers are changing. There are many elements involved in why things are not well anymore. It's very difficult to blame any one thing. Of course, I am the first victim of such things. But should I be blaming Spotify or streaming services? No. That is simply how it is, for me. My music is for a very limited set of people, an aging generation, and young people are into something else. My son is nineteen years old. He's not into what I am doing. He has other interests. I cannot blame him. I grew up with my maternal grandparents, and my grandfather thought that The Beatles
and Rolling Stones
were negative elements in society. We live in a new world order. We might complain and suffer but new generations are into something else. Are they wrong? I do not know. AAJ:
Younger generations seem more visual, but I also wonder about the sense of musical community that seems lost in its digitalization. When you download a song, for example, you don't get the notes of whose playing on it. LP:
I have a different perspective on that. I am a huge advocate of digital music. I get everything that you are saying, and I used to be of that same opinion. But, I realized one thing: I want to hear the music. To me, the greatest format is always the music, itself. And the fact that I am listening to music without any attachment to the physical format, without any attachment to a booklet or artwork or to liner notes, it gives me a pure contact and personal communication with the music. If I want to find out who played the bass or drums or piano, or who wrote the liner notes or who produced it, I will find that if I am a real music lover. That information is out there, it just might take a little digging. But the fact that I can listen to music that's actually devoid of a physical format is not an overwhelming "negative" for me; it gives me the purity of listening to music simply for the sake of listening to music.
That's why I have a huge issue with vinyl LP lovers, because, from my perspective, they're not necessarily buying it because of the format (after all, vinyl's sonic qualities deteriorate with each subsequent listening), but, maybe, just because they're nostalgic. They want to listen to the so-called "warm (analog) sound of the LP," put on an album side and listen for twenty minutes. I don't want to do that. When I listen to music, I don't want to have anything to do with that. I do not want a time limitation of twenty minutes, for example. If I want, I want to listen the music with no interruptions for four hours, or five hours, or ten. And to skip from one tune to another one (with just the click of a mouse or finger) if I want to. I want to enjoy the music. Not the format.
On one of my future Dwiki Dharmawan releases, there are tunes over 35 minutes. How the hell do you squeeze that onto an LP limited to twenty-three and a half minutes? Why butcher the piece of artistic expression to confine to a format that limits how much music you should put on one side?
Now, this doesn't mean that I do not like vinyl. Of course I do, as well as CDs. But my point is that any format is OK but the best format is the MUSIC. And people should buy any format they want. But my favorite is digital.
I am not a nostalgic person. Even though I'm a very romantic person in many ways, I'm not nostalgic. I like to project my ideas and visions into the future, not the past. I don't want to live from the past. That's why I love the digital format. To me, it's the greatest thing that was ever invented, with regard to audio reproduction. It's not for everyone, though, you know? I have 11,000 albums in my iTunes library. I have thousands and thousands of CDs, I do not have LPs, but I exclusively listen digital files. When I travel, I just put a lot of music in my iBook or iPhone or iPad and I travel. While traveling, I listen to music whenever I want and the way I want. I love that freedom.
Digital music matches my lifestyle. Everything is different now, and I actually like that. While I appreciate and respect the past, I am more interested in the future. I do not live from the past.
To be perfectly candid: Digital downloads on BandCamp saved MoonJune Records. If I was depending on physical sales, I would have been forced to end the label a few years ago. I do not care, at all, anymore about iTunes. I really like BandCamp, and think that it offers a superior set of options at a flexible price. As a businessman, I can change prices as much I want and as many times I want; it only takes me a few minutes. I like being able to offer deals and specials. I cannot do that with iTunes.
Despite this, also to be candid, sales continue on a downward spiral. Many albums do not produce enough revenue to cover basic production costs. I am not ashamed to say that I have lost money with MoonJune Records in the past four years. With all the wholesale changes in the record business over this time period, adjusting is neither easy or clear cut. That said, I have managed to sell a bit more digital music lately on BandCamp; and with more and more people doing that, it gives me hope.
Perhaps the importance of social media, especially in light of decreasing magazine sales and radio listeners, is the quintessential component of survival or success to small, independent labels such as MoonJune. It is the only free form of advertising other than word of mouth, but, in a world oversaturated with other media, it may also be the most effective. AAJ:
We've talked a lot about you and your music. What else would you like to share about yourself to close? LP:
In the summer of 1990, I opted for a drastic change and moved to New York City to restart my life from virtually nothing. At the time, I found myself unable to finish my academic, despite wishing to continue my postgraduate work in the field of Afro-Portuguese literature and history. I had some familial and other issues, plus severe speech problems and lack of concentration due to the consequences of contracting malaria. Reluctantly, I decided to quit searching for something more exciting in my life, in spite of the fact that I had excellent living conditions where I lived. I came to New York not as a typical immigrant searching for a better financial life, because I had a great and comfortable life back in Italy, but as an adventurous nomad. I was searching for something but had no idea what it really was. All I knew it was that New York City was the "greatest big city in the world," and definitely the right place for me.
Then I met my wife, a Chinese woman whose parents moved from China to Hong Kong after Mao Tse Dong came to power in 1949. My in-laws emigrated to Brazil in 1962 when she was only nine months old, so my wife is de facto Brazilian. Brazil is a country I always had a great affinity for since my childhood, and have visited many, many times, and I actively do a lot of booking business there. For all the 25 years of our marriage, my wife and I spoke Portuguese, which I have spoken since the early '80s, in our household. It's kind of odd: I was born in the former Yugoslavia and grew up in Italy; she was born in Hong Kong; and we speak Portuguese among us! Even with our 19-year-old son, who is an American born in New York City! As you can see, nothing in my life is "ordinary!"