Vlatko Stefanovski: Until I Satisfy My Artistic Appetite

Nenad Georgievski By

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AAJ: On your projects you had the opportunity to work with numerous musicians with different background. What are some of the qualities that you look for in your sidemen before deciding to work with them?

VS: Talent is important, and some background as well. This really is not beginner's school. I want to work with people that have achieved a certain level and with whom i can easily communicate, which means you don't have to do too much explaining so you won't waste precious time. I don't do much explaining during rehersals and we are just adjusting minor details. Simply, there is no space nor time for one to learn and each of them has to do their homework on time. That means practising, transitioning from a level to level. We cannot wait for someone during a rehearsal to learn something. You do that stuff at home or before arriving at a rehearsal, and much before going on stage.

Musicians work together according to the class they belong to. That is why you'll see famous jazz musos working with people from their own class and not with some anonymous musicians. This is not just happening in popular music but in other cathegories. An e.g. is Zubin Mehta, the conductor that conducts with the Vienna Fillharmonic Orchestra. One could invite him to work with the Macedonian Filharmonic Orchestra but it will be very costly and it would be an incompatible cooperation.

AAJ: Apart from different bands and configurations, what happens when it's just you and your guitar?

VS: I'm always with my guitar and i'm always searching for new solutions, either musical or sound solutions. I'm always searching. Not long ago, I purchased a new pedal so i'm working on different combinations with the pedals and the equipment. Otherwise, I'm looking for solutions for ideas that I've got, for certain tunes. I'm always on the look out for a moment when a certain song matures, then I'll just throw in some other ideas that I deliberately leave unfinished as I know when i work on a demo and if it is too good it will tie me too much and I won't be able to make many changes. But, if I make a scheme it will give me more space to play with it or to erase it. Sometimes, I act a bit irresponsibly towards my ideas as I often leave them to wander in my head unrecorded, and if they survive great and if they don't, no problem, we will get back to them some other time.

AAJ: Do you get frustrated by the technological aspects of music making?

VS: Regularly! The times we live in have imposed too much technology, and I get frustrated on regular basis but not by my own playing or the usage of technology but by technology itself. Not long ago, I bought a new computer and each purchase is stressful as the new and fast processors won't accept the drivers from the previous programs. It's a bloody unnerving game as new programs do not function on older computers. It's too exhausting both for the finances and the nerves, and I know that my life used to be simpler. At the time, you had a guitar, acoustic and electric, an amplifier and your job was to make music. The moment your music matures, you go into the studio and you record it. There are people, recording engineers and producers, who are there to make sure that it sounds good.

Now, you are left to the mercy of all this technology. Now you have to take care of the recording, the mixing and the post mastering all by yourself. Ok, you don't have to do that too and you can spend your life writing songs with a pencil and a paper, but I don't want to be that much archaic. Because of that, a man has to meet all the challenges, including the new age which imposes a struggle and is ignorant towards older concepts and values. One has to fight with all of that. Few days ago one of my computers broke down and fortunately it's not the one that I use for music making. The more technology there is, greater are the chances for something to get broken. On the other hand, one should not remain that analogue based and should digitalize a bit.

AAJ: During your rich career you had an opportunity to work with numerous musicians. What are some of your fondest collaborations?

VS: According to the success of the projects, the collaboration with Miroslav Tadic is something that is very important to me as what we are doing has received a great response everywhere and I think it is right to keep on going and maintain this project that we have. It is an important collaboration to me. Generally, I find everything to be important, because with whomever i worked with I always gave my best. I have always tried to build a normal working relationship.

I had an opportunity to work with Bojan Zulfikarpasi' who i think is a genius. He achieved great success in France and he invited me to work with an interesting bunch of people on a project titled Koreni (Roots). Another one is Lala Kovachev, a drummer, who now doesn't play at all. He was the founder of Balkan Impressions, a band that in the middle of the 80s did what Goran Bregovi' does now. I was also part of that band and we had a group of 4 female vocalists from a group called "Paganke," (Pagans), we had people who played on pipes and we had Feat Sejdi' and his brass orchestra. All of today's Balkan fusion variations that we witness were already done in 1984 or 1985 with Lala Kovačev. He worked mostly in Munich, Germany and he played with truly important jazz names such as Chet Baker and other figures from the jazz's premier league. He is one of the dearest people that I have worked with.

AAJ: What about Gibonni, what's your relationship both as a friend and as a collaborator with him been like?

VS: In 1998, Gibonni invited me to play on an album titled Ljudi, Zviri i Beshtimje and I accepted his invitation. His manager, Ozren Kaceljak is an old friend of mine and, of course, at his invitation and recommendation I accepted this collaboration and while working with him I realized that Gibonni is a great author i.e. songwriter and musician. This collaboration has allowed me to meet Manu Katche, Pino Paladino and Tony Levin. The experience of working with these people was truly wonderful and profound since these people are first class peformers in any music genre. I really had an intensive working realtionship with Gibonni which resuletd in many concerts, 2 studio albums (Ljudi, Zviri i Beshtimje, Mirakul), 2 DVDs, many lunches and many travels. He is really a very interesting person, very witty, emotional and humane.

AAJ: One of your dearest associates is your brother Goran Stefanovski, a well known and respected writer, who helped a lot when it came to writing lyrics for Leb i Sol (in the beginning) and you two worked on several other projects. This year he accepted as a member of the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences.

VS: This collaboration during the beginning of Leb i Sol's career, when it came to writing lyrics was really intensive. At the time, i really harassed him to write those lyrics for me, and while he was raising small children he would write them as I needed them badly. He wrote many of Leb i Sol's lyrics and I'm grateful to my brother for that. Now he lives far away, in Canterbury, England and I have learned how to do that by myself and i don't bother him anymore with that. Still, as a brother he is very important to me. Goran is someone who can help you solve any kind of problems you might have at any time and is someone who you can emotionally rely on.

AAJ: You are someone who has developed his career cautiously i.e. compared to many of today's quasi musicians you have built your career on hard work and high quality releases.

VS: Actually, I'm someone who has made many compromises in my lifetime. When it comes to my work I could have been more radical and stylistically more consistent. But, at certain point i know i have to do those compromises so the whole thing can go onward, otherwise it will stop. At the time, we had problems with the cover sleeves for the first Leb i Sol album. We had our own ideas and the record company (PGP) would not agree with us. They had their own solution which we were shocked by when we saw it. The cover sleeves for the second album were printed wrong. The front cover was put on the back side and the back picture was put at the front.

Can you imagine how we felt? It was a shocking experience and i have survived many of them. In those cases, I could have said that I don't want this to be released and to sit comfortably for 3 years and not to give permission for anything to be published. At a certain moment one has to swallow hard in order not to stop the whole thing. Otherwise, I could have had far better photographs in the press, far better and well chosen interviews, even to have far better produced records and cover sleeves. I would like to be a greater perfectionist, but unfortunately I'm not, since my character isn't such. I'm invested in a certain thing until it interests me. I lose my interest for certain things very quickly and when i get bored by working on an album I would say, yes this is it, this is the end since I don't want to have anything with it anymore.

If I was a perfectionist like some people who release albums every ten years and who are very careful about each word, tone and each collaborator, I could have been more polished and pure as an author. But I know that the world we live in is imperfect and therefore I give myself room for mistakes. Brian Eno has said "Honor thy mistake as a hidden intention." Only God is perfect and only he has the right to perfection. Human beings are imperfect and our perfection lies in our quest for perfection. If I will never reach this stadium of perfection then let's not bother with unnecessities. Leb i Sol's first album is fantastic and successful regardless of the cover sleeves. It's a masterpiece of the production technology of the time. The cover sleeve is a disaster but it was destined to be. Mistakes and occurrences such as these will always happen and will burden you, but one has to reconcile and keep on going. People come and leave bands and one has to make a compromise in order to substitute a member of the band. At certain point you have to break the band as it doesn't have any strength, energy and enthusiasm. Anything can be done and replaced, but enthusiasm is irreplaceable.

Everyone is putting pressure on us, asking when shall we get together and work again. The enthusiasm we had on the first three albums can not be repeated. Now someone else has to do what we did. The enthusiasm is a driving force and is an energy that surpasses all others. You know what they say "The sum of all parts is larger than the parts themselves." That band was bigger than the sum of its parts. The sum of the energy was enormous and it lasted while it lasted. But why should we force certain things? The enthusiasm is a catalyst for the chemical process to start. The music is a chemistry and there has to be a chemical reaction within the band. If there is no fire, everything is futile.

This is something that distinguishes musicians: how much passion one has inside or how passionate is someone for what he does. There is a category of people that are playing their instruments perfectly, but the category of passion and enthusiasm is also very important. When i see musicians playing, at least the real ones, i sense those emotions and i can tell you that they are not famous for no reason. No one succeeds by accident. Behind each successful individual, there is something intangible.
About Vlatko Stefanovski
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