Jerry Lucky: Right off the top, tell us a little about the philosophy of MoonJune Records.
Leonardo Pavkovic: I would say that MoonJune Records is a label of progressive music exploring the boundaries between jazz, rock and the unknown.
JL: You started the company in 2001, so it's been a decade now. What's been the highlight of that period? And what's been a lowlight?
LP: Possibly my biggest highlights were all CDs of Soft Machine Legacy, and also very unique archival live recordings of Soft Machine, one from 1975 titled "Floating World Live (the fusion period featuring the incredible Allan Holdsworth) and one from 1971 titled "Drop" (featuring the unsung drum hero Phil Howard who was in the band only for 5 months, between the departure of Robert Wyatt and the arrival of the legendary John Marshall). But possibly the biggest highlights is the double live CD of the fusion super group featuring Allan Holdsworth, Alan Pasqua, Jimmy Haslip and Chad Wackerman, titled "Blues For Tony". So far, I have never experienced any lowlight, except that CD sales are getting lower and lower.
JL: Were you always a fan of progressive music? How did you come to be exposed to the genre?
LP: I was always a music fan since my mid-teens when I started collecting my first records. I always found it very limiting defining sub genres or sub-sub genres of the music. I am more into accepting music as music that I like and enjoy and music that I do not like and do not enjoy. Coincidentally, a lot of so called progressive rock created from late 60's to late 70's is among my favorite music, and possibly I have heard or I had/have in my collection virtually everything that this sub-genre has generated all around the Europe and beyond in those historical years. When I was discovering Beatles, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, The Who, The Doors, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Deep Purple, Bob Marley or Ravi Shankar, I was discovering the music that I started to like and dig, whatever that music was called.
JL: So what prompted you to go from that to running a label devoted to progressive music?
LP: I was involved for a short time with a jazz label in 1999 and 2000, here in New York City, we had big plans and were looking for investment, but somehow things didn't happen the way we wanted, I had 3 other partners, and then suddenly, I decided I will start releasing albums and have my own label, and be the only one responsible for the label. Among my 4 first releases, I had 3 CDs that were so called of the progressive rock genres (two live albums of Italian bands Finisterre and D.F.A. and one studio album of the local NYC band TriPod. Later on, my CDs were more into jazz-rock, sometimes switching to improve or avant-garde, but generally saying, my label is about progressive music, can be rock sometimes, can be jazz-rock other times, can be psychedelia and experimental improvisation, but it's always very progressive.
JL: What were the challenges you faced in getting started? Did you have people encouraging you?
LP: I started all by "accident", and I never thought back then in 2001 about challenges, I just did it. I wasn't encouraged by anyone in a direct way, but a lot of my friends and people who knew me, have welcomed my initiative. No one ever discouraged me, because I never ever ask people any opinions what I have to do or I should do in my life. I am free spirit and all my decisions are always spontaneous, organic and genuine.
JL: What are the things you look for in signing a band to MoonJune?
LP: We have to be friends first of all, we have to speak the same philosophical and intellectual language, and of course I have to like the music.
JL: Earlier I used the term progressive music rather than progressive rock, because a lot of the material you release has a definite jazz or avant-garde feel. Is that where your personal musical interest lies?
LP: I would like to continue to release all forms of progressive music that are not easily classified, and that have elements of jazz and rock. And if that particular fusion between those two kinds of undefined big genres which are jazz and rock, can also have elements of ethnic music from any part of the world, even better. I wouldn't mind having a psychedelic rock band or a progressive rock band on my roster, but so far, with few little exception, I didn't have chance to work with anyone else.
JL: At the same time you've released some classic Italian progressive rock, like Arti & Mestieri. How did you connect with those guys?
LP: Beppe Crovella, the co-leader of this legendary Italian band is a friend of mine for many years, and besides MoonJune Records, I was involved in international bookings, and one of my specialties was booking various kinds of bands in Japan. So far, I have done 45+ tours of Japan, have visited Japan 29 times in 2005, I took to Japan also Arti & Mestieri, and we recorded all shows, and the band's second night in Kawasaki/Tokyo ended up to be my CD "First Live In Japan". MoonJune Records is my side gig, and most of my activities since 2002 are related to international bookings, with specialization in Japan, rest of Asia, Latin America, and I am also involved in managerial activities with artists such as Allan Holdsworth and Soft Machine Legacy. As a booker or agent I have worked until now with over 60 artists, mostly progressive rock and jazz-rock bands, such as, besides before mentioned artist, Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean, PFM, New Trolls, Banco, Latte & Miele, Scott Henderson, Jan Akkerman, Andy Summers, Hatfield & The North, Colosseum, Terry Bozzio, Alex Machacek, Eddie Jobson, Ken Hensely, Bill Bruford, Flash, Billy Sherwood, Tony Kaye, Curved Air, Richard Sinclair, Mahavishnu Project, Nektar, Chad Wackerman, Living Colour, and many more. In my other "non-progressive" company, 2 Plus, I am involved with many other acts in the mainstream entertainment field.
JL: With so much turmoil in the music business how do you measure success?
LP: CDs are selling less and less, digital sales for the kind of music I am dealing with, are not great. I used to sell much more in my first 5-6 years of the label, possibly because I had stronger titles and then, in those days CDs used to sell better. It's already a success releasing CDs since apparently major music business will stop manufacturing CDs in few years. CDs will be just souvenirs, artists should be very lucky, especially those lesser known, to have this amazing privilege, to have their own souvenirs. Because of my very personal relationship with all my artists, who are smart, realistic and intelligent people, we do not have exaggerated expectations, we know what's going on out there in the world, we know that CDs will sell less and less, our happiness is measured in different terms and dimensions, we are all happy to be still able to release CDs. We wish we can live from this, but we do not have to live from this, but our happiness is inside of us, because we are happy we can offer music to reviewers, deejays and potential fans anywhere in the world, no matter if they are just several hundreds or several thousands or several dozens or hundreds of thousands.
JL: What are your thoughts to the level of illegal downloading that is taking place and how has it affected a niche label such as yours?
LP: Digital piracy is definitely hurting everybody, mega labels, big labels, big indies, medium indies, small indies, individual artists who are self-releasing albums, everybody. But I would say that's not the major reason why music sells less and less. The major problem is that there is so much product on the market, the market is over saturated, economy bad and the music industry is shifting to another direction.
JL: Do you have any solutions?
LP: Totalitarian regime, total censorship and strict control on anything. North Korea still exists.
JL: I asked this question of Steve at Cuneiform, let me ask you too. After 10 years what gets you excited about "coming to work" ?
LP: MoonJune Records is not my "work", but one of my activities. Of course I spend a lot of my time dedicated to MoonJune Records. I do other things; I cannot live from MoonJune Records. I am fortunate that I have never ever worked for anyone, I was always on my own or having partnership in few companies with people who are my close friends. I enjoy my work, whenever I am working on MoonJune Records’ stuff, or booking artists around the world, or working my close friend Derek Shulman in our new company 2 Plus Music & Entertainment. I travel a lot and everywhere in the world, for various reasons, and even though I enjoy my new company that me and Derek Shulman have since March 2010, I am the happiest man if I can spend my time in my MoonJune office which is only 15 minutes nice walk from where I live in the historic East Village here in New York City, my neighborhood for 21 years. Here I have all what I really like, and a lot of music to be heard, it's my own little world.
JL: So let's say there's an aspiring band that's looking for a label, what should they be doing to catch your interest?
LP: Music is best, to paraphrase Frank Zappa.
JL: Among the upcoming and lesser known artists you work with, who should we be watching out for?
LP: Definitely Marbin, so young, so smart, so talented, and doing everything in the right way. Since they started their adventures, Dani Rabin and Danny Markovich, have recorded two great albums, highly acclaimed all over the world, we sold relatively a lot of records, and in 18 months they have performed over 250 gigs, and I put them on half of Scott Henderson's USA tour this Fall and in March/April they will be opening all around the USA for Allan Holdsworth. My other big hope is the Indonesian guitar virtuoso Tohpati, it's a bit tougher for him, since he is far away from where all the gigging activities happen, North America and Europe, and playing live gigs and as many possible, it's the only way young and upcoming musicians can make it, or try to make it. Dani Rabin and Tohpati are unique guitar talents, among the greatest I am aware of.
JL: What's the toughest thing about running the label?
LP: To make sure I do not lose too much money. And to make sure my albums are visible to people of interest and to people of potential interest.
JL: When you've had a lousy day, what is it that makes you keep going?
LP: Whoever knows me, they know me as a person who is always in a good mood, I do not remember having many lousy days. If something bothers me, I would try to resolve it in a philosophical way as soon as I can.
JL: Lastly then...if you were stuck on a desert island. What five albums would you like to have with you and why?
LP: I would take my iBook and my 3TB external hard drive with 10,000+ albums mostly in m4a (Apple Lossless) format, and would go to an island in South-East Asia, one of my favorite places on Earth, part of the world which I know well as my pocket, enjoy beach, great spicy food and all the music I have with me. BTW, I am not sure I can give you a list of 5 desert island albums, it's unfair to many other albums I like. But if I have to choose, I would give you a list of 25, which easily can be 100 or more.
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, Miles Davis & Gil Evans - Sketches of Spain, Miles Davis - Bitches Brew, Cream - Disraeli Gears, The Doors - The Doors, Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson Quartet - Witchi-Tai-To, King Crimson – Island & Lizard, Van Der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts, Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath, Allan Holdsworth - Wardenclyffe Tower, Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced, Chick Corea - Return To Forever, Traffic - Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, Il Balletto Di Bronzo – YS, Gentle Giant – Octopus, Pat Metheny – Travels, simakDIalog - Patahan
If You ask me this question tomorrow, I might have a different list of albums. Also, I hate to be lonely and by myself, that's so boring.
JL: Thanks Leonardo, I appreciate the time and wish you all the best in 2012.
LP: It's my pleasure, Happy New Year.