INTERVIEW WITH LEONARDO PAVKOVIC of MoonJune Records - July 2019
© By Lee Henderson for BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE
MoonJune Records is a record label that concentrates on progressive rock, jazz rock, and forms of avant-garde music. It was established by record producer Leonardo Pavkovic in 2001. Main office located in New York City, the label has released a wondrous amount of music from artists that all have a desire to create something new. MoonJune Records came into being in 2001. The company represents the fruition of vision from entrepreneurial producer, tour manager and promoter Leonardo Pavkovic and draws its name from Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt’s famous 1970 masterpiece “The Moon in June”. He was born in Yugoslavia, grew up in Southern Italy, and can speak six languages: Serbian, Croatian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and English. In 1990 he moved to New York City and worked in graphic design (he mentions the company in this interview) and the rest is a dream come true. I consider Leo a friend and have both respect for his label and judgement on the releases that have made our world a better place, from the past and to the present. I am certain the future is ready for more music from MoonJune Records.
One look at the expansive catalog at the MoonJune website, and one can recognize the skills and high level of musicians that continue to make the label proud. Leonardo was kind enough to give an indepth set of answers to my questions from the month of early to late July, so I will allow the readers to enjoy the interview itself. You will find it interesting I can promise.
LH = Lee Henderson
LP = Leonardo Pavkovic
LH: I think everyone who knows about you would agree that you have put in the endless hours, dedication, and finances into your musical passion to finally achieve this kind of result. I know the success is mainly the level of recordings you have produced. What are some of the other perks you enjoy with MoonJune Records?
LP: Since the beginning, MoonJune Records actually hasn’t been my main activity. Otherwise, I would have starved!
To provide proper context: when I started the label in 2001, I was still involved with the legendary Downtown Manhattan graphic design and advertising company, Studio T. In January 2005, I left the company after 14 years. I was doing some occasional International bookings, and some other unrelated free-lance jobs — mostly in graphics and pre-press production.
As I found myself doing less free-lance work, my booking activities increased gradually, but steadily, over the next few years. In 2006, I was presented with an opportunity to take my small label to the next level. Bill Hein, a very good friend of mine and a big fan of MoonJune Records (he helped me in 2003 with licensing of Soft Works ‘Abracadabra’ album to Mascot-Provogue label in Europe, and Shrapnel Records in the USA), and who was an important, major player in the USA music business industry at the time, offered me a deal that I couldn’t resist. The plan was to create an umbrella label, MoonJune Music, to be distributed, marketed and promoted by Rykodisc, becoming their associated label though a three-pronged line of products: MoonJune Records’ new album releases; reprinting Allan Holdsworth’s back catalog and archival live recordings as well his new album; and the same for the legendary psychedelic prog band Nektar. I was already doing bookings for Allan Holdsworth, and in 2003 I befriended the late great guitarist Roye Albrighton of Nektar who introduced me to their new manager in 2005. Bill Hein was also a huge Holdsworth fan, and he previously launched many of Allan’s 1980’s and 1990’s era classic albums on his Enigma/Restless label.
This seemed like a very lucrative arrangement, to support two legendary artists, as well to give MoonJune Records the chance to put the label on the map. After coming to a preliminary agreement, the plans got put on on hold. Bill received a tremendous offer and decided to move to an even bigger company EMI, to run Caroline Distribution. Once there, he wound up offering me an even bigger, better deal for exactly the same.
Unfortunately, though, when I was ready to sign the contract, the international mega-corporation, Terra Firma — a group of filthy billionaire businessmen, with below-zero passion and understanding for the music – purchased EMI, and the deal was kaput. They wound up strip-mining the company, eliminating all associated labels, and laying off staffs of personnel, including, sadly, my friend, Bill. No one saw this move coming, apparently. It was a big shock and a huge disappointment, as you can easily imagine. For almost a year I had not released any albums on MoonJune Records, waiting for the deal to happen; I had delayed or suspended multiple planned projects. This fiasco particularly affected Nektar and that’s another long story (and now I am involved again with the band.) Despite this setback and the huge letdown that accompanied it, the entire episode was sort of an epiphany. The episode served to confirm what I already sensed: MoonJune Records was destined to be a “one-man show,” operating my way, on my terms.
Coincidentally, I traveled extensively throughout South-East Asia almost immediately after this all went down. While on my sojourn, I had the pleasure of spending time in Indonesia, taking the liberty of revisiting my recent friendship with one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever worked with — the unsung piano and Fender Rhodes maestro, Riza Arshad — while there. His band simakDialog’s fourth album “Patahan” was the first of a couple dozen albums of Indonesian artists I've been privileged to release on the label.
Thanks to Riza, I was introduced to three other giants of Indonesian music: his guitarist Tohpati, guitarist Dewa Budjana, and pianist/keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan. Given the collapse of the Rykodisc / EMI plans, I knew the MoonJune Records would have to remain my “side gig". The label became the outlet to help my old and new friends from different parts of the world to release their albums that were their passionate, personal statements — which I knew, otherwise, would never get released outside of local / regional confines. And Indonesia for sure played a major role in the development of MoonJune Records.
Meanwhile, during the course of this emotional roller coaster of sorts, my booking activities kept growing at a slow-but-steady pace. I specialized in Japan which by now I visited 51 times, booked over 70 tours and helped licensing over 1000 albums for my clients since 2002. Thanks to my frequent international travels, I had chance to promote what I was doing. MoonJune Records gave me one type of exposure; MoonJune Music Bookings, another one, entirely different. With the exception of Soft Machine Legacy and Allan Holdsworth (and now Stick Men), my booking roster did not include any of the other MoonJune Records artists — although I did occasionally book MJR artists at small festivals and/or on occasional mini-tours.
Thanks to my strong connections all over Asia and Latin America, I was often doing consultancy for local promoters in many secondary and tertiary territories to help them with bookings of entertainment acts that do not have nothing to do with my label or my booking roster. I did a lot of the background and invisible work and was connecting many dots between those promoters and companies/agencies who were representing Disney On Ice, Dora The Explorer, Whitesnake, Extreme, Status Quo, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Peter Gabriel, Living Colour, 50 Cents, Pitbull, and many others.
Between liaisoning, all sorts of bookings, traveling on tours and planning, production, distribution and promotion for a small indy label, my life became a bit of a juggling act, for awhile, all I would need is to switch from a 24- to a 48-hour day!! There was never enough hours in a day to accomplish all what that I wanted to do. Despite alI, I always did all my best, and promoted all albums passionately – generating hundreds and hundreds of reviews in over 50 countries. For the Indonesian, Italian and Belgian artists on my label, this exposure was vital. While none of the sales were spectacular, the critical acclaim the albums were receiving was amazing. On the strength of their albums receiving global acclaim, those artists were able to get grants and to tour internationally. simakDialog was a prime example of just such a success – as international reviews on all continents enabled them to receive government travel grants. They subsequently performed in Malaysia, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Nepal, Germany and twice in the USA.
Although I wish it were different, the main perks for MoonJune artists has always been this exposure. Even when economic times in the industry were robust, independent, most of the non-conformist progressive music has always been a difficult sell. Despite the economic challenges — which are truly greater than ever, presently – I am very proud of being able to introduce some uncommonly gifted, previously unknown (on a global scale) artists to a community of music connoisseurs who appreciate "art for art's sake". The reality of the situation, though, is that we live in a consumer-oriented society. While we all may enjoy the multitude of options offered up by 'the free market,' the capitalistic side of the equation ignores the pure spiritual and intellectual satisfaction of music as an art form. Unfortunately, from my perspective, "success” is still defined in the eyes of most – music producers and consumers, alike – as equating to big sales and profits.
Of course, in the beginning, I wanted this MoonJune Records adventure to be financially successful; but, considering the variety of music I was releasing, and the geographical collocation of musicians, the “financial success” aspect almost became totally irrelevant. It was tough when times were good, and for a small number of releases. In the past 6-7 years MoonJune Records' musical philosophy has evolved and gained further altitude — I have enjoyed becoming a component of the label's creative process. My mind constantly stays busy, dreaming up combinations of players, genres and elements. Rather than being presented with an already conceived and executed project – whereby MoonJune Records functioned functioned primarily in a manufacturing, marketing and distribution capacity – I have taken it upon myself to more personally direct the output (present, and future) of the label, and remain open to trying new ideas, even assembling diverse artists in a studio and taking a “see what happens” approach. And between this mindset, some wonderfully gifted artists and an amazing recording studio at La Casa Murada in Spain, thus far, the results have proven beyond extraordinary, I believe.
I always wanted to be a producer, and, to a large extent, this is what I am becoming, lately. This is the main perk for me, personally, and with this new approach to planning and process, my revision for MoonJune Records is to see the label produce music which eclipses anything and everything which has been previously associated with progressive music. My stepping into the role of a true, active "producer" will be the future of MoonJune Records on the road ahead. I want to be part of the whole process, as there is a personal satisfaction which I didn’t have chance to experience so much prior.
Meeting immensely talented and versatile musicians such Markus Reuter, Mark Wingfield, Asaf Sirkis and Dwiki Dharmawan – true gentlemen, who have been so kind and accommodating to let me into their world (and vice versa) — and embracing their adventurous "Yeah, let's do it!” attitude, has been a game changer for me. We all bonded, and, somehow, these musicians have managed to create what is arguably the most far-reaching, intellectually and spiritually advanced music I’ve ever witnessed in person. That’s my major perk. Those four ultra-talented musicians were looking exactly what I was searching for in life: reaching for the threshold of absolute spiritual, intellectual and musical freedom.
My perks also come in knowing and being personally acquainted with many other amazing musicians and wonderful people – above all of which is Beledo: the Uruguayan-born multi-instrumentalist (predominantly guitarist and pianist, but also highly qualified when playing synth, violin, fretless bass or accordion), who is also a marvelous composer and arranger. Beledo became my best friend here in NYC, where he's worked and resided for almost three decades, now.
As well, the Balinese guitar poet, Dewa Budjana, who writes such amazing tunes; my fellow native countrymen, Serbian maestros guitarist Dusan Jevtovic and pianist/keyboardist Vasil Hadzimanov; Belgian pianist/keyboardist Dominique Vantomme and his countryman, guitarist Michel Delville. And another Indonesian guitar maestro, Agam Hamzah, and, of course, the wonderful guitarist Dennis Rea from Seattle; and finally two "infant terribles”: guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch, of Marbin. That’s my perk, befriending great people who are also great artists, bringing great personal stories to my MoonJuniverse.
LH: What was it that motivated you to start your own record label? Was Moonjune the first label you attempted, or did you take another step in music promotion before that?
LP: I'm not sure the founding of MoonJune was a result of any specific motivation, as much as perhaps its existence was actually born out of necessity. I started the label when my friend, Elton Dean, asked me to help him with the reformation of Soft Machine. At the time, in 2001, Elton had Hugh Hopper and John Marshall, but the fourth member was still undetermined.
Elton and I met in Italy in the mid 1980's, and we reconnected in 2000. Elton Dean remains one of my all-time musical heroes; but at that time, he was struggling with bad health and addictions, and, as a result, was completely broke. Through my affiliation with Studio T – which supplied graphic services to virtually all the big names in the music industry in the Big Apple since mid '70s – I knew many industry players. Using those contacts, I tried to find Elton a label for his duo album with Mark Hewins. I contacted at least a dozen different labels, but my efforts were fruitless. Elton had contacted Cuneiform Records, himself – who were already in the process of releasing other works of his, as it turned out that a duo album wasn’t of interest to them. He was desperate, and counting on my help. (As a side note: in 2000, I barely knew about Steve Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records. It was only a few years later, though, that we would interact and Steve would become a very dear friend, and a gentleman for whom I hold the highest respect.)
Elton dropped that project in my lap about the same time I discovered two Italian progressive rock bands: the fusiony foursome proggers D.F.A. from Verona – who absolutely blew my mind with their sizzling performance at NEARFest 2000, and the symphonic proggers Finisterre, from Genoa. Their live albums, D.F.A.’s performance from NEARFest — which became “Work In Progress Live”, and Finisterre’s live recording from ProgDay 1997 —“Storybook”, together with Dean/Hewins “Bar Torque" album became MoonJune Records' initial three releases.
Around the beginning of this new millennium, I became a partner in Music Magnet Media – with Fernando Natalici and Edgard Moscatelli from Studio T, and Jim Eigo – who still today is one of the top jazz publicists in the US. (Jim was an old friend of Fernando since 1974. He became my good friend, as well once, I joined Studio T, in December of 1990.) We had big plans, and investors lined up – ready to sink some serious money into what we wanted to do. After releasing eight albums, with only marginal success, we decided to disband the Music Magnet Media and Jazz Magnet label. After so many promises, investors simply abandoned us. We almost acquired rights from several legendary jazz labels from the '70's – one from Italy (the legendary Hero Records), and a few from the USA – to start reissuing their productions (in total, a few hundred albums) for the first time on CD. I was mentioning the epiphany before, and that was my first epiphany: the first three MoonJune Records albums were originally slated to be part of the Music Magnet label releases. So, I decided to use my connections and manufacture them under the MoonJune label, in May 2001, and to officially expose my newborn baby to the NEARFest 2001 crowd, the following month. I knew tons of people in the industry in NYC, but in the so-called niche progressive rock world, nobody knew me ...and I mean nobody. So, early on, I had to be creative and think out-of-the-box in order to market this niche music I embraced.
LH: Did you have any vision that early, that you would personally meet and work with so many incredible musicians?
LP: No, I didn’t, but I do now. It just became natural for me to introduce myself and become acquainted with people (especially through my booking business). I believe I am a natural, spontaneous and organic sort of person, not a lot of pretense, and I easily interact with people from all around the world. With many of my heroes, I became a personal friend – and they treat me as such, as well. Being personal friend, and not just a business associate, with legends such as Tony Levin, Jan Akkerman, Phil Manzanera, Derek Shulman, Jimmy Haslip, Franz Di Cioccio and many others is honor, privilege and also a validation of my way to perceive life.
LH: Can you tell us what some of your most proud projects have been? What is your favorite studio that any one of your Moonjune artists have recorded in?
LP: I have two main business activities – one from which I earn my actual living, which is my booking, management and consulting company. The other one, which I run in my available spare time (and which actually loses money), is my label, MoonJune Records. On several of the early releases, the label generated some respectable sales, but, sadly, very few releases, today, actually cover the costs of production, distribution and necessary promotion.
Conversely, MoonJune Music is a profitable business because I do not have any production cost, it’s strictly a commission based work, so I have been able to offset the losses the label incurs by what I make through bookings. Long ago, I adopted the attitude of viewing MoonJune Records as a sort of "promotional write-off” for MoonJune Music. The label has never enjoyed any periods of a long, sustained cash influx, but that's OK. it's purpose has never been tied to anything of a financial nature, honestly. I think of the label more as a resource or forum for showcasing great artists who would otherwise go essentially unnoticed outside of their regional confines. (Of course not counting Soft Machine Legacy and Soft Machine, and Stick Men.) MoonJune Records started out as one friend helping a few others, and that unspoken mantra has remained intact, through years of transitions.
Combining the two similar but distinctly unique business models (of MoonJune Records, and MoonJune Music Bookings) the following moments have left their indelible mark on my MoonJunista world:
1) Putting together Soft Works in 2002.
With the generous help of Ken Kubernik from Los Angeles – who was the man who first introduced me to Allan Holdsworth – which was de-facto the Soft Machine reunion, with Elton Dean, Allan Holdsworth, Hugh Hopper and John Marshall. Two years later, Soft Works would become Soft Machine Legacy (in 2004) – with the departure of Allan, and the addition of fellow Soft Machine alumnus, John Etheridge (history repeats itself, as it was the case in 1975). More than a decade later, in 2016, the band decided to drop the word Legacy and resume use of the legendary Soft Machine title. How this all happened is a very long (but extremely compelling) story, of which I partially elaborated in my long interview with All About Jazz, last year. The other missing – and 'most intriguing!' – details will be revealed in the near future, when I publish my book, which I hope to finish by 2022 or 2023.
2) My first of 51 trips to Japan and my first of 70+ tours in Japan, with the legendary Italian prog icons PFM.
This culminated in the production of the great DVD "Live In Japan” (which came out on Pony Canyon in Japan and on Sony Italy) — recorded at Club Cittá, in Tokyo’s Kawasaki suburb, in May of 2002. With a few exception, all my tours in the Land Of Rising Sun were of artists not on my label, but predominantly jazz, fusion and progressive rock icons. Japan became a significant part of my life and I could do an interview just talking about Japan and all my amazing musical adventures. Even though, technically speaking, I have never lived in Japan, I actually can say that I lived there for at least 2/3 of a year combining all my days spent there.
3) Launching the Indonesian band simakDialog and their live album "Patahan," in 2007.
That marked what at the time was my heaviest direct involvement with one of my favorite countries in the world: Indonesia (which I visited more than 30 times, since my first trip, in July of 2003.) The album was critically heralded at the time, and it put some very deserving artists on the map; in particular the late Riza Arshad and his guitarist Tohpati (whom I consider to be among the world's greatest guitarists). Despite also losing money, not only did this breakthrough album open a lot of doors – for the artists and MoonJune, alike – but it paved the way for a lot of great Indonesian musicians to gain international acclaim and some much-deserved exposure and recognition.
I really believed in this band. To me, Riza Arshad remains one of my favorite artists of all time; we worked very hard to get this unique band out of Indonesia. Riza always wanted to expose American audiences to their music. After big efforts on both of our parts, we did manage two small tours, although I have lost a substantial amount of money in the process – as record sales never were enough to cover the huge expenses associated with such a logistically demanding trip. Eventually, Riza was able to get sponsorship and travel grants. But, still, considering the flights, visa costs and local logistical support (van, gas, backline, food, hotels, etc.), on each tour the band made only a few thousand dollars and spent over $20,000 for both tours. Travel grants and sponsorships were able only to offset 2/3’s of that expense. But I do not regret it at all, we wanted to do more, we believed in the band – but his tragic, unexpected death in January of 2017 changed everything.
simakDialog is beyond a special band to me. I remember after their gig at Brooklyn’s SpaceShifter Lab, in front of no more than 45-50 people, the legendary Bruce Gallanter of DownTown Music Gallery was so exhilarated, he proclaimed simakDialog to be The 21st Century Bitches Brew. There is no other music to which I can compare simakDialog, they were in a classic by their selves ... and what a warm, class-act gentleman Riza Arshad was. I know he is still sorely missed, but it was by his great efforts that many other great Indonesian artists have come to the fore – gaining exposure, and bringing the world's attention to the incredible creative culture which prevails there. Riza and simakDialog started a landslide. To date, MoonJune Records has released two dozen albums by Indonesian artists, but I also booked many other bands on my roster all over Indonesia, in addition to booking several Indonesian bands on tours across the globe.
4) Working with Allan Holdsworth – arguably, the greatest electric guitarist ever.
Initially, I worked with him in the Soft Works project (2002-2004), and then with his band, from October 2005 on, up until 8 months before his unfortunate passing. Recounting my relationship and experiences with Allan deserves not just another chapter, but probably an entire book. Allan was a complex creature, and a tormented soul. He lived several parallel lives, and I was a major part of his existence, being his booking manager (and much more than that) for the last 12+ years of his storied career.
Several legendary musicians can better describe what my professional association with Allan entailed, his colleagues in his various bands: Jimmy Johnson, Chad Wackerman, Jimmy Haslip, Alan Pasqua and, above all, Gary Husband. They all have their stories, as do I. And since 2005/2006, I was part of their stories as well. Allan was, indeed, a colorful guy! From my perspective, Allan was sort of like a movie that was never completed, and I sat on the front row of that theater for over 15 years. When he died, it was one of the saddest days of my life. If I ever have the patience to pen my memoirs, Allan will most certainly be one of the most dominant featured characters.
5) Discovering Marbin in October of 2010.
Prior to October 2010, I had never visited Chicago. At the time, Allan Holdsworth had been on a four-week US tour, with his last show scheduled in Chicago, to be followed, the next day, by a drum clinic of Chad Wackerman's, together with the full band. The show fell on a Sunday, so having never been there, I decided to make a weekend of it – flying to Chicago on the preceding Friday morning – and spend a little time becoming acquainted with this great city with such a rich, storied musical heritage.
I was friends with a well-known blues, jazz and rock writer from Wisconsin, Brad Walseth. Brad had offered to escort me around the city and show me all the sights. Brad lived adjacent to the Wisconsin-Illinois border, and, being not too far away, was a frequent visitor to the Chicago area. After indulging ourselves at a great pizza joint, Brad had a little surprise in store for me: he was taking me to a house concert on the northern side of Chicago. Two young guys from Israel – who lived there and were reputed to be fabulous, up-and-coming musician – were performing, and we'd been extended a personal invitation to attend.
The one-hour show was amazing: two young guys in their early 20’s, performing a superlative, high energy set. Their skill sets on their respective instruments belied their ages. I was instantly reminded of two of my biggest musical heroes: Terje Rypdal, and Jan Garbarek … and these guys had fire and chemistry! (That was very different Marbin that what is known today.) After the show, I went up and complimented them on their performance. Brad stepped up and introduced me as the booking manager of Allan Holdsworth. Dani Rabin told me he was already planning to attend Sunday's Holdsworth show.
We talked further, and I told them about Chad Wackerman's clinic on Monday: how it was scheduled at Roosevelt University, and had been organized by the legendary drummer (of Pat Metheny Group fame), Paul Wertico. (At the time, Paul was Professor of Jazz and Music Theory, at the Roosevelt University.) Both of the young gents immediately chimed in that Paul was their friend and mentor, and that they played often with him around Chicago – having participating on the recent live album of Paul's band. (Dani Rabin and Danny Markovitch are two guys that Paul genuinely admired and loved — having helped and mentored them, once they arrived from Israel, via Boston, to Chicago.)
Marbin, in their typical proactive fashion, didn't waste any time — emailing me mp3 files of the entire album that same night. After Brad dropped me off at the hotel, minutes later, I was sitting on the bed in my room, already listening to Marbin’s “Breaking The Cycle” (featuring Paul Wertico on drums and Steve Rodby on bass, both of Pat Metheny hall of fame, and I am a huge Pat Metheny fan) on my iBook! I didn't waste anytime, either. I had just witnessed and the marvelous textures pouring from my headphones — despite the hour (2am) — I shot an response email to them, complimenting the work and informing them that I would like to release the new album on MoonJune Records. In a matter of only a few minutes, they answered the email and history was made! We met for brunch that day (Sunday), and I brought the young maestros on board. At that time, in a sense, I was continuing Paul Wertico's mentoring work — as they were asking me what it took to succeed.
“You have to play all the time — play, play, and play, and always play!” … and Marbin did exactly as they were told — playing everywhere, locally, and then, regionally, and now they play nationally 200-250 shows a year, on average, all over the US (and recently, also, internationally). I've never worked with any artist who were any hungrier for success, or who worked any more tirelessly than these guys have to achieve it. Although they are no longer with the label, I still support them while they are out kicking it on their own. I help them with promoting their latest releases, and would like to help them more with international bookings. D&D are two special kids, two dear friends, and I wish only the best for “the hardest working band in the USA”. And I appreciate their sincere gratefulness, which sometimes is what is missing among the “aspiring” musicians.
In response to your second question, anyone familiar with the output of MoonJune Records over the last several years knows, without question, that my favorite studio is La Casa Murada — a renovated XII Century old fortress house in the village of Banyeres del Penedes, located less than an hour west from Barcelona. I did multi-day, multi-album sessions in that studio in February 2016, May 2017, May 2018 and May 2019; and already making plans for May and August 2020 sessions.
La Casa Murada — especially if I manage to move to Spain — will be an integral part of my expanded plan for the future MoonJune Records and MoonJune Music. It truly is a magical place. Its owner and chief sound engineer Jesus Rovira, not only is one of the greatest people I’ve ever met, who became a very dear friend, but is also a world-class audio wizard.
LH: Do you have an even bigger vision for the future of MoonJune Records? Any ideas about expanding even further into more countries and the music brilliance waiting to be discovered?
LP: I want to involved even more in the creation of “new” music, that represent my musical philosophy: progressive music exploring and expanding boundaries of jazz, rock, ethno, avant, the unknown and anything in between and beyond. In the near future I would like to start releasing only those albums of which I am personally involved with the production since the conception of the album. Especially to be there during the recording process, in the studio, and to track every step of a given album's creation — including the mixing and mastering, and artwork, when feasible.
For me, it’s not so much about 'countries' as it is about the music. Let’s say, it’s about Dwiki Dharmawan, because he is a friend and an amazing musician — who just happened to be from Indonesia. But considering my international gypsy credentials, it may happen that in the near future musicians from Iran, Chile, China, Tunisia, Bosnia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, France, Cameroon, Dominican Republic or even Siberia or Palestine will visit the MoonJune universe. It’s always about the music and musicians: where they are from is almost immaterial to my way of thinking. But sure I like my Internationalism.
LH: I've heard you speak abut moving away from New York and to another country. Would that change MoonJune in many ways? If so, in what ways? Would your son run the NY branch?
LP: After three decades of New York City, I am ready to move on. To me, New York City will always be the greatest big city in the world, but in all candidness I have grown tired of all the chaos and the hectic nature of life here. My wife and I are considering a move to either Portugal or Spain, probably in the early part of 2021. For now, we are discussing the possibility of either Barcelona, Malaga or Lisbon (our principle candidate destinations with Barcelona in poll position). We are not in a rush: we are waiting for our son to finish college, in May of next year (2020). Junior studies culinary arts and wants to work in the food industry. He doesn’t have any real interest or passion regarding the work I do, he is very independent. I am actually glad that this is how it is with him. He should create something on his own. My son is very similar to me in the sense that he wants to do something unique, make it from scratch and do it on his own. My wife is very supportive of everything I do, but she is not very much into progressive music, she doesn’t share my taste in music. For her, the subject of 'music' is not so important and is not really a passion of hers. She is very independent — we all share that in common. I believe it is our unique, independent natures as individuals which binds our family relationship in such a strong, solid manner.
If I move to Spain or Portugal, nothing will change for my booking and consulting business — except I will do everything I’ve been doing for two decades, in a different location. And I will find out a suitable solution for my label. When I arrived in NYC in August of 1990, that was a pinnacle moment for me, as I had always wanted to live here. I feel like a New Yorker, there is an energy here that fuels us all — and what has transpired over the last three decades has exceeded what I ever would have imagined as a young man, chasing his dreams in an exciting, vibrant new environment in the Big Apple. The American life-style and mentality never attracted me so much, but New York City is deeply embedded in who I am now.
But, things are changing; I would like to return to the Mediterranean area. In the '80’s, I lived in Southern Italy, in an area which I frequented since 1972. As many reading this may already know, I was born in 1962 in the former Yugoslavia in today’s Bosnia (but no one from my family is actually from Bosnia, that’s where they settled after the War II, coming from different parts of the Balkan and Mediterranean). During my childhood, I spent many Summers on the Adriatic coast, specially in Dubrovnik — where my mother lived between 1967 and 1971, before moving to Bari, Italy, another coastal town on the Adriatic coast in the Mediterranean.
I almost moved to Bali, Indonesia, a few years ago, but that move will have to wait. Eventually, one day — maybe in another decade or so — I would like to retire to a place such as Bali. I have many good friends there, and they always go out of their way to make me feel at home.
MoonJune will never change: that’s me, and I am pretty much always the same. The logistics will change, but, otherwise, protocols and procedures stay the same — or maybe even improve, as I am maturing in what I am doing, and continue to grow in passion regarding MoonJune, its wonderful artists, friends and supporters and the wonderful music we all cherish. There will be challenges, certainly, but a man cannot complain when he is doing what he loves, and loves what he is doing!
I have a major interest in the emerging markets in Asia, especially China, which I have visited almost 20 times. I am always mobile, and on the run, and it really doesn’t matter where I am and where I operate, and being in NYC or in Barcelona, it’s the same thing. If I have tours or if I have to travel for business, I can depart from JFK or Barcelona’s airport. And I love airports! When I am at the airport, I am happy, I know I am going somewhere where I will enjoy what I do.
When conversing, people always ask me about MoonJune Records — forgetting that MoonJune Music (booking, management and consulting) is 99% of my income and 75% of my actual time spent in the “MoonJuniverse”. Geographical locations not withstanding, to book artists anywhere in the world, all I need is a phone, the internet and a computer, and of course the vast international network which I have developed on own in past two decades.
LH: Do you think about retirement? When (or if) you do, would you continue Moonjune in some altered way? You don't strike me as the type person to just sit on a beach or in a hammock somewhere and do nothing.
LP: I like to stay active. If my health holds up, you will see me doing things until I am very old. At a certain point, I’ll probably slow down, but for now I have other options — involving crossover ventures, cross-promotions and more — that I wish to explore. I believe that during the course of the last two decades, MoonJune has become a strong brand. It is a name for which people have come to expect uncompromising quality.
I have worked very hard to get to this point, so I think I would be doing myself a disservice if I do not explore its (the MoonJune brand's) potential. I have some ideas and concepts for expanding the brand's products and services both in Europe and in Asia. Again, MoonJune Records is really just a small part of it. Although it is, by far, the most visible MJ enterprise to people like you — as you, Lee, have reviewed virtually all my releases. ... and, "for the record" (pardon the pun): I actually enjoy being at the beach ... but I do not like hammocks!
LH: When dealing with all the various artists that record on your label, do you have a philosophy about the type music that you accept?
LP: In the beginning it was a mix of progressive rock and jazz-rock; then, I started exploring more of the 'avant garde' side of the jazz-rock spectrum. But, beyond the categorization and pigeonholing, the music on MoonJune Records is truly progressive, I believe. It is progressive music which explores and expands the boundaries of jazz, rock, avant ethno, the unknown and anything in between and beyond — but it's even more than that.
As much as I am a big fan of progressive rock, I tend to be more on the jazzy side of the equation. I do not listen to much “progressive rock" these days. I listen to a lot of 'progressive music’, but what is considered progressive rock today (without mentioning any names) is generally kind of boring to my ears ... too much self-indulgence and sterile calisthenics for my taste. There are very few things that really excite me within the framework of the closed-minded circuit of conservative / predictable prog-rockers that dominates the world, and the related major magazines and web outlets which promote them, by and large. There are works I do enjoy, and respect, but most of it would almost fall into a 'niche' type of subcategory by comparison with what gets thrust upon the genre's fans through more mainstream sources.
Once upon a time, progressive rock was truly progressive. Now, from my perspective, it is almost completely ‘regressive’ — sort of a rehash of a bygone era, with musicians trying to recapture of recreate, rather than create … and that world seems to completely ignore the fresh, new creative brilliance of so much music that is happening around the world that I consider genuinely "progressive".
That said, I really do not like to put labels on music and categorize; but since others are doing that, inevitably, as a record label owner, I often find myself doing it, too! During the era in which I grew up, it wasn't about 'labeling' ("progressive rock", “jazz", “fusion”, "reggae," "blues," etc.); it was just about the music. I am not a proghead; I am not a jazzhead; I am not a fusionhead ... I just like the music that I like.
Most of my releases tend to have jazz elements. For me, in a spiritual sense, jazz is one of the genres that gets closest to the intellectual and spiritual freedom I embrace — especially in modern and improvised jazz.
The music of my label is the music of people on my label. I went with the flow, and my association and friendship with Elton Dean led me to Soft Works, Soft Machine Legacy and Soft Machine. Then, to The Wrong Object, and that’s how I came to know Michel Delville (with the drummer Asaf Sirkis, the most recorded MoonJune artist) and Susan Clynes, and her husband Antoine Guenet. My association and friendship with Hugh Hopper led me to Yumi Hara, and the Delta Saxophone Quartet. My association with Tony Levin led me to Stick Men and Markus Reuter. My friendship with Riza Arshad led me to Dewa Budjana, Dwiki Dharmawan and Agam Hamzah (of Ligro). My friendship with Anil Prasad of Interviews and Barry Cleveland, former editor of Guitar Player Magazine (and one time 'Moonjunista,’ with his brilliant album “Hologramaton”) led me to discover arguably one of the greatest guitar players of the past, the present and the future: Mark Wingfield. The growth and development of MoonJune Records has been, in a sense, founded on a series of chain reactions!
Meeting and befriending Mark Wingfield was and it still is one of the greatest things that ever happen in my musical life. His unique combination of exquisite tones, technique, textures and nuance eclipses anything done previously on the instrument. His radical, unparalleled approach to creating tone has opened avenues for technique and expression which previously did not exist. On this basis alone, it can be argued that he ranks up there with the great guitar-expression innovators such as Jimi Hendrix, Terje Rypdal, Allan Holdsworth, Jeff Beck, Adrian Belew, David Torn, Robert Fripp, Markus Reuter and Nguyên Le, whose respective visions for their craft changed how people viewed the potential for expression on electric guitar. But beyond Mark’s sonic excellence, innovative spirit and technical brilliance, there lies a genuine, raw, emotional side to his delivery: a fiery, urgent conviction. He demonstrates both willingness and capacity to explore the dynamics of a given musical moment, to the fullest, while baring his soul in the midst of it. He is a genuine artist in every sense. Meeting Mark Wingfield simultaneously coincided with meeting and befriending Markus Reuter and Asaf Sirkis. Markus Reuter is arguably one of the greatest living musicians. And I share two things with my good friend and drum legend Bill Bruford: our birthdays are on May 17th, and our favorite drummer who emerged in XXI century is Asaf Sirks. Mark, Markus and Asaf: three beyond-extraordinary musicians whose talents have no limits.
But there have also been a few times I was proud of having discovered some amazing artists strictly by accident, or happenstance. That’s specifically the case with the extraordinary guitarist, Dusan Jevtovic. I first heard him on MySpace. Dusan was my unique discovery. After listening to his first solo album, something in my gut was telling me: I must get him on the MoonJune label. Through the course of subsequent email and chat communications, we would up becoming good friends. I have released several of albums, since, with many still to come. Dusan is originally from Serbia, but has been based in Barcelona, Spain, for almost two decades. He introduced me to his Catalan buddy, the equally extraordinary textural drummer, Xavi Reija, and to his friend, Vasil Hadzimanov (who I knew about for many years, but never interacted with prior to Dusan's introduction) … more chain reactions ...
Dusan also introduced me to the great Jesus Rovira, a recording engineer who has been at the console for many monumental pop, rock and jazz recording sessions at his fabled (the previously referenced) La Casa Murada Studio. A number of his production efforts have found print on MoonJune: Dusan Jevtovic, "Am I Walking Wrong?”, Xavi Reija’s"Resolution" and XaDu’s "Random Abstract" were the first.
In February 2016, I started doing MoonJune sessions at La Casa Murada, which has been one of the most rewarding musical and human experiences in all of my time in the industry. Those 6 days of recordings at La Casa Murada have produced 4 among all time greatest and most rewarding albums on MoonJune Records: Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis “The Stone House”, Wingfield Reuter Sirkis “Lighthouse”, Mark WIngfield “Tales From The Dreaming City”, and Dusan Jevtovic “No Answer”. Markus Reuter, Mark Wingfield, Asaf Sirkis, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, Yaron Stavi. Not only among the greatest musicians I am aware of, but also a bunch of wonderful people. It was pure magic, and You can feel that magic on all the above mentioned albums.
LH: Have your methods of producing and presenting ideas with the musicians, and the selected combinations of artists, changed over the years?
LP: The first album of which I was really involved from the scractch was Dwiki Dharmawan’s "Pasar Klewer”. After making the excellent progressive fusion album, "So Far So Close”, with Jimmy Haslip, Chad Wackerman, Dewa Budjana, and special guests Jerry Goodman and Tohpati, Dwiki wanted to do a power trio keyboard album in London as a follow-up. (... while he was visiting there for a big performance event organized by the Indonesian Embassy in England.)
I was about to inquire with bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Gary Husband, but before contacting them, I found out that Pino was touring with The Who, and Gary Husband (on keyboards) was touring with Billy Cobham during the dates Dwiki was scheduled to be in London. Dwiki and I had already been discussing changing his focus to more on his acoustic piano work, and the possibility of exploring the melodic and harmonic dimensions of Indonesian folk music from Java, Bali and Sulawesi and integrating it into a modern jazz-type presentation.
Given the unavailability of the two aforementioned maestros (Pino and Gary), I suggested he utilizes some musicians I knew who were based in the UK, and whose music I enjoyed immensely and greatly respected. When I contacted them and discovered they were available, I was excited. I told Dwiki that those musicians — none of whom he knew or whose work he was familiar with — would be perfect for the music we were conceptualizing: a blend of Indonesian traditional music, avant jazz and progressive ethno-fusion with a mix of advanced melodic, harmonic and improvisational flair. Nicolas Meier’s seminal album “Journey” (highly praised by my good friend, Bill Bruford — who actually introduced me to this fabulous Swiss-born, London-based guitarist extraordinaire, who was playing with Jeff Beck and his own group, at the time) still ranks among my favorite albums of this century and besides Nicolas brilliant compositions and guitar playing, two condone based Israeli expats, saxophonist and clarinetist Gilad Atzmon and drummer Asaf Sirkis, were simply beyond brilliant.
Dwiki and I had already established a strong friendship, and he told me: "Mas Leonardo ("Mas" in Indonesian Bahasa language means 'brother'), I trust you fully — let’s do it!” I further suggested that the album be mixed and mastered by sound wizard, afotre mentioned guitar poet Mark Wingfield; and I asked Dwiki to designate one specific tune for Mark to do a featured solo. “Pasar Klewer” was recorded in June of 2015, in London, and in addition to above mentioned musicians, we also had an Indonesian multi-instrumentalist, based in London, Aris Daryono, on hand percussion, gamelan, chants and rebab (Javanese 3-string violin). Later, we added the Italian vocalist Boris Savodelli and Indonesian vocalist Peni Candrarini.
The vibe in studio was stellar — exciting, and upbeat. That album marked one of many 'new beginnings,' as I commenced collaborating, both on the label and through bookings, with virtually all the musicians involved. The album received international acclaim in over 40 countries. DownBeat Magazine proclaimed the album "a masterpiece," scoring it as one of 2016's greatest "jazz and beyond" releases. 'Pasar Klewer' still stands as one of the greatest albums on MoonJune Records.
This special concept album was recorded in London, but that’s where the future concept of La Casa Murada was actually birthed. I developed a taste for ‘the process'. I wanted to be involved more in the creative process — and even though I never played any instrument, I wanted to become a "musician," in the sense of contributing. (According to Markus Reuter — with whom I’ve done many sessions — I am actually sort of a musician.)
There are many amazing musicians associated with MoonJune Records, but if we talking about a sort of "sonic brotherhood”, or “sonic quantum entanglements", then Dwiki Dharmawan, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis and Mark Wingfield, as well the legendary violinist David Cross (he did several sessions at La Casa Murada this year, which will be released in the near future and David will be more involved in this kind of sessions), are musicians who have gave me a lot of joy as a person, and with whom I share a special bond.
Recently, more and more, I am involving Gary Husband in this process, as well. I believe Gary is one of the true unsung musical giants. I would love to create an environment where he can experience total freedom and express his monumental talent in the most unconfined, unpretentious way possible.
LH: Can you give us an example of one project where you brought a group of musicians together, and explain the steps, where any of the problems that could arise , did indeed come up? And then things you often must do to solve the problems?
LP: I must be a lucky one! No major conflicts have ever really happened on Planet MoonJune; relations, communications, performances … they’ve all been pretty harmonious, for the most part. Occasionally, sometimes I’ve had to deal with musicians frustrated or disappointed by the current environment in the music business and sometimes I had to deal with their delicate souls or temperamental dispositions. After a little time passes, emotions settle and the matters are viewed on reflection, all minor misunderstandings were peacefully resolved and order, restored.
In some respects, I believe this makes what MoonJune has managed to accomplish on behalf of some truly worthy, deserving artists all the more noteworthy ... and I wish I could do more. When compared with other mainstream genres, there is very little industry money (or attention) invested into the sort of music MoonJune produces and promotes. The reality of MoonJune is that caters to "niche" music markets. I do the best I can for all of my artists, but I work under a very low ceiling. It is very difficult to be profitable, but quite easy to lose money.
Truly, there has always been this challenge — especially when releasing albums of artists that few in the west have a prior knowledge of. With the label having been home to the late, great Allan Holdsworth … other late, great icons — Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, Phil Miller … even current legendary greats, Soft Machine and Stick Men … I guess many artists think because they are affiliated with the same label, this automatically means their release is going to sell tens of thousands of copies. I wish this were true! Same for the booking roster. It’s becoming challenging even to book legends such as Frank Gambale, imagine someone whose name people even cannot pronounce.
My experience has been that how well an artist does (or 'does not do') has more to do with their drive, determination and work ethic than anything. Not to beat it into the ground, but Marbin is always the obvious example to perfectly illustrate this point. What they have accomplished has come from an extraordinary level of determination and a work ethic and live-performance schedule that often shifts, but rarely stops. They are the busiest, hardest-working group of young guys I've ever seen! I'm very proud of what they've accomplished, as well as MoonJune having been a part of their birthing process.
But, once I did encounter a major snafu within the auspices of MoonJune Music. In October of 2005, I went to Japan with the reunited Hatfield & The North. I handled their international bookings. While in Japan, I had arranged an excellent record deal with the TV crew production in association with the promoter who wanted to partner with the Japanese record label. What a long night! It seemed like everything went wrong. Pip Pyle, the drummer, was drunk (the entire day ...); the bass player and vocalist, Richard Sinclair — possibly distracted by Pip Pyle’s condition – made so many mistakes, forgetting his own lyrics while singing, that the final recording wasn’t fit for release. It was a fiasco. I was feeling so bad for the keyboardist Alex Maguire and the guitarist Phil Miller, they put so much effort and energy into it. Hatfield & The North is one of my all-time favorite bands; that was one of the saddest moments of my career, as a booker. Such a monumental opportunity: gone to waste. We had everything ready to make a great DVD, but things went completely in the wrong direction … then, accelerated!
LH: Does the process of A to Z, making a release happen om Moonjune, get easier with experience and time? One would assume it is much smoother now than it was 10-15 years ago, but maybe you can shed some light on present day issues that were not so tough back then.
LP: Before, I was releasing albums strictly of musicians who were friends and with whom I was involved. I have released many great albums, but until just a few years ago, the recording and mixing of all albums were handled by the artists, themselves; then, presented to me as a final product. MoonJune's primary function was to do, manufacturing, distribution and marketing.
Occasionally I was with the artists in the studio, as was the case during the recording of all Soft Machine and Soft Machine Legacy albums. Then, I started arranging musicians for sessions and things started becoming more interesting — like in the case of Dewa Budjana, who has had a completely different lineup for each MJR solo release; and the first album of Dwiki Dharamwan on MoonJune Records.
But with Dwiki’s second album "Pasar Klewer" it all began to change. I became much more involved in the creative process: bringing together a diverse assemblage of musicians from different lands and cultures ... and eventually arriving at La Casa Murada — assembling some of my favorite musicians: Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis, Yaron Stavi, Dwiki Dharmawan, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, Boris Savodelli, Gary Husband, Carles Benavent, Nguyen Le, David Cross, Fabio Trentini, Kevin Glasgow.
I did not realize it, at the time, but my experience with Dwiki in London was establishing a sort of "creative template" for MoonJune, going forward. Much has been written on the present-day difficulties of the recorded music industry. While I have been fortunate to discover ways to streamline my methods and consolidate expenses — in order to operate as efficiently as possible, being essentially a one-man, low budget operation — the real challenges come in 'exposure to the right audience', and, especially, ‘sales'.
LH: I know thousands of fans are very happy with al the grand level recordings from your lable, and I personally have heard many incredible discs over the last 15 + years. Are you happy with the status of the Moonjune catalog so far?
LP: Yes, I am quite happy with my label! During MoonJune's formative years I released some albums that were I presented with them today I would not choose to release, but it was part of the larger learning curve for me. In all sincerity, I like all the albums on MJR, although I understand my own natural bias. Of course, I have my personal favorites; and there are several which are very dear to me, due to the special circumstances by which the projects arose, like D.F.A. “4th”, simakDialog “Demi Masa”, Dewa Budjana “Surya Namaskar”, Dwiki Dharmawan “Pasar Klewer”, as well of the albums which have been recorded at La Casa Murada, and all albums featuring Mark Wingfield.
LH: Is there still something you have in your mind musicall, that you would love to make happen in a future release?
LP: As previously mentioned, I'd like to do much more with Gary Husband, too – especially exploring his monumental acoustic piano talent. Although my opinion has a shred of controversy attached, I consider Gary to be on the same level of creative brilliance as Keith Jarrett.
I also am drawn to creating unusual projects – by combining musicians of different cultures, backgrounds and musical styles, and giving them the space and liberty to make unusual music which is not easily categorized and tramples over traditional musical boundaries. Some of musicians I like and they are under my radar and on my wish list for sessions with “moonjunistas” are: Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset, Swedish drummer Morgan Ågren, Swiss bassist Björn Meyer, Tunisian oud player and vocalist Dhafer Youssef, legendary American guitarist Ralph Towner, Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, Spanish flutist and saxophonist Jorge Pardo, Chilean bass maestro Ernesto Holman, Mexican saxophonist Ramses Luna, Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu, Vietnamese singer and multi-instrumentalist Ngo Hong Guang, and, of course, there are others. Musically and philosophically they all fit into the philosophy of the new MoonJune Records. I would also like to do more with the French guitar maestro of Vietnamese descent, Nguyên Lê, and with the Catalan bass legend, Carles Benavent, among others. But that’s just a wishful thinking, for the moment, my main problems is lack of time, I really I wish I can do more with the label. Of course all that requires money and financial returns are not guaranteed at all.
LH: Would you like to say something to the readers, that no interviewer has every asked, or given you a chance to say publicly?
LP: I never drove a car in my life, never had a driver’s license. I never toast fresh bagel. I do not have a cable TV for over 10 years. After 3 decades in NYC, I cannot mention name of more than one single baseball or American football player, I am completely ignorant of those two sports, with zero interest to know anything about. I prefer ABBA over Elvis Costello. Genesis and Rush are not among my top 10 prog bands. Mike Petrucci and Joe Satriani are not among my 250 favorite guitar players. I saw Allan Holdsworth live 245 times, and Tony Levin almost 200. When I arrived in NYC in August of 1990, I wanted to see my heroes Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Stevie Ray Vaughan; I never had chance to see them live.
LH: This has been a pleasure to talk with you Leonardo. As a deep listener, who has enjoyed hearing, owning and reviewing so many of the releases your wonderful label has put out, I urge everyone to buy some of these top notch recordings. People can view, listen to, and purchase Moonjune Records at www.moonjune.com and at the bandcamp site https://moonjunerecords.bandcamp.com/ .
LP: Thanks, Lee. I appreciate the opportunity and the support you have given the label and its roster of wonderful artists, and the fine words you've published, praising their many great works!
©Interview by Lee Henderson 7 - 2019