Interview: Serbian jazz-rock pianist Sloba details the prog-fusion excellence inside humankind’s current Uncertain Times

We had the pleasure of speaking with the hugely influential Serbian jazz-rock pianist legend Sloba recently. Uplifting our prog-fusion mindsets and showing us his vast 20-year-plus experience and valuable knowledge of the music landscape worldwide, we are treated to a brave creative who took three years to carefully create a true description of how it feels to live in a massively uncertain time.

Please tell us more about your latest release Uncertain Times and the creative process and message behind it?

The artist’s ultimate inspiration are emotions, that’s our fuel.
I started working on this track when pandemic and lockdowns started, and continued when the new war in Europe started bursting out. So, the whole feeling of fear and uncertainty is something I tried to “paint” with notes and harmonies, the rhythms and orchestra sounds. I have the privilege working with some of the best musicians, and they contributed to this song a lot. The drummer (my brother) Mladen Dragovic played an amazing energetic drum solo, and some intriguing rhythms. Bane Basstardo Markovic played so intensively that we decided to make the bass guitar louder in the final mix. Luka Puletic is a great talent, he made that guitar sound so organically, it blended with the piano on a new level. Finally, mixing and mastering engineer Marko Peric (who worked on my first album “Spy Story”) finalized it so skillfully, that I enjoy listening to it every day!

As a professional musician you have performed live at numerous massive shows, what does it feel like?

It’s a dream of every musician, it’s what we’ve hoped for in our childhoods, and what we’ve worked for all these years. There’s nothing like an energy of tens of thousands of people singing, it’s so energetic that I can never stay indifferent. On the contrary, you must do your job performing on the highest level in every moment, so it’s always a careful balance between emotions and professionalism.

What advice do you have for upcoming artists in the local music industry?

What I also had been advised a lot of times, and honestly believe in is:
Don’t lie to yourself just for the sake of making money. An audience can’t be fooled. Stay true to who you are, and make music honestly. That’s why I am not ashamed of my earlier songs. Although I’ve learned a lot since, the initial spark of creation and emotion of the song is something so unique, that no lack of knowledge and experience can’t destroy. That being sad, as a musician and educator, I am always on the side of learning and advancing in every aspect. Use both of your brain hemispheres, and it will pay off!
Recently I got a Facebook comment complimenting my playing from one of my heroes, legendary guitarist Al Di Meola. And afterwards he even mentioned me to another legend Steve Vai, in their Youtube podcast. It felt otherworldly to me! Such a reward for my effort all these years.

SPY STORY from 2019. How do you feel your music has developed creatively from this excellent release?

Making that album was a 7-year long process. It was a first ever comic book soundtrack. I made the slideshow of my favorite Italian comic book, full length 22 minutes video, and composed a soundtrack in prog-rock/jazz-fusion style. Some amazing musicians played on that record, including a well-known guitarist David Maxim Micic. Besides the album, we performed it live in a multimedia concert, synchronized with the comic book on the big movie screen. This was never done before! What I’ve learned working on “Spy Story” is how to express my emotions musically in a better way, and how to use orchestra sounds to add cinematic drama. So even when I don’t use visual media as a composing inspiration, I can now picture everything in my head, and use that as an inspiration for writing music. And so, I used that on my new release “Uncertain Times”.

Your band Gis Maj Es are certainly much-loved. Do you miss being in the band or are you enjoying the recent solo artist journey?

The name “Gis Maj Es” ( gis mai æs ) is a game of words. It’s actually a chord “G#maj7 Eb”, but pronounced in many European languages sounds a lot like a particular disrespectful phrase in English. For releasing music internationally, we wanted to change the name, but our European fans just loved it, and it stayed for good.
“Gis Maj Es” is the most special band to me! We paused a few years because our guitarist Dragan Heinrich went to finish a Berklee school of music. But very soon we will continue working, and our new single will be also released this year. Besides that, other two members (Mladen and Bane) work with me on my solo project, so that compensates a little. We’ve done some amazing stuff together, playing from 2008, releasing two albums and several singles, and performing in some of the biggest concert halls.

Lastly, what excites you most about the progress you have made and where is one venue in the world you’d like to play at?

Although I played in a lot of big and beautiful venues, at the end it’s about the people who come to your show and the love you are sharing. If there’s one venue where I personally wish I played, it’s the Wembley stadium, mostly because of the Queen’s famous concert in 1986. For me that is something to achieve, one of the jewels in the crown!
Artist doesn’t choose to create; the creation chooses him. It’s from God, universal force, whatever you wish to call it. As I said earlier, the initial spark is the creation itself and this unexplainable feeling we feel at that moment is our main reason to continue creating. And the very second thing is sharing it with the people. Regardless the fact that composing is a solitude profession, the people are social beings. So, when you discover or create something remarkable, you want to share it with the others. The best thing about career progress is that you are able to share this work with more people, and as a feedback get their responses. I’ve got a lot of Youtube comments, the stories of how my music affected the lives of people from the other side of the planet. That really means a lot. And that’s another reason to record and promote your work.

Listen up on Spotify.

Interview by Llewelyn Screen

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