Blesok no. 47, March-April, 2006
Sound Reviews

Foltin: We fight a guerilla war against the despair

Ljupčo Jolevski

“The audience is a real being in a search for a little fun, or – who knows – maybe some kind of e real bondage with us. They stand in front of us  and they wait to hear something from us, they expect to be told something. What we tell them – they seem to like! And maybe we are kindred souls with our audience, maybe we really are. And they really seem to like what we are telling them. Who knows, maybe this is a start of a wonderful friendship? And if I contemplate this further, either that's the case, or we're just good for circulation”, says Branko Nikolov, the leader of the band Foltin, the band that managed to raise from the local art-attraction into one of the original sound phenomena in the widest global plan.

photo: Elena Bojad&;ieva

Branko Nikolov (vocals, guitar), Pece Nikolovski (clarinet, harmonica),  Pece Trajkovski (harmonica, acoustic guitar, typing machine), Petar Dimitrovski (electric piano, keyboards), Goce Jovanovski (bass) and Slave Jovev (drums and percussion), in 2005 signed Lo-Lee-Ta-Too. the album that presents the creative peak of the one-decade long creative life of Foltin. It is an album that not only marked the last-year's contemporary music production in Macedonia, but also speaks of the vivid and creative imagination of its music authors. With an unseen easiness, those musicians created an album that erases the boundaries between the studio jam-sessions and the highly-energized concert performances. It is an album that enchants whit its spontaneity; and also, it's an album in which every single song (as Milice, I'll Die If You Touch Me, Pssst, Garneta and Fingers, fingers, etc.) would be a full-blooded hit – of course, in a circumstances of a normal discography market.
    The interview that follows comes in a period when Foltin relentlessly continues its successful serial of concerts and in a period of finishing their new project – the cover-versions songs of the legendary David Bowie.

How Foltin happened and what was its first concepts? Who were the people that were in the original band? How you decided the name of the band and what were your ambitions then?
– Dreamers, adventurers, possesed by the need for creation. That’s what we were then, so the sympathetic character of Karel Čapek’s – Composer Foltin imposed itself as a name of the band. That is the spirit of the band. We are the same today. At the beginning, a lot of people got “in and out” of the band. Everyone of them gave what they had to and (also) took what they needed from the band, and after that they would leave. And that’s ok, I understand that. Not everyone is prepared to a high sacrifice… And when we talk about the past, Oliver Josifovski is the only one who is long time out of the band, but still, somehow, he still belongs to the band, he has a special honorary place in the band. He has that Foltin spirit within himself – to dream the dream to its limits, to the very end.

How did the material for Outre-mer and the colaboration with the Skopje Jazz Festival took place?
– Well, it was the long time ago and I have to admit that I don’t really recall the details of it. But, it’s the fact that we made a lot of hard and thorough preparations. Here we first used those ready-made instruments. A lot of kinds of whistles, pipes, pots, bells, ringdings and a lot of other “toys” of various kinds. It was a lot of fun. Cartoon music. Looney tunes. Whatever – we made a concert and luckily, somebody recorded it and sent it to Kokan Dimuševski. He invited us in his studio and everything was done in three or four days. Here we have a classic plot: finished and done music material, ready to be published, we already hooked on it, but without any finances and with no idea how to find it – and, of course, in a Deus ex machina kind of a finale (of the plot, hehe), the Skopje Jazz Festival appeared out from nowhere and it solves all of our problems… It’s interesting that – although in the meantime we had several great concerts (The Ohrid Summer Festival, The Days of the Macedonian Culture in Slovenia, etc.) – we still felt the coming out of the album as a great relief, so we immediately dedicated ourself entirely to this new material. So, with an exception of two remakes from our last concerts with the album Archimed, we never really (fully) played Outre-mer, not even at the promotion.

photo: Elena Bojad&;ieva

What was happening in the period between the two albums and why you chose to work with Goce Dimovski for the second album? How did Archimed happen?
– In the meantime, in the period 1998/1999, we began to work for the theater and normally, we were intensively preparing Archimed. A mutual friend sugested Goce Dimovski. He, on the other hand, sugested recording and publishing of the album as soon as possible. In such a situation, we didn’t want to miss the oportunity. So it happened.

Further, between the second and the third album, some drastic changes happened what concerns the members of the band, you made a few replacements in the band. Why? Was it some kind of a crystalization of the band concept? What was your accent on in that period, and is that recognizible in the album Donkey Hot?
– The problems started when we realized that we are alienating among ourselves. It has began right after the Outre-mer. So, we had drastic changes between the first and the second, as well as between the second and the third album. We were getting more and more nervous. Now, from this time-distance, I look at that as at some kind of natural selection, or maybe we were too young to solve problems of that kind, who knows. Any band is a complex and sensitive phenomenon, or even a some kind of being, and it requires special attention and love from all of its members. Especially fom the band leader… And, Donkey Hot is a completely different story, because it’s a very liberal album. The accent was on the production mainly, but I personally think that the best of this album was its specific and profound humor.

1. Out Re-Mer (1997, SJF RECORDS)
2. Archimed (2000, MAG)
3. Donkey Hot (2003, Kukuzel)
4. Lo-Lee-Ta-Too (2005, Ding Dong Records)

And while many thought that in the production label Kukuzel те you’ve found the ultimate executive producer, you chose another producer for your next album – but it seems that you’ve faced the same problems again. On what grounds you based your cooperation with Ivo Antov and in what way it resulted? Is Foltin “cursed” to produce and publish every particular album with a different label?
– Oh, no, it doesn’t matter, it isn’t like that at all. It is just an unfortunate and complex context of circumstances. And finally, they are – really – only producers. When album is out of print, the relation between the authors and the producers goes in fade-out, and that’s normal. And I must say that we publish “not very often” – three years per album. It’s a long period of time: people loose contact, somehow. On the other hand, maybe the half of the producers we had worked with, aren’t in this line of work any more. Finances are always a problem, arent they? But anyway, all of the producers’ work should be more dynamic and more immediate. We are tired of the unnatural postponing of the events and resources, and of the marathon-like recording of the album in the studio. What concerns Ivo Antov, we are friends first, and because of it this case is very different from the other ones. Ivo joined this project out of love, he just wanted to help us, and he was actually caught by surprise. But he really helped us a lot, and we endured bravely up till the very end.

photo: Elena Bojad&;ieva

How do you feel for Lo-Lee-Ta-Too now? In textual, musical and conceptual aspect, how much this album put the things in their right place?
– We believe that this is our best album ever. For me, it is essential, almost biographic album. It’s passionate and immediate on every way. It is an auto-portrait of the musician while making love to the instrument he plays. And there is no some great philosophy to it, we are just and simply – like that…

A long time you are out of the theater events with yopur music. What happened and why your absence from the theater? And finally, how much did your need for artism in the visual arts contributed upon the defining of Foltin’s music profile? And where further – now, from that aspect?
– Our performances are a kind of an unique musical theater, like some kind of a cabaret. Here are also the ready-made instruments, and of course, our greatest asset – the band’s artistic attitude! But, that is a part of our musical evolution as before, so and after our theater music projects. We worked on more than ten plays in a very short period of time. Maybe we forced things a little more that necessary, I don’t know, but we had to break that intensive line of work, although it was a wonderfull experience both for the people from the theater and for us, and we still play one of our last plays for the famous French diva Edit Piaff. But we must admitt that here in Macedonia, the instituionof the theater is a very hermetic and closed scheme (with our apologies to the honorable exceptions). And it doesn’t seem that the things will change soon, so we didn’t want to tangle with it only for “biography purposes”.

What are the issues that would provoke you to work now? Do you believe that the music, with its messages and emotions, with its energy vibrations to improve this cruel and opaque world into something better, even a little bit? Or more? Are you ready to be “a flag”, “a plumage” of the different-thinking, self-observing and self-aware bunch of people here in Macedonia, or you reject any missionary role in any form whatsoever?
– Here I must mention the hypocrizia of the music showbiz. Like what MTV (Music Television) does: on one hand, it glorifies the solidarity (among themselves?) and the selfishness of the reach celebrities, right after they inform us how many hungry people die of hunger on daily bases, and on the other hand, just right after that, they worship how many bedrooms Madonna has and how beautifully expensive those are. That’s what makes this world cruel. And – what concerns our humble establishment Foltin – we already have our mission: We are in guerilla warfare against the despair and apathy in this country and in the wider region, if not globally. We are fighting in favor of the beautiful phenomenon called “Passion for Life”, under the idea: stir to prevent burning. Foltin is a classic entertainment band, but at the same time it strongly follows the spirit of the people around.

Behind Foltin stands a whole decade of music work. With four albums with four different labels. Theater projects and many personal changes within the band. Many various concerts and other performances. What’s the main pillar that helped you to endure with this level of quality? – If you are in the “dream-selling” business, then it’s ok things to be uncertain and fluctuating – it’s a kind of a definition for it. Since we got clear about that definition of things, we put everything else aside, and from that moment on, we “lost the calm of our sleep”, but we’re still happy to be a part of this music phenomenon. Inside the band, we are together a long time now, we trust and understand each other profoundly – like we are “godfathers”, “brothers in law” among each other. I mean in real – in better or worse, we’re here for each other, our bonds are deep. It’s never easy, especially in times like this. People are hungry, and the first priority of theirs is to feed their bellies. We know that. That’s why our dream can be dreamt even on empty stomach. What we and our audience both need, is an infusion strong enough, an infusion of passion and humor, “spiced with two grams of tenderness”. It’s that simple, believe it or not. As long we reach the audience’s senses with this approach and values, that long this would be our mission and we’re determined to follow it up till the “very final” end.

The success of the band in 2005 and your concert activities emphasized  many hits, especially the song Milice, in which the main vocal is performed by our well-known actor Senko Velinov. Can this high success (which, unfortunately, here in Macedonia doesn’t correspond with the same at the number of sold copies etc.) take the band in some different directions?
– The selling is going on quite well, only we showed a certain clumsiness in the distribution, which is mainly our fault, so we apologize profoundly to those who waited long time before they were able to buy our albums. Whatever – our priority No.1 is to fulfill our schedule with as more as possible orgasmic fitness-cabaret performances. That’s the real, the natural ambition of the band. Everything else is in the second plan. In the moment we don’t have the urge or the need to create a new album, although it doesn’t mean that we don’t have any intentions to create music further. But this time, we are going to let things happen by themselves. We will wait for the inspiration to come, we aren’t going to rush it. We’d know when the time would come. And if the sponsors and the large production labels still doesn’t feel like “playing along” with us, then – what the hell – will have at least some mutual tradition in that.

photo: Elena Bojad&;ieva

On Lolitatoo for the first time you offered some interesting mix between Macedonian and English language. Does it mean that you’ve overcome the creating within your “specific language” and within your mother-language, so you approached the language-hybrid of the Macedonian and English, constructed by our “alien countryman” (our people that live and work abroad), people that you often meet at the Bitola’s main street “Širok sokak”?
– The “alien countryman“ is a great oxymoron, but I’m convinced that it refers to all of us, and of course, it spreads even further then the Lolitatoo boundaries. It’s our reality here. The Anglo-Macedonian language hybrid is a spontaneous metaphor for the essential consequences of the globalization, of the identity mutations. Now we are like some weird birds that learned how to miaou, or bark. And there isn’t anything strange. And what concerns our “specific language”, that newly-invented one, here we pressed the “pause” button. At least until the next journey to the Unknown.

In this phase of its growth, Foltin stopped to be a “band-for-a-few” and it became a band that pulled up a great mass of people. What do you think, why it is so?
– The “Godfather” Marlon Brando would say: “we made them an offer they couldn’t refuse!”. But I look at those new encounters with the music audience as some kind of a “blind date”. The audience is a real being in a search for a little fun, or – who knows – maybe some kind of e real bondage with us. They stand in front of us  and they wait to hear something from us, they expect to be told something. What we tell them – they seem to like! And maybe we are kindred souls with our audience, maybe we really are. And they really seem to like what we are telling them. Who knows, maybe this is a start of a wonderful friendship? And if I contemplate this further, either that's the case, or we're just good for circulation.

You already work on a new, quite interesting project – the cover-versions songs of the legendary David Bowie. Why exactly the “rock’n’roll chameleon”? Why not Tom Waits, for instance, especially when many (quite rashly) hurried to compare your music from your last album with his music?
– If the author is already “fed up” by his own monologue then he needs some kind of appropriate therapy. You can look at this that way. As a new, long dialogue with a newly chosen special partner. Why exactly Bowie, I really don’t know. It could be Tom Waits either, you’re right. He may be the next one, who knows. But anyway, this didn’t made us tired at all. If the choice came easy, everything further is (also) very easy. We all agreed almost immediately about David Bowie, when he came up as a choice. And when we already announce it, now we must be quick.

How you intend to realize this project, those classical Bowie songs in your version? Is there a chance those materials to be put on a “sound carrier”?
– Basically, we didn’t change much from the originals, but it sounds quite different! I mean… drums, bass and harmonica – a classic rock’n’roll band structure. But it will have some ethno and folk sound profile, with a strange accents witin it. That would be ours Davy the Bowie. Our plan is to intensify the live performances. People are interested and we already have some preliminary arrangements and we are quite content. The eventual larger ambitions would make things too complicated.

photo: Elena Bojad&;ieva

The last year, in several occasions you’ve played abroad – Italy, Serbia and Montenegro… Considering the extraordinary positive interests and critics about those concerts of yours there, do you plan to try some presentations or gigs in Europe, and what would be necessary for that?
– In any case, the interest there for Foltin is quite big – what concerns the Balkans. Everything else is by chance. For anything more – a serious manager’s work
is required, which means a lot of engagement.

From the perspective of people who are one of the significant factors in Macedonian music, how do you see the contemporary music scene in our country? And how do you see our music in comparison with the other ones at the Balkans? What’s that we miss in our way to the success out of our borders?
– The art blossoms when the artist is hungry. That’s the equation that defines us and our tragedy. And no matter how good we are, we will have to give a double efforts than some others. The quality is, without doubt, very high. But, the problems begin when that high quality is to be sold at the market. And because of that, our “gasterbeit” option is our national constant issue. And in comparison with our neighbors, we are higher in quality, but they defeat us in numbers, in quantity. How much of their music stars we know, and how many of our music stars they know?… To improve this situation, we need a revolution in the organization and – we would need some kind of a social/professional promotion, nation-wide and abroad. This is very important and in no circumstances shouldn’t be some kind of a hobby.

Considering the fact that Foltin is a band that lives for and from the art, and a band that makes no compromises, will you endure in your need to remain yourself, with this kind of integrity and identity as until now?
– Well, we made so far, didn’t we?… We even hope for better. If we do what we love to do, and if we wouldn’t do anything else in a world, as we feel right now, then – maybe there are no money, but our life is a song…!


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