All Heart with Paul Cardall

Classical Guitarist Mak Grgić on All Heart with Paul Cardall

Episode Summary

Paul Cardall talks with classical guitarist Mak Grgić who is Touted as a “gifted young guitarist” by the New York Times, and “a guitarist to keep an eye on” by the Washington Post. Although Mak performs classical music, he is writing and arranging contemporary music and has released a Christmas EP called Silent Night, produced by Paul Cardall.

Episode Notes

Paul Cardall talks with classical guitarist Mak Grgić who is Touted as a “gifted young guitarist” by the New York Times, and “a guitarist to keep an eye on” by the Washington Post. Although Mak performs classical music, he is writing and arranging contemporary music and has released a Christmas EP called Silent Night, produced by Paul Cardall. 

ABOUT MAK GRGIC

Mak Grgic [GER-gich] is a star on the worldwide stage. An expansive and adventurous repertoire attests to his versatility and wide-ranging interests. From the ethnic music of his native Balkans to extreme avant-garde and microtonal music, his roles as soloist, collaborator, and recording artist are fueled by curiosity, imagination, and boundless energy.  www.makgrgic.com  | Get Mak's SILENT NIGHT EP by visiting  https://allheart.hearnow.com/

FIND MAK on Facebook - Instagram - Youtube 

Episode Transcription

- [Announcer] Hey, everybody. Welcome to the American Songwriter Podcast Network. This is All Heart with Paul Cardall.

 

- Welcome to All Heart, I am your host, Paul Cardall. Thrilled today because we have a Slovenian on the show. Mak Grgic, he's been all over the world, playing his guitar and we have him here with us. Now the reason I like Slovenia, I think you guys know this, if you follow my career. All of my wife's family lives in Slovenia, there's still a couple that are in Cleveland Ohio. But Slovenia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. If you don't believe me, go watch the Rick Steves' tours of Europe on PBS. He will tell you that Ljubljana, Slovenia is his favorite place to go. It is literally the last place on earth that feels like a fairy tale where Rapunzel might be living. So obviously we've had great experiences because of the Slovenian culture. When we met the first lady in Washington, D.C. my wife was able to speak to Melania Trump in the native tongue of Slovenian and they had a conversation. It was so beautiful to watch. But that's a whole nother podcast. Today Mak Grgic, he's just a brilliant gifted artist who plays all over the world. And I just signed him to a new record label. My record labels called All Heart Records and he's the first artist to be signed on that, to do beautiful, instrumental music, very similar to what I've been doing for 25 years. If you like my music, you will absolutely love this new EP that Mak has called Silent Night. In fact, I am featured on there playing the piano, duet with him in his classical guitar. It is gorgeous and you can get that, wherever you like to get your music, Apple, Spotify, Pandora, Deezer. I don't know, wherever you like to go. But without further ado, this is a conversation I recorded previously with Mak. I was in Cleveland with my mother-in-law, who is Slovenian, and we just had a great time chatting. So here is my dear friend and new artist Mak Grgic.

 

- Hey, Paul.

 

- There you are, how are you?

 

- How's it going? How's my background? I think we match.

 

- it's good. Yes this is, you clearly are a Slovenian because I'm in a Slovenian office.

 

- Oh my goodness, look we have a leitmotif going and everything. Yes, I'm Slovenian, totally.

 

- What's mind blowing about you Mak, and the reason I'm so excited to share you with my audience is number one, just your bio alone, New York times loves you. The Washington Post love you. You've gotten great reviews. You've had an amazing journey. Born in Slovenia, we're gonna talk about your life. We're gonna talk about your music. Some of your training and what you hope to accomplish with your career. But you are one of the beautiful performance virtual also of classical guitar music. But not just classically trained where you've gone and performed in very prestigious venues all over the world, but you're now venturing into experimenting with some contemporary classical. Unless you're John Williams or someone unique of that caliber, you don't, you can't just walk into a, a hall of prestige and perform contemporary music.

 

- Well and furthermore, I mean to sort of elaborate on what you just said, contemporary music has also so many different strains these days, you know what is contemporary music? There's new age, there's jazz, there's classical contemporary, which in within itself has, heaps and loads of different varieties. And so I think what we're facing today Paul, is a little bit of confusion and then sort of like, people tend to listen or center, to migrate to what appeals to them. With classical music and I can certainly speak from experience because that is my background, it is my academic background. And still, I am in fact a classical musician. I would say that the classical contemporary music has pushed the envelope so much that, the market for it, the listeners that are devoted and dedicated, are really in a very small fraction of an audience because it is pushing the limits of the listener with its experimentation. Some on implementation of other styles, so much that it's, it's really quite hard to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. One really has to devote a cognitive presence to that type of music. But then yet again, in contemporary world, we have so many different styles of living, living, breathing, creators that certainly serve that purpose which is, let's make people feel good. Let's have them listen to something beautiful, maybe not so abrasive, something that, that makes one feel good. And more or less that's how you and I met, I believe in the first place. Well and that, and there was a Slovenian connection.

 

- It's right, we met in Los Angeles. It was the pre Grammy party for then Ole, which is now Anthem entertainment. Which is the record label and publisher that I sold my catalog to. And we met through a mutual friend, Gilles Godard. And I remember Gilles, who is a vice president over at Anthem, very well-respected has done a lot of deals in the music business. And he came to me after he had signed me and said, "You gotta meet this, I mean he is my absolute, most favorite classically trained guitarist. And he's just incredible, I wanna sign him, I wanna try," and he had nothing but amazing things to say. And then he said, "It's Mak Grgic." And then we met and then right off the bat, my wife noticed your accent.

 

- Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

- And my wife, who is a first-generation Slovenian American. You are from Slovenia, you were born in, which part of Slovenia were you born? I was born in the Capital in Ljubljana. So, you could call a center, it's not the epicenter, but it's, certainly central.

 

- It's the heart, it's the heart--

 

- It's the heart of it.

 

- And there's a beautiful statue of the famous poet,

 

- Oh yeah.

 

- The center,

 

- Correct.

 

- What's the poet's name, I can never,

 

- So the poets is name is France Preseren. And that statue is rather significant, I'm not sure how much of the story you know. It's placed right in the city center. And the poet sort of extends his arm towards what then supposedly was the apartment of his beloved, never attained love, whom he dedicated so many poems to, but supposedly was not reciprocated. That's the story at least. He's our most, maybe most famous poet. And also he wrote the, what we today use as the lyrics to our national Anthem.

 

- Interesting. He sounds like he had a Beethoven experience.

 

- Certainly a Beethoven yes.

 

- A misunderstanding of love and he goes and he writes, ♪ Bump, bump, bump, bump ♪ ♪ My heart is breaking inside ♪ So what was it like for you growing up? You're 33 years old? What was it like,

 

- 33.

 

- Growing up in Slovenia?

 

- Well I must say, Slovenia in many respects is a very comfortable place to live in. It's a small country, about a two and a half to three hour drive across the sort of the longest diagonal. We have everything from a little bit of the seaside, to beautiful Alps, to sort of planes. A lot of great wine, a lot of great culture. The Roman roads went through that, through the main few cities. And in general, I would say it is, it is a place where one can build a nice, healthy society around oneself. The reason why I ultimately left, I mean I'm, tuning in here from Los Angeles, is because the country, it's a small country, meaning the market is rather small. So the opportunities for a young, ambitious, anyone, myself a musician, were minimum, lets say. So then I first went to, to do my musical high school in Croatia in Zagreb. I still was doing my regular high school in Slovenia, so I spent my week splitting it in half between Croatia and Slovenia. After that, I went to Vienna, speaking of Beethoven, where I did my undergrad and then I wanted to go to the States, because the market here seemed excitingly big and as any real college applicant, I just sort of scouted colleges around, and somehow I ended up in Los Angeles.

 

- What was the main reason that you started playing guitar? Why were you drawn to it?

 

- That's a great story because usually when people start music, it's because they want it, they feel it, they love it. It was like the exact opposite for me. I was way into martial arts back then, and even continued through. Just about when I started the undergraduate studies, I was way into sciences, math in particular. So music was somehow an extracurricular activity that just kind of happened. My dad and I, I remember we're walking in our neighborhood, a very small neighborhood and right next to the kindergarten where I went as a kid, there was a small small music school, and it was maybe like a Sunday or Monday or, and we passed the music school and it said, "Auditions." And my dad said, "Hey, you wanna audition?" I said, "Sure, I'll audition, whatever." I think I was about 10 maybe, roughly. So we went inside, or I can't remember if it was on a different day, but in any case I auditioned, had to sing a few tunes and then I had to provisionally pick an instrument. I said, "I wanna play violin. I wanna play cello, I wanna play piano." So my dad said, "No piano is too big. Violin, too squeaky from the beginning. Cello," I don't remember what he said about cello. So he said, "You're gonna play guitar." So I'm like, "All right, fine." So and then--

 

- So your dad decided for you.

 

- Sorta, yeah I mean, I'm certainly happy, I'm playing guitar. Guitar is a beautiful instrument. And fast forward many years, I still play the guitar and I'm enjoying it. But for the longest time Paul, I know you and I have talked about how music makes us feel, I didn't have that sensation of goosebumpiness, for quite a long time. But I do remember when that happened for the first time, I was already in the musical high school at that point, and still kind of doing music just because. And then I was listening to a pianist, a very famous pianist Evgeny Kissin, playing the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. And there's this part in the second movement that is just so beautiful, so lush, so full of life and color and everything. And I remember feeling the sort of chills, going through my entire body and it's like, "Oh, now I get it, now I get it." And that was like an aha moment for me. And from then on, I was, I sort of always kept chasing that feeling, that beautiful aha, beautiful chills, the magic, so to speak.

 

- Because you're drawn to math, you're obviously more left-brained, in your thinking,

 

- I suppose so.

 

- In your thinking, and right brain is the touchy, feely creative aspects, or you're dipping into both hemispheres and yet, the minute you had those goosebumps because Rachmaninoff pulls a lot of that emotion, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, is one that's used in one of the most romantic film, modern films, contemporary films of all time, somewhere in time and, it was Bob Marley that said the first time music hits you, it really hits you.

 

- Oh yeah, a hundred percent true. Fully supportive of that one.

 

- What was the first classical guitar piece, since you're a classical guitarist that made you just, maybe not emotional, but maybe it was the one, that made you go, "I wanna do that. I wanna really," or was that kind of a goal from the beginning and taking, because in Europe, here you take guitar to learn John Denver.

 

- Oh, sure yeah.

 

- Europe, that's a whole nother story. They don't even, they might even know John Denver.

 

- I wonder if we know John Denver. I certainly did not know John Denver. It's a fantastic question, but I must say, I don't really know because I was sort of a geek about everything I was doing back then. I wanted to Excel at everything that I was doing, and that could have been pottery or putting potatoes in the ground. I wanted to have the best potatoes, or be the best in guitar or be the fastest in calculus. So it was, my approach at the very beginning was very, was very geeky, I was just simply ambitious. There are a few pieces that really, strike a chord and have done so from the very early on, and there's two platforms upon which I sort of draw that inspiration from. One is my dad had, and this is before I started guitar. He had this disc of John Williams, the guitarist. There's a very famous, John Williams, the guitarist. Super famous and there was a disc gray one, called Spanish Guitars, is very simple. And there were some songs, some Catalan folk songs that I remember fondly that are just so lush and beautiful. So that's one and the second one was, speaking of that composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, the first time I really heard a good, good performance of the famous Chaconne for the Violin, that really, I mean hit the cord. And when I heard it being done on the guitar for the first time and then when I started learning it for the first time, that was a truly special, special moment for me.

 

- Classical guitar music evolved originally out of Spain.

 

- Yep. That would be about right.

 

- And then it's spread out through Europe in more of a non-traditional route because wasn't guitar music early on associated with gypsy lifestyle, more than the Beethoven and the classical of the Kings and the governors and the Roman Catholic church. It was more affiliated with kind of the outside.

 

- It's a, I would say it's a mixed bag of things. So for example, the guitar that we play today, like the traditional classical guitar, the form and shape was coined in Spain, in the middle of 19th century, by a famous Luthier Antonio de Torres.

 

- Right.

 

- But we do have the Baroque guitar, the Renaissance guitar. We have the vihuelas, we have the lutes, we have the theorbos. Those are all sort of instruments that are pretty close to guitar. And what influenced what, is more or less a speculation, you can sort of follow the movement throughout the history. But for example in courts, you could hear, you could hear vihuelas being played. You could hear Lutes being played. For example, I'll give you an example, in the 15-0s, I'm thinking also, early 16th century, one of the most famous musicians in Europe at that time was Francesco da Milano and he was a lute player, and he was proclaimed by the Pope as the divine one, which was a very rare title to place upon any artist. And he was the main lute player for the . But the guitar itself in a Spanish way, that you're referring to, I mean yeah, I mean if you look at Flamenco for example, I mean those guys are, a whole another, a whole other game of virtuosity at the end, just extreme. So there's also that, exactly.

 

- There's so many different instruments, with the piano, you have the piano, you have a keyboard, you have a harpsichord, but the guitar, from the lute, I mean such a wide spectrum to Ravi, who played the, with the Beatles the,

 

- Sitar.

 

- Yeah, the sitar.

 

- Oh Ravi Shankar, Ravi Shankar.

 

- Yes, Norah Jones' father. Do you know how to play that instrument?

 

- I do not, unfortunately no, it's beautiful. I tried yes, yeah, it's takes mastery, yeah.

 

- You need more fingers. That's right. You are, what's interesting is your debut, your professional debut was in 2009. You were only 22. You debuted in Russia, performing the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez.

 

- Aranjuez.

 

- With the St. Petersburg Symphony.

 

- Yeah.

 

- That must've been,

 

- A special moment.

 

- What were you feeling?

 

- Well that was my symphonic debut as a soloist with an orchestra, and in any right I would say, for a classical music or for any musician to play with an orchestra is a big thing. There's one thing to play one instrument, but to have a train of sound come behind you and just fill out the space, it's pretty, it's pretty humbling. A few emotions that I was feeling, were certainly being really, really scared and terrified, as number one, the sort of the aura of, "I can't believe this is happening," when it was actually happening. And the sensation of, "Hoorah, I made it through at the end." And then this big relief of like the happy hormones, and just being super ecstatic about it. It's certainly an emotional turmoil. It still happens by the way when I play with orchestra. So maybe not to that extent so.

 

- I gotta tell you, my first concerto, I wrote a concerto in high school and we performed it with the orchestra. Now you debuted in Russia. I debuted an American trying to make Russian music. So he got to be in and he started laughing, 'cause he's like, "Ah." This high school concerto that has like the worst tie, it goes from 4-4 to like 3-4, to 2-2 to 6-12 or whatever, 'cause I was just all over the place. It was a mess. So you would have been the most frustrated person in the audience going, "What is this?" So, but it's a true rush when you get that full orchestra behind you.

 

- Oh, certainly.

 

- And do you ever feel in the middle of that? Like, "Oh oh, what if I make a mistake," or "I still have pizza in the fridge?" Or "What are you thinking when you're playing?"

 

- Well, a pizza is a stretch I would say

 

- The klobasa, I got a klobasa hanging over here.

 

- But I certainly have felt hungry, thirsty. Making a mistake, well you touch upon an interesting, problematic that each classical musician faces. So the short answer is yes, but the, a little bit longer answer is, we are taught to be this sort of like glossy images of perfection when reinterpreting other people's words. And we get very, very frustrated when something goes amiss just a little bit, maybe one note, maybe another note. But there was one moment in my performing career, maybe roughly about six, seven years ago, where I shared the stage with a famous Brazilian guitar duo the Assad brothers and they are complete legends, in the field like totally, I mean, someone you look up to as you grow up. And to share the stage with them, I mean, similarly so, I was a nervous wreck. But to see them be so relaxed, so heartfelt, so sharing with the music that they were playing, some Brazilian, some, there was some Aaron Copland, I remember, some stuff like that, And listening up close, they made quite a few mistakes, but no one cared, because their heart was in it so much. So the people were just, I mean they were taken on this train of feeling and when everything was done, it was just this ecstatic moment. Everyone just jumped on their feet. And that was an aha moment as well for me, because it was like, "Well, if music is a language and when we speak, we often mispronounce some words, it's normal, it's pretty human, but we are still carrying out a message. Why can't this be the same with music? Why do we need to strive towards being this glossy, almost robotic perfections, where we can certainly allow ourselves to be more human. So these days, the concept of making a mistake, is certainly less present in my mind, and I think it makes it for a healthier performer.

 

- You ever take these principles of music, we're talking perfection and imperfection. Do you ever take those analogies to apply to life, life in general, when life gets challenging and hard, and you're trying to stay on top of your game and yet you make mistakes. Do you ever think about some of those things?

 

- Yeah, I do actually, for example, when having a relationship with someone, it's so easy to think that one is completely right all the time. Of course that's not true and the fact that we realize and accept that we make mistakes, makes it easier for us to understand the other person's perspective and makes it easier to create a healthy, well energized environment. Whereas if we would say as, as it is certainly the old traditional way, "No it is just this way in classical music and no other way," then we come to a very rigid sense of reality. And it certainly makes us more unhappy if those expectations are not met. So I mean, absolutely it's, we all make mistakes all the time. And the more we recognize that, the more we can grow as people.

 

- What was one of the most challenging experiences of your career so far where you just felt like, "Maybe I'm done."

 

- Well, it was actually right now. It was actually as Corona hit because my whole career was based on touring, you know 90 to 100 concerts a year. That was my income, that was my life. That's something I built throughout quite many years. And, life threw me a curve ball and I was like, "Well, what now?" And there was certainly a period and you and I were talking throughout that period. I was like, "Man, what's up? I don't know what's happening."

 

- Yeah, I mean, we were gonna go to Croatia and Slovenia and do a little tour together.

 

- We were about to do a little tour there, together even,

 

- That's right.

 

- And I was just like, "What's up now?"

 

- Yeah.

 

- But in situations like that, when things become difficult, I think the character then of a person shows, well, are you flexible? Are you a fighter? What do you believe in? What do you love? What do you strive for? So even though at the beginning, in the first few months, it was very challenging and difficult emotionally just to accept that things may be different. It has also been one of the most beautiful periods of my life because I mean, ultimately it gave me the momentum and time to start to compose my own music, to become the interpreter of what I feel, and that is one of the most humbling experiences I've ever had in my life and I, even though it's quite scary and it's like, you see the numbers and you're like, "Whoa." But still, I mean, I'm like, well, it was a curve ball, but it was a good one for me,. So, that was certainly one of the most challenging times in my career, adult career I should say. But I'm happy with how it's evolving, it's all new scenario.

 

- And for those listening, I've heard some of this new material from him, and it's such beautiful, beautiful and yet it's still got the complexity of the classical training in there. And so I think it's really gonna set a new stage, a new, it's gonna lead in some way, I feel in classical music because, we do obsess over the past and the perfection of music from the past, and that music's been tested time and time again, to be listenable. And so when you put out something new, it's very risky, but you're drawing all from inside and from every, all your experience and everything you've known, and you would think that this COVID period, hopefully has enabled musicians of all kinds to create things that never were before. To dream of things that never were before. I know in my production of, creating the Broken Miracle, it's been mind-blowing because I haven't been distracted by other things because I'm able to focus, 'cause I'm here and present. What, obviously you draw on the fact that it's been tough, mainly because you've created, you've got of a festival that you run, that you're in charge of and you're normally out playing, how many festivals a year are you normally playing? how many shows a year are you usually doing?

 

- Well it's about, 90 to 100 shows yearly. And in terms of festivals, I mean, I either co-curate or actually oversee, in total at about 18 different festivals. There's some that I'm directly overseeing then there's some that I work with via a European network of guitar festivals that embodies sort of the union of 17 countries over there. So there's quite a lot of festival work that's been done over the past years, but I mean, needless to say, it's been challenging right now, and we're all sort of thinking of how to finagle this scenario to the best possible end game. We'll see what that is ultimately. But it's, certainly works those great brain cells, puts them to challenge.

 

- What was it like when you got the phone call that K.d. Lang, K.d. Lang wanted you to do the American tour?

 

- Goodness, I mean, it was quite spectacular and it was also sort of like a cosmic alignment that I remember that day 'cause I was, I was just talking to a guitar duo, from Australia, the Gregorian Brothers, and I was hanging out with their manager in New York city, and they were actually the initial act that was opening for K.d. in several different tours. But they for some reason couldn't do it, couldn't do that thing. So somehow and this was about an hour after I said goodbye to the manager, I got a phone call, I said, "Do you wanna tour, K.d. Lang?" I'm like, "What is going on here? This is too much of a coincidence." So anyhow, it was a beautiful tour that we did. And it was for me an insight into the industry that is, that is different from mine. And one of the most beautiful feelings that I felt during that whole time was, how fans are in it. How deeply they feel the connection to the music. How they respond vocally and because K.d.'s fans and K.d. has some kind of an aura, it seems, and some kind of a beautiful rapport with the audience, they were equally as susceptible, it seemed, to my little opener and I only played like about, go ahead,

 

- It's cause she pretty much put her blessing on your music.

 

- I suppose so. And I only had a 30 minute window at the very beginning, but they were in it, they were doing the little flashlight thingy, they were cheering when there was something interesting going on and it was, I want that for classical music. I want that kind of a rapport and following and enthusiasm. And you and I have talked about this ages ago, classical music was that, it was party music, in many respects. Operas were essentially big gatherings where people were enjoying themselves. So somehow that divide became bigger and bigger because the concept of high art became more sort of coined in. But I think that feeling of people enjoying what you do is just spectacular. I mean, I think it should be always like that.

 

- It's seems like classical music is found more of a experience like that in film, they've had to attach it to a visual experience, versus back when they would have the, the Cardinal would have a ball or the governor or anything. And they bring in the classical players and everybody was into it. I think, it probably because they'd never heard the Beatles, they'd never heard Elvis, Chuck Berry or any of these people. And so it's interesting, but we have talked about that. There is this obsession in the classical world where it has to be a certain way, it has to be this, it has to be that. It's kind of like when I, for example, maybe this is a bad idea, but when I started the podcast, they said, "Don't wear a hat. Don't wear a hat, get a nice studio." But I mean, people live in homes, you gotta be relaxed a little bit. And I think classical music in a way takes us up to the divine. And then the music we're doing now kind of just brings us back to reality with hopes, with hopes to access the divine. But do you think living in Europe, the respect for classical music is different, than say the United States where popular music kind of dominates or is it the same response?

 

- That's a fantastic question. I would say certainly the, and it's not even all the countries in Europe, mind you, but some of the more, some of those that have a bigger history with art and music, let's say. I think those countries pride themselves with being culturally very aware, culturally educated, I think is the right term. So whether or not they're truly enjoying the music with all their hearts, they still go in big numbers to concerts and they study the music, they know what they're listening to. So there's a certain, bit of intellectual approach to that classical music speaking, right. We have pop music too and we enjoy, listening to all sorts of other stuff right. In America, I think people approach it with a less of a need for an educated perspective, but more with a need for some kind of feel good momentum, kind of a little bit of entertainment thing going. And I think that maybe the biggest, the biggest difference. I still would see the Disney hall in Los Angeles or Carnegie hall or any of the big halls full, at capacity almost each time. So it's not like people don't go, people do go.

 

- They do.

 

- I just think they wanna enjoy themselves more. For example, that has showcased very easily through the culture of clapping, in Vienna for example. They clap, very rarely would you hear a shout out. Very rarely would you see someone stand up, but they could clap for hours. I mean, they could clap a long time. But it's all sort of like in this medium, consistent region in the States. People react strongly, immediately, they jump up, hoorah, but then they, then it dies down quicker also. So that immediate emotional response is more there. And in Asia, I mean, it's even more drastic. In Asia, I often felt like they totally hated my performance, 'cause it was so subdued, but in fact, supposedly they're just being very polite. They don't wanna disturb me or performers.

 

- Being respectful.

 

- And then afterwards they come and buy thousands of CDs.

 

- It's so,

 

- So its,

 

- I love that. That's so interesting because what you're describing, my father was a journalist and his job, had him go to Europe with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And this was back when it was still the Soviet Union. The Berlin wall was still up. Vienna, Salzburg, all those places is where the choir was going to go. And a big part of the documentary about that performance was focused on the clapping because a choir coming from Salt Lake City Utah, in America, was very unfamiliar with how an audience responds. And so in Vienna the clapping, but no shout out was so different from what they were used to. And then all these different places they would say, they didn't know if they were excited about the performance, but then afterwards they couldn't get enough of meeting the performers.

 

- Yes, yes.

 

- Amazing.

 

- Describes this about right, yeah

 

- Yeah, because, I love when we're in Slovenia with our family, because there seems to be more of an emphasis on enjoying the time together. Family gets together, so I can see why classical music starts to have more of a, it's more of an experience of class, of sophistication. Even as a kid, we were told in elementary school, "We're going to see the symphony. So make sure your parents get you a nice outfit to wear,"

 

- Attire, out fit yes.

 

- "Preferably a suit. Wear a tie." So early on I associated classical music with putting a tie on and going.

 

- It's so uncomfortable.

 

- Uncomfortable, until I was actually present. And I heard the symphony do, they did the William Tell Overture?

 

- Oh yeah, that's a beautiful one.

 

- So I was hooked. I was hooked early on but, so you right now, have been working on some more contemporary, original music. What has it been like for you to step away from reading and memorizing and practice technique to freeing up your fingers a little bit and trying to expand your mind? What's that process like for you?

 

- It's been a true blessing. I mean there was a brief period there, the first three, four months of the isolation, where I was trying to find a creative outlet that would make me happy. Because my creative outlet before was, "Here's this program, learn it. Here's that program, learn it. Learn it, learn it, learn it," right. And now I didn't have really any obligation to learn anything. I could have learned all the bar chords, that are playable on the guitar. I could have learned all the XYZ composers. But it just wasn't working for me. So in the late evening hours, what I started doing was a little bit of sitting outside, listening to the beat of the peaceful city. I tend to stay up late, I enjoy the late hours. So Los Angeles and Downtown, where I used to live, had a certain vibe at night, it was at that time, and I think maybe still is, I'm not in downtown anymore. It was a little bit of an eerie vibe but peaceful. And there was sounds, I don't know here and there a bird, there's maybe one car coming by or there's some kind of city

 

- Divide.

 

- Whisper.

 

- Yeah.

 

- And I was, I just started improvising over that. And I would say ultimately that sharpened my ears much more. I can now relate what I play with a more emotional, physical connection, whereas before there could have been a disconnect because the intellect would come in, and sort of put a pit stop on what I feel, as opposed to what I have to do. And sometimes those two things would come together. The intellect and the emotional landscapes would align and they would, be happy hand in hand or something. But this was pure, this was just pure unobstructed feel, and it opened this sensoric possibilities for me that I've essentially, almost never tapped into before. Just kind of trusting what I hear. And I went with that and this gave birth, to I think now 50 plus minutes of music that's already recorded and well on the way of becoming an actual album. And in many ways, I wanna say that it sharpened my musical senses. Because now not only do I trust what I've learned throughout the years and years of academia, I actually trust my ears that what I hear has some value. And that has been a transcending experience. It's like almost becoming one in one, one what's the word? Becoming one with oneself. That's the phrase, yeah.

 

- Creating harmony.

 

- Creating harmony, self-harmony it's beautiful.

 

- One of the things that I've found to be somewhat challenging by focusing on the immediate gratification of creating a contemporary piece, is that when I create something very mellow or very beautiful, most often it's very mellow. It's very calming, it's very soothing, but it's not interesting to watch. So when you start to venture into instrumentalists that, in United States where we're such a visual, we have to see things. We have to watch things. For example, my cellist that I signed years ago, Steven Sharp Nelson. He created the piano guys with John Schmidt and they started by doing Coldplay video, an interpretation of a Coldplay song. So it was amazing to watch. It was very exciting to watch, but the emotion wasn't all there, that he had done on his albums that had debuted on the classical charts and had really streamed really well. So do you find that there's, do you have any of that struggle, where you wanna create something mellow, but you also are concerned about technique and making sure that it's interesting to watch. Do you think like that, or do you focus just on the music?

 

- I really, I really don't, I must say. There was a while ago that I've learned that technique works best, flashiness works best, if it's in service of music and a musical idea. In classical music, we all learn technique almost exclusively, I'm not saying 100%, but almost exclusively as a separate entity, separate part. Practice these scales, practice these arpeggios. Do this, do that. And it's on a separate plane. And then we think about music on a different one. And then hopefully we merge that. And in my performance, capacity, I always struggled with the idea of doing those separately and then combining them later. So when I started, when I started thinking about, let's say something that is flashy, something that is cool to see, but difficult to do, as just one other normal phrase, one other normal musical thought, like this. It was easy to do, no big deal. And whereas before, it was hard to wrap my mind around. So playing music like this right now, it's, I almost do not think about how I play this. I really just play. Which fingers to use, doesn't really matter. As long as the musical idea comes through and conveys the emotion in a best way.

 

- Well that's, I've never thought about that.

 

- Yeah.

 

- So thank you. The technique, focus on the technique and it all comes together in the end, 'cause I'm usually just sitting down and what do I feel? And I play it and then I come back to it and I go, "Oh, maybe I'll keep that."

 

- Yeah, yeah.

 

- And other times it's like, "No, no, no, get rid of it."

 

- Where I felt this realization was, it's an interesting sort of loop backwards to, the beginning of our conversation when we mentioned Flamenco players. When I saw Paco de Lucias, last concert in Los Angeles, which was in Disney hall and he was at a certain age, I don't remember exactly, but it might've been about a year before he passed, passed away and still blazing fast, and I was just like sitting there and thinking, how is that possible? He's playing 1,500 notes a minute or half a minute, I don't know, so fast. And then again, it was that aha moment, I said, "Well, maybe he's not thinking about them as 1,500 notes per half a minute. Maybe he's just thinking of it as one little breath."

 

- That's right.

 

- And then it's so easy. So is it flashy for him? Probably not. For him it's probably just another breath. And for us is, "Whoa, what just happened?" And if one has even a little bit of technique, I think that mindset is very easy to apply. You feel something and you go with it. Is it faster or is it slower? It doesn't matter, it's how we feel.

 

- Right.

 

- And that has been a very refreshing moment for me. I say, "Oh, I'll just do that. It's gonna be much better for me."

 

- Our instruments become an extension of our body in essence

 

- Yes, exactly, so yeah.

 

- That's amazing. Well, gosh Mak, I'm super excited about this project. And one of the last questions I like to ask my guest, that kind of dives more into your heart because this is All Heart is, 100, 200 years from now, when we're all gone, what is it that you hope people will remember about you? Do you ever think like that?

 

- I do, I do. And it's a tough question to answer regardless. I would say be it associated with music or just with anything that is potentially left behind by me, I would want people to have a little smile on their faces when they think about that. It can be music, it can be something else, but that there's a positive association and a feel good moment that maybe brightens their day for just a second.

 

- That's beautiful. People can go to your website, Mak Grgic, and it's M-A-K G-R-G-I-C. Did I pronounce that correctly?

 

- It's a tough one.

 

- Grgic.

 

- It's a tough one.

 

- Yeah, because I need to buy a vowel.

 

- You need to buy several vowels or just strike them all, strike the full thing out, just go with Mak.

 

- And your existing materials on, I mean, it's available on Pandora and Spotify and everywhere.

 

- It's available and I'm particularly excited about this project to come out and to see how the listeners, how listeners react. If it makes them feel good.

 

- Perfect.

 

- That'd be an interesting thing to see, yeah.

 

- Well, it's a shift. It's a dramatic shift from some of your other recordings.

 

- Yes absolutely.

 

- But I know my fans who like that contemporary instrumental, they're gonna go nuts. They're gonna think they're in the candy store with this new app on the viewer. So it's really exciting. So thank you for being on All Heart Mak.

 

- All right. It's a pleasure to see a familiar face, to share some thoughts and some positive vibes, hopefully.

 

- Yeah, thanks.