Momchil Atanasoff, Composer, Pianist

June 5, 2018

Bulgarian jazz pianist, composer, and co-founder of Open Source Trio, Momchil Atanasoff finds creative inspiration sky-high during mountain climbs and, conversely, during deep dives into pitch black caves where the absence of light becomes a creative stimulus. The trio’s first two albums, “Mirage,” and “Altitude,” are a magical blend of jazz, classical and electronica, with strong improv underpinnings. Their music can range from hard-charging and provocative to mesmerizing and transcendent, and to my ear it often has strong spiritual undertones. Atanasoff practices Taoism, but it’s nature that drives him most assuredly, as also evidenced by his love of photography.

 

The original trio formed in 2010 when he, drummer Juri Schewe and bassist Ray Janga were studying music at the Conservatory in Rotterdam, and since then they have toured widely in support of the albums. In 2016, Nikos Kalavrytinos signed on as bass player. New compositions are in the works, and another album forthcoming.

 

Atanasoff was in Marrakech during our Q+A, having recently arrived for a music residency. He spoke about composing, climbing and caving, Taoism, and the harrowing night when the trio, driving home from a gig, saved eight people during a storm surge near Sofia.

  

 

 

 

opensourcetrio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

RG: I'm so happy to meet you and talk to you! I've been following you online for a long time and I was trying to remember how we got connected. I think it's Twitter, and because of Kenny Werner's music. Does that sound right?

 

MA: Yes, exactly, that's right.

 

RG: How did you find Kenny Werner?

 

MA: Ah! I found him through my Conservatory studies. I had a master class with one great piano player, Jason Moran. He was telling us about the book of Kenny Werner, and that's how I ended up listening to his records and reading the book numerous times and so on. ‘Effortless Mastery.’

 

RG: It's a really interesting book. He's an amazing guy.

 

MA: I believe so.

 

RG: His work is just extraordinary. Actually I could say I hear a lot of him in your work. There's a similarity there.

 

MA: That's a big compliment, thank you!

 

RG: So let me kind of just hit from the beginning. You're from Bulgaria, born and raised?

 

MA: Yes.

 

RG: Where did you grow up?

 

MA: Several places but I was born in the town of Samokov which is an hour drive from our capital, Sofia. I didn't spend there too many years, maybe ‘til I was 6, and then from 8 ‘til 10, something like that. The rest of my days, ‘til 20, I was living in Sofia.

 

RG: It looks like a really beautiful city.

 

MA: Yeah, it is a nice city and it gets better over years.

 

RG: And now you're in Marrakech! Tell me how that happened and how long you'll be there. I love Marrakech.

 

MA: I'm working right now in a 5-star hotel in Marrakech with my girlfriend. We're playing music here.

 

RG: You’ll have a lot of fun!

 

MA: Yeah, indeed so, indeed so! It's like a paid vacation because you know how it is, independent artist lives, traveling a lot, sleeping in the car more or less and so on.

 

RG: Does your girlfriend play music also?

 

MA: Yes, she's a singer and plays the double bass as well. We play a lot in Bulgaria when we're not on tour with Open Source Trio. So, yeah, that's what I'm doing here and I'll be spending probably more or less at least three months.

 

RG: That's a terrific gig. You like to travel so there'll be a lot for you to see.

 

MA: Exactly, and it's very interesting from a photography point of view and we're both photographers as well.

 

RG: For now, tell me about the music and how it got started, how you began to play. I'm pretty sure you started classically and then moved into jazz.

 

MA: Yes indeed. I started at a normal early age, so say for a classical pianist, I started at the age of 4. My mother says that I wanted to start when I was 3 but it was too early. That's what the legend says, you know? But my mother is a classical piano teacher so she says that I was basically dragging her toward the piano and begging for lessons, which of course changed over the years, as you can imagine. 'I don't want to play, I don't want to play music, I want to play with kids,' you know, stuff like that. So basically I've been playing all my life that I can remember. Interestingly enough, I also started playing jazz quite early. Maybe at the age of 4 or 5 my mother was giving me already some jazz pieces.

 

RG: That's amazing!

 

MA: And she says, again I cannot confirm that, but she said that already then she was sure that I'm not going to be a classical but a jazz piano player, because I was always like, 'No, I don't like this note, I'm going to play it like this!' And she goes, 'But it's meant to be played like that.' 'No, I don't care, I'm going to play it like this.' So, yeah.

 

 

RG: That sense of improvisation was very strong in you really early.

 

MA: Well I guess so, I guess so. I really didn't like playing how somebody says it should be played. For good or bad! My early tries were for sure not too good.

 

RG: Do you remember when you first really started to hear and understand jazz?

 

MA: I'm not sure, to be honest. I know that I started playing it more seriously when I was maybe 13 or so, but I was still too much into rock music, progressive rock and so on, so I didn't take it too seriously but everybody around me was saying, 'You need to study jazz, because jazz players can play everything,’ and so on, which I completely disagree with, by the way! Because then it's super hard to play pop music, for instance. I find it very hard to use only three notes for a chord, you know, it's disturbing.

 

RG: That didn't quite used to be the case, I think pop music was a little bit different a long time ago.

 

MA: That's also true. Well, if the writer is Quincy Jones, of course, pop music sounds a little bit different!

 

RG: What music were you listening to growing up?

 

MA: My early age, like at 6, let's say, I didn't really care, everything was interesting and so on. Then for a very short while I was listening to pop music but that was like 2 or 3 months and I got bored of it and my cousin gave me the first Metallica cassette that I heard and from there on it was for several years Metallica, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, stuff like that. Then slowly a little bit more funk, like Tower of Power, some Scandinavian bands, and then slowly I started listening to some swing, bossa nova. Then at the age of 14 jazz more or less is becoming my passion. I went more toward funk, Latin, and European jazz.

 

RG: Who were you paying attention to?

 

MA: Since then ‘til these days I have several artists that I still listen to all the time, if I listen to music, because nowadays I don't do it that often. But Esbjörn Svensson Trio, for instance, is my all-time favorite. I would say Viktoria Tolstoy also, the singer. Those are my two main influences.

 

RG: What is it that draws you to them?

 

MA: It's hard to say. I mean, the classical harmonies, which I really love, some rock and electronic music influences which I also like. I like this aggression that is hidden inside of their music. Viktoria, I can say I just love the voice and it's more or less the same way of her arranging music that's as Esbörn Svensson. He even arranged and wrote some of her stuff.

 

RG: That's so interesting, because when I hear most of your music, I don't feel aggression coming.

 

MA: I guess that's because you never heard us live! Many people say they relax with our albums and then are completely shocked because I know for me that music is what it appears to be when it's played live. And it's quite aggressive. I mean, it's of course no black metal or something, but for acoustic trio music it's quite rough.

 

RG: So hearing you live is very different from you in the studio.

 

MA: Yeah, it appears so. I don't know if I'm happy or sad about it but many people confirm that.

 

RG: But is it intentional?

 

MA: Not at all, it's just, it becomes like that. We don't discuss it that much. The song is the song and we just play it as it comes in the moment. Except if something goes really wrong we don't like it!

 

RG: I think everybody feels that way in life, right?

 

MA: I guess!

 

RG: But it's the same set list often, I mean, you're still playing the music off of the albums so you're just playing it differently.

 

MA: The first one, not that much anymore. We play more the second album…

 

RG: ‘Altitude.’

 

MA: …and stuff from the third one that is going to come out hopefully this year.

 

RG: Do you have a title for it yet?

 

MA: No, we are discussing it but it can be hard to work out, very hard always with names, we still are confused with some names of ours. It's like Juri (Schewe) says ‘F Minor,’ as we called it two years ago, you know, and I cannot remember now the real name of that song. Ah, no, now I remember, it's ‘Fast Forward.’ We just named it for purposes of recognizing F minor because that's the key so...

 

RG: When did you start composing? Was it very early, and was it a very natural process?

 

MA: It was early enough that I don't remember very concretely. But let's say 13, 14, maybe. Really writing on purpose some music. Actually ‘Mirage,’ the title track of the first album, I wrote when I was 16. My oldest piece that I still have.

 

RG: Do you remember writing it?

 

MA: More or less, not too good.

 

RG: Did you have a concept of what you were doing as you were composing it, or was it just spontaneous?

 

MA: Not at all, I was just playing and I had a tape recorder next to the piano. Then I started cursing very heavily because when I tried to transcribe it on paper it was like all these mixed meters, you know, 9/8 and then next bar 7, and then next bar 4/4, it's like, why did I play it like that?! Took me like an hour and a half or two to write 8 bars, something.

 

RG: But sometimes that sounds good!

 

MA: Yeah! The good parts and the bad parts, and you're like, 'Oh, I need to write that down.'

 

RG: So tell me about Ray Charles in your life.

 

MA: Oh! I really love that guy! I read his autobiography when I was maybe 10 and it's my go-to-bed book, so to say. I think I read it more than 25, 30 times.

 

RG: What is it about the book, what is it about him, that speaks to you?

 

MA: I don't know, his memories from the time, all these super crazy stories! It's incredible how he explains. You know, these kind of super incredibly crazy stories! So yeah.

 

RG: You like wild stuff.

 

MA: Yeah! I do. And of course the music, the other stuff. These stories just keep sticking to my mind.

 

RG: Of course I'm going to have to go read his book now!

 

MA: Yeah, you need to do that! It's called, ‘Brother Ray.’

 

RG: So tell me about Open Source Trio and how it came together, how you envisioned it, what it's doing. You have a different lineup now than you started with.

 

MA: Yes. We started the trio back in what is it now, 2010, maybe? We met in Holland, in Rotterdam. We were all studying there, it was our first year for all three of us, and actually we met with Juri on our introduction day. So we played a bit, it was, you know, different country, different city, you don't know anybody, so we started hanging out together, drinking some beers every now and then. And then we decide to actually try to jam, see if we can play together, which was not that normal because Juri was actually studying pop drums there. So not the same department at all. We tried playing the two of us, then we tried a few bass players, but it didn't really click and then Juri came with Ray (Janga) one day and it was super funny because Ray just saw me and was like, 'OK, I'm going to enter now?' And I'm thinking, 'What's wrong with that guy?' I understood three years later why he was behaving like that. At the time I was wearing my kind of motorbike leather jacket and yellow glasses. It was very complicated to get a room in the Conservatory, and there were always like 30 or 50 people inside, which was super annoying because in order to pass through to your room you needed to speak to everybody, and I was like, no, that's not going to happen, I have one hour and when I have finished practicing I can just talk to everybody. But now I cannot. So I was passing through everybody and probably I kicked him once or something, just by mistake, passing by. And then when we met he was telling that I appeared to be completely the opposite of what he thought I am. He was super shocked!

 

RG: That's very funny!

 

MA: Yeah, we're still having very much love for all that. Then we started playing and it was not too serious somehow, we had all these studies and it was super hard to get gigs there and so on and so on. But we're playing maybe half of the material of ‘Mirage,’ the album at that time. Then I moved away.

 

RG: Was there an intent with the music, to be able to do or say something differently with the music as a trio?

 

MA: Well, it was complicated at that time. Not too much thought, because we're all into our studies quite a lot and I was very much not liking my studying there also. It was all about bebop music, bebop this and bebop that and I was like, it's 60, 70 years ago, it's fine, you know, I appreciate the music but come on, it's not everything that jazz is about. So I quit in my second year and moved to Bulgaria, traveled to Scandinavia, Turkey and so on to gather some money to pay back some loans. After I more or less finished with everything I called Juri from Norway in the middle of winter, in January. In one fjord, completely nobody outside, heavy snowfall, and I'm in front of the door of the hotel because that was the only place that I could catch internet and I'm walking around talking with him, like, 'Hey! Let's go skiing in Bulgaria in two months!' and he just said, 'Yeah, why not record an album then?' Super out of nowhere! And I said OK, I'll pay for everything, you just pay your flight tickets and come there for 10 days. They came and that's how ‘Mirage’ came to life. It was crazy!

 

RG: It's almost like it was destined to happen because it came out of nowhere.

 

MA: It was super weird!

 

RG: Was the album everything you hoped it would be?

 

MA: I was terrified, because somehow it didn't sound musically as I wished it would, you know? Not tight enough, not this and not that. But actually after some time passed I was liking it much more.

 

RG: What was the change for you?

 

MA: I don't know, I just relaxed from all the expectations that I had in the beginning. Because I heard it like this, and like that, and then this track should have come after this track, but then we didn't manage to record one and it was like all these expectations at the end come to life. But then I realized that actually it sounds quite OK like that.

 

RG: Are you a perfectionist?

 

MA: Yes, sadly. The good part is that I actually learned to just switch off the perfectionist side of me sometimes. And like, anyway, it's never going to be perfect so I just leave it here and that's it.

 

RG: Sometimes you have to let go.

 

MA: Yeah, exactly.

 

RG: A lot of your songs, and I won't say ‘Altitude’ but certainly ‘Mirage,’ it starts out feeling a little bit melancholy and then it hits a huge surge of energy and I feel a lot of hope by the end. Is that intentional? Are you thinking about emotion as you're writing or are you just writing and whatever happens, happens?

 

MA: No, usually I just take a glass of nice Scotch next to the piano and I just play. To be honest I don't really think about certain emotions. I mean sometimes I am in a certain state of mind but that's about it. It's never intentional.

 

RG: It's interesting because I find your music so expressive.

 

MA: It's maybe because I as a person am quite expressive. I guess that's more or less where it comes from. I can be on the two sides of everything that you can imagine. You can see me one day just drinking at the bar with crazy friends doing all kinds of, for most people, quite scandalous stuff and then next day see me in the mountains, you know, altitude, rock climbing, going to caves. I just got certified like a month ago in caving.

 

RG: That's a very big deal, congratulations!

 

MA: Thank you. I did it with my girlfriend, it was a super nice experience, and her idea. The end result was we ended up going to I think maybe 20 caves, maybe more. It's mainly interesting for me because of the photography part of it. Caves are not something you see too often in pictures so I would really love to go to different caves and make nice photographs and stuff like that.

 

RG: You love being at altitude and you love caves, it’s like a mirror image.

 

MA: For me it's just some really nice way to get treated for all the busy-ness, because usually I am super busy with stuff, always traveling and everything and when I go high up in the mountain or inside a cave that doesn't matter any more.

 

RG: Everything falls away.

 

MA: Yeah, you just need to be cautious of your next step, your next move, or how you put the rope through your system because otherwise you die. You know the two craziest caves that we did was going to an 18 kilometers long cave, which was super amazing.

 

RG: Where was this?

 

MA: It's a labyrinth structure near Sofia. It's underneath Vitoshay mountain, which is basically next to Sofia. The cave is just completely amazing, you go inside and you're like immediately crawling on all fours like a worm more or less because it's super tiny and then you see 20 different directions. It's heavy.

 

RG: How do you know where to go?

 

MA: Our instructors were leading. But now after going there two or three times I think I can manage myself. It's more or less a logical way.

 

RG: It has to feel very differently being on the top of a mountain and then being in the depth of a cave.

 

MA: Yeah, it's completely different. Just super emptiness. I mean, it's super weird. There are several emotions you can feel there. First it's pitch black, of course. One thing that's super annoying always is that you see somebody came there and was writing some bullshit, and sometimes you walk in like for half an hour, or an hour and a half, and you look at the ceiling and there are like 25 names and you're like, 'How did you come up here to write?!' Other than that, it's more extreme than rock climbing because it's super wet and usually underneath it's not very comfy to fall on, and yeah, generally silences my mind a lot.

 

RG: Which is so interesting for a musician and composer.

 

MA: Yeah, you need that. You need that definitely. And with the altitude stuff, it's still silencing but in a completely different way. I mean, you're just completely blown away from all this space around you, all the air, the views and so on. It's quite different.

 

RG: And you've got photo equipment with you in both cases.

 

MA: Yes, yes. My camera looks like a chunk of mud when I get out of the cave usually.

 

RG: Nature is so important to you, and you can hear it in your music. I'm wondering what that sense is that speaks to you and how it impacts your music.

 

MA: I think maybe that's the time when I'm in nature, my mind can more or less shut down for a moment so after rebooting I can start hearing music again. I guess that's the main connection.

 

RG: Is it like a meditation?

 

MA: Yes, I could say that. Meditation in movement.

 

RG: I was reading a recent ‘New York Times’ piece about a rock climber in America, Royal Robbins. He apparently was our most celebrated rock climber in the United States from what this article said, and he died last year. The writer said Robbins saw climbing as spiritually exalted. I forget the name of the other climber but Robbins was following in the path of that climber, who had done something to the mountain that he didn't appreciate – he had left all of his gear there so other people could retrace it.

 

MA: Yes yes yes, I also don't remember the name of the guy. (note: Warren Harding)

 

RG: Royal Robbins started chopping off all of the equipment and then when he got, I don't know how far, to the top he suddenly realized this wasn't just a simple thing this other climber had done. The climber had taken a very difficult path and somehow Robbins got impressed by it and decided to stop chopping off the equipment and he left it.

 

MA: It's a great story, I also love it.

 

RG: It's like ‘the code,’ or something. I couldn't figure out if he had broken the code or if he was helping advance the code of rock climbing.

 

MA: Royal Robbins was a big traditionalist about not leaving any scars to the rock, not leaving gear there, not placing bolts especially. And this other guy was on the opposite side, just bolting whatever he would like and so it was two huge influences there in rock climbing that were constantly battling. It's really amazing how in the end he decided not to unbolt them.

 

RG: It was an interesting thing that he just stopped. Do you feel a spiritual component when you're on a mountain or in a cave?

 

MA: You know, in a subtle way, yes.

 

RG: Can you describe it?

 

MA: It's not like a religious experience or something. It's just this calmness that somehow gives you space to enjoy nature and everything.

 

RG: Can you describe the feeling?

 

MA: Well as usually with feelings they're quite complicated to explain but it's really just this huge amusement, amazement, that you're in this huge place you just can appreciate, like seeing a mountain goat or enjoying the cracks in the rock. These things that otherwise in your daily life you probably wouldn't enjoy that much.

 

RG: Is it that you're seeing things differently?

 

MA: Yes, I think most people do when they go out there.

 

RG: What was it about rock climbing that got you interested?

 

MA: When I was a kid I really liked to climb some boulders going around the path when we used to go to the mountains. And then I became interested more in mountain biking, these Alpine guys, they're super insane. Then suddenly I needed to read because I love reading and I read some interesting literature about mountains and climbing. So then I realized that it's actually completely not crazy what they do and I started climbing. I've done mostly bouldering in my life.

 

RG: What does that mean?

 

MA: Bouldering is risky climbing without protection up to four or five meters.

 

RG: So that's really scary…

 

MA: I wouldn't say that but when you're four meters high and you start falling it's a little bit scary indeed. I grew up in the mountains more or less, going out all the time we could with my family, so I'm quite used to heights. Still have healthy fear of it, of course. But, yeah. From all my climbing experience, other than some bruised skin and I just once twisted my ankle quite badly, but other than that never had a more severe injury.

 

RG: You've had a lot of good luck.

 

MA: Well I'm quite cautious, I would say. I like my extreme stuff being done in a way that's not extreme.

 

RG: Do you think of your music as being extreme?

 

MA: Well, extreme, maybe it's too much to say. It has some extremes, like emotion-wise. Somehow it comes from the energy, live, that we exchange with people more than something else. We always play very much improvised. There is stuff that you can hear in solos that are like musical cues but other than that it's all in the moment. It's a big part of the fun for us.

 

RG: So this website, as you know, is about interconnecting and taking a look at creativity and spirit, in however people take on that word. Do you feel that when you're making music?

 

MA: I can say like that, for me the most terrible way for me of playing music is when I cannot just fly away from what I generally do and play. These days you're just so extremely tired and you have so many things in your head. I sometimes catch myself, like, middle of the first song I'm still thinking about the counting or something and that's super terrible! But usually I just close my eyes for 95 percent of the time that I play and I just hear the music, which is in a way a spiritual experience.

 

RG: I've noticed you're barefoot a lot, too, and I wonder if you play barefoot.

 

MA: Yes, with the trio completely always. 

 

RG: Is that about feeling grounded while you're playing?

 

MA: It's much more about comfort because when you're on tour it's much more pleasant when you're just bare feet. You're anyway 90 percent of the time in the car and the other 10 percent in the club. So for me it doesn't make sense to be with shoes much. Then I realized that it actually feels much better to my body as well. So that's why I do it. Everybody feels it in a little bit different way but generally it's much more comfortable. My girlfriend also performs barefoot.

 

RG: I read that you practice Taoism.

 

MA: In a way, in a way. I mean, I just very much appreciate the way Taoists see the world.

 

RG: Tell me what that is for you.

 

MA: It's the principle of going with the flow, just not all the time trying to crush a wall with your head but finding the elegant way to do it.

 

RG: That's a great line, I love that!

 

MA: Thank you.

 

RG: I wondered if you were raised Taoist or if you found it later because Taoism and music are so intertwined. They have such a huge history together.

 

MA: I definitely found it later. It came from my reading experience. With my father, we always discussed a lot of books and different religions and different ways to see the world. So through that I first found Carlos Castaneda and I was quite into it for awhile but then I realized that it's not the line per line thing that you should follow, or at least I should follow. And then at that moment I found Taoism, and I read quite a lot of it and I appreciate it very much what I read. I'm born Orthodox Christian, but I am super far away from all religions that way.

 

RG: Most of Bulgaria is Orthodox Christian, isn't it?

 

MA: Yes, yes.

 

RG: I’ve read over the years a lot about Taoism and yin and yang and even using it in Taoist music. There are certain qualities to certain kinds of music that are yin and certain that are yang and I wondered if you thought about that as you're composing.

 

MA: Not really. I was searching more for the musical balance but it's also connected to the energy balance and the emotional balance, generally, because if you want to have a piece of music that sounds good, most of the time you need let's say a yin and yang part. You need an up part and down part. Otherwise it would be completely boring to have only super energetic or only super calm music. It’s a balance of those two. It needs to be there in music.

 

RG: Do you consult the I Ching? Do you throw coins and read the hexagrams? Are you like John Cage at all, using the I Ching to compose music and relying on chance in composition?

 

MA: For me it's really the moment that I'm at the piano. I usually just close my eyes, I touch one key and see where it goes from there.

 

RG: It’s about being in the moment.

 

MA: Yes, yes. Although it's sometimes changing in between being in the moment and then when you hear what happened already, being able to develop it in an intellectual way. So it has this 15-20 percent of intellectual work also built inside.

 

RG: How does that work in relationship to the other guys in the trio?

 

MA: Talking about composition, usually I come up with melodic lines and harmony, usually I have also a vague idea about rhythm. Sometimes not so vague but sometimes really vague. And then we start developing the piece together. It's not completely precomposed. I don't come with something and say, 'OK guys, that's how you play it.' Happens once or twice but usually it's not the case.

 

RG: So all three of you are writing? I'm assuming you're the primary composer and they're writing their parts.

 

MA: Yes, although we sometimes arrange the piece, like which part comes when or writing a new part of the song together as well.

 

RG: And is that just mostly feeling?

 

MA: It's a little bit of both, because when you're arranging usually you need to also think about the structure, tonality, in an intellectual way. Sometimes just feeling something, it's not enough to make a nicely rounded piece of music.

 

RG: Obviously the mountains are hugely inspirational for you, the caves are hugely inspirational, and you do a lot of traveling. Do you see travel as that?

 

MA: Yes, because you experience things that you cannot experience at your own home. So hitting a rock on the road, or saving somebody from a flood, or just going to a completely different culture always is something that pushes you toward some kind of inspiration.

 

RG: For you, that's not just a throwaway line, ‘saving somebody from a flood.’ You actually did save people from a flood!

 

MA: Well, it's a story that I don't like to tell too much because I needed to tell it so many times that I already feel like super bored when I say it. But I can give you just a few words, the structure of the story. We were touring in 2014 in Bulgaria, and it was a huge disastrous year for us. I mean it was super fun but every other day we had some huge super weird thing happen, like changing brake pads and then one month later driving through a mountain without brakes. Then somebody getting killed in Istanbul next to our parking place so we couldn't get out of there for awhile. Every other day, something like this happened. The culmination of it was we had a concert that didn't happen in Varna, on the seaside in Bulgaria, because the weather was so terrible and it was an outdoor gig.

 

So we went to see my jazz piano teacher with a friend of mine who was already in Sozopol. That's another town more south in Bulgaria, again on the seacoast. And during that concert a huge storm started. It was a year with a lot of floods the whole summer. So after the concert we decided to go home, which was of course in the mountains close to Sofia, and we started the car. After 25 minutes we crossed the first river that was going on top of the lanes of the road. Then we came across a second one and then when the third one, there was no going through. So we stopped there, we saw one Jeep that was in the middle of the stream. I got my camera out to see if there is somebody and we decided to go get him out. But it was impossible because of the high stream. Generally fast moving water, if it's above your knees, you just fall in. It was almost to our lower backs, we couldn't do it. Then we got some cables out of the car, we used them as ropes. The water went a little bit down. So I need to say, that's 11:30 in the night. Pitch black. So we went there, in the Jeep there was nobody but we heard screams from our right side which was basically the direction the flow was going.

 

All in all, we got out eight people. Later came two or three local guys that helped us out quite a lot. They did also some crazy stuff that I wouldn't do, like more or less they swam to some people inside of the forest without any protection on, and it was quite a scandalous story also in Bulgaria because the fire guards didn't really help us out, they were just waiting for orders and refused us any kind of lighting or rope equipment.

 

RG: You were really on your own. It's not just that you saved people but it could have gotten worse for you guys.

 

MA: For 95 percent of the time we were super cautious and it was extremely safe for us. But there was this moment that one cable got stuck around one of my feet and it was super deep water and basically Ray saved my life then because he held me while I was unroping my legs. We were extremely cautious about not doing super crazy stuff. It was a little bit weird, being torqued in pitch black water inside the forest and then every 20 seconds you hear, you see this huge lightening, so that's when you have time to look around you and continue searching for people.

 

RG: Have you written about the experience? It feels like it would be amazing for you to write about it, but maybe it comes out musically.

 

MA: I guess, I guess. We have this track called ‘Eastern Breeze’ that's basically involved with all of this tour.

 

RG: So I have a weird question. Do you have a creative secret weapon?

 

MA: Scotch!

 

RG: Ha! That's very funny, maybe you can get sponsorship from a whisky company. You said that you were a big reader and I looked online and got a sense of who you like. I hadn't found the Ray Charles book, though. Who are you reading now and what is it about them that inspires you to keep reading? Charles Bukowski is on your list.

 

MA: Yes, Charles Bukowski for sure. I don't like all of his stuff, definitely, but his poetry and some of his novels I really enjoy reading every now and then. Right now I'm reading the book of Werner Herzog, which is quite an interesting read. I mean, this guy is super insanely creative and very brave in some decisions that he makes. So it's very inspiring. It’s with Paul Cronin, I think. It's basically a book with several interviews of his. It's quite a big read, maybe 400 pages. I read it in Bulgarian so I cannot remember the name, particularly. Lately I was so busy I didn't really have much time to read. I was doing also orchestrations for a friend of mine. Pieces of extreme orchestra parts. So that's super crazy.

 

RG: You have a love of technical stuff, too, and you seem to have a lot of ability for it, between the camera and music.

 

MA: I do enjoy technical stuff, and when I have technical questions luckily my cousin is a very very good engineer so he's also involved in video production and music production and I have a good source of information.

 

RG: Am I right that you have done all of the graphics for your albums?

 

MA: No, that was Juri.

 

RG: They aren't your photos?

 

MA: The photo of ‘Mirage’ is mine, and the photo of ‘Altitude’ is what later became a friend of mine. Was a super crazy expedition photographer from Bulgaria. I was following him for years online and we're keeping in touch, I was sending him music and then saying that I really like his images and then when we agreed on doing the album artwork together we started talking personal so he's one of my most common guests at home.

 

RG: I thought they were both your photos. I bet the third one will be! Are you actively writing the third album now, and how's this going to work with the guys not with you?

 

MA: We are anyway all the time separated so it does not change much. We have so far between 30-35 minutes of music ready so maybe 10-15 more and we're going to be done. It's a little bit more concert album than the two previous because most of it was written into connection with each other. They were meant to come together. I don't think it sounds much different than the other ones.

 

RG: Do you think you'll release a live album at some point?

 

MA: We are thinking about it, even for the third album maybe, we'd just record it live. We always have this idea, but we're still not playing well enough to do it. It's on the wish list.

 

RG: Are you thinking about expanding touring?

 

MA: Yeah, it's part of the plan.

 

RG: I hope at some point you'll come to New York and play.

 

MA: That would be lovely. Several friends of mine live there right now, and it's for sure a boiling city.

 

RG: Anybody I would know?

 

MA: There is one Spanish saxophone player, she's called Berta Moreno. She and her boyfriend, who's a double bass player, they play maybe for two, three years there. More swing jazz, a little bit more traditional than what we do.

 

RG: I'll check her out. Are you feeling inspired by Marrakech?

 

MA: Yeah, it's super insane. You come here and there are all these noises and smells and different colors and everything. It's super inspiring. So far mostly photographs, first view, but also musically I can feel that. Here and there, there are coming some ideas in my mind.

 

RG: Have you been to Marrakech before?

 

MA: No. This is my first time in Africa.

 

RG: You'll have to explore the desert now, and the mountains, too.

 

MA: It's crazy close by, I watch them every day and night, looking for the moment to go up.

 

RG: This has been so lovely talking to you!

 

MA: It's definitely a huge pleasure.

 

RG: I hope I’ll get to meet you in person one day. Until then we will see each other on social media.

 

MA: With pleasure! Ciao!

 

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Suzanne Unrein, Painter

June 5, 2018

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