"An exciting and moving evening"
by Margaret Morley for remotegoat on 28/06/11

Rajko played songs from his debut album, "Poor as a Church Mouse" at a Gig in Shepherds Bush, London on 22nd January 2011, after more than a year away from the live performance scene. The singer/song writer has also written a considerable amount of new material, enough to constitute a new album, some of which was also included on the evening. Rajko took time out from a busy schedule to discuss his first album at an interview in West London on the 23rd May 2011. It is an enchanting acoustic folk album, sung against a backdrop of moving acoustic guitar and accompaniment.

"Do you think that your songs are influenced from your life experiences or any particular culture and are therefore unique?"
"I express things in ways people can probably relate to, as they are all from real reflections and experiences in my life. I don't think they are necessarily totally unique reflections, I've just said as true to what I felt as I could. I have a lot of experience living in different cultures - a sort of 'man of the world' in a sense. I'm also from very Balkan cultural roots, so probably in the same way Cat Stevens was probably influenced by his Greek roots, but sang in a very English way, I bring some international flavour to what is essential a style of song writing that is definitely influenced by British and American 70's folk-pop. People like James Taylor, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens...they were definitely my biggest influences when I started writing."
"When did you start writing music?"
"When I was seventeen. The final track on this album in fact I wrote when I was nineteen! So one of the songs on the album is almost 15years old - by contrast another one of the songs was written on the evening before the CD was mastered. I just felt inspired that this particular song (Deep Blue World) really summed up the feeling of the whole album, and so recorded it there and then & used it as a hidden track."
"Can you tell me about the guitar playing? It comes across as one of your strengths."
"In this style of guitar playing I feel really so comfortable with the instrument, that I feel attached to it. When I played in a rock band I didn't feel attached to the instrument, I had to think too much. But in my acoustic songs the guitaring tells as much of the story as the words, it's not just a back up to the voice. Maybe that is because I don't see myself as a singer; I see singing and guitaring all as one."

"Are there any songs in particular that have a story behind them?"
"There is a story behind all of them really. But in many ways, "Monagri" is almost like the song of the album, not because it's the most catchy, but because it sums up who I am and how I think and how I express that in music. It was written while I was staying in the Trodos Mountains in Cyprus in a small converted Monastery owned by some artistic friends of my fathers. I was really ill at the time, and yet really happy...a funny mixture really"

"Do you think that you have a distinctive voice?"
"Songs like, "Monagri" and "Run", in those songs I feel like it's obvious it's me and in that way it is distinctive. I think in some ways I'm talking a melody rather than singing sometimes, so it's as distinctive as my speaking voice. Maybe not distinctive like Michael Jackson or Ray Charles or Elvis...but there aren't many like those guys! Every musician's challenge is to be influenced by other artists but to somehow be distinctively themselves, so it's something you develop more with time."

"How did you decide on the title of the album?"
"This album is meant to be bear-bones with limited resources, creating the best possible thing with what I had. So when I heard someone use the expression, "Poor as a Church Mouse", I just immediately knew that was the title."
"You sing the song, "How Great Thou Art", I remember Elvis Presley singing that song."

"Elvis is a musical hero for me and many other people - as a singer, performer and captivating personality. If I can be so bold, I think perhaps in the same way Elvis was very spiritual and influenced by his faith in God, but not by any means a religious performer, I think I am similar. I have a strong faith and it shapes everything I do, and yet I am wary of being 'religious', in my life or in my music. But in the recording process I just suddenly had a moment of strong faith and absolute gratitude for the life I live and the creator I believe in, and so I just started singing a hymn I'd always sung as a youngster in church. My co-producer Jeff had left the microphone running and I was literally just playing for myself. And so as I guessed at the chords of this old hymn & even stumbled across a nice key change, I realised later that it was something I really wanted on the album. So later I added the extra 'choir-vocals', but basically the recording was spontaneous"
"The art work on the accompanying booklet is great, who did that?"
"Two sisters who are fantastic artists out in Serbia, heard me performing in Belgrade and after the concert encouraged me with my music career and offered that if they could help in any way, to let them know. As it happened I had no idea how I was going to do the artwork for the album so I called them up on their generous offer. And truthfully they not only helped me with the art work, but inspired me to finish the whole project. They took the painting my best friend (Malcolm Bourne) had done for the cover, and then they turned that into an amazing 6-sided album design and 16page booklet! Even now I really love looking at the art work Jelena did for each song, in the little Album booklet, and the graphic design by her sister Mirjana (Pantovic) was beautiful and inspired. The artwork just might be the best bit of the whole album! :)"
"You said that you have plans to re-release the album."
"I plan a re-release and to accompany it with a few radio friendly versions of the songs. I've also since made a video for the song 'Run' which shows great footage from my tribal experiences in Last Man Standing."
After the interview Rajko stayed for a few photographs before heading off.
Some of the album highlights are that it opens with a love song and track two features quite poetic lyrics, "If I only had the night, I'd climb up to the mountains where the stars were bright, and if I only had the moon, I'd stare until I saw just an image of you." Rajko is joined on vocals in, "Life Goes By" by the magnificent singer Katie Maddocks. The track, "Woodpecker" is an instrumental piece written and performed by Nik Ironside Wood and one of the designs on the Album cover features the woodpecker and the story surrounding it.
The track, "untitled" has strong meaningful lyrics, "There's no right way and there's no right of way...when you follow your heart…The night has come to drive a wedge between me and 'us', and turning the light on to stretch out the day...just reveals more dust." Perhaps a title to reflect what the song is about would be clearer.
Overall a great album to listen to. The gig at Ginglik appeared to be more rock based than the acoustic folk album due to stronger vocals, guitar influence and the use of drums throughout the performance. An exciting and moving evening.
The album is available on Rajko's web-site at www.rajko.tv/products/rajko-poor-as-a-church-mouse/

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