Leslie Mandoki

By Allison Rose

SFL Music: I didn’t know that. Wow. All right. Let’s talk about, I want to make sure I get it right, Utopia Four-

Leslie Mandoki: Realists.

SFL Music:… Realists, The Visual Album.

Mandoki: Yeah.

SFL Music: Why Visual?

Mandoki: Because we had the COVID. So, the story is kind of simple. 2018 … Actually, 2017, maybe I’ll start the story there. We been at MIDEM. Does MIDEM ring to you a bell? This is the big music fair.

SFL Music: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. Okay.

Mandoki: In Cannes, in France.

SFL Music: Yes. Yes.

Mandoki: Actually, pretty much American. And so we got an award there, the most successful German prog rock act. I’m not German, but, okay. And the boss of the Grammy’s were in the audience, because he invited us, he’s total American, pardon me, everybody, American or Britain, so he invited us to 2018, January, as the Grammy’s were in New York, to play on the Grammy weekend in a Grammy event at the Beacon Theater. So I canceled a stand-alone concert, so we did it. So all of my Soulmates were there. We played and the New York media loved it, and seven encores and so everything.

SFL Music: Wow.

Mandoki: So, it was my first touchdown in America. The reason why he was inviting us, because he didn’t want to really believe that we never had a release in America, because it’s so American, what we’re doing. So then, well, I said, “Well.” And supposedly, at least what the media is writing about me in Europe or in Germany, I’m a very successful producer, but actually I don’t feel like, because my big task or even challenge, was to conquer America with that rediscovery of prog rock. It’s never happened. So and then because he was inviting us. He was telling all the major bosses, “Now, look, huge success. We’re selling out. Media loves it.”

SFL Music: It doesn’t have a really hard beat and repeating the same chorus over again. They don’t want that.

Mandoki: Yeah. As an album, so as an art, as a piece of art. So everything that you don’t need for that. But my father told me on his deathbed as I was 16, that I should live my dreams and don’t dream my life. Then after that concert in the Beacon, I was flying with my three kids to Los Angeles, because I was renting a house in Topanga. Just [inaudible] just put in my everything. And so my kids are all artists, two musicians and one actress, so we just discussed generational justice and the fact that my generation was very proud to bring down the Iron Curtain.

SFL Music: Yes.

Mandoki: From then on we fucked everything, environmentally, socially. And so on. Invented casino, capitalism, so greediness became the centerpiece of our society, sort of humanity. And I was saying, “Yeah, we’re old rebels.” That was a glorious moment to bring down the Iron Curtain, but very unfortunately after that we mis-performed in various fields of our social life and societies. And job was wonderful, three weeks, but daily was around that subject, about old rebels, young rebels, how to turn the wind.

And so we were flying back and I had many things to do in the studio, scoring, invented a sound aesthetic for electro-mobility and so on, so on. And I was touring China and after the last big show, I was on my way, sitting in a limousine, we were tired, [inaudible] my phone was ringing. My son, and so he said, “Dad, I just having 60 workers in the studio just rebuilding everything, and I was just firing four of your employees and hired another four.” And I said, “Boy, that’s wonderful, but I’m just about 15 minutes to the airport. Got a 12-hours flight, I’m home, and you explain to me what you have on your mind with daddy’s company.” And we discuss. He said, “Father, don’t get me wrong, but you’re not going to fly home.”

I said, “You must be joking. I’m just about to get to the airport in Beijing.” “So what. But I rebooked your flight and you will fly now to Bali. I was renting you there a beach house. All the instruments are there and you are going to write an album, what you were talking about in Topanga.”

SFL Music: So he pushed you.

Mandoki: And this is our decision with his two sisters. Okay. So I had no other choice, so … And, “By the way, I take from your iPad, from your iPhone, all the emails off so that you do what you have to do.”

SFL Music: Okay.

Mandoki: So I find myself in Bali in a beach house, with walls around, so in the middle a swimming pool. It was right at the beach, but I was almost not on the beach because I’ve got my hotel, they were putting plates always, so that I was really about 20 hours a day, so my son was totally right. I was off everything, a digital detox and I was off social pornographical aspect of social media. So then I started to write about that, so the echo chambers and the news bubbles we are living in, about how … And I say, “Well, [inaudible] became for a short part of our, a disaster.” So and environment totally-

SFL Music: And this was before the pandemic too.

Mandoki: Just before that.

SFL Music: Wow.

Mandoki: So I went home, called all the Soulmates, “Guys, it’s time to work.” And we came over, this took a little while to write that, I had to organize it, and everybody was there. I’m living about a mile away from the studio, so the only dispute is over who’s cooking, because everybody would like to cook. And so I said, “Well, I wrote too much for a single album.” And I remember that about 18 years ago I was creating a big show on German TV, Called 50 Years of Rock. And the Mandoki Bank so much was Peter Frampton on guitar, Jack Bruce on bass, Jon Lord of Deep Purple on Hammond, Manfred Mann on synthesizer, Greg Lake was on guitar. Ian Anderson was … And Bobby Kimball from Toto, and Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann were singing. I was playing the drums and I was singing.

We had a huge show. And one of the rehearsals we had before that show, Greg Lake and Jon Lord said, “You must sit at the end of the table, we have an issue.” I thought like, “Issue.” So whatever, you know? Said, “Well, you’re Hungarian?” I said, “Well, as a Hungarian boy and his fight against anti-Semitism. I was collecting these songs in those Hungarian and the Jewish and German religions, and especially played by gypsy bands who were traveling. And it was a bit common in the Transylvanian … Yeah, so well and I said, “Fantastic, I mean, I’m talking crazy.”

“But why?” I said, “Well, you know, the point is that they wanted to do that but they couldn’t get the rights. So we did the pictures in an exhibition.” And, “But you’re Hungarian, you may have a access to that.” And I say, “Okay.” Okay. I couldn’t get the rights either, but we met the three of us in London a couple of weeks later and sat down to the piano and we just started.

So, Lara, my daughter was helping me to write some stuff based on these folks songs and I wrote a lot of things and so we finished it. And it was wonderful, went out for a release concert. Of course I was offering to my record company, they said it’s too ambitious and too sophisticated, “This is too intellectual. You must be totally crazy.”

“Okay, don’t you worry, I release it on my own in Germany and in Hungary.” But then again I don’t have America again.

SFL Music: Again.

Mandoki: Oh, you see. So I release it, it goes to number one in Amazon, it goes in the mainstream chart in Germany at 14, the mainstream chart in Hungary goes to number one and makes gold.

SFL Music: Wow.

Mandoki: And it’s about only political issues, so news bubbles, echo chambers, losing humanity, little greediness, the casino capitalism, so about the failing of my generation. A generational creating of suffering. So we go out and we play four concerts, Hamburg, Dortmund, Munich and Berlin, the release concerts, packed, sold out. Media loves it, record company, “Hmm, we never thought it.” We sell real vinyls and real CDs and you know.

So, double … So, we wanted to go on a worldwide tour, but we can’t. So, and just before the COVID, we of course, we recorded the last concert of this album with these shows were in Berlin on exactly the 30th anniversary of the Berlin fall. Of the wall. So, we recorded 16 cameras, big things, everybody was there. So, I had that, I had the video recording also in the studio while we were doing the album. And a couple of weeks before the COVID shutdown came I was filming all these areas where Bartok was collecting those songs.

So, there’s Jewish, there’s gypsy, there’s Hungarian, German songs. And the last trip before the shutdown came, I was in Los Angeles, it was a dear friend of mine Andy [Winer] who was producing a … Film producer, who was producing Evita and The Doors movie and Andy died unfortunately, and I was flying there with my kids.

So, and after that I went to one of my dearest friend, [Escabo] [Chipo] who was escaping with me from the Communists, as a cartoonist and you know his work. He made The Simpsons, Rugrats, [inaudible]. So we had a hang with my kids and his kids and I explained to him what I’m doing and I’m playing him the stuff, and also the [mutualities], so he knows this is the concert, this is the landscape, and this is the videos in the studio.

And he said, “This is missing the fourth thing. The old paintings, sweet animation, so what was the inspiration for Bela Bartok. So this should be a three dimensional animation.” I said, “No way, I’m a rock and roll producer. So this is another budget area.” “So, it’s you guys, streaming for you guys in the film industry is just wonderful, and TV [inaudible] for us is a disaster.” So he says, “This proves that you guys had the more intelligent leaders. And so forget it.

SFL Music: Leading me into-

Mandoki: To the tunnel, to escape the Communists. So, I take care of that. He did. So, shutdown comes and I was not laying off any my employees in the studio, but they were at home and I was alone in the studio, I could walk there one mile, because it was not forbidden to walk and so I was on my own. And I should just starting to edit, edit, I had a month to edit the video. And it turned out a new form.

And then the president of Sony who was not in the office for a year or whatever, everybody’s home, calling me, and I said, “Yeah man.” And he was talking to me very nicely, but I said, “You know, the greatest feeling of my life, I’m greeting American leaders, even the Grammy boss is coming, even inviting me to New York. And playing there. All the journalists is writing that it’s fabulous.” “Yeah, we can release it.” “Okay.” Yeah well. There was one label of us, Inside Out that they can do that.

Once in a lifetime I hit America, then let’s do it for real. You know, and I really then I make, I finished what I’m doing here, this visual thing to have the audio and the video in the package, so that’s how it came about.

SFL Music: Wow. [crosstalk]

Mandoki: And it’s actually a re-invention of prog rock.

SFL Music: Yeah, yeah. When you brought this to the Soulmates, what did they think? What did they say? Were they intrigued? Were they, “Oh, this isn’t going to work.” How did they react to it?

Mandoki: They always positive, so they know, they always very, very positive. They always say, “This is crazy. I mean, he was bringing us together. He’s coming up every now and again with something totally different. Crazy man.” Give an example, of course during the COVID and shutdown we couldn’t play, now in summer was feeling, at least in East and Central Europe and Hungary COVID was about zero [inaudible], so in August they could play. We played one concert, we played that The Visual Album, so this was in a kind of Utopia For Realists release concert, for America in Budapest. So, [inaudible] on the afternoon after the soundcheck my concert promoter and three of the Hungarian superstars friends came to me and said, “Can we have a word with you before? So you came to the town where you were born to end your career.”

I said, “What are you talking about?” “Yeah, because we saw the set list, you’re not playing any of your hits. Just one.” I said, “Yeah. Yes, you’re right. Because it’s not a nostalgic play through show, it’s a look forward, because the audience was giving me the privilege with their love of music propelling my creativity and letting me walk on the sunny side of life.” Now this audience got hit by the COVID, so what am I doing as a musician? Coming on stage asking for money that I’m playing what I was writing two years ago? No this is morally, ethically … And I’m saying, I’m so sad [inaudible] and living life. No, no, no, I’m owing these guys, who were giving me the privilege to be in this, so my audience who served me and what they need is the light at the end of the tunnel. And what our society needs is a 180 degree U-turn and I wrote the soundtrack for that.

And it’s going to be three hours long. And we’re not going to play anything else. So they’re hugging me, they said, “It’s going to be your last concert here. It’s Bela Bartok, the people going to leave after half an hour.” I say, “Guys, I really appreciate your comments and I know that it’s driven by love and friendship, but I have a different relationship to my audience, I don’t have, I’m not playing raffle shows, [inaudible] this is a legitimation for if someone wants to say, ‘Okay, it’s you, [inaudible] thing that are beautiful because I was 20 years or 20 kilo younger.’ But this is not my healing, my healing is as if I’m trying create the answer for tomorrow.’ And we fucked it, so the only thing is what I can offer, that we old rebels we take the hand of the young rebels and we try and do, overcome the challenges together. And turn the wind together and walk them through your life.”

And this is we’re talking for real. And yeah, Living In The Gaps and all these titles, Let The Music Show You The Way and here’s The Torch. So, and I tell you that was the most … I played in the last decades, really great and big concerts, but this was, the people went biserck.

SFL Music: Really?

Mandoki: Because they understood.

SFL Music: Okay.

Mandoki: First time in a concert I was not speaking for two and a half hours, so just playing. And its longer because solos and everybody came, all this big line up and every now and then within this complex music, stood up and it went crazy, so because they understood without being told that this is what it is.

And now that’s what I’m owing you, I’m serving your life, that’s what I’m here for. That’s what, because painting, art became a financial bullshit, without the verbal banking you cannot tell what this thing means, that, “Yeah, I was bicycling on this canvas and to see the very personal [inaudible].” So this is a multi-billionaires gambles, has lost totally the contact to real people, the real life, with real problems, with real challenges. So, unfortunately because this is what we’re interesting to, but this became bullshit. I’m painting so I know what I’m talking about.

So, I do my covers. Literature is very important, has not lost at all anything, but it is another wheel and who gets there, so because it’s … So, we have a much greater responsibility as music because we have a direct, face to face, art to art. So I have a different opinion as most of the artists, I said, “I don’t want to blame a guy [inaudible] that I could play. And I could na, na, na.” So I said, “Now, it’s time to pay back to our audience.”

So that’s why we played and that’s why we made this album in the way as it is, so we’re working Utopia For Realists is the soundtrack for the answer. So, because we all feel that we destroyed our environment, we have a generation who will end up at a huge pay gap, income gap. Because my generation invented the casino capitalism, which is a tragedy because it’s not about you just have an idea to establish a new music magazine and you drive a Volkswagen and then this magazine takes you to drive a Bentley, which is absolutely fine.

This is nothing is wrong with that, but I have a huge criticism is someone is betting on you that you fail and he makes some money on that. And so, everything became the gambling. You know what you’re wearing, what you’re eating, your housing, your insurance. Retirement investment, everything. And this is bullshit. And so I don’t have a problem if we have a kind of income gap between very hard working people and people that didn’t like to get up in the morning, it’s okay. It’s freedom is also to free to fail, that’s okay. But I do have a huge problem with the gambling replacing the making.

You know, so when the fundamental values of a company don’t come, because just the gambling is not what it works, with the market and the Wall Street expression is investment banking. Because nothing to do with investment, nothing to do with banking, it’s just bullshitting. Gambling. I mean why don’t we make this a gambler. So why don’t we give the right names for the right things.

SFL Music: Right.

Mandoki: And journalists this is surely gambling. And made out of the economy a casino and the casino makes more money than real life, the real [inaudible]. So, it’s just to mention one thing, I’m not even talking about environmental problems social problems, racial problems. I mean we’re crazy, and after 75 years of the break up of civilization in Central Europe we’re talking again about anti-Semitism. I mean, what the fuck? So, just so turn around, just one thing to blame, they have decided on that. And the young rebels and us old rebels, we have pulled down the Iron Curtain, we pulled down the Berlin Wall, so we have some experience how to change things. And now let’s get together and turn the wind and use a torch.

SFL Music: Teach it to the … Yeah, exactly. And The Torch is such, it’s a moving song, you know what I mean? It calls to action in a sense, that you need to pick up the torch, we’re here to give it to you and let’s go forward from there. So how have you found the reaction to that particular song, the lyrics, how did your children react to it?

Mandoki: My children said, “Okay, dad, now you have another 10 albums to do. So. You have to fix the world.” So-

SFL Music: Is it possible, though, honestly?

Mandoki: Yeah, because what they say is not wrong. Because my children, and I’ll go back to that point. As I was a kid was prog rock first forbidden, was illegal in the country where I was growing up. And we played that. So I was arrested for this, and as I was 16 the fourth generation of mono tape copy of Aqualung was changing my life.

SFL Music: Okay.

Mandoki: The kids later as I was making the show what I was mentioning to you with Peter Frampton on guitar, 50 Years of Rock, at the head of this network, TV network, which is the largest in Germany, was calling me and said, “Leslie.” Two weeks before the show, “Are you really sure Saturday night after the news, 8:15? You don’t need someone more like.” He wasn’t saying the name of Madonna or something. I said, “No, I’m fine.” “Are you really sure?” “No, I’m fine. Absolutely. Yeah.” “If you could have a wish you would have, just tell me.” I said, “Well yeah, we have Gorbachev.”

He said, “What?” I said, “Well, imagine we are televising this live from a venue, 18,000 people. And we just playing all this 50s rock and “Smoke On The Water” and “Locomotive Breath” and then Mikhail Gorbachev comes on stage and telling to the people that prog rock was forbidden because prog rock is the soundtrack of the freedom. And Stalin and Hitler agreed that jazz was the … And then for later it was the prog rock. And to prove that was meant seriously, he was releasing on a state owned record company a Jethro Tull album.” He said … I’m telling this to the metro guy, I said, “Imagine how the people will react to this, that music has a meaning. It’s not only just entertainment.”

SFL Music: Right.

Mandoki: It’s deeper meaning. He said, “Great, we’ll do it.” So Gorbachev became a friend of mine and I really wanted to explore how it happened that the second world was imploding, destroyed. I being a refugee and being arrested a couple of times. And he’s saying, “Without prog rock that was the soundtrack. That’s why we were trying everything to.” So, the idea is very simple, we need again a moment come like that. Say, we went wrong. It’s wrong. It’s not one or the other party is wrong, we are wrong. Because we are living in these echo chambers and we’re living in these news bubbles and [crosstalk] life, and-

SFL Music: Technology.

Mandoki: Families are sitting around a table and posting that they’re sitting around a table. And?

SFL Music: Yeah.

Leslie: So big deal. Well enjoy it, here, now, this place where you are.

SFL Music: Right.

Mandoki: Okay. So, that friends are not friends who are liking your dog pictures, but friends who are happy to be with you when your doctor told you you have cancer. You know so there’s a different ball game, so let’s get back to humanity, let’s get out of this bubble of greediness and let’s make [inaudible] stand. In a way. And it’s way above party politics, it’s just a social idea, that if you realize that we are only strong if we have overcome racism and that we just really enjoy the diversity, but overcome the division. And this is the soundtrack for that.

SFL Music: Do you really think it’s going to be possible, though?

Mandoki: Yes.

SFL Music: You do?

Mandoki: But only if we are heavy on us. We have to be critical, we have to be really critical.

SFL Music: Yeah. I feel like creating that kind of action and call to do something in a sense creates the opposite as well, so even though we’re trying to do something to make the world better there’s always going to be people that are going to push against it. As hard as we try. Thank you.

Mandoki: Of course. But may I assure you we are the majority.

SFL Music: Okay, well good.

Mandoki: So, and I do believe that every normal human being … Look, let’s talk about The Torch, so everybody who … This is the most natural thing even, enemies are doing this, or youth, everybody [crosstalk] to pass the torch in a better way. We’re not mankind who are growing in a way that we all promised that we’re going to pass to the children a better world as we haven’t seen. Most of this basic understanding of human beings, we can do that, it’s so easy.

SFL Music: But then people take advantage of that, the ones who want to have the money and the power and everything.

Mandoki: But this they have a wrong … The shift is too few people contributing too much, and too many contribute too less. And so we have to change. We are talking so much about equality, we are all equal. I translate this differently.

SFL Music: Okay.

Mandoki: You know what, the only thing what we need to make is an equal chance for education. Total independent of social economical and social cultural background.

SFL Music: Yes.

Mandoki: And then it’s fine.

SFL Music: I don’t disagree with that statement at all.

Mandoki: It’s very simple.

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