In the last issue (Nový Populár 4/2010), we interviewed Leďo (Jaro Lederleitner), a former Zóna A band guitarist, on the occasion of the release of his album Márna snaha (Doomed Attempt) by his band Princovia released on the label Mai Lei Bel based in Kittsee, Austria. Today we talk with owner and CEO of the label Mr. Vlado Juščák, originally from Pezinok, currently living and working in Austria.
Your label’s focus is releasing music primarily on vinyl. How did you develop such a relationship to this format?
Musically, as a young boy, I was formed mainly by the post punk era and the expansion of indie music of the 80's, and then vinyl records of this focus were priceless for every music fan. Since about the middle of that decade, I have been looking for vinyl records of my favorite bands in all possible ways. This sometimes fanatical hobby has remained with me until now.
Your vinyl e-shop originally focused on the techno music. What are the other genres that expanded your catalogue?
I’ve always been a fan of electronic music and techno, so the style of techno I like, appealed to me some 10 years ago. I deliberately led my vinyl e-shop in this direction, because I was excited about news on this scene every month or week. However, Mai Lei Bel is a label that is limited in terms of genre only by my personal taste and appetite to try the new things. In addition to techno, there is indie rock/pop, post punk, power pop, as well as ambient or experimental. Our first release was techno one, but then we did three “guitar-based” releases until we returned back to techno again.
How does the independent labels community work in Austria?
Mai Lei Bel has been a member of the Austrian Association of Independent Labels, Music Publishers and Producers (VTMÖ) since mid-2019, where more than 100 of us are currently associated. This platform seeks to educate, present abroad, represent in legal matters, etc. They organize various seminars and trainings, inform about news from the indie music area. Something like LALA in Slovakia. In addition to VTMÖ, there is also a Vinyl & Music Festival. It organizes the annual Vinyl Festival in Vienna with the participation of many vinyl sellers, presentations of local indie labels, live concerts. More to that, in 2019 they started the Austrian Indie Label Week, 6-days presentation of local indie labels and their artists. Great event indeed. TV, radio, magazines, internet media ...
Does it helps the artists too? Compared to the Slovak music scene, what are the differences?
Definitely. Presentation in TV, print and online media is extremely important and basically priceless. We are still talking about labels like mine, Mai Lei Bel, ie. really about the small, independent ones. They appreciate that someone at all devotes himself to indie music to such an extent and with such interest. And they absolutely don't care whether someone sings in German, English or Spanish. Whether the artist on the Austrian label comes from the Netherlands, Austria or Slovakia. And whether the owner is a Slovak guy living somewhere in a village at the end of the Austrian world. I can't imagine well enough the situation if Mai Lei Bel was founded in Pezinok with exactly the same artists’ roster as it has now, when and if the profile of such label would appear sometime in the foreseeable future, e.g. on Slovak TV or Radio.
Despite being a small label, you’re being contacted by the bands not only from the Europe, but from the South America as well. How is it possible and which artists you prefer?
The pessimistic part of me says that the situation in the whole music world must be really so desperate, when performers from different parts of the world are approaching me with a request to cooperate and release their music. On the other hand, my optimistic part appeals to me by the fact that we are probably doing something good and interesting, when musicians from the other side of the globe really want to release music on Mai Lei Bel. But honestly, I don't know why. I remain a realist here. The online world is very small, we are close to each other everywhere, the contact is done in a few seconds, so why not try it. Obviously, I work with artists from different countries, but that has its reasons. Maybe the wide variety of nationalities within Mai Lei Bel encourages others to try it. There have been a lot of them, but I need to get to know the artists from a human point of view as well. I can't just work with people I don’t know. It usually takes me a while to decide to work together. I'm not looking for relationships to release just one album or EP.
It’s an industry standard the artists offering the finished records to the labels recently. What are the things you do for your artists besides releasing their music both physically and online?
Yes, that's correct, they offer. However, as I said above, I am not looking for this method of collaboration. I'm relatively early involved in recording for Mai Lei Bel. Often even in the demo phase, bands use to ask me for my opinion. In the end, however, it is always their work, recording and choice. I arrange the mastering of the recordings for them and from this point it's all up to me. The initial bureaucracy process, the actual production of the records, CDs, marketing, contact with the media and distribution companies, whether physical or digital, sales through the label's website and in my e-shop, promotion towards festivals. Of course, the bands themselves do everything they can in their own promotion and sales. It is, after all, a joint effort to pursue the same goal. In some areas we are doing pretty well, but we still have reserves somewhere.
The added value regarding your releases is definitely the aesthetics. Is it the fact that came up naturally or is it a targeted effort to make the releases that aesthetically appealing?
I really do care a lot about what our records look like in the hands of fans. I had the overall visual concept of our titles thought through to the smallest details from the very beginning. However, I do not interfere in any way with the artwork of the individual titles. But on the overall visual expression of Mai Lei Bel, I have been collaborating since 2019 with the Slovak illustrator and graphic artist Andrea "Lala" Rošková and for the last few months also with the photographer and printer Viťo Fila.
Have you found the inspiration and know-how for your label activities in Slovakia as well?
Yes, I was looking for advices from the best. Shina from Slnko Records was a person with whom I demanded a date and at least an hour of her time devoted to my questions before the launch of Mai Lei Bel. She was absolutely perfect, friendly, helpful, advised me in many ways. But in the end, everyone has to find their own way.
Are you contemplating widening the range of the formats you release with some other activities?
Sure, the plan is here. But everything has its time.
Which of your titles, if you were to choose, are the ones you think could possibly interest the listeners besides these bands’ communities?
I cannot answer this question other than that I do not have a clear recommendation. At Mai Lei Bel, I try to collaborate with bands that differ significantly musically. I don't want to repeat myself. That would be boring to me. It's all a matter of personal preference. I can recommend maybe just taste each of our artists and make your own opinion.