James Cvetkovski is an Australian citizen with Macedonian heritage. He describes himself as being a passionate musician since a young age. His connection to the country was rekindled last year when James participated in the Birthright Macedonia Program and the Ivanov School for Young Leaders. He says that during his stay in Macedonia he made a lot of great friends.
His teenage dream was to write a song for Eurovision, and this year, it could turn into reality: Together with the Lithuanian representative of Eurovision 2014, Vilija Matačiūnaitė, James co-wrote the lyrics and the music for the song “Perfect (On Top)”. If the song is selected to be the Macedonian choice for Eurovision 2018, by the rules of MRT, it will be performed by a Macedonian artist.
M365: Can you please tell us a little more about your background, how long you have been involved within the music scene and what you were doing before this and indeed how you first came to think to submit this particular song for Macedonia?
– I have been a passionate musician since a young age, picking up guitar at nine years old, and drums halfway through my adolescence. I would play for hours after school and after coming home from working a fast-food. I’d burn out the rewind button on my CD player learning passages by ear – I’m mostly self-taught. I eventually taught myself how to record and mix music. I used cheap plastic microphones taped to cymbal stands, spending years making home recordings. At first, they sounded awful, but slowly over time, they didn’t.
Midway through a Medical Science degree, I started a business in commercial songwriting with a close friend and long-time collaborator. Within the first 12 months, we had the Australian Red Cross and a few television credits under our belt. It was very inspiring seeing this grow from a small bedroom studio in the suburbs of Melbourne.
Last year, I was in Macedonia to participate in the Birthright Macedonia Program, and the Ivanov School of Young Leaders. I made a lot of great friends there and discovered a connection to the country that was buried somewhere in me. After I left Macedonia, I was backpacking through Lithuania with a friend and we met an amazing singer by the name of Vilija Matačiūnaitė purely by chance. Turns out she’s a very-well established artist in her own country, and once I got back to Melbourne, she and I decided to collaborate for Eurovision 2018.
Funnily enough, Eurovision has a cult following in Australia – I suppose it’s because so many of us here have European roots. Since I was a teenager, I always dreamt of writing a song for Eurovision and performing it on stage. Once I saw this opportunity to represent Macedonia, I couldn’t pass it up.
M365: Are you beginning to write songs for the next contest as soon as one is over? What other projects are you involved with throughout the year?
– I would love to. I’m about to start working on a fun summer track with Vilija, who I worked with on this one. I think we’ll keep writing together for a while, and I’d certainly love to make more Eurovision songs.
In the meantime, I’m about to cut a record with another Macedonian-Australian artist based in Melbourne – this one’s more of a grunge/avant-pop vibe. If you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like when you give a Freud-obsessed psychologist a guitar, this is it. He’s one of my favourite lyricists. I’m really looking forward to hearing the finished product.
M365: From a songwriting team’s perspective how important is it to continually showcase your music to the public through the Eurovision song contest? Is it the best platform to launch new material for a new artist?
– Eurovision is a fantastic platform to launch material from. Last year’s Contest had 180 million viewers from all over the world watching – you don’t get that sort of opportunity every day. Artists certainly should have material ready to go once the Contest is underway, because that’s when everybody is going to be Googling your name.
If you’re putting out valuable content while the Contest is going and engaging with your audience, you have the potential to do very well from it. Instagram seems to be exploding as a platform for musicians to connect nowadays, so I’d be all over that.
M365: How did you come up with the lyrics and music for the song? Have any recent songs influenced the kind of sound or song you are trying to create for the European televoting audience?
– Vilija came up with the foundations of the music and lyrics. It all started from a voice memo she recorded on her phone with just piano and voice. Once she sent it to me, I took it and ran with it – it sounded more like a piano ballad to begin with, now it’s got that strong driving rock feel.
It’s completely different to how it first sounded. Lyrically, it touches on some themes that we’re all familiar with: identity, hedonism, a fractured relationship. We both worked on the lyrics together, but I think we both like to draw inspiration from real experiences. Music is a powerful way to connect with people, and as a listener, it becomes stronger when you can relate to the message.
M365: How do you think this song will be received in Macedonia? What are your expectations?
Well I hope they like it! Macedonia is sitting at a point where we all need to pause for a second and unite under one message. Music is special because it transcends politics, religion and ideology. It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are, when Eurovision is on, we all want Macedonia to do well. This year we need to put out a strong message that we are here to stand on our own two feet, and what better way to make that declaration than with a powerful rock anthem?
M365: Finally, being someone from the diaspora, are you looking to become more involved in the Macedonian music scene?
– Most definitely. I would love to come back and spend some more time in Macedonia to find artists to collaborate with. The beauty of the internet is that it’s now easier than ever to collaborate from another continent. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are. With any luck, hopefully I can find the next singer to represent Macedonia at next year’s Eurovision.