Mario Kozjak is a Senior Software Engineer at X-Team who's also the lead singer and frontman of rock/metal band Kozjak. In this interview, we talk about his passion for music, which bands he's been inspired by, and how he writes songs.
Tell me the background story. How long have you been interested in music and how did that lead to Kozjak?
I started listening to alternative rock and metal back in elementary school. MTV was largely responsible for me getting into new bands and music. I've also been learning music composition for fifteen years. Things like chord progressions, riff, singing techniques, and important song structures. Mostly in the metal genre, but with some singer-songwriter acoustic stuff too.
The band Kozjak started when I met our drummer, Josip Vladić, in 2017. We were both attending a rehearsal for an In Flames tribute band in Zagreb, Croatia. We developed a friendship that soon converted into a two-man band producing original music that's a blend of alternative rock and metal. Sung in Croatian too.
We're a trio now and I'm pretty happy about it. We have a drummer, a bassist who provides backing vocals, and me on guitar and main vocals.
Why sing in Croatian?
Rock and metal musicians generally start writing their songs in English. We've all been raised on English-language music, so that's the default. But the issue with English is that it's not my native tongue. No matter how good my English gets, it's really hard to get all the emotion out as I can in Croatian.
All my songs started in English, but I realized (right before we started recording) that I didn't feel the connection I wanted to my lyrics. I wanted to improve that and, realizing that I'm also in my mid thirties, it began to make sense to sing in my native language. No unneeded boundaries anymore. It's strange to sing (let alone scream) in Croatian, but I'm taking my chances with it anyway.
It also helps that we're planning to play gigs in former Yugoslavia (Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia). Croatian is well-known in the region.
When's your first gig?
May 22, hopefully, but we've yet to see if it's actually going to be held. Still, we plan to do some live/online events in the next three months.
How do you write a song?
I generally start composing in my head, mostly when I'm walking or away from my guitar. It's weird, but when I pick up my guitar planning to write some music, nothing comes out.
I tend to "hear" a riff in my head and then I record myself (in the middle of the street 😀) by singing that part on my iPhone. When I'm back home, I pick up the guitar and replicate what I heard in my head. It works out pretty well.
What's your "tech setup" from production to post?
We recorded our songs in a professional studio, so we didn't have to do much at all production-wise. It was great recording in a studio, because I didn't have to fiddle with tech or equipment (which I'd otherwise have to when I'm doing demos at home).
To record our songs, we used a generic set of drums, my bassist's guitar, and my old-but-dear-to-my-heart Squier Stratocaster equipped with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails bridge pickup for that aggressive rock sound. We also used an Orange amplifier, my Orange cab, and a Laney VH100R guitar tube amp.
Which bands have you been inspired by?
A good number, but definitely Opeth, In Flames, Mastodon, Gojira, Dream Theater, Audioslave, and Rage Against the Machine.
Finally, when's the album dropping?
After the summer, when all the Croatians have come back from the sea 😃
Love the singles you dropped so far. Best of luck with your album!
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