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Interview: Žarko Dragojević of Embassy 516

We’re thrilled to present an exclusive interview with Žarko Dragojević, the creative force behind Embassy 516. Today, we delve into the intricacies of their latest album, “Trans,” exploring the album’s concept, the art of songwriting, the enduring collaboration with graphic artist Igor Jurilj, and many more. Žarko provides us with unique insights into the creative […]

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Photo by Vedran Jerinić

We’re thrilled to present an exclusive interview with Žarko Dragojević, the creative force behind Embassy 516. Today, we delve into the intricacies of their latest album, “Trans,” exploring the album’s concept, the art of songwriting, the enduring collaboration with graphic artist Igor Jurilj, and many more. Žarko provides us with unique insights into the creative process, shedding light on the inspirations that shaped the album and the significance of their collaboration. Join us for a captivating conversation with Žarko Dragojević as we uncover the stories and artistic elements behind Embassy 516’s musical journey. “Trans.” is available on vinyl via Geenger Records, and you can purchase it by clicking HERE.


    We were just kids when we started the band, almost 20 years ago. Our hometown Dubrovnik was in a strange period of rebuilding and coming out from the war times. In times like these people don’t have much to hold on, so my mother once described Embassy 516 the most precise. She told me “when I hear your music, it is like bombs are falling all over the place again”. And that is the truth, our earliest human experiences are from the torn up world, with heavy riffs and hard drumming rhythms. But still, it would be strange to live only in the pain and grief, so through the melodies and ambient music we learnt how to show our emotive side and combine it with the primitive agression. Croatia as a country is still in the transitional period, so our everyday experiences are full of inspiration and context to write and compose about.

      All songs on the album are coming from the same place, partially described in the first question. I needed to say goodbye to my old demons, as an author / composer and as a human being. The struggle from the old memories and bad experiences are like a shadows that are always somewhere near. With the Trans. I decided to lyrically make very personal album, that speaks about the bad world we all live in, and it is not a new thing, for anybody that is reading this interview. I see a very polarized society, in every aspect of the mankind. I see the world that is on the first sight very free and democratic, but still it has never been more fear to be yourself and walk away from trends.

        Over the past ten years, Igor has become a member of the band, he is not visible on stage nor does he contribute musically, but he is certainly an important component in our creative space. People see his illustrations and visual design before they see us. By the time the ‘traveling circus’ arrives in your town, chances are Yellow Yuri’s illustrations have already captured your attention! These works communicate on so many levels, and they have upgraded our music and lyrics to a level of communication that we did not have before he said ‘yes’ to my wish to collaborate with band and Geenger Records. 

        Photo by Vedran Jerinić

          During my early university days when the Embassy 516 started as an audiovisual project, I became interested in the works of Harold Dwight Lasswell. Faculty of Political Science and Journalism was a great platform for a young man who wanted to combine music with communication theories and did a lot of research in that field. Album “Trans.” is the third iteration, coming as short derivat of the word “Transmission”, which is also the third role from the functions of mass media according to Lasswell. First is “Surveillance of the Environment”, second is “Correlation” and then comes “Transmission”. Most commentators add a fourth function –  “Entertainment”, so our trilogy might go in the fun additional direction in the future!

            We always created from the very selfish reasons, to enjoy the music in the rehearsal space and with full commitment and respect for the DIY ethics. Widespread acclaim comes as a big statement, because we always feel like we are in the early stage and just starting this engine! But I think it should be like that, with the small or big bands, you always have to make a childish challenge to keep things in motion and exciting for the band members, or the outside circle. We are in a good moment of our lives, we have family support and lot of laugh during the writing, recording or touring process. The grief, anger or sadness in our songs is the total opposite form our everyday personas. I feel like we leave all the burdens on our instruments, wood and in the amplifier membranes. The moving air that comes from our playing is also a strong emotional impact, so if the listener can feel it in person or through the speakers and ear buds – there is no need to aim for more in this moment!

              For each album so far, we took the exact amount of time until we were completely satisfied with the recorded material and the overall production. Three years seems both a lot and a little time, especially if we realise those were strange pandemic years. Of course, this also is reflected in the lyrics of some songs, especially if we are talking about a deep questioning of ourselves and the damaged world, and the emotions and fears that in a short period hit the globe. There are 10 songs on the album, along with the bonus track Dwell, which we have enjoyed playing at concerts since 2008, and now it was time to record it in a studio in a new arrangement. We sent Trans. into the world, and it is up to the listeners to further discover its good and bad sides and hidden messages.

                Every opportunity given to the performer is a big lesson from which you learn something and build more from that foundation. We were lucky to perform very young on the main stages of influential festivals with popular headliners, but from that we also got to know the negative side of the music industry. Reality is harsh and not close to what young creatives idealise. If you are not prepared to learn every segment of the industry, very quickly the system will chew you up and spit you out. That’s why most bands from our generation didn’t take off, I think they expected someone else to create opportunities and do the hard work for them. That eternal myth that someone will “discover” you… For us, those big stages and gigantic loudspeakers opened a new spectrum of sound and we learned how to write better songs and consider all physical and electrotechnical elements, whether in the studio or when we play live. After two decades, this has been reflected in our production skills, and we always strive for an even higher standard.

                  We live in a 3D world now, and it is impossible to ignore the whole multimedia impact on all of our senses. You can’t even walk on a street without million distractions, visuals, sounds, graphics & videos all around… When we work on a new songs, we also think immediately how it will resonate with the colours, how it will blend with the sound. Yellow Yuri comes at the very end of the process, but still he gives the final touch and becomes the front page that speaks for a band. In the future, we wish to use visual and lighting elements more and more during the concerts, like we did in Marin Držić Theatre Dubrovnik in January with a help of Vesna Kolarec, Tea Bašić Erceg, Antonio Ljubojević, Silvio Giron and Melko Dragojević. We recorded the full length concert DVD, and in the next few weeks we will publish live performances.

                    The format is decided by a lot of things, primarily finances. In order for a band or label to release a physical copy of an album today, usually vinyl, they must be prepared to spend a large amount of money, the profitability of which is always questionable. The digital format has made it a lot easier, because small bands can upload their music and promote it in the blink of an eye. On the other hand, the average listener is used to quickly clicking and scrolling on various streaming services, and the question is what he really wants to hear, and what the algorithm offered him purely by chance. I personally think that the physical format with a barcode is a stamp of time, archival evidence and statement of how the band created in a certain period and how it was branded. Also, the vinyl format is grateful because of the large surface that allows Yellow Yuri’s illustrations to come to the fore in all their fullness.

                    Photo by Valerio Baranović

                      Embassy 516 started as a duo, Tomislav Kličan on drums and me on guitar / vocals / synths. Drummer Ivica Glunčić joined band very quickly and Tomo moved to guitar after the first studio album. Many changes of other members happened over the years, but the three of us remained consistent with the initial idea that pushed the band to this day. Others joined us on that trip, and eventually disappeared from our lives. This is nothing strange, because every collective has its pluses and minuses. However, this did not undermine our integrity and vision of the sound we want to deliver from album to album. Sincere friendship and musical partnership has remained and we are only strengthening it even more in 2024. Today the fourth member of the band is Maro Zajec on bass. We bring different energies as individuals, but when we start playing, that space in between is Embassy 516.

                        It is difficult to specify the exact desires and attempt that the author is aiming for. Most often, music arises from a feeling of a kind of escape, or a moment in which we dedicate ourselves to some space that only melody can upgrade. Elements of the dreampop and shoegaze genres influenced us early on as listeners, and we consciously adopted and incorporated them into the band’s sound. Emotion is important, but perhaps above all dramaturgy. My work in the theatre for the past 12 years has also given me that component, to see how the listener or viewer must have a continuous struggle on stage, either internally or with the outside world and other people.

                          I can speak with certainty only from my own perspective, and what I witness about the environment and other people are only assumptions and my observations. In the context of a musical career, our path was never easy. There are many simpler decisions we could have taken in the past, and so today. However, no one said that life is easy, including a music career. There is a very small percentage of those who stand out from the crowd and manage to reach a larger number of listeners. At the end of the day, we as a band still exist and still create, despite many obstacles and difficulties. I am infinitely grateful for that, in that complex world and environment, we found a circle of people who believe in the same things and create new worlds through music and visual creativity.

                          Source: thoughtswordsaction.com

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