Add a new name to the roster of independent labels in Boston’s thriving music scene: Mountain of Leopards. Co-founded by father-and-son duo Jim and Eli Schwartz, the Jamaica Plain-based companyis pursuing a novel strategy of highlighting street performers. I chatted with the younger Schwartz, Eli, about founding a record label with his dad, his choice of artists, and about that name.
Tell me about the name Mountain of Leopards. Is that from the Song of Songs?
It’s from the Song of Solomon in the Bible. The multifaceted ambiguities surrounding the love affair that takes place on top of the mountain – whether it is long and recurring, a single dream, or a recurring dream; who the lover is (sometimes one partner, sometimes many); the spiritual consonances with the ring of leopards – it is a piece that seems to achieve a great deal of musicality: rhythm, leit motifs, melody, harmony, form. For me, I can hear it sung almost when reading it; it almost takes the form of a song in my memory.
With songs, I feel the most important thing is to find artists who are really alive in this medium. And that life comes from the incredibly deep marriage between the words and the melodies, harmony and music. The ineffable, opaque, impossibly delicate relationship of the symbiotic birth of the music out of the words and the words of the music, and both at the same time. Anyways, there is a great deal in the Song of Solomon that lies at the core of this, and it is a guide and a beacon.
The first artist signed to the label was a street busker, and you’re currently running a contest for street performers. Why are you drawn to street performers as artists?
They play so much; they are really immersed in their medium. People think some buskers can’t quite fit into regular society, work a 9-5, etc. And this may be true, but the kind of interior world that disbars them from this sort of life is nothing but a blessing for their creative work.
A busker was explaining to me once how, since people thought he was crazy, no one really listened to him speak anymore, or listened to what he said. So he pretty much lost interest in conversation, and his whole voice was in essence transubstantiated into his horn playing. I could hear that.
You founded this record company with your father. Have either of you been in the professional music business before this?
No. I grew up playing classical music and studied it at conservatory in college. My father is a science writer and novelist and is actually coming out with a book about Soviet eugenics. So I guess we’re all over the map. My father has taught me to be passionate about my pursuits and is willing to help me step outside of the box. I just finished college and was a little terrified about what to do for a profession. My hope is to not sacrifice our values for our business.
If you could sign any Jewish performer to your label who would it be?
Barnett Newman. He’s a painter, but it’s like music to me. He would symbolize the artistic values I strive for better than anyone I can think of.
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