Kovic Interview; Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit Of All Things Music – Essentially Pop
Kovic, a.k.a Mark Konstantinovic, is a U.K. based singer, songwriter, and performer. Kovic’s career started with him traveling constantly from London to Brighton playing every open mic night he could, working his craft, his showmanship, and his songwriting with every new audience he found himself in front of. After years of building his reputation brick by brick, he released his debut album ‘Running Underwater’. The album saw an incredible 40 million streams on Spotify. Opting to stay independent, Kovic turned down a major label contract and in 2019 found his song ‘Drown’ featured in that year’s FIFA video game, followed up by a performance at the Royal Albert Hall for BBC Radio 1. Gearing up to release his latest album, I had the chance to sit down and chat with Kovic about life, liberty, and the pursuit of all things music.
Pre-save the album here.
What was it like growing up in the U.K. and how connected are you with your Yugoslavian/Serbian roots?
My upbringing in the UK I guess was pretty typical, I was lucky to have a good group of mates early on that got me into plenty of trouble which of course they continue to do to this day. When it comes to my roots – my family on my dad’s side live in the capital of Serbia ‘Belgrade’ and it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world that we manage to visit and spend some time in every few years. I’m a very lucky guy to have a loving family in both places, and it’s a dream of mine to develop a touring fanbase in Serbia.
Do you remember the first show you ever performed? What was that like, and how did that experience shape the writer/artist/performer you are now?
It’s funny you ask that – I genuinely think about it a lot. My first show was in a dingy, cave of a venue, only around 100 people in terms of capacity. It was a dark little club, sticky floor, smelt exactly like you’re imagining… Yet it had that live music vibe to it. It was the Monto Water Rats in Camden, and the only people who showed up were my family and friends in support of my desire to be a rock star Looking back now – my songs were a bit crap, my performance was shoddy, the gear we had was knackered, and the set was probably a solid 3/10 to be generous, but I walked off that stage feeling like a million bucks, and remember how much love and support I had from the people around me.
It played on my mind, because one of the biggest lessons I took from that night was how easy it is to be tricked into thinking you’re good if you have people around you who love and support you, and just how much you have to up your game and work on your craft if you’re ever going to actually move a wider audience. My first show was a huge experience that massively shaped how I thought about my career from that moment on.
I read that you have been described as someone who “speaks for the independently-minded creators, empowering the idea of building your own success through music”. How do you feel about that kind of statement being connected to your name?
I guess it’s always a bit cringe when someone speaks about you in a positive light, or there’s a press release that positions you in certain ways, but while I’ve never been great at taking compliments, I do get a massive buzz out of helping people understand just how much they can succeed on their own terms in the music industry. This world is so often designed to be purposely misleading to tell people they need to rely on institutions to succeed. It’s intentionally convoluted in order to blind-side people into entering agreements that aren’t in their best interest, and it’s always had this sinister undertone of control for cash.
Being someone who has ‘failed forward’ and learnt about so many of these pitfalls in the process of having some semblance of success on my own terms, I get a huge kick out of watching independent artists/business owners/creators smash it out the park when they choose to back themselves as opposed to sell their creations to some major outfit (not that that’s always a bad thing by the way!). My hope is we’re moving into a more decentralised world, where many many more people benefit from a much more independently-centred system. The more I can help that come true, the better!
What was it like saying no to a major record deal in favour of doing things as an independent?
It’s the kind of thing you think about for weeks, then finally make a decision that you somehow instantly regret 5 mins after sending the email. It’s such a weird dynamic when you’re weighing up the pros and cons of labels VS independent but I have a close network of fans that helped me along the way. I guess the best way I’d express it was like throwing away a lottery ticket without knowing whether or not it was a winner. You’re always going to wonder what could have been… but for me personally, I came to a conclusion a long time ago from a deep lesson from my mother, that there is never a sweeter feeling than holding your own destiny in your own hands. I can tell you for sure she’s absolutely correct, whatever price I may have paid, it was worth it.
How did it feel performing at the Royal Albert Hall for BBC Radio 1?
It’s a feeling I’ll never forget, being there in that space was magical, and to hear the performance airing on Radio 1 afterwards was a real dream come true for me. Definitely a tick on the bucket list for sure!
What was it like having your song featured in FIFA 2018?
Me and my bro have played FIFA since we were tiny, and you always remember those soundtracks. I still remember ‘Chumbawamba’ blaring from FIFA 98! So, to actually load up a game one day and hear your music on the screen, it’s just a weirdly beautiful moment where you achieve something that you feel resonates deeply, like you know there’s some other kid out there falling in love with this tune and he’ll probably remember it in 20 years time. Amazing moment!
Are you a fan of Football (Footy)? If so, what’s your team and why?
I play a lot, but I’m not footy mad, I go big when it comes to the World Cup and I’ll watch the Euros, but I’m not very big on the leagues, too much drama for me to keep up with.
When you go to write songs, do you follow the same process each time or is it different with every song?
I’d say every song I write has its own unique process and development. That’s the nature of the beast because sometimes a lyric starts a song, or it could be a nice chord progression, or the vibe of a production demo someone sent, but there is a common trait. I always try my best to sculpt a song to the point that it sounds solid with just an acoustic guitar or piano. I like to get a song functional and standing strong in this basic form. You can’t go too far wrong once that’s in place.
What inspired you to write ‘Drown’?
I had a good friend of mine who was in a pretty messy relationship. They were both so stubborn that they’d always fight but neither of them (even when in the wrong) would ever hold out an olive branch to remedy the situation. It was sad because they clearly loved each other, but things ended up so toxic. I thought of it like two characters lost in the wash of the ocean, and if they worked together for 5 minutes they’d actually be able to save one another, but it turns out they’re too stubborn and both lost out. If you listen to the lyrics, it will all make sense now (I hope).
How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist from ‘Drown’ to ‘Burned’ moving into the songs and stories on your new album?
I just really really like making music and writing songs. In a way, I feel like that’s always just been the same, and maybe I’ve grown a bit in terms of defining my sound a little more, but also I like to try and make songs out of my comfort zone as much as possible. “Burned,” and “Playing With Fire” are definitely two of the best songs I’ve written, but there’s so much more on that record and I can’t wait to put this new album in people’s hands.
What’s something you would want your fans to know about the remaining songs on your upcoming album?
That they were written with them in mind – I’m always trying to put my best songs forward and bring the best quality of work into my albums.
What’s something your fans might not know about you?
Not a lot of people know I’m a pilot.
If you could choose the legacy you leave in this world and describe it in one word, what would it be?
Finally, what do you want to say to your fans?
There is no way I could portray what my supporters mean to me here, only because I feel I’d need to write a book on it to get anywhere close. My supporters are magical human beings who have made my wildest dreams come true and without them, I’d be absolutely nothing for certain. I’d say to them that the music I make, and every ounce of effort I put into my career is all about the idea of building up connections and creating good moments in life. I also want to give a huge shout-out to my Patreon team who literally created this album with me from the first writing sessions to the last mastering session. Without them, this record wouldn’t be anywhere near what it is – so thank you!