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The wild, wild Petrojvic Blasting Company

The L.A. band's high-spirited spin on Balkan gypsy music draws big crowds at the Downtown Art Walk and other spots. Now, the group is spreading the word on the Monsters of Accordion tour.

December 18, 2010|By Margaret Wappler, Los Angeles Times

The Petrojvic Blasting Company, the Los Angeles nouveau-gypsy band started by brothers Justin and Josh Petrojvic, has always let chance play a divine role in its day-to-day survival.

"There are connections you make that you would never expect," Josh Petrojvic said on the phone while the band was driving from Seattle to Portland, Ore., on the Monsters of Accordion tour, a roving folk-music circus organized by Seattle musician Jason Webley.

"You meet someone and they know someone and the next thing you know, you're playing at a wedding in front of 300 people," said Petrojvic, the younger of the brothers at age 21. "Being out in the world and meeting people is important to us."

There are few bands in Los Angeles that are as visible, as woven into the fabric of the city as the Petrojvic Blasting Company, currently claiming five members on a hodgepodge of instruments — accordion, tuba, trumpet, trombone and a Macedonian tapan that percussionist Cory Beers has jury-rigged with rope, a cowbell and a washboard to make into a kind of super-drum.

Since the band started in 2008, back when it was only Josh and Justin, the Blasting Company's preferred venue has been the sidewalk. "We get more exposure on the street than anywhere else," said Petrojvic, who first started busking with Pogues covers when he was 13 in his native Nashville. "We can always guarantee that we'll make a certain amount of money."

With their rustic, high-spirited take on Balkan gypsy music, they often attract big crowds both at the Downtown Art Walk, and at their regular Sunday morning gig at the Hollywood Farmers' Market.

The outdoor gigs consistently bring them good luck. After Bar 107 owner Brian Houk saw them command a huge audience at Art Walk, he booked them for Sunday nights, a showcase they've had for the last year.

Manager Matt Dwyer, who bartends Sundays, has witnessed the effects of the Blasting Company on an audience.

"A lot of the same people go to see them week after week," Dwyer said. "People really respond to what they're doing, they really get into the experience. They whirl around like gypsies while they play. You can't find music like this anywhere else in L.A."

Though the Blasting Company has one album of original songs, "A History of Public Relations Dilemmae," , the band's taken the last year to hone its repertoire of traditional Balkan music. Over the summer, the band traveled throughout Serbia, Romania, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, soaking in the sounds of its spiritual homelands.

"It was an incredible experience that's hard to sum up in words," Petrojvic said. "It helped us in so many ways to become better musicians. It felt like home more than anywhere I've ever been."

When not touring, the members of the Blasting Company all live in the same house in East Los Angeles, sharing a community of friends who filter in and out, spontaneously breaking into song when the mood strikes, which it does just about every day.

"We spend more time together than married couples with jobs," Petrojvic said. "For as much as we like meeting people, we prefer to spend time with the people we're closest to … and that mostly means each other."

margaret.wappler@latimes.com

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