You can hear it on Wilshire, a few dozen paces from Vermont: A joyous noise falls slowly over an otherwise crummy K-town side street. If you follow it home, you’ll find those Balkan notes drizzling from a cracked window on the third floor of an otherwise nondescript apartment building. The Petrojvic brothers live here, and even though they’re just noodling for a visiting journalist, they’re doing what they do best: splashing bright hues onto a city that could always use a little color.
You’ve likely seen them before, at the Amoeba end of the Hollywood Farmers Market each Sunday, at some dimly lit watering hole like Piano Bar, or playing brass at the center of a Killsonic street-orchestra melee. If there’s a corner and a crowd, the Petrojvic Blasting Co. has probably busked it. It’s a three-man act. There’s Janos, sharply dressed, playing trombone as he works the drums with his heels; Joshan, typically strapped with suspenders and an accordion; and Daniel, the tousled trumpeter. They play and sing the songs of their “native” Eastern Europe, a claim that isn’t entirely true.
“I started playing accordion in the street in Tennessee when I was real young,” says Joshua (Joshan), who grew up 45 minutes west of Nashville. “I must have been 9 or 10. I realized then that street music is all about spectacle. I made money because I was cute and little, not because I was good.”
The thing is, they’re really good now, and the truth isn’t that far off the story they tell. Though not Gypsy by blood, Joshua, 20, and Justin (Janos), 25, spent much of their childhood overseas, crisscrossing Europe at the whim of their mother, a folk dancer and horse trainer. They have different legal fathers, neither of which is a Petrojvic (their true last names remain a mystery), but Miluten Petrojvic is indeed a real man, a close family friend, and a onetime owner of a Tennessee blasting company. What’s more, Daniel, 25, isn’t related at all, yet the Portuguese national took Joshua, a stranger, in as a brother when the latter was broke and busking in Spain.
The chronology of these three was written on the road — in their last project together, Justin and Joshua spent the better part of three years touring the States in a home-rigged veggie-oil bus — but they seem at home in L.A., and unexpectedly settled.
“A lot of the riff-raff that we run with avoid this city like the plague, but that seemed unreasonable,” says Justin. He hitchhiked here in December 2007. Joshua arrived from Spain in March of last year, and Daniel followed in January. Says Joshua: “I got a letter from Justin saying people here seemed genuinely happier when they heard the accordion. I told Danny, ‘I’m gonna start a band with my brother in America. When you’re ready, we’ll try to have an apartment for you and some work.’”
These days that work alone keeps food in three tummies, a roof overhead (they share a neat, one-room flat), and the inspiration flowing. The trio just returned from a tour built around Mardi Gras, and they’re developing two big bands — one Serbian, one Romanian — with other members of Killsonic. Regarding this, the journalist asks if they plan to perform in more traditional venues.
Joshua rightly corrects him: “The street is the most traditional venue.”