Back in June at Caribana Festival I had the chance to have a chat with Tiziano Zandonella aka Yellow Teeth. The Swiss country-folk artist told me, among other things, about his upcoming album Rags and Pearls, his passion for music and literature.
Thank you to Tiziano for his precious time and thanks to the Caribana team for making this interview possible. 🙂
The Liberation: Why the name Yellow Teeth? So strange and curious?
- Yellow Teeth: Because for every band you need to find a name and I had to choose a name somewhere. I chose it in a book by Charles Bukowski called “Hollywood” that I was reading, he sometimes writes in capital letters and there was YELLOW TEETH written at some point and I told myself that this would work very well. It’s visual, it’s pretty but it doesn’t mean anything.
The Liberation: Well, it’s interesting it catches the attention.
- Yellow Teeth: Yes, mainly because it’s in capital letters, there’s a certain regularity.
The Liberation: Cool !
- Yellow Teeth (laughs)
The Liberation : You come from Valais but your music takes us very far like in the US, for example. Where does this love for folk music come?
- Yellow Teeth: I think it originated in the travels by car we did with my parents when I was little. But I think that, like plenty of people who love music, it’s simple when you’re young and sitting at the back of the car. The car goes, we listen to the music the parents put on. I was lucky to have parents who listen to cool stuff, there was Neil Young, Rod Stewart, David Bowie only cool things! (Laughs)
The Liberation : You were lucky then!
- Yellow Teeth: I was really lucky, yes. But there was also Jean-Jacques Goldman but I didn’t listen to him. (Laughs)
The Liberation: Is this where you take the inspiration to write your music?
- Yellow Teeth: Yes, there is a part of this but the music I write is not inspired by personal feelings. It’s written in the way you would write a book or a story, with a choice of style and a technical choice for the writing. And these are the techniques I learnt in studying the music I love, the Americana, with blues, country and folk. In listening to these different types of music I studied how you construct a text, how to convey one feeling or the other. It’s true that in this I’m faithful to the tradition.
The Liberation: If I’m not mistaken you studied English Literature at University, did this help you with the lyrics’ writing in your songs?
- Yellow Teeth: So, my studies didn’t, but they gave me a lot of time to read aside and so from all my readings it did help indeed. But in University I looked at the language in a very academic way and I didn’t see the author I liked. I had time to discover them aside and I try to keep on doing it.
The Liberation: Your new album Rags and Pearls comes out on August 26th, 2016. Watt can you tell us about it?
- Yellow Teeth: About the album itself or about the release date? (Laughs)
The Liberation: The album itself.
- Yellow Teeth: The album is coming out on August 26th because it will be exactly two years after the other one (Night Birds). We worked on this album with the band that played tonight (ed. 1st of June 2016). It’s an album on the perfect line of the first one but that took some freedom already in the composition. In the first album the composition of the tunes was more traditional, very based on the folk of the 60s, and now I took some influences from the musicians I play with and we tried to do something that brought us all together. It does not belong to me but to the entire band.
The Liberation: How does your composition process work ? Do you integrate the band or you are the only one writing the texts?
- Yellow Teeth: So I write the lyrics, I write the music and when I arrive I can play the song from A to Z. These tunes are especially thought for the musicians who play with me. Which is also the contrary than the other album, which had tunes especially thought for me. Here I really tried to think about the rhythms, about the ways in which the band could integrate and play and it gave this album. I would arrive with a song and say “ok this is my idea of the rhythm” and, for example, the drummer could say “No, the rhythm is not like this, I see it more in this way…”. Then we would arrange the tune so that everybody would be happy with it. But they could also say if a tune was shit, it happened to some tunes which were eliminated. I like them anyway but they’re not on the album. (Laughs)
The Liberation: You can keep them for yourself.
- Yellow Teeth: Oh yes, I play them for myself or for people sometimes. My band mates don’t know it but I play them. And the audience is not bored! (Laughs)
The Liberation: Do you usually write the music or the lyrics first?
- Yellow Teeth: Both simultaneously, it’s my way to know if the music is good. First I play the guitar and then I find the voice line. When the two meet I know that I can do something. Then I directly try to give it a theme. What does the guitar line inspire? What does the voice line inspire? Then once the two are together I can say “There we are this is the theme”. If I like both plus the theme then I start writing the lyrics. But it can take a month. You play so that you know there are things you like and then you write when you can (laughs).
The Liberation: Cool ! Folk from Valais as said before. How do you locate yourself within the Swiss music scene? Could you find your spot?
- Yellow Teeth: Yes, yes so I think we didn’t have to find a place in Swiss music, it went all by itself. But it’s true that I didn’t think about it. When I made the first album I was persuaded that we’d do a few concerts and that it would stop there. That I would be really happy with that. And in fact I never thought people could like the music and could identify in it. It was maybe a form of elitism on my side and then well, there was nobody who did this kind of music and there is still nobody. What made me happy it’s that as the concerts unfolded people would say “it’s not like this band, it’s not like this band” and in fact they never said “it’s like this band” they would always say “it’s not like this band”. Then I would tell myself well it’s cool because they would roughly tell me “it’s not pop, it’s not rock’ What is it?” “I don’t know” (laughs).
The Liberation: You don’t know how to define it? How would you define it?
- Yellow Teeth: Yes, for me what we do it’s Americana, a mix of country, folk, blues and rock. You can never tell if one song is blues or rock there are always the four of them in it.
The Liberation: It’s what renders it special.
- Yellow Teeth: Yes, and I think it’s also a way to avoid closing the doors in front of you.
The Liberation: So the United States are in your destinations?
- Yellow Teeth: Yes, when I’ll have the money (laughs). I’ve been wanting to go for many years, but money wise at the moment is not possible. And it was never really possible. It’s not because I’m not saving, I’m very careful with money. When I was in University I wanted to go abroad for a year, I had some really important family problems and it was not possible in the end and now I have to work to pay my rent. So if one day I’ll have a fixed term job and that I will be there long enough to ask a sabbatical year and that it is accepted then maybe I’ll be able to go there, but I think I’ll go step by step. The US at the moment are too far but I go to England very often etc. It’s closer. I’m also a bit afraid of going to the USA and get attached, so I’ll go step by step.
The Liberation : Yes, that’s also a good idea.
- Yellow Teeth: One has to keep certain pleasures for certain moments.
The Liberation: Of course!
- Yellow Teeth (laughs)
The Liberation: Which are your future projects? Are there any collaborations you’d like to do?
- Yellow Teeth: No, there are no collaborations in my head. My projects are, first of all, to see whether people like the next album. Secondly, if they like it we have to play it (laughs) and thirdly it’d be simply to have the chance to do a third album. It’s as stupid as this but for now everything that arrives it’s more and now we’re going to release a second album I know I’m awaited and that a lot of people say “we have to see if the first album was not luck”. I don’t think it was luck. I think the next album will be very good but you never know. You don’t know, people may not like it and they have the right to do so. If they don’t like it, well, they don’t like it and never mind. But you don’t know.
The Liberation: No, not until it’s released and people have had the time to listen to it.
- Yellow Teeth: Yes that’s it. Then it may be weird and everything can happen. But we do some tests anyway. We didn’t tell people we played some tracks from the new album live and etc. We’ve been testing people for the last 6 months and it’s going well. Normally the album should be good.
The Liberation: That’s the important thing!
- Yellow Teeth: The important thing is that people like it because we can play but if people don’t want us to play we won’t play. (Laughs) Music is really democratic. (Laughs)
The Liberation: Yes, of course. Did you feel any pressure in writing the new album?
- Yellow Teeth: No, I feel pressure when I have to do things that I don’t like. When I need to answer questions I’ve already answered 4 times. Or this kind of things, this is pressure, but other than that I never have it.
The Liberation: It’s great then!
- Yellow Teeth: Yes, I’m lucky (laughs).
The Liberation: Good!