He arrives from Valais by train; I wait for him at the Old Train Station. He turns up with his guitar and his backpack all smiles. He sits, we order a beer. He orders a “choppe” and reminds himself that here it’s called a “canette” (roughly the difference between a jug and a mug), I laugh and it’s just the beginning.
That’s how he is, Tiziano Zandonella. He makes you laugh without forcing it. I let him know that is more an encounter and less a Q and A type of interview. It appears to suits him. Talking about is musical debuts he explains that he didn’t have any friends, no one to play with. He says this with a smile. And now he has a group and he wants it to be known. Yellow Teeth is them, not him alone. He insists but the message doesn’t seem to get across. It has to be said that his voice almost makes us forget that he isn’t alone after all. Then we speak about country music, “amplified folk” he says. Of course Yellow Teeth’s country, very folk and very blues, leans more towards Johnny Cash than Taylor Swift and other Cyrus Dads, but he does reassure me that there really is contemporary country worth listening to. He recommends that I take a look at Lucinda Williams and Emmy Lou Harris.
We carry on by talking about Valais. I like imagining Tiziano on his horse in the middle of a Swiss Colorado near a waterfall with some skiers in the background and Paul Mac Bonvin starting up a fire. So he explains that when Night Birds came out, Mac Bonvin’s nephew wrote him to tell him that his uncle had given his benediction. “It almost put an end to my career, but it was well intended”, he asserts. We laugh, essentially that’s all we do. Far from Paul Mac Bonvin there is Sacha Ruffieux, with whom he rehearses at the end of the day. He tells me about the first time they met in Vevey. Sacha was playing with Laure Betris (Kassette) and Julie Hugo (Solange La Frange). Then there was the recording. He remembers that he had been listening to Neil Young on the way there. After the first recording Sacha tells him, “it sounds like Tonight’s The Night!”. That is just what Tiziano likes about Sacha. “He knew exactly what I wanted to do”.
The first time I saw Yellow Teeth in concert was at the Port of Fribourg. I didn’t know them at all but Sacha had been so enthusiastic that Vincent and I didn’t want to miss it. It was definitely worth it. First of all because we had a really good meal. For those of you who don’t know, the Port is an ephemeral restaurant which opens its doors for summer alongside the Sarine River in the old town of Fribourg. The cooks grow their vegetable in wood CFF containers on site. The terrace is incredible and there’s a concert every Thursday night.
There were just the three of them that night. Tiziano, his love Justine, who also sings on the album, and Sacha. Still get goose bumps just thinking about it. First of all there is this voice. You need a few minutes to get used to it and concede that it’s his. He appears to have come straight from a style with no age and a decor with no name. And at the end of each song there is this smile, kind of like He was surprised to be there. It’s both touching and funny. What stands out with Yellow Teeth is that it is an entirely acknowledged country music without falling into excess. No Stetsons or cowboy boots but an authentic accent which Tiziano purposefully worked on. He’s an English teacher so it was pretty easy! It’s all coherent even if he admits having never stepped foot in the United States. Plus “the working conditions are pretty shitty of there”. He will certainly go there as a tourist once by car when he gets the chance. However he doesn’t feel the need to test his country there. During the second half of the evening Sacha puts down his beautiful golden Gibson to grab his hybrid guitar, a mix of several fender models aged by a luthier. Nothing less was needed for a good session of blues. And Sacha who sings the blues with the energy he’s known for, it was brilliant. It is a real pleasure for these two to play together and it shows.
I talk about guitars because Tiziano is a geek. He admits to being “a real shmuck” and to being incapable of jamming. A dozen of frets are largely sufficient for him, “anyway I don’t go any higher”. He explains that he has to oil the base of his guitar sleeve to avoid it from drying out as he so rarely ventures there. Nevertheless he takes full responsibility, and I keep on laughing especially when he finishes a long phrase full of life by saying: “it’s like an acoustic cutaway guitar. That’s all I have to say on the matter”. I ask him if he’s seen Forrest Gump and he roars with laughter.
We order another beer.
I would like to know which groups he’s a real fan of. This is when we find common ground of capital importance. We’re both real groupies. Well he has got a good head start when he admits to having forced his way past two security barriers to touch Bob Dylan’s limousine. I’m almost sprawled over the table dying of laughter. He tells me he may well do the same with Mama Rosin whom he adores. I admit that if Elvis was still alive, I would most probably be one of those teens in trance in the front rows dreaming of being smooched and end up passing out. Then is his best language he states: « Elvis set it free, at any rate those guys who were in their teens in the 50s saw Elvis and shit themselves, then it was only normal that they tried to do the same “. So our second point in common is that we’re both fans of the King. He clarifies, “A lot of people criticized him saying that he stole music from the black community however he had great respect for them and he probably would have preferred to be black”. It gets a bit nasty when I talk about Oasis whom I adore. He almost chokes and manages to let me know that “Oasis is a bit like U2, they are part of the groups who are trying to kill music”. However gentleman that he is, he talks to me about his perverse side. He can hate a group but with a dose of doggedness and after repeatedly listening to the music he is able to understand what they wanted to do. It was the case for Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, an album that he hated and then loved. I remain hopeful that one day I’ll see Yellow Teeth do a cover of « Don’t look back in anger ». Who knows!
If you still don’t have it run to your favorite disc shop or remain seated and open up ITunes to listen to Night Birds Yellow Teeth’s first album. Once in your possession, light up a fire in your garden or in the worst case scenario heat up your oven, close your eyes and there you are in Tiziano’s Swiss Colorado.
You’ll never guess but when we make cowboy music chances are that we eat cowboy food. So it’s time to give way to Chili Con Carne! I am handing over my recipe that I have jealously guarded a secret for centuries, an improvement of Jamie Oliver’s recipe. (Yup I just said that I have improved the recipe of one of Britain’s most popular chefs…)
(Translation by Pascale Bonin Nunlist https://www.facebook.com/pascale.nunlist?fref=ts )
Chili Con Carne :
– See the recipe HERE
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