Beyond The Horizon: Yossarians Interviewed

The frontman of the intensely driven Yossarians tells all to Patrick Clarke ahead of a rare, and 'hernia-inducing' live set at this weekend's Fat Out Festival

Manchester’s Yossarians are a band defined by a constant, intense hunger for exploration, their propulsive creative instinct buoyed by an unending sense of motion, both on physical terms – they spent much of their early years living out of a van across Europe – and creatively, each show they play a progression from its predecessor.

"Just looking for something that isn’t a part of what’s close to you is an inevitable human thing, to look beyond the fucking horizon," says Tim Schiazza, frontman of the constantly mutating collective, for whom over 12 members have come and gone over the years. He’s right, however just how far one looks can vary, and Schiazza’s gaze stretches further than most. His nascent love for music began humbly enough with the acoustic guitar, along with the northern soul LPs of his collector parents, but it was not long before he expanded his focus, spreading his explorations exponentially across the globe.

"Early records I listened to were the blues, but then it’s like ‘where can the acoustic guitar go?’ and then you realise you can take it to all these places, traditional folk music from around the world. It was like ‘here’s the western pinnacle’, then there’s the other side of the world. It’s an inevitable education, trying to see where natural human engineering can go to with this instrument."

Schiazza was somewhat late to take it up himself, however . "I didn’t start taking guitar seriously and writing songs until I was 21 or 22. I had a car accident when I was a kid and after that I had to rationalise my existence." As a result, when it came to the start of his own musical career, there was a sense of anxiety that came from playing catch up. "In hindsight, I just loved music and was just angry that by that time I wasn’t a better musician. It took me years to learn how to sing properly. I’m not a massive fan of Rimbaud, but by the age of 23 some people get so much done. When I was 23 I had only just realised like, ‘shit, I can really be good…’ and I hadn’t even begun."

Schiazza suffered from something of a lack of confidence, growing up in Gloucester. It was not until Manchester that he found the opportunity to begin carving what’s developed into an auspicious niche as one of the North West’s most dynamic frontmen. "It was just a matter of finding my feet and finding friends who actually wanted to take a chance on me and offer me to be in their band, liking the way I sang. I just didn’t think I was any good, and I probably wasn’t. It’s an old friend of mine John Wilson who took me under his wing and put me in a band straight away. It was a really close relationship, just mature enough to take it seriously, and for me to learn as quickly as possible."

A similar kinship with Manchester-based artist, activist and all-round underground polymath John McKeown, who had begun assembling a nomadic collective of likeminded creatives, meeting in the city’s basements and backroom bars just before Schiazza’s arrival, led to the birth of a fully realised Yossarians. "He created a free, open space for weird musicians to come together and just meet each other. It dissolved after a while but once the band had formed it had served its purpose. He’s never really been part of the band because he’s too much of an artist, his temperament was always just to be off doing something else, off building some weird community or an art piece in the middle of nowhere, or doing something political or something just for love. He’s one of the greatest men in this city."

Speaking of their native city, Schiazza feels there’s enough creativity brewing in Manchester’s underground, in the squat gigs and art communities they’re a part of at present, to set the city apart from its increasingly hackneyed Madchester/Factory legacy. "When I got here there was nothing really, no good musicians, not many good bands, everyone was still hanging on to this traditionalism. It was only Frazer King and Honeyfeet that had a bit of attitude, and other than that it was just was pastel pop, this rich boy Manchester thing, bands like Money. Then though all this gritty stuff rose to the surface, bands like Lotion, Ill, Salford Media City who just came in and out, that was a good time, and now it’s us who are really taking control, putting on underground shows that don’t rely so much on venue licensing and all that crap. All that’s fine for industry gigs, but, without getting too cliché, Nirvana wouldn’t have played [Tony Wilson-founded venue] The Dry Bar."

Yossarians, even within that particular environment, boast a cultured edge beyond many of their contemporaries, thanks to some nomadic formative years spent based out of a van, busking across Europe. "We broke ourselves in as a band by getting in motion and busking, getting our hands dirty and trying to make money as well because we were skint. I love travelling, motion’s the only thing that keeps anyone going. People don’t get that perspective if they stay in the city. I see these throwaway quotes from bands on social media like ‘oh life on tour is so hard!’, but life on tour is being face to face with somebody, really getting to know them, discovering new people, all that cliched bullshit, but it’s not cliched when it’s the first time you’ve done it. How can you get perspective if you don’t do it?"

Yet even that was not enough momentum to keep the band from a thirst for progression. After becoming dangerously close to ‘settled’ after lingering in Hamburg, the decision was made to return. "We all had German girlfriends and were learning a lot about Yiddish music at the time, but at some point you’ve got to break yourself off from that, you realise whether you want to be an artist or a busker. We definitely wanted to come back to the city and be like ‘let’s make some art, not just be people who busk and travel’, which is great and I have total respect for, but I’d probably still be doing the same thing now. I don’t know what changed in particular, I just hear our records and think ‘this couldn’t have been made on the road.’ It needs months of consideration to channel what you know."

It is hard not to discuss the subject of Europe, particularly the ease with which the band were able to broaden their horizons with travel across the EU, without mentioning politics. Yet despite their background amongst the more subversive, politicised parts of Manchester’s art world, it’s an aspect to the band not immediately apparent on record. "Being political with your music and being a political person who makes music are different things. I’m a political person that makes music, although inevitably it comes out. The new album is very forceful, driving and marching. I think it’s really hard as a question to answer. We’re not spreading a very easy message to understand. We’ve been asked to play a gig at an old art cinema that’s been squatted by this autonomous art collective. They have a few nights on, it’s a political ball that’s going on in there, to get leftist people together to do something for the world. I believe all this political stuff and I subscribe to it, but the music doesn’t really fit in there. Obviously I believe in the good of my neighbour, we’ve all read from George Orwell, we’re all here to change things.

"If there was an English Civil War then we’d really see where people stand," he continues with an almost excited laugh at the prospect. "It’s good that people are becoming more politically aware, but we’re not making the right decisions for the future of our planet. Guitar or a gun, it’s difficult to apply your political views as a band. You’ve got to commit to being a soldier and fight for something good or somebody full of ideas who can put them into practice."

Finding an opportunity to catch The Yossarians live can be an infuriating prospect, their gigs being few and far between at present, owing to the fact they like to plot something new for every time they play. Their set on tQ’s own stage at this weekend’s Fat Out Fest in Salford, is a rare chance. What, in general, can one expect?

"We’re intense, not funny for a second," Schiazza answers. "We’ve taken the name Yossarians from Catch 22, one of the funniest novels ever written, and we love comedy, Armando Ianucci is one of my biggest influences on my lyricism and my ideas, but live we’re not funny. It’s intense, it’s hernia inducing, and that’s good. It would be semi-satisfying to see someone rushing off with an actual hernia. I just really want to make music that throbs, that people really grind their teeth to."

Schiazza uses a wheelchair, however he says that he rarely experiences prejudice as a disabled musician when it comes to playing live. "The only people that ever have a funny look in those situations is security. No one’s really made a thing of it. Sometimes people think ‘oh it might be a difficult venue for you to play in’, but if you give me a gig on the top of mount Everest I’ll be there. That’s just what a musician does, once you see yourself just as that. No one’s ever given me more or less in music. Of course does that on a daily basis, people have different ignorances. Quite surprisingly there’s nothing [from the musical community]. It shows you that you can be any shape or form if you want to be an artist. It’s what’s drawn me towards it, acceptance, for better or worse!"

Schiazza says "It’s just never over is it? That’s kind of a sad thing about humanity. Someone said to me when I was young, you can have like four or 5 vocations if you really apply yourself, but most people can only have one. It’s scary when you think about that, because artists can dip into film, painting, drawing music, and the really prolific ones only really skim the surface of all of them. I don’t know, how much do you apply yourself to each thing, and at which point do you think ‘let’s try something else?’

"I imagine once you start stepping back you realise that momentum was the only thing keeping you alive," he ponders, on the question of whether there will ever come a time for him to rest on his laurels, even for a second. "I imagine some people have known they’ve made good records over the years, they must have done. The greatest thing for me as a musician was playing in front of 600 people and the power going out and it going dark, weird things that make your time worth it. Success, to me, is just making a record that just sounds good, that’s changed someone thirty years in the future and opened their spectrum of thought. It’s all records have ever done for me, make me drive faster, drive more dangerously."

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