Eric Clapton once declared: “there is something primitively soothing about blues, and it goes straight to my nervous system, making me feel ten feet tall.”
In St Andrews, there’s no need to look very far to have this feeling – just go and listen to Ticho. With their melodious original songs, James Kenneally’s bewitching voice (that seems to have directly come from the far end of the Mississippi) and the passionate way in which Pedro Vitor Conceiçao plays harmonica, they even make the walls shiver. If you’ve already had the privilege of listening to Ticho playing, you’ll also probably have heard astonishing slam performances by Youkang Jun. As a matter of fact, one can’t categorize Ticho that easily. Nor would one want to: it seems their stunning music lays in a mediate between visceral blues and its fresh interpretation. Ticho performs tonight at the Aikman’s. In the meanwhile, we have wanted to meet them to find out more about their astounding songs.
Can you introduce the band?
Ticho is a blues band staring Youkang Jun (drums and slam), Declan Ghee (guitar and bass), Chris Wollner (keyboard), Pedro Vitor Conceiçao (harmonica) and James Kenneally (guitar and vocals). We had been playing for a while already but we started to perform live in 2012.
We come from quite different backgrounds. James and Declan’s interests are quite similar though, as they listen mostly to rock’n’roll. But Youkang has always been into hip-hop; he used to live in New Jersey, which considerably influenced his musical tastes. Chris grew up on classical music, but was very young into old psychedelic rock classics or progressive rock. One of his icons is Led Zeppelin. Pedro is very much into blues, and that’s where we all meet up. It’s a root for all the things we listen to. We try to strip back to a really basic approach to the blues, because sometimes the beauty comes from its simplest expression.
You started the band without Pedro. He rapidly joined you. The story how he joined the band is quite eloquent…
We just listened to him playing harmonica in the Union. He was playing dirty, passionate blues alone, just for the music’s sake. We immediately knew his art would add a lot of emotional strength and authenticity to our music. Pedro does convey an unthinkably wide range of sincere blues feelings through harmonica.
Does Ticho mean something in particular?
Actually, it does. Like every other band, at some point we had to sit and decide how we would be called (hard times). We obviously wanted to find something catchy and cool, possibly ending with a “o”, but couldn’t decide. Chris said Ticho, and everyone liked it right away. Now, what’s funny about it is that in Slovak (Chris’ mother tongue) it means silence. There’s no specific message, but we thought it was a paradoxical though fun name for a music band.
You play many of your own songs. Do you have a process for writing them?
Not really, no. We like composing, but it’s all very spontaneous. It doesn’t necessarily start with music or lyrics. One of us has an idea, and the others get creative. The rest is about enjoying ourselves.
We even sometimes improvise when playing. Pedro respects a pattern when he plays, but he always nuances and adjusts the notes to the mood of the day. In some way, we all do. It’s a good way of keeping things from being too static. This is quite fundamental to us.
What link do you have with the stage?
We enjoy playing live. We could stay in our living rooms and keep our music for close friends and us, but it’s a genuinely different experience to share it with a wider audience. It’s electrifying to see that people like what you are playing, enjoy themselves and that you manage to pass on something to them. Also, we all feel it’s about some kind of mysterious and overwhelming adrenaline that makes you float and in a way transforms you. For example, Chris is quite a stoic guy when he’s not playing. Just look at him performing; you’ll be surprised about how crazy he can get – in the positive sense of the term.
What about instrumental music?
We don’t have many instrumental songs, unless you consider the voice as an instrument. We would not really want to release instrumental songs. We would be keener on vocal songs than on bare instrumental ones, because we believe that the lyrics and the tone of the voice can express much too. However, sometimes, introducing the instruments alone helps the effect. Adding lyrics straightens it.
Can you tell us more about your influences?
Blues, blues, blues. Joe Savage, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Hownlin’ Wolf, Lighting Hopkins…We try to reproduce the intensity of those artists. James’ haunting voice is a core element to this. But we’re also into 70’s blues-influenced rock, mainly Led Zeppelin, Cream, the Rolling Stones, the Doors. We don’t really focus on more recent blues music. We kind of get the feeling that rhythmically; the funk and swing gradually vanish in the 80’s and 90’s.
You didn’t mention Jimi Hendrix. When we think about blues influenced rock, we think about him right away.
We’re keen on Hendrix, like everyone else. However, he’s not our main influence. We would rather be into his own sources of inspiration. Draw back a generation before, if you like. That’s part of our goal to offer the essence of old blues.
However, even though blues is our main approach, we don’t necessarily stick to it. Some of our songs are more about rock, some of them have slam in it. We would never reduce what can come out of our music just because it’s not pure blues. That would be counterproductive censorship.
Definitely. We found a quite fitting allegory. For us, the blues means three different but tied-together things.
Let’s imagine a guy in the centre of a nightclub wearing a bright orange jacket. He’s dancing, he’s the centre of attention, and he’s motivating everyone. That’s the first aspect of the blues that matters to us: getting everyone to dance along, entertaining people. Now someone else walks in, he wants to be the centre of attention but this other guy is still taking up the dance floor. There the blues gets very aggressive, when the guy who just came in punches in the face the one showing off in his orange jacket. Then, the blues is again this guy lying on the floor with his orange jacket, suffering physically and because all the women he was mesmerizing have gone with his rival. And he wakes up the next morning, alone, considering alcoholism, with a big bruise on his face. Well, we hope this blues’ personification helps.
And are you planning to release an E. P. or album, sooner or later?
You mean the self-indulgent ones or the other? (Laughs). We are playing all the time. We like to perform at least ¾ of original songs. So we have to write them. We are thinking about releasing an album, and are trying to gather the best songs we have on it, but there’s still a long way to go.
As it is now, the future album has blues issues at its core. There’s a real American influence to it: it expresses pain, loss, addiction (such as Chris going to the gym, this was just to remember that we still make jokes even about the most desperate topics). The imagery of the lost hobo is also quite recurrent. Blues comes from the U. S, so we borrow quite a lot over there. But we also modulate and individualise all those themes.
What’s your dream?
Playing music for a living and experiencing the hobo-bluesman American lifestyle? Just half-kidding, but let’s not be too serious about it because our girlfriends are probably going to kill us.
Do you have more realistic projects too?
Youkang slams. James has another project too. But they are only Ticho’s mistresses. Or if you consider you have more pleasure with the lover than with the wife, Ticho is illegitimate.
Words: Nora Leon