Hailing from Catania, Sicily, Agostino Tilotta is likely best known for his decades spent in the bands Uzeda (formed in 1987) and Bellini (formed in 2001), both of which are still active. Uzeda just recorded new tracks earlier this month, and celebrated their 30th anniversary with a two day festival last summer, while Bellini released a new LP just last year. For years, along with Giovanna Cacciola (his wife and vocalist of both bands), Agostino has helped run Indigena Booking, which brings bands to perform in Italy and has a most excellent reputation of being some of the best tour managers in Europe. Aside from all of this, they both find plenty of ways to keep themselves busy and well-fueled by a lot of coffee. It was a true pleasure, as always, to talk with him and discuss music, art, what a day in their lives is like. Also, the importance of coffee.
Hello, Agostino! I can’t thank you enough for doing this!
Sure, no problem! It's a pleasure to do this for you, Ben! :-)
How about we start with you telling us a bit about who you are and what you do?
My name is Agostino Tilotta, I'm an Italian from Catania, Sicily. I play electric guitar in a local band called UZEDA, with Giovanna (my wife) and 2 other Sicilians, and in another band called BELLINI, with Giovanna and 2 Americans. I also play acoustic solo shows, promoted as "Agostino Tilotta... solo... acoustic... In Itinere," performing my instrumental compositions through old wooden guitars handmade in Catania by luthiers who lived a long time ago.
Agostino at Electrical Audio. Photo by Alexis Fleisig.
With Giovanna, through Indigena (our little booking agency) we book shows for independent bands composed of very good friends with whom we share the aptitude for the art of music, freedom from commercial slavery, the sound able to communicate directly to the deepest and most intimate emotions of every consciousness, thus generating an audience, a community of different individuals who share vibrations and frequencies, all together in the same place, even if nobody knows the other. Giovanna is also a screen-printer, she has her own workshop where she prints on fabric, shoes, T-shirts, band merch, leather, etc. When she has a lot of work to do I help her for as long as she needs me. The breaks during all our creative and organizational activities, including the daily routine, are tempered by many espresso coffees that we enjoy sipping them slowly to appreciate its roasting, taste, aroma and fragrance, absorbing and assimilating them with care and pleasure.
In 2018, Uzeda celebrated its 30th anniversary with two days of notable and influential bands, some of which haven’t been active in some time. How did you all get the idea to do this, and what were the bands’ initial reactions to being asked?
Personally, I'm always shy and reluctant to celebrate anniversaries. I always spend my birthdays with very few friends, away from the confusion of crowded parties, playing my acoustic guitar when I feel to interact with my loneliness, sure to be welcomed by friends while they keep talking to each other. In fact in summer 2017 in Catania, Sicily when a couple of dear friends first asked me if we were willing to celebrate UZEDA 30th, spontaneously offering to finance a musical event conceived and planned by us, my immediate reply was "NO".
Their second attempt was successful when they later explained to me that UZEDA 30th could be a great opportunity to inspire many young people, entangled in the jerseys of a self-centered society that limits their creativity and fantasy, thus oppressing their freedom to build an amazing future, day by day, one brick after another, learning from their own mistakes, falling to rise and move forward, strong of a real non-virtual experience.
My immediate reply was: "Sure, let's do it!"
After 4 months of preparation, together with a bunch of friends, mostly members of bands on the line up, the event had come to life, on a beautiful beach in Catania, Sicily, Friday 25 and Saturday 26, May 2018.
UZEDA 30th became the celebration of welcoming and friendship, with a line-up consisting of 8 bands for 9 shows.
Although we ourselves were the focal point of our anniversary, we deeply felt that it was our duty and honor to welcome everyone, bands, audience, and all those we wanted to be at the 30th, together sharing emotions, respect, joy and hope.
This is why we decided to open both evenings by playing first.
Uzeda performing at Uzeda 30th. L-R: Giovanna Cacciola, Agostino Tilotta, Raffaele Gulisano, Davide Oliveri. Photos by Donata Marletta.
All the bands I had contacted are people we admire for their way of being, for their independent attitude to manage their career, for their way of being so direct and so unique in expressing the identity of their thinking through the unconventional sound of their music, and of course for having lived intense human adventures, sharing stages with them around the world.
What were the initial reactions from the bands when asked?
Enthusiasm, surprise, curiosity, gratitude, joy, and all their full desire to be with us, here in Catania, Sicily.
It was not one of the many festivals that fill summer evenings, it was just a birthday party. Friends inviting friends to play for other friends, and this sense of community created nuances, moods, atmospheres, flavors, colors, and lights totally different from the flat routine of any generic festival.
I cannot translate into words the feelings I felt in those days, but if I close my eyes I can still smell the dozens of espresso I tasted, and feel the powerful positive energy generated in those two days of great music and of great humanity, even higher than the energy able to bring a big Boeing from the ground to the sky, when I think June of 44 pushed their hearts to the top of the scale accepting our invitation, and coming back to play in front of an audience 20 years after their last show.
You’ve made many great friends over the years, not only through the bands you are in, but also by bringing bands over to play in Italy and tour managing them. Are there any specific tours or experiences that stand out to you?
Oh well...there are many experiences and many tours I'd certainly love to share with you, but it would take an encyclopedia to enclose them all, and then already my poor English leads me to write long answers to your simple questions. However, I'll tell you a short real story, happened many years ago, while I was a tour manager with June of 44 on tour in Europe.
Coming from London where the band had played the night before, in the afternoon we arrived in Leeds and were looking for a venue called "The Duchess of York" in time for the load-in and the sound check. It was a grey rainy February day in the UK, and we did not have the venue address; in those days without GPS we used to use maps, and without the address available, we used to get information here and there verbally.
In the city center while stopped at the traffic light waiting for the green, I see a guy walking on the sidewalk near the van. I quickly open the window and scream loudly:
"Hey mate, do you know The Duchess of York?" The boy, looking at me from under his umbrella at the mercy of the wind, respectfully responds: "No, I'm sorry mate, I do not know her. I wish I could have known someone as important as her. Ask that elderly gentleman with white hair over there, he might know her for sure!"
An uncontrollable roar of laughter and tears immediately exploded inside the van, we had to stop and get off the van, and we couldn't stop laughing for 15 minutes. Without having imagined it, a sincere spontaneity had created a paradox that lived in reality, transforming a question and its answer in a true theatrical sketch, live on the street.
When can we expect new music from you?
A tour of Bellini in the USA, to promote the new album, is foreseen perhaps this year if we find a band of friends available to be on tour with us.
The new 8 songs of UZEDA that will go on the new album are already running live in our shows. We expect to record them perhaps in January 2019.
(Update: Uzeda recorded a new album with Steve Albini from January 3-6, 2019 in an analog studio in Northern Italy.)
A film/documentary on the history of UZEDA is in preparation and assembly. Filming already started 3 years ago.
I'm planning to record the songs for my first solo album by the end of this year, to be released on 2019. etc.etc.etc....:-)
Photo by Donata Marletta.
What is a regular day in Catania for you and Giovanna?
In the morning we always wake up with the scent of coffee, as soon as it's ready in our 6 cups coffee maker, prepared by who, between the 2 of us, gets up first. We also have a 2 cups coffee maker... but that's useless for us since a very long time. We love espresso coffee, it's a family tradition and part of our culture.
Photo by Ben Crowell.
A little breakfast for Giovanna, and a sequence of little cups of espresso coffee for me, are the occasion for us to plan what the 2 of us will have to do during the day, work, go at the market, take care of the car, pay the bills, work, meet friends, etc. etc.
Our day isn't too much different from other people's day... except for the fact that music is our way of life, even doing other things. Every moment of the day, in my opinion, is a precious source of inspiration that, constantly, indicates all the existing creatures, the specific sound of each individual identity.
So, let’s talk about coffee. How big of a role does coffee play in your life?
As you can read on my answers above, coffee plays a very important role in my life. It belongs to the ancient Mediterranean culture of the island where I was born and where I live: Sicily.
Since I was a child, I learned how to recognize the taste of a good coffee.
My father taught me that espresso coffee should never be drunk like a glass of water, but it should be sipped in small doses, a bit of coffee at the time, holding it in the mouth to absorb its aroma and taste, slowly and...no rush, so as to transform the need into the intimate pleasure of a contemplative moment.
How do you make it at home?
In a 6 cups aluminum Moka/coffee maker.
A Bialetti Moka Pot. Photo by Kristan Lieb.
What do you look for in a good cup of coffee?
Its roasting, taste, aroma and fragrance. Even the best coffee blend on earth can generate an awful coffee. If the Moka isn't carefully prepared and/or if the temperature of the stove is overly aggressive and/or if the water is too much or too little and/or if the coffee blend is too compressed in the funnel-filter. You know, little precious things needs a lot of passion and love.:-)
Can you describe the differences in coffee culture in the U.S. and Italy?
I think the US coffee culture originally came from the British Empire that introduced its use in its colonies.
A super boiling caffeine-rich coffee comes out of a kettle. Drunk in large cups, without sugar, it leaves a taste in the mouth that suggests it is a strange coffee broth, or an unusual coffee-flavored tea. In American culture, coffee is drunk everywhere, walking on the streets, driving the car, sitting or standing on the bus, the train, etc. It is also served "to go" in large plastic or polystyrene glasses, with lids, and wooden scoop to stir the coffee.
In Italian culture, coffee is drunk in particular specific moments, to wake up in the morning, to temper relaxation and conviviality, at the bar talking to other people, friends or relatives, or at home alone, comfortably sitting to concentrate on reading and/or writing, or with friends, to socially entertain.
Coffee is served in small porcelain or ceramic little cups, resting on saucers of the same material, provided with a little metal spoon to stir the coffee.
In the historical and continuous progress of the people and their great migratory flows, the Italians who left for the USA in the mid-30s, brought with them pieces of their culture; mandolins, accordions, and their beloved Moka-coffee makers, invented in Italy by Mr. Bialetti in 1933.
Cultural differences are the great wealth of all peoples on Earth. No culture is superior to another. Meeting each other, all populations progress, contributing to the overall evolution of the only race existing in our planet, what Gandhi defines in one single word: Humanity.
How do you feel coffee intersects with your creativity?
Espresso coffee; totally bitter, without sugar or sweetener or honey, is an active part of my creativity, and an irreplaceable friend who assists me in moments of private concentration, like now, I'm answering your questions and espresso coffee looks at me while I slowly sip it from a cute and tiny red cup.
And although it's 5:30 am, I assure you that I will sleep very well and deeply, immediately after finishing this interview.
Thank you so much, Agostino! Congratulations on 30 years to Uzeda, and all my best to you and Giovanna!
You're welcome my Ben, and thank you for giving me the chance to talk about things I love.
Agostino. Photo by Luci Distorte.