It is hard to say just how much I appreciate and adore Yani Martinelli. Like Roland, she is a huge talent who can play just about any instrument, and her musical instincts in writing and arranging perfectly compliment my songs. She knows exactly what to do any time I call for her help. For years now, we’ve also added to each others’ knowledge of pop music history. Together, we have explored the obscurer realms of acid folk and the cross over into pop via deceased blogs. Almost inviarably what she likes, I like. And don’t get me started on the beauty of her voice (more on that below). Of all the people I’ve met on the Internet over the decades, Yani is the one I most wish lived next door!
“Yani” is clearly a nickname. What is your gloriously long full name, please, madam, if that is not too intrusive?
My name is Yanara (Venezuelan natives’ indigenous name, which means “the messenger for love and friendship”) People find it really hard to pronounce so I had to shorten it to “Yani.”
Please tell us where you were born and spent most of your youngest years. What was the city like to live in as a kid? What did you like doing most as a kid there? Was there lots of local music? To what extent did this influence you and your eventual songwriting?
I was born in Caracas, Venezuela. I spent my childhood in a gorgeous house with a big garden full of tropical vegetation. I loved climbing up mango trees and building houses on them! We also had many dogs and cats, always my best friends. Caracas was definitely a better place than what it is today, there was less delinquency and crime in the streets than today.
Mum and Dad were both active musicians at the time and we three sang in a choir of classical music and Venezuelan folkloric music. My Aunt Silvia also is a great pianist, she was my piano teacher when I was a child and also I assisted to a lot of her concerts. Dad taught me to play the guitar and the cuatro (the Venezuelan ukelele) when I was 10 years old, and from that moment I began to write my own songs on guitar and cuatro.
I know your family is quite musical. Could you please tell the readers all about them and their various talents? What is your earliest musical memory?
My Mother was (and still is) a piano teacher and singer and my Dad sang and played cuatro really well.Earliest musical memory? Possibly, it was in my baby cradle listening to the national anthem loudly played at the school next to our house (in Venezuela the national anthem is played every morning at schools). I [stood] on my feet and began moving my arms and hands like an orchestra conductor. I must have had like 2 years.
One of the many things you and I share in our songwriting is a reliance on nostalgic memories of the past. You’ve written more about family than I have, but we both write about the friends we had as kids and specific memories. Why do you think that is? Is this a strength in songwriting? What if we run out of childhood stories? What will we do? Your song “La Casa” is a perfect example and a perfect set of lyrics, by the way.
Yes, childhood is definitely a subject that gives me strength and inspiration for songwriting. I think we both appeal to it in our songs because it represents the purest part of us and our lives, full of innocence, imagination and protection that we won’t lose or forget, so we need to put it in our songs to make it last… and sometimes shine a little light for an escapade.
In your writing, that gorgeous, wistful love of the past is comforting. I am one of the lucky recipients of the limited edition cd release of Bubble Station. It may surprise you to know that for quite a few of my darkest nights last summer, up late trying to distract myself from the anxieties of divorce and separation, I listened to your album, and slowly, slowly drifted off to your beautiful voice. Listening on headphones in the dark it was almost as if you were there singing to me alone. A huge part of the charm of your voice is that it is absolutely unaffected as well as being musically accurate. It sounds like a real individual person. Not many singers have that. What do you think of your own voice?
My voice and way to sing has been changing with the years… I sing more natural and unaffected now than before when I was singing in bands many years ago when I felt a little lost. I guess that is because now I feel happier with myself. I accept the “real me” and that includes my real voice. Glad to hear my music could help you to feel better in the dark times.
Not unlike Roland Wolff, you seem to be able to play just about any instrument. You are most comfortable on classical guitar and ukelele, but what accounts for this ability to play so many different instruments? Has it always been this way for you? Did you have a good musical education as a kid? Could you always get music out of most anything you picked up?
Yes, playing different instruments and is quite a challenge and also very fun. I first started playing the piano, being very young. I went to piano lessons with my Aunt for a few years. But it was with the cuatro and the nylon string guitar when I got really hooked about figuring out songs by ear and writing little songs.In my teens I felt curiosity for the drums so I took some lessons. I loved it. Now days I teach drums to young children.
I know that at some point you lived in Los Angeles briefly and then you and your mother moved to Madrid, where you live now. What was it like to deal with those changes, which to me seem enormous?
It was San Francisco… and I left my heart there!Yes, the change was huge. SF was wonderful, we lived almost in front of the sea… We spent almost a year living there. It was the mid-90’s and I was a teenager. But soon my Mum’s husband at the time got a new job in Madrid, so we moved here… I always dream of getting back there someday!
I know you were in at least one band in Madrid before you struck out on your own. Tell us about the music you made before Nonna in the Garden and Bubble Station.
When I came to Madrid in 1998, I soon started building a band with some guys I met at the music school (where I went for drum lessons). We became a 4 piece band called The Seasongs. I played the drums and the electric guitar sometimes. We played Garage-Power Pop! Can you imagine! We were so loud and chaotic… It was fun. We recorded a few demos, and after 4 years playing at many dark venues in Madrid I left the band and soon formed Navy Blue, a Beach Boys-Supertramp influenced three or four piece band where I sang and played the keyboards. We recorded an album titled “At Home” and played at IPO Liverpool at the Cavern Club in 2009.
Whenever I write to you online your life seems pretty hectic. Please tell our readers what sorts of things you might be doing during an average week. Also please characterize your living situation with your mother and the cats and your various jobs at the moment.
I’m a drums teacher and a music teacher for young children (3-4 year olds) at a school and at private lessons.
I’m also very involved (along with my Mother) in cat rescuing and animal right activities in Madrid. I’m so sorry to say this is one of the cruelest countries [toward] animals. So many horrendous traditions, so much ignorance. I feel my commitment to be strong every day to keep fighting for the ones who [don’t] have a voice.
If I remember correctly at first you felt out of place playing solo gigs in Madrid, but these days you seem more and more confident and to have a better time performing there. What has changed?
I still feel out of place playing solo, most of the time. At some shows, for some reason, I feel blocked and sad. But things change for the better when I play in company of my two friends Carmen Ros (backing vocals) and Julio García (acoustic guitar), they really cheer me up and I feel protected and happy when I play with them.
Other than recording, what have been your most memorable musical moments?
Definitely playing live with my favorite band The High Llamas. Doing the sound check together on stage, playing “Checking in, checking out”, I was playing the bass on that song and when we finished it, Sean O’Hagan seemed so happy, he looked at me and said it was great! :D
Do you recall how and when you and I “met” online? It must’ve been on MySpace, right?
Yes, that’s right, MySpace. Probably spring of 2009… I immediately fell for your music!
What do recall about the time in which you were working on the Smellicopter songs? What was going on in your life at the time? Were you working on Nonna in the Garden at the same time?
Yes, I think so. I was in the process of recording songs for NITG. Working on your songs really encouraged me to work with mine as well. By that time I think I worked at looking after a young girl who loved Disney Channel’s teenage singers. Also I was busy at rescuing-fostering cats, as always.
You play bass on the Roland-heavy “To Find Your Happiness,” and (oops) you weren’t credited in the liners for your harmonica and uke on “Inspected by Curly.” Sorry about that. My mistake. You added much more significantly to three other songs: “Delmarva Way, ““Maybe Then” and “Weirdos” are transformed by your presence. Your ukulele begins the final mix of “Delmarva Way” and you and Chas Lee Violet sing beautifully and snap fingers. Your electric guitar adds significantly to all three songs. I credit you with rescuing “Maybe Then” from my archive. You created your own vocal harmony lines on it and play the two electric guitar lines in the middle (a formula repeated in “Weirdos”) and added gorgeous acoustic guitars to the verses. Our voices sound so great together on this song, as they do on the final collaboration, “Weirdos.” I remember being in Palmer’s control room when he and Jack Shannon first heard your harmony with me. Jaws dropped. The ukulele tracks are also delightful. And you play a little piano, too, right? (Also uncredited. I really ripped you off on the credits. I am so sorry. Maybe in the 25 anniversary Deluxe Edition double disc set we can correct all my crediting mistakes).
Whew! Having said all that, what are your recollections of recording for Smellicopter? If I recall correctly, a pot-smoking neighbor helped with the recording. What was his name and a little about him, please. What stands out for you from that time? Are there particular tracks you are proud of?
Working on your Smellicopter songs was a source of positive energy, a disconnection from my daily routine. It was really fun and challenging to find arrangements with different instruments for your songs.
My neighbor Javier (AKA Angus 7) helped me to record the first vocal tracks for your songs, because at that time I didn’t have a microphone at home. He is a huge heavy metal music fan, he has a band called Chamán where he is the songwriter and guitarist. He’s such a character in the good sense, a really fun and talented fellow.
Ah, yes, I’m very proud of my electric guitar solo for Maybe Then.
Also around this time, we recorded an as yet unreleased 70’s-style pop classic of yours called, “In My School.” We both put a lot of work into it, but it just did not fit stylistically at all with Bubble Station. What will become of it? I am certainly proud of my work for it and listen to it now and again. (I have it on my SoundCloud…is it okay if I embed it on this blog?)
Yes, sure. I love “In My School”, too. I always think we should make and release an album (or EP) together and include that song on it.
You’ve played a good number of gigs over the past six months or so, but, like me haven’t gotten back to recording until just recently. You’ve contributed some tracks to my five plus minute piece, “Self-Starter Suite.” What’s next for us as collaborators? Any idea what your next album will be like? I only hope you’ll continue working on my music and I hope I can help with yours in return.
Yes, I will continue making music ... (that includes writing, recording, collaborating with you) I need to.I’ve got enough songs for a next album, which I think is going to be quite in the same line of Bubble Station. I want to start recording them soon. I want to sing and play on your songs. I only need one thing: two or three extra hours a day!