The tiny village of San Martino Spino sits nestled in the Northern Italian countryside, and Tizio Sgarbi was raised there, far from the bright lights and glitz of the bustling European cities. "The life there is quiet and peaceful," he says. "I grew like most of the kids there: going to school, staying among friends, biking around the fields, fishing in the small river. I helped my parents working in the countryside picking up melons, watermelons, tomatoes, pumpkins, and I always liked doing that!"
This spring, American audiences are getting their first introduction to Bob Corn, the stage name Sgarbi has taken to perform his delicate folk songs. Following a split 7-inch with Portland's own Larry Yes last fall, the latest Bob Corn album, We Don't Need the Outside, has just been re-released in North America courtesy of Portland's North Pole Records. It's a charming, breezy album that belies Sgarbi's rural upbringing as well as his fondness for American and English music. "I discovered rock music listening to famous '60s and '70s bands," he says. "Then the Paisley Underground movement of the '80s let me understand that there was good music going on in my days. I loved Dream Syndicate so much. Then the punk rock came along with the grunge—these are the steps."
The head of North Pole Records, Shane de Leon—who performs under the name Miss Massive Snowflake—met Sgarbi on a European tour last year. "We all shared the same booking agent," says de Leon. "Tizio and I hit it off immediately. We first met up in Berlin, and of course we went out for an espresso and began chatting. He is a typical Italian, in that he is all about good food, good wine, good art, good conversation, and good music. These are basically my interests also. Tizio is just amazing in that he can strum a few chords and sing in broken, rearranged English and come up with some of the most heartfelt songs."
Indeed, many of the most disarming moments on We Don't Need the Outside come from Sgarbi's tongue wrapping around unconventional English phrases. "It wasn't really a decision. The songs came out in this way," he says. "Probably because the lyrics of my songs are so explicit and I want to hide them by another language. I find English phrases or sentences not so obvious as I find Italian; I can say 'I love you' in a song, but if I say 'Ti amo,' it sounds different to me."
If Bob Corn's lyrics are alluringly inexpert, the melodies are precise in their sparseness, eschewing both the operatic and peasant traditions of Italian music for a uniquely skewed take on Western folk. "I consider myself not as a musician," Sgarbi says humbly. "I mean I am not someone with a knowledge of music and conscious of putting this or that in my music. I just play simple guitar positions and sing melodies on them."
Sgarbi originally released the Bob Corn records in Italy on his Fooltribe label, and on Fooltribe's website, he says he started the music as "a serious joke." He explains, "I never planned to be a folksinger. So when I started to make music it was like a joke, but serious because what I was singing in my songs was my real life! And it still is like this!"