Wales is pound-for-pound one of the stronger music-producing regions in the entire world. Sporting a population of only three million people, there’s a fairly simple reason it is traditionally referred to as ‘the land of song’. Prominent among the crop of one of folk music’s leading nations is Gruffydd Maredudd Bowen Rhys, member of the on-again, off-again Super Furry Animals and now an established and storied solo artist whose style is as hard to pin down as the pronunciation of his name.
Gruff Rhys’ newest release is American Interior, which, above being an inspired album, is a story that compels you to pay attention as it explores the tale of John Evans – an 18th century Welsh explorer who travels to a Native American community in search of a long detached relative who shared his mother tongue.
“By now I’ve done three biographical records,” says Rhys. “Me and Boom Bip released an album as Neon Neon that followed the life of John DeLorean, which we enjoyed so much that we followed it up with an album around the life of a radical Italian publisher called Feltrinelli.
“It’s nice to talk about somebody else for a while rather than myself. Touring can become a pretty vacuous thing after a while and it’s good to examine other people’s narratives after a while.”
The change from playing in a band to curating your own work as a solo artist is a two-headed beast. While some artists are able to ride on the success of their previous work, Rhys takes a far more organic approach to his solo work, wherein everything is pointedly different from what comes before. His first solo album, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth –a folk record sung entirely in the Welsh language – was followed up in the next two years by Candylion, a collection of upbeat pop tunes, and his first offering as part of Neon Neon, his romp in the world of electronica. While genre-hopping like this often comes across as an artist trying to get their foot in as many markets as possible, Rhys admits a more genuine desire to express himself.
“My solo albums are basically reflections of what I’m feeling at the moment, and I record them fairly quickly,” he says. “They’re far more raw in comparison to other stuff I’ve done, and it’s a reflection of what I’m in to, really. [Neon Neon’s] Stainless Style was an album I did with a friend and that was a chance for me to experiment and try out different ideas that I couldn’t do alone.
Now, with the hard work of producing American Interior behind him, Rhys is continuing his mission of getting the album out to the rest of the world – an effort which includes two Australian shows in Sydney and Melbourne this month. “I actually came out to Australia for Hotel Shampoo in 2011 and played some pub shows in Melbourne and Sydney, which were great,” he says. “The crowd was super up for it and I had a great time.”
He’s squeezed in a stopover in Japan on the way, but the flight from Cardiff to Sydney is an undoubtedly long haul. “I actually have grown to really enjoy flying. It’s nice to be somewhere where nobody is able to contact you, but even that’s getting pissed off now they have Wi-Fi on planes,” says Rhys.
“I’m very excited to be back in Australia. It’s the one place in the world that has inspired me to write new material every time.”
Gruff Rhys’ American Interior out now through Turnstile/Caroline. He appears with Jep And Dep and Community Radio at Newtown Social Club on Friday March 6.