"I'll probably do a really simple pop album next" – hmv.com talks to Gruff Rhys about his mammoth project American Interior
Sometime Super Furry Animals mainman Gruff Rhys has never been the type to shirk a big project, but his latest magnum opus American Interior is something else entirely.
Back in 2012, Rhys set off on an investigative concert tour across many parts of America, researching, retracing the steps and looking for the grave of a relative called John Evans, a Welshman who left Wales for Baltimore in 1792 and trekked through the wilderness of the Allegheny mountains in search of a lost tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans.
When he returned Rhys set about documenting his journey and decided that he wanted it to consist of a book, a film, an album and an app, all titled American Interior. We called him up to find out all about this mammoth project…
American Interior is finally almost here, this must have been a tremendous amount of work, it's an album, a book, a film and an app…
"I'm very pleased with it, I've been working solidly on it for two years and I'm almost finished with it. When I finally do finish it, it'll be a really strange feeling because I've put so much time into it. It's going to be weird that I'll see other people getting into it, there's a lot of it for people to get into…"
How did you come across the story of John Evans?
"John Evans is a relative so I've been aware of his story for most of my life. He's a historical footnote and his story is known, but not particularly well."
So have you picked out a section of Evans' life for the album's narrative?
"There's a song on the album called '100 Unread Messages' which condenses his life story into one ballad and that song serves that purpose. The other songs relate to smaller details of his life or an emotion he would be feeling at a particular time. Hopefully the songs are universal and can survive on their own without people knowing the John Evans story."
What kind of album is it musically?
"It's an album of songs, not a soundtrack album for the film, although most of the songs do appear in the film. 11 songs, two instrumental pieces, created with lots of friends, it sounds like a band record, but there are some string arrangements too."
What came first? The album or the film?
"Actually it was the tour. I had an idea to recreate the journey he took between 1792 and 1799, he walked across this part of American looking for this tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans."
"He had no money and he was travelling across wilderness. I wanted to find out more about him so I did a tour of concerts along the way, played in some big cities in venues and bars and libraries and two reservations."
Where did you end up?
"I ended up in New Orleans at the end. On the way I recorded an album in Nebraska and I travelled with the director who was doing the film. When I got back I realised there was no contemporary book about John Evans, so I wrote one. This whole thing has taken up about three years of my life."
What attracts you to such grand projects?
"Some records need more pieces, some don't need them. This is such a huge story it needs a lot of scope to be told properly. There's another three EPs of songs that are not on the record too. I've taken a maximalist approach this time; it's been tiring though. I'll probably do a really simple pop album next."
Gruff Rhys releases new album American Interior on Monday (May 5th). You can pre-order now in hmv stores.