“I just wanted to write a song that sounded like it was melting…” - hmv.com talks to Gruff Rhys
It took four years for Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys to follow up his acclaimed 2014 solo album American Interior with last year’s Babelsberg. But the next chapter hasn’t been half as long in coming. In fact, it’s already with us.
Babelsberg was recorded initially in three days and then brought to life with the 72-piece BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Pang!, on the other hand, was recorded in Rhys' native Cardiff with Muzi, a South African electronic artist and producer. A move from sweeping, warm folk to a carnival of sound with Welsh language lyrics.
We spoke to Rhys about his radical change in direction...
It’s only been a year since Babelsberg, but that album was sat around for a little while. When did you start putting together this album?
“Last June, but that was just one song. The majority was done in a week in November when I was off touring, then a bit more in January. It still feels quite fresh to me and I didn’t have to sit on it for too long.”
Can you tell us about Muzi? How did you meet?
“I met him making a track called ‘Vessels’, which came on the Africa Express EP. It was a great experience working with him. I came home to Cardiff after tour and I’d been commissioned to do a piece of music for a carnival procession and I thought he’d be great to come in and remix it. And it turned out beyond all of my expectations. So I asked him if he’d make an album with me.”
What was he like to work with? It must have quite different to the producers you’ve had before…
“He came to Cardiff and we set up together. He took all my stuff, these songs that were written on acoustic guitar, some brass arrangements, he deconstructed all the songs and completely rebuilt them. It was fantastic. It was like nothing else I’ve done before.”
It’s a Welsh language record, was that something you wanted to do or the way the songs worked out?
“I had a load of Welsh language songs and Muzi encouraged me to use them. I made an English track and a Welsh track with him and he preferred the Welsh one. He wanted more of that. More of his own records are in Zulu, so it wasn’t a barrier. He did a bit of Zulu on the album too.”
It’s a nine-track-record, did you want to keep it quite tight and lean?
“I only had 10 songs and we couldn’t figure out what to do with the 10th song. That one didn’t work with the others and it got dropped. Some of my favourite albums are short. Serge Gainsbourg’s Melody Nelson is 27 minutes long and my favourite Van Halen record is 30 minutes. You get to know the songs really well. The album’s over before you know it and you play it again!”
Is there a lyrical theme or is every song its own island?
“They’re quite separate. A lot of them deal with technology and the digital world, a couple of them are very abstract, one is about sunscreen. I just wanted to write a song that sounded like it was melting. The last track is really absurd. It translates as ‘My mouth is a house for my teeth’.”
Was it always going to be called Pang!?
“I liked it. I thought it was a good statement for the record, it’s an unusual track and an unusual word. We weren’t going for a particular sound, we just wanted something unique, I think it sums that up.”
You’ve got some shows in the autumn, how will you be recreating the record in the live arena?
“It’s going to be varied. I’m doing some club gigs, just me and a drummer, that’ll be quite stripped back, mostly using samplers. Then in the autumn, I’m going to bring out some of the musicians who played on the record, a full band show with brass.”
Are you going to give some of your older songs a Pang! interpretation?
“Maybe. I think we’ll play around with the new songs, when they’ve been played thus far they’ve been much longer and much more of a party.”
You’re a prolific writer, do you have your next project lined up?
“I’ve got a mini world tour and this is my focus now. I want to bring Pang! to the people. I don’t have wild expectations, but I’m really enjoying playing this record.”
Gruff Rhys’ new album Pang! is out now in hmv stores.