As the frontman of cult Welsh psychedelic rock band Super Furry Animals, Gruff Rhys has worked as a musician now for over two decades. A leading figure in Wales’ music scene, Super Furry Animals and his previous Welsh language band Ffa Coffi Pawb being recognised as being at the core of the Welsh renaissance in music in the 90s, Rhys has collaborated with the likes of Mogwai and most recently Gorillaz, as well as releasing three solo albums and another as part of his electro-pop project Neon Neon, with amazing producer/electronic musician Boom Bip.
Set to play two intimate shows in Australia next week in support of his latest solo offering Hotel Shampoo, one at the Northcote Social Club on Monday in Melbourne with a Sydney show the next night at the Excelsior Hotel, we caught up with the man to discuss what his creative process and why he likes to work solo every now and again.
Music Feeds: So how are you, what’s been keeping you busy?
Gruff Rhys: I finished the tour two days ago, a tour of the UK and I’m going to France later on today and them I’m heading over your way later. But I’m just at home now.
MF: How has the tour gone so far?
GR: I booked myself into a lot of seated venues, as the album is fairly downbeat. It’s been great though, we’ve had an instrumental surf band open up every night. Every night they play some of my songs too, with a slight surf feel.
MF: Great. Speaking of the album can you tell us a bit about it? What makes you want to make solo albums rather than using the songs for a Super Furry Animals release.
GR: When I make solo records, it’s largely a chance for me to document songs fairly quickly. With Super Furry Animals the process is very collaborative so it’s very involved. We like to really push things sonically, use lots of equipment and everything but when I work on my own I just try and document the songs, so it’s a lot more simple and straight forward. I think my first album took a week, and the second took two and this one took three, so it’s the most refined of my solo records but it’s not as refined say as a Super Furry Animals record.
MF: Do you find it helps keep the creativity flowing with the band going out and working on your won and working with other people?
GR: I think it’s healthy. We’ve made nine records now with Super Furry Animals, with the same line-up and I think that can be a lot of records for people to get their head around, so I think it’s good to let people catch up a bit.
MF: I can imagine it must be pretty liberating to go from working with a group of people in a democratic collaborative project to being the one person in charge?
GR: When I make solo records there is a lot less pressure, and I’m free to be flippant and to tour very very simply. It just feels really healthy to be working in a different context.
MF: You’ve got a long history of collaborating with other artists, is that also something that you do to keep yourself inspired?
GR: I never planned to do so many collaborations, for the first five years of the band I turned everything down. I gradually started doing some bits and bobs, and really it’s just random phone calls, people invite me down to their studios and I suppose I’m quite nosy and I want to see how they make records and hang out. I’ve definitely learned a lot from doing it, it’s always different making an album with new people because it’s a new process, but it’s never something I strived to do.
MF: It seems to me like you’re the sort of person who just likes to let things happen rather than forcing anything.
GR: Yeah, I think especially with songwriting, I don’t try and force songs out. I’ll work ion them until I think they’re finished and I’ll re-write lyrics over and over again, but I usually record once I’ve got enough songs, rather than getting songs together to record if you know what I mean.
MF: Yeah I know what you mean, working from inspiration, waiting for something to happen rather than forcing it.
GR: There’s definitely an element of craft involved but it’s good to leave space for accidents.
MF: So it’s important for you not to get bogged down into a routine or work pattern?
GR: Yeah being in a band is an extremely romantic idea, it’s not really based in any kind of reality in any way. It’s like a gang in a way, and people tend to change a lot in different ways and it’s good to keep that in mind and just deal with things when they happen.
For instance when I was working on Hotel Shampoo I thought I should make an album of piano ballads almost as a joke because I was 39 and I was going to be 40 by the time it came out. So It started out with a few piano pieces but then I ended up with songs coming out that featured no or very little piano, which were all happy accidents. They’re often the best songs.
Gruff Rhys will play The Northcote Social Club in Melbourne Monday May 2nd and The Excelsior Hotel in Sydney on Tuesday May 3rd