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‘I just think of music as a big adventure’: An interview with Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals

 

When it comes to the music that’s been coming out of the United Kingdom for the past 20 years, few acts have been able to match the peculiarities of Super Furry Animals. The Welsh band combines psychedelic rock and power pop together to create a sound abundant with energy. Frontman Gruff Rhys also has a habit of showing off his bilingual skills, singing in both English and Welsh, which is something you rarely find in contemporary artists that toe the line along the mainstream. Through these unique elements there’s a truly imaginative experience exhibited when this quintet performs. Making up for postponing their show that was supposed to happen at The Sinclair this past May, Rhys and crew will be playing at the venue in Cambridge this coming Sunday (July 24), part of their 20th anniversary run celebrating 1996 album Fuzzy Logic.

Ahead of this weekend, Vanyaland had a talk with Rhys about Welsh as a first language, his efforts to help the United Kingdom stay in the European Union, his numerous collaborations, what he thinks of British music nowadays and when we can expect a new album from Super Furry Animals.

Rob Duguay: Being from Wales you’ve written music with Welsh lyrics, most notably in the Super Furry Animals’ 2000 release Mwng. When you were growing up did your family talk to each other predominantly in Welsh or was it a mix of both that and English?

 

Gruff Rhys: In my case, I was in a Welsh speaking family. I grew up in a rural community that spoke almost exclusively Welsh, all my school education was taught in Welsh and it varies within the band. Some members in the band speak English with one parent along with speaking in Welsh with another parent. It’s very commonplace as well with a lot of people who grew up bilingually but in my case I grew up monolingually.

Do you still consider Welsh your first language?

Oh yes, exactly.

 
 

For people in other cultures, they find the English language to be somewhat hard. Linguists have actually compared the difficulty of learning English to the difficulty of learning Japanese and Chinese. When you were learning English after growing up speaking Welsh, did it ever get difficult for you or do you find it to be pretty easy?

It was easy due to learning it by osmosis by watching TV, watching Sesame Street and listening to records. The only issue for me was the spelling, I found English spelling is very weird compared to Welsh spelling obviously.

The big news coming out of the United Kingdom these days is the separation from the European Union. Before the vote was taken, Super Furry Animals released “I Love EU” while urging the U.K. to stay in the European Union. What initially made you want to write a political leaning song?

For some perspective, the people at the time were preparing to leave Europe and I came at it from an anti-evasion point of view. It scares the life out of me so I was inspired to write a song and from my perspective I prefer to keep my European passport.

 
 

It also comes down to economics, diplomacy and everything else, hopefully there’s some sort of reversal of the decision or there’s a compromise that can be made. Outside of Super Furry Animals you have the electro pop project Neon Neon with hip hop producer Boom Bip and you’ve also collaborated with the likes of Mogwai, Simian Mobile Disco, De La Soul, and Manic Street Preachers. How do you handle each collaboration and do you feel more comfortable as a musician working on the fly or abiding by a distinct formula?

I just think of music as a big adventure. I need to learn and as a songwriter songwriting can be somewhat formulaic so anything that helps me break any songwriting rules and formulas I try to jump at the chance. I think it’s inspiring to work with people who have completely different musical backgrounds. In fact, I find it quite healthy to try out and learn different things from people.

It’s cool that you’ve worked with a very diverse amount of musicians and it must help you when it comes to writing new music with Super Furry Animals. Being a musician who started out in the mid-’90s during the height of Britpop, what do you think of the music coming out of the U.K. nowadays? Do you listen to any new bands or do you pretty much just keep to yourself and listen to what has been constantly inspiring you?

 
 

It’s very varied and there’s always lots of interesting music. There’s lots of great Welsh music and I think there are great Welsh acts. I’m always trying to listen to new music and leave the window open for the future.

The last Super Furry Animals album came out seven years ago with Dark Days/Light Years being released in 2009. When can we expect a new album to come out?

We’ve been doing these anniversary shows, it’s now been 20 years since we’ve put out our first album Fuzzy Logic and it’s been enjoyable playing a bunch of the back catalog. We’re all pretty busy writing solo stuff for the most part and we’ve got no plans for a new album although you never say never. We’re planning on putting out some individual songs but no plans for an album as of now.

SUPER FURRY ANIMALS + CHRIS FORSYTH AND THE SOLAR MOTEL BAND :: Sunday, July 24 at the Sinclair, 52 Church St. in Cambridge, MA :: 8 p.m., 18-plus, $23 in advance and $25 day of show :: Bowery Boston event page :: Advance tickets