Incendiary interview Plant Duw
IN: If I am right, your name translates as God Children and your album is called The Chapel Pleasant. Are you (God forbid) an especially religious band?
PD: The literal translations are 'God's Children' (although we decided a while back that 'God's Kids' was far more punk-sounding), and 'The Lovely / Wonderful Chapel'. However, we think 'The Chapel Pleasant' sounds much better, and will refer to the album using this title for ever and ever. We are by no means religious - in fact, we are Godless heathens. Our first single was a double A-side containing a song called Talach Na Iesu, which translates as 'Taller Than Jesus'. We'll burn for that one...
IN: What is Plant Duw's musical game-plan? What do you aspire to? And no one-word answers...
PD: Nothing much, really. The band started in a very low-key fashion, with three of us jamming in our drummer Myfyr's conservatory because we wanted something to do together in between college terms. We're just doing it for fun, and if people happen to like us, that's an added bonus. But I do think we will be together for some time: this isn't a band that was thrown together because of an ad on the wall of a record shop - we're family and best friends, and if we didn't have Plant Duw, whatever would we do with our time together?
IN: Your music is at times quite acerbic. What pricks do you kick against?
PD: It's far less acerbic than it used to be. Our very new stuff is largely made up of soul-influenced ditties about lobsters and seals, merry-go-rounds and ribbons. But originally, we were far angrier (probably because we were far younger). We'd lash out at anything - people who'd angered us at college, the narrowness of Welsh-language radio, over-sensitive religious types, the women who scorn us on a daily basis etc. Your typical topics for a young, punk-influenced band, really. It's this image of us that largely persists in Wales today, even though we've mellowed quite a bit over the years. It's the reason we're not invited to play at too many children's parties, although we'd enjoy doing that quite a bit.
IN: We kindly ask you to rabbit at length on the state of the welsh language music scene.
PD: Over the past few years, we've been spoiled by an avalanche of really good bands, all really different to one another. Unfortunately, due to the part-time nature of the Welsh-language scene, most bands don't tend to stay around for too long - their members get jobs / move away, and great bands often split up after an an album, or a couple of singles. There are still a few good bands left (more about them later), but it's slowed down a bit over this past year or so.
Another thing which doesn't help is that Bandit, an occasionally fantastic music programme which went out of its way to promote and support new and obscure bands, now only broadcasts a few shows a year as opposed to a couple of series. Welsh-language radio is also consistently underwhelming, playing mainly middle-of-the-road pop music from musicians who very rarely play live, which doesn't help matters one bit. It's only a matter of time, though, before a new clutch of young bands break through. People often talk about the 80s and early 90s as a golden age for the Welsh-language scene, with bands like Y Cyrff, Ffa Coffi Pawb and Yr Anrhefn creating havoc around the country, but it's very possible that the mid-00s will be looked at just as fondly in the future, if not more so.
IN: Two final question cum paragraphs about "language" and then I promise to stop... I'll try to draw a parallel between "over here" in Holland, and Wales. The Dutch music scene seems to lurch uneasily between over-assertive Dutch language bands to straight down the line acceptance of English as a rock n roll language. Does it tend towards being a bit insular, existing separately from English language music scene in Wales, or do you all rub along?
PD: Yes, it is all a bit insular. Even Welsh-language bands who have a few English-language songs struggle to break through onto the English-language scene in Wales. We're one of the few bands who sing exclusively in Welsh (bar Ramones and Arcade Fire covers), not for any real political reason, but because singing in English would feel fake and forced, seeing as we think and speak to each other in Welsh. If anything, though, we prefer playing on bills with English-language bands, as it tends to introduce us to new and open-minded crowds who've probably never heard our music before.
There's no easy answer as to why the two 'scenes' in Wales have failed to mix so far, but it's probably largely due to the fact that many people are unaware there even is a Welsh-language scene. There definitely needs to be a lot more cross-promotion, because only good can come out of it.
IN: To us Skando-Saxons, Gorky's kind of kicked the door open for Welsh language bands, and Super Furries released the genius of Mwng. Do you feel the door has slammed shut again, or is that down to a dearth of other ideas/good bands?
PD: The door definitely hasn't slammed shut, but it probably wasn't ever all that wide open. To be honest, we're not very aware of how we're perceived internationally, but in Wales, the fact that some time has passed now since the heyday of SFA and Gorky's may actually be helping matters. When the Super Furries were huge, you had the absurd situation of bands from South Wales singing in the (very different) North Walian accent to sound more like Gruff Rhys. If you asked any band what their influences were back then, they'd reply without fail: 'Super Furry Animals, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Catatonia'.
Now, rather than everyone trying to be the next SFA / Gorky's, there are bands influenced by all sorts of wildly different bands and sounds which makes the scene much more exciting and unpredictable - and isn't it more likely that one of these bands will eventually break through if they don't sound like what's come before?
IN: What other Welsh bands would you recommend we watch out for?
PD: In no particular order, and probably with a lot of omissions...
Derwyddon Dr Gonzo: A nine-person funk-ska-afrobeat-soul-jazz party band. Probably the best live band in Wales.
Texas Radio Band: A band that's been around quite a while, with two albums under their belt. Good, incomprehensible stuff. Their guitarist is...
Alex Dingley: Not a Welsh-language singer, but one of the most genuinely impressive acts around. We really can't recommend his album I Lost My Honey In The Grass highly enough. It's always the first album that gets played when Plant Duw get in a car and drive across the country to a gig. In an ideal world, he'd be huge. Our guitarist Rhys also plays in his band these days, but that's got nothing to do with it.
Race Horses: Gorky's-influenced psychedelic pop. They've been having a lot of success recently, and not only in Wales.
Eitha Tal Ffranco: Another Gorky's-influenced band, but even more strange. They're very young, but have already released two great albums. Their first, Os Ti'n Ffosil (If You're A Fossil), is one of the best Welsh-language albums of recent years.
Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog: Three brothers who play energetic, low-fi country / bluegrass-influenced rock. Their album, Dawns Y Trychfilod (Dance Of The Insects), is well worth a listen.
Gwilym Morus: Stunning acoustic singer-songwriter, who released what is probably Plant Duw's favourite Welsh-language album, Traffig, a few years ago. Since then, he's released quite a bit more material. He also sings for...
Drymbago: An afrobeat band which really lit a fire under us and made us realize how good Welsh-language music could be. If you can, listen to their song Trac Enaid (Soul Track). It's a thing of pure joy.
Alun Tan Lan: More solo acoustic stuff. This man had the same esteemed bluesy guitar teacher as the Plant Duw guitarists, and has released three beautiful albums so far.
Cate Le Bon: You may recognize her as the female vocalist from the Neon Neon track I Lust U. She also sings on Byw Ar Gwmwl (Living On A Cloud), which is a track on our album. Her solo work is spine-chilling.
Threatmantics: Ace three-piece grungy rock band, with the front man shredding on the viola. They released a great album a few months ago, called Upbeat Love.
Yr Ods: Libertines-influenced pop-punk. They're gaining a lot of momentum, and played the Glastonbury Festival this year. We were in school with Gruff, their singer. Wales is a small place.
IN: Anyway, sod all language issues, tell us about the album.
PD: Like most debut albums, it's pretty much a selection of the best songs from the first few years of the band, and as such is quite varied, ranging from dreamy, psychedelic soundscapes to anthemic epic rock to strange, lurching doo-wop to Irish-sounding numbers which sounds like a cross between The Pogues and Thin Lizzy to the waltz, and beyond. Production-wise, we were very much influenced by Arcade Fire, and wanted a big, epic sound. We really threw in everything, including the kitchen sink: piano, handclaps, a harp, a trio of female backing singers, and more (not to mention Gabriel Liebach's famed string quartet!).
It was recorded at Blaen Y Cae studios in North Wales, in the capable hands of Welsh-language uber-producer Dyl Mei. He's had more production awards than he's had hot dinners. Because we're amateurish and lazy, and mainly live on the opposite side of the country, it took a year or more to record, but I think it was all worth it. Now we just have to work up the energy to do it all again...
IN: I understand that Huw Stevens has championed the band. Do tell..
PD: He's been a good chum of ours for some time now. We went into a recording studio for the first time in order to record a session for his radio show, and he said some very complimentary things about our single, and, more recently, about our album. According to him, 'The melodies, the instrumentation, the attitude, the speed and the otherwordly quiet parts are great ... There's a feeling that this is the album that Plant Duw have been thinking about and working on throughout their lives.' Which is nice. He's really priceless to the Welsh-language scene, whether it's in organizing gigs such as his Swn Festival in Cardiff, or in playing Welsh bands on one of his various radio shows.
IN: Favourite biscuits, please.
PD: Many of the band prefer the humble gingery crunchiness of the Ginger Nut, but according to a certain bassist, who will remain nameless, 'The King of Biscuits is the Hob-Nob, and the King of the Hob-Nobs is the Chocolate Hob-Nob.' We'll get back to you on that one.Questions: Richard Foster