Gruff makes ready to go. “Erm I'm going to get a drink. You got any more of them nuts?” (Gruff, for the record has been slyly scoffing all the complimentary nuts the entire length of the interview)."
Incendiary have a most interesting talk with Mr Gruff Rhys.
Amsterdam in late January is a city under constant siege from inclemement weather. To simplify a tad further, its dreary, grey and wet. And damned cold. To make matters worse, we forgot to wear our winter coats. Scurrying in and out of doorways in order to dodge the icy showers, we arrive at the Park Hotel, which is situated just behind the Paradiso, the venue where Gruff Rhys is scheduled to play that evening. Taking a break from his Super Furry duties, Gruff will be playing songs from his solo album Yr Atal Genhedlaeth. And, of course, Incendiary are most anxious to meet up with him.
The bar of the Park Hotel is an anodyne, semi corporate affair, replete with darkwood fittings and a distempered peach colour scheme that only serves to highlight the impression of all encompassing hopelessness and boredom. An unwritten rule, (doubtless inaugurated by high powered corporate types who would frown over anyone wasting valuable weekday working hours), dictates that hotel bars off season are peopled by furtive, seedy types engaged in some inane business transaction, or people anxiously waiting for some dreadful assignation. Bottled water is de rigeur for the suits. Not us, happily, for, as I've said, we're hanging out with that wonderful and talented magician, Mr Gruff Rhys of the Super Furry Animals. He's not here as yet. I'll go and take a look around. I encounter a gangling, slightly halting figure in the corridor, well wrapped up in a huge shapeless jumper and a Barcelona FC scarf.
Hi Gruff, how are you?
"Oh, hello, hello, how are you? I've lost me voice.."
God does that mean no show?
"No no, I'll be fine. Do you want a drink?"
Great, erm.. I'm supposed to be interviewing you, did you know that?
I may as well point out that certain Incendiary members enjoyed the considerable hospitality of the Super Furry Animals back in late 2001, as well as their unfathomable patience later in the evening, especially after one drunken Incendiary member fell into a hole in the middle of a busy thoroughfare and stayed there for a little while. Surprisingly, we kept in touch quite affably, swapping books and records.
We sit down and start talking, as usual, of books.
IN: Have you seen this? It's "The White Goddess", by Robert Graves.
This is a book concerning the history of poetic myth and symbol. In the course of it's many arguments, it attempts to draw a line betweeen Welsh and Irish bardic practice and Mother Goddess worship. This is Gruff's kind of book. He sits there for a good ten minutes flicking intently through it. "Ït's got Llew Llaw Griffiths in it" (a Welsh version of Hercules). "I've got to get this".....
I began to think that this discussion wasn't going to lead to an interview.
IN: Erm we'd better talk about your album Gruff...Why a solo album?
GR: Well I just had some ideas that were originally going to go on a Super Furries album, but I don't know if they would fit. So I asked the band if I could use them for something else.
I also went to stay with some friends in North Wales. They travel, they live off the land you know, grow their own vegetables. Anywhere I went there to lay down some ideas. We got some equipment together. Incredibly, my mate bought a drum kit for five pounds from a car boot sale. And an old casio...There's also a garage up the road from them, and they were selling synths for kids with all these weird noises built in. For 9.99. I thought why are they selling them here? It's mad. But I got one and started to lay down the initial tracks.
IN: The album feels really compact in direction
GR: Yeah, the first seven songs came right out, one after the other. It just happened like that, so in some ways it was nice to make. The last four tracks were the Super Furry ones.
IN: As I don't speak Welsh, I'm going to ask you what some of the songs are about. "Ni Yw Y Byd", (track 10) that's quite strident sounding...
GR: Ha ha, that's a very hippy pisstake of hippy songs. It's an over the top folk ballad that gets more ridiculous as it goes on. One of the lyrics translates as "lets go and drink a beer and throw the glasses away" It's got a great irresponsible feel to it.
IN: Hey you mention my girlfriend's name Mariska, in "Ragluniaeth Ysgafn" (track 4). What's Mariska in Welsh?
Gruff then embarks on what appears to be a painful recital of the song, he's hunched up almost bent double, tapping out the songs verse by verse till he gets to the words in question.
GR: Ah..I know that, it means light as a breeze, light as a feather of a wren... But it's spelt like this; Morysgafn. Its got nothing to do with Mariska I'm afraid...
IN: Talking of offshoots from the Super Furries, you also played on the Serpents album in 1998 ("You have Just Been Poisioned by The Serpents"). What was that like?
GR: I played bass on that, on... God, I've forgotten which track I played bass on. My brother also played on it. I remember the recording sessions were close to my parent's house. Me and my brother were walking towards my mothers' to have tea there, and there they all were, recording in a field. We joined in and played for about half an hour and then left. They were a crazy bunch; that whole set up (by which Gruff means Ochre Records, who released the lp), is nuts. The guy who runs it is a Cardiff City fan. He's a really good lad.
IN: Going back to your album, I see it's released on Placid Casual. You release a lot of esoteric stuff on there, like Mwyng and Phantom Phoarce.
GR: Aah, but you can put your own stuff out very easily. There's no pressure to do anything the record company wants. Like with Mwng, we were all sat around together in a small room to record that, in order to give it a personal, spontaneous feel...you know, do what you want. It was a very artistic vibe, Mwng. It was something we wanted to do... artistically. And we had control over everything, you know?
IN: What's it like to be in consistently the best band of the last 10 years?
GR: Erm..but I don't think we are you know. I think Gorkys Zychotic Mynci are amazing, they just got better and better, and they were dead young when they started, 14 or 15 I think. And their references are incredibly left-field, even then. I mean they were listening to Kevin Ayers when they were teenagers..
Gruff pauses, seemingly overwhelmed by this display of teenage precocity.
But Super Furries, there's no star culture really and as we're all quite different people, all individuals you know, you have to give room for everything that happens within the band. You've got to let it happen musically. Take Ciaran, when we first met him, he was playing around with synths, then, two years later, he's a brilliant pianist. And SFA as a band, give him room to do that..
Time for one more question
IN: Finally, did you get Yeti (the album by Amon Duul 2 I sent him) What did you think?
GR: Have you seen how many bands are doing the Yeti thing? The bass player from the Libertines has a band called Yeti...Yeah I really liked it. I like Krautrock.
I tell Gruff of a gig I saw last April which had Michael Rother of Neu, Moebius and Rodelius of Cluster and Jaki Liebezeit of Can all play together
GR: I've got a story about Jaki Liebezeit. I was talking to Primal Scream, and they told me that they wanted to work with Jaki Liebezeit so they got him and asked him how he'd like to play. And he said "let's jam and see what happens" so the Scream said okay, and off they went. Except after an hour the band are tired, but he (Liebezeit) just kept going. Apparently the technicians had to throw him out after about 10 hours...
Gruff makes ready to go. "Erm I'm going to get a drink. You got any more of them nuts?" (Gruff, for the record has been slyly scoffing all the complimentary nuts the entire length of the interview).
"These ones with the coating"
Oh, the Indonesian nuts
"Yeah, they're nice."
Incendiary promise to meet up later and venture forth into an increasingly gloomy Leidseplein. Still, the time with Gruff always gave plenty of food for thought. Like who on Earth tipped off Gorkys to listen to Kevin Ayers?
Words: Richard Foster
Photograph : Damian Leslie