With 17 fully fledged albums under his belt, Gruff Rhys is no stranger to making cutting edge indie rock and synth pop experimentation, especially with his group The Super Furry Animals (including the hailed 90’s masterpiece Fuzzy Logic). Now on his third bona fide solo album, The 405 managed to catch up with Gruff to discuss the finer points of Hotel Shampoo, the pressures of being a solo artist and the ambitions he still has for The Super Furry Animals. Listening to the album pretty much on loop over the last week or so I feel that you've produced your strongest work to date. Did it feel any different making this album as opposed to your previous solo albums or The Super Furry Animals records? Well I had a batch of songs at some period and I wanted this album to be a bit more refined than the last two solo record. The first album took a week, the second one took two weeks and I spent three weeks on this one so I wanted to make it more of an experience. Has there been any outside influences on the writing and overall sound of the album? I suppose I wanted to cut myself off from contemporary pop culture and I think the songs were influenced by…. although nothing specific just by the stuff I grew up listening to. I wanted to try and write a Piano based album using early 70's records and influences. I heard more vocal influences on this album from people such as Brian Wilson and harmonies influenced by people like The Hollies coming through. Was that intentional or are they influential to that part of the sound? Yes as well as some decadent west coast bands, heavyweight middle of the road records, and also Piano records like the first two Lou Reed solo records and John Cale solo records. I've been watching some of your live shows on youtube as an almost prefix to this album being released and they have been pretty stripped down affairs with just acoustic guitar, piano and some percussion. Have you had to accommodate these limitations and re-invent some of the arrangements so they differ from the album versions? I was doing it really stripped down with acoustic where I do almost karaoke with the record although on the forthcoming tour I'm excited as a band called Y Niwl are coming on the tour as well. They are going to be helping me play my solo record live as well as performing their own set and hopefully we'll get the fullness of the record out there although it will have a kind of surf feel as well. When your writing a song do you ever feel that "this is a band song" or maybe "this is probably best kept for the solo album?" Generally no, I mean songs just come into existence and I never really think of them being for a specific thing although with the 'Neon, Neon' record which was all about John DeLorean. We kind of sat down and wrote that as an album with a theme, it was an extreme way of working but exciting. Where as this record some of the songs could have ended up anywhere really. We tried to record 'Take A Sentence' a few times before for the last solo record but it didn't really work out. Then there is a Super Furry Animals version with different lyrics that we tried although I think here I finally got it. Do you find it easier making a solo record in relation to a band one? Yeah, although it's not necessary a good thing although it’s much easier. What’s great about making a band record is that it’s an adventure. No one individual can know how it’s going to sound until the end because five people making a racket, that can be an extremely exciting way of working. Where as making a solo record I usually know exactly how its going to sound and its just a matter of going into a studio and executing it, and that takes much less time. The exception was 'Shark Ridden Waters' where everything else was written in advanced that one just came into being accidentally in the studio. Photobucket I saw you by chance in Amsterdam a few years back with Har Mar Superstar, do you like working with artists outside your typical genre of music to almost re-charge your creative batteries? Well it’s an education to work with other people and see how they work and I've really enjoyed working with DJ's in the last few years. I suppose DJ's listen to more music than most people and they have some sort of understanding of the dark art of recording a good record. I tend to get pushed into unexpected territories with DJ's. I got to work a little bit with Dangermouse on a couple of things, and it was the same thing, he's an amazing DJ, he can pick out the records that will keep people dancing for hours and I suppose this is what he then applies to his own records. You've managed to walk the fine line between experimental music as well as keeping one foot in the pop field. Do you always try and keep a commercial aspect to your work? Even when using studio trickery and loops and effects? I suppose I've just got a kind of musical "sweet tooth" really, I've grown up listening to really melodic records. When I write songs the melody usually comes first and anything else is just detail. I do appreciate noise and texture as well but I just tend to write instinctively although it can sometimes be frustrating if a song becomes too predictable and I'm dealing in an idiom of predictable pop songs [laughs]. I always prefer when it’s something original, although it’s a fine line between making something original but thats also good as well. Are there any bands or artists either new or old that you are currently listening to? The record i'm listening to the most is Sonny & The Sunsets, from San Francisco. That was an extremely good record, just really great songwriting. Well crafted songs but still sounding original and of its time. Are you happy with the final version of the album now its mixed, mastered and on route to the shelves? Yes, there were a few surprises like 'Shark Ridden Waters' came out of nowhere when I was recording 'Christopher Columbus' and it went to a few different places that I didn't expect. I have been extremely happy with it, it’s my music comfort zone in a way as much as I'd like to re-invent the wheel, this album isn't the one for that, it’s just a really personal record. Another artist that is making waves at the moment is Miles Kane, I believe he played on the album adding some guitar? Yeah he's an amazing guy, amazing surf guitarist as well, he plays on 'Space Dust #2' and he is just a guitar god [laughs]. Whats next on the agenda for 2011? I'm looking forward to touring the album and mixing between some solo gigs and others with Y Niwl, I haven't really been touring much in the last couple of years so its good to get out there. Other than that I have loads of other ideas for records and songs, god knows what'll happen as well as a Super Furry Animal record at some point although I don't know when.
Gruff Rhys’s Hotel Shampoo album is released February 14th Header photo by Mark James