Never meet your heroes they say, for that way lies disappointment. SevenStreets was trying hard to ignore this as we headed down to the Kazimier this Friday, post sound check and pre gig to meet indie icon, Gruff Rhys of the Super Furry Animals.
Touring new album Hotel Shampoo, the soundtrack to an art-installation made up of freebies gleaned from various hotel rooms down the years; we wondered what was the most impressive thing Gruff has ever left a hotel with?
GR: To be honest with you, nothing all that impressive. It’s still something I find really unusual, leaving a hotel with something like a shoehorn. I have about seven of those now, and I’ve still never met anyone who’s actually used one! (at this point, Rhys conducts a straw poll of everyone in the room – his search goes on).
SS: Super Furry Animals, Neon-Neon, DJ and solo artist, do you ever get confused about which Gruff needs to turn up where and when, and which you prefer being?
GR: SFA have given me everything, I’ve been in the band almost 20 years and use the other stuff as a means of staying sane! I tend to miss the other guys when I’m touring alone, but it’s a chance to play something different to the Furry’s stuff. It tends to be quieter and more organic, which gets recorded more quickly than the hi-spec SFA material which we can take ages refining. There’s also the opportunity with the solo material for a greater intimacy and interaction with the crowd.
Gruff drops in at this point that, should anyone bring a palm tree or surf board along on this tour, a pledge has been made that these will be signed without fail.
SS: The new record’s a fairly mellow affair; do you think this reflects a more contented state of mind?
GR: Initially, I set out to make the record as a way of confronting turning 40; I was listening to MOR records by people like Denis Wilson and Fleetwood Mac. But what emerged ended up being pretty instinctive, an album of songs as ‘documents’.
SS: You mention listening to Denis Wilson and Fleetwood Mac while preparing to record the album, what have you been listening to on the tour so far?
GR: I’m touring with Y Niwl, an instrumental surf band who are huge music heads and we’ve been listening to a lot of stuff from the surf era; mostly ‘Surf’s Up’ by the Beach Boys, the record which killed surf and introduced surf music of the post-apocalypse; middle-aged harmony surf!
SS: You touched on your debt to SFA earlier (whose last release was 2009’s Dark Days/Light Years), can we expect more from the band in the future or are you enjoying just being responsible to you?
GR: We’ve done nine albums as SFA and we could keep putting records out all the time. SFA are an institution, but if you’re part of any institution, it’s healthy to take leave every now and again. Being in a rock band is an incredibly intense way to make a living, but it would be a shame to stop doing it.
SS: SevenStreets was disappointed to learn that (some time ago) the famed SFA techno tank had been sold.
GR: Yeah, we sold the tank to Don Henley (of The Eagles), which is stranger than fiction, really! He didn’t buy it because he was a fan of the band; he’s just really interested in tanks!
SS: Do you ever miss it?
GR: We don’t miss it really, as a touring instrument it just wasn’t practical on any level.
(Gruff does point out here though that despite this, the tank certainly served its purpose; as a marketing tool, it probably earned SFA single ‘If you don’t want me to destroy you’ a spot on the Radio One ‘A’ play list)
SS: Robin Friday who played for your team, Cardiff City, was the subject of SFA’s ‘Man don’t give a fu*k’. But who do you prefer, Friday or current on-loan and on-form Cardiff striker and fan, Craig Bellamy?
GR: Craig Bellamy – he’s actually a family friend.
With that, we bade Gruff goodbye and wished him well for the later gig. A couple of hours later, we’re back at the Kazimier, waiting for Gruff to take the stage. He begins by dinging a desk bell, welcoming us to Hotel Shampoo, thus setting a tone of surreal intimacy which pervades the rest of the evening.
First song of the set is Rubble Rubble (the closing track of the new album) and we’re asked to clap along in recognition of the first line we’ve just been fed. It’s a nice way to start, acknowledging that this is a new song which few will know the words to yet.
From here on in, Gruff is ably accompanied by support act Y Niwl who launch into a rousing rendition of something we do recognise, first single Shark Ridden Waters.
The sell out crowd couldn’t complain about value for money (the set coming in at a good two hours) or entertainment; what follows is a thorough and rewarding trip through Gruff’s back catalogue with the occasional extraordinary interlude, Gruff making good on his word that any palm trees or surf boards brought to the gig will be signed, inviting a bewildered looking guy on stage for the privilege.
It was that kind of night – Rhys clearly enjoying the adoration and the rest of us soaking up the shaman from South Wales’ spiritual set list.
As the man said, SFA might have brought him here, but the change has done him good.
Pics: Laura Robertson