Interview with Gruff Rhys


The versatile artist gives us a liberating album, created from the complaints and demands of everyday life.

On a rainy afternoon in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, we met an affable Gruff Rhys carefully reflecting on each answer he gives us. The serenity you perceive is possibly due in part to finding yourself in a very familiar environment: your child’s room.

Sadness Sets Me Free, is the title of their most recent album released on January 26, which unites lyrics of frustration and sadness with happy sounds, which give coherence to the concept of the album. This project required a total of 2 years from the writing phase to recording. The artist highlights that the preparation was the most important part, allowing him to define every detail of the songs.

I toured just playing it for the recording. The recording actually didn’t take long, but the preparation took much longer. So we rehearsed the songs, played them live, and tweaked them quite a bit along the way, even in some rehearsals. So when we got to the studio, it was a very immediate process. Then we added a string quartet in Cardiff and I took everything back to France where I recorded most of it and mixed it in Marseille (France). I left about six months between recording and mixing so I could make some changes. I was able to check if I still liked the songs, if I wanted to change some lyrics or at least correct them. Every week or so, I would check to make sure they still sounded good, and if they didn’t, I was free to change them.”

The composer, without being tied to a specific style, relates that his approach was not limited to a single genre, but embraced an amalgam of sounds that inspired him, including acoustic instruments, French pop and country.

More or less, about two years before recording, I was invited to play in a concert by the tuareg band, Imarhan. I went to the south of Algeria to record with them using acoustic instruments, playing live at a very low volume. And the engineer was fantastic, his name is Maxine Kosinetz, lives in Paris, and I knew he was going to be touring France, so I contacted him to see if he would be available and if he had some time to record. I guess I wanted to imitate the way that Imarhan He did, although it is a very different style than mine.

Another part is that I was interested in that kind of French pop, where I could whisper the lyrics and still be powerful. The engineer was able to realize that, I don’t know if he had to do with recording in Paris.

I was also listening to a lot of country music around the time I was writing the album. So I think it doesn’t sound much like country music, except for the title track, but I love how in country you have like a sad kind of song sung in a very happy way.

So, in short, it’s an acoustic French country western pop album.”

To this combination of sounds of piano, drums and a string quartet, the participation of the director was added Mark Jameswho was in charge of conceiving the audiovisual concept of the album, as well as directing the videos for the first three singles: “Bad Friend”, “Celestial Candyfloss” and “Silver Lining”.

I’ve been working with Marc James for 25 years and we always have fun discussing what the album is about, how to represent it visually. We both have extremely different ideas. But I also wanted to represent the acoustic nature of the album, with all the wood instruments. So in the end we came up with the idea that I’m half lost in space and isolated in a shipping container. But its interior has wood paneling to represent the acoustic nature of the music and I guess I’m marveling at the vast cosmos and considering how big my problems can be. “

And in this album, Rhys reflects universal problems that anyone can relate to. Such is the case of “Bad Friend”where he portrays the social expectations of a friendship.

Sometimes I feel like I would like to, you know, be with my friends and give them more time. It seems kaleidoscopic how many things we are expected to do in daily life. And we have to make time for everyone, so it’s partly an apology and it’s also a sound of comfort. I’m thinking about my friends and I know my friends are thinking about me, even if they can’t, if they don’t have time to be around. Everyone does so much to deal with daily life. So it is a conditional friendship.”

He is also the vocalist of the famous alternative group Super Furry Animals, points out that, despite the fact that his native language is Welsh, he always remains faithful to the origin of the song. Although in the past he has tried to translate the songs from Welsh to English or vice versa, they just didn’t sound right. However, he is always inspired by Welsh and offers us recommendations to immerse ourselves in it.

One of my favorite bands is Pys Melyn, it’s like psych-rock, and they’re a very young band from rural Wales. And maybe I would recommend an amazing artist named Cerys Hafana. She plays the harmonica and the guitar. And she makes very soft and beautiful music.”

The producer, widely recognized as an opinion leader in the United Kingdom thanks to his songs inspired by the country’s current political climate, has also expressed his concern about global warming. This concern will be reflected in his next tour, which began on January 29 and will tour cities in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.

Imagine me as a musician, my footprint is pretty low compared to the kind of big industrial productions we’re used to. But I guess in general I’ve been looking for different ways to tour. And I’ve been doing research, not so much for this project, but for a future project on how we could significantly reduce our ecological footprint and develop a show that requires very little carrying between performances. Thus, the equipment would not have to be transported.

I worked on a project where the sound system would be set up in different countries, but the work would be moved to the event location. And also in a surround sound system called ‘soundscape’. Music could travel with video and create an immersive world, you know? Artists could tour in some way without leaving home.

I had the opportunity to tour with This Is the Kit in North America last year, and I was watching for a long time how impressive it is how they did so many little things every day, they didn’t buy any disposable coffee cups or anything for that matter. style. It may seem small, but throughout the tour they had daily practices that they kept up. That was a great learning for me. I think they were very inspiring. So, I guess I’m still living and trying to figure it out, often doing a lot of touring by train and using public transportation doing acoustics. On this tour, I’ll be traveling with a band, but it’s still on a very small scale, I guess.”

Sadness Sets Me Free It is made up of 10 tracks and is now available on all digital platforms through Rough Trade Recordings.


Written by

Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is a dedicated writer and key contributor to the WECB website, Emerson College's student-run radio station. Passionate about music, radio communication, and journalism, Christopher pursues his craft with a blend of meticulous research and creative flair. His writings on the site cover an array of subjects, from music reviews and artist interviews to event updates and industry news. As an active member of the Emerson College community, Christopher is not only a writer but also an advocate for student involvement, using his work to foster increased engagement and enthusiasm within the school's radio and broadcasting culture. Through his consistent and high-quality outputs, Christopher Johnson helps shape the voice and identity of WECB, truly embodying its motto of being an inclusive, diverse, and enthusiastic music community.