Gruff Rhys shot to fame as singer of Super Furry Animals, the Welsh psychedelic pop group acclaimed for bringing together melodic guitar pop and electronica. Also known for dressing up as yetis, blasting EDM out of army tanks and playing live in surround sound, SFA have released nine albums to date.
With the band currently focusing on solo projects, Rhys has spent the past few years working as one half of the electro-pop outfit Neon Neon, and releasing increasingly conceptual solo records. The latest of these is American Interior, which is released this May as an album, a book, an app and film.
The project is a biographical retelling of the story of John Evans, a historical Welsh explorer who set off on a quest in 1792 to find a lost tribe of Welsh language speakers who'd supposedly settled in America.
Two centuries later Gruff Rhys announced an 'investigative concert tour', whereby he would trace the Evans expedition while playing a series of concerts along the way, with Flaming Lips' Kliph Scurlock on drums. Somehow the gigs turned into an album. And a book. And, well, you know the rest. We caught up with Rhys to discuss the extravaganza...
What was it about John Evans that got you fascinated with him?
"A combination of things. It's a family story [Rhys' father is said to be a descendant of Evans']. And also as we were touring America and going through some of the places he'd been, I started getting curious about the other places he'd gone to. So I asked if I could book a tour along the roads that John Evans took all those years ago."
And he went out to find a Welsh tribe in America?
"Yeah it was believed that this Welsh Prince had discovered America, based on very little evidence. By the time of John Evans, people really believed it and wanted to go and find the tribe. And by finding them, that would be a way out for Welsh people living in poverty, and to find other people who speak their language.
"At the time nobody would give them any money for the expedition, but by that time, John Evans was so into the idea that he borrowed enough money to reach the States. And then once he was there he just kind of walked into the wilderness! He gave his whole life to trying to find the tribe."
Have your recent adventures with Neon Neon influenced your approach to playing with digital instruments?
"I think it's inevitable, in a way. I was working on both records at similar times, and I had one of the synths from the Neon Neon shows lying around when I was recording some of American Interior. So it definitely influenced me.
"Also partly, I recorded in America with an American producer and some American musicians, and some of the songs kind of suggest Americana, but I was probably reacting to that. I really didn't want to make an Americana record because of the title and all the American references. I don't feel qualified to make a rootsy Americana record!
"And although I love country rock and bits of it go into country rock territory, I was really keen for it not to be a some kind of weird, purist roots record. So I was probably reacting to that by throwing loads of synthetic synths over the top!"