Gruff Rhys: 'I've put my energy into signs and pictures and I'll see how far I can get with that'
- Malcolm Jack
- 17 July 2018
This article is from 2018.
Super Furry Animals frontman considers himself to be a low-key operator but has built up a loyal and vocal fanbase as he prepares for his Fringe debut
'I don't have a very authoritarian voice,' concedes Gruff Rhys, before pausing thoughtfully for what feels like an age and a bit, something he does many times throughout our conversation. 'And people respond to authority, I think, in live concerts,' he continues, eventually. 'They like people saying "put your hands in the air" or stuff like that. All kinds of insane commands that people follow blindly. They give themselves in to the moment if they're told by the right person. But I don't really have that charisma. So I've put my energy into signs and pictures and I'll see how far I can get with that.'
Rhys is being hard on himself by suggesting that he wants for charisma. As the frontman of Welsh psychedelic odd-rock wonders Super Furry Animals, as one half of electronic duo Neon Neon alongside Boom Bip, and as a solo artist, he's proven himself one of the most peculiar, inspired and melodically gifted voices in British music from the last 20 years and more, along the way building a vast and loyal following. But to chat with him over the phone from his home in Cardiff, as he charmingly ponders forever over his every mellowly mellifluous utterance – as if awaiting translations to come from his native Welsh – one can perfectly understand the point Rhys makes about how snappy verbal communication isn't exactly his strong suit.
Which, as Rhys explains, is precisely why he's taken to using simple commands and instructions written on cue cards to engage with his public over the last decade or so: potted examples being 'PROLONGED APPLAUSE', 'LOUD' and 'APE SHIT!' Cards such as these will form a key component of his debut Fringe show, Resist Phony Encores!, which features a mixed bag of songs written throughout his life in different guises, up to and including his latest superb solo album Babelsberg. Arranged in a semi-biographical fashion, the show also encompasses a look at 'the amazing history of signs in protest and in music'.
If you were fortunate enough to catch Rhys' previous solo tour back in 2014, in support of his sprawling and utterly ingenious album-book-film-app project American Interior, then you'll have a rough idea of the template for Resist Phony Encores!. A historical-psychographic-biographical pop opus based on the story of John Evans – an 18th century Caernarfon farm labourer turned explorer who embarked upon a search up the Missouri River for a mythical Welsh-speaking Indian tribe – the live experience of American Interior was part concert part PowerPoint presentation, starring Evans resurrected as a stuffed toy avatar.
In Resist Phony Encores!, does Rhys himself become a kind-of John Evans for the piece? 'Err, yeah …,' he contemplates, 'but it'll be a different kind of journey. A journey into song. It's not following a physical trajectory.'
With Super Furry Animals having returned to touring over the last few years following a long hiatus, do the band have any plans to make and release that long-awaited tenth album? Not any time soon, Rhys tells me, albeit in a characteristically slanted fashion, it's otherwise a response to the affirmative. 'Living in a decimal culture, I'm a bit spooked by the fact that we've only made nine records. It doesn't seem right.'
Gruff Rhys: Resist Phony Encores!, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 17–25 Aug (not 20), 11pm, £21.50–23.50 (£19.50–£21.50).