GRUFF RHYS of Super Furry Animals describes the impact of the Welsh coast on his imagination and that of ancestor John Evans, the subject of his new project, American Interior. Interview by Alex Reece.
Wales is almost an island. You’re never far from the sea. I’ve recorded a lot of albums on the coast in my friend’s studio in Rhosneigr, Anglesey (pictured). Most of the Super Furry Animals’ records and my solo albums have been made there, looking out to sea. I think it inspires the want to explore – to go places.
I come from quite a mountainous area (Bethesda in Gwynedd, North Wales), and what I enjoyed was seeing how far I could see. Looking out from the mountains to the west at dusk, you can catch sight of Anglesey and, occasionally, the Isle of Man.
I’ve been writing about a guy called John Evans, a relative, who also grew up looking west over the Irish Sea, in Waunfawr. That deﬁnitely impacted on his imagination. He became an explorer. [John Evans sailed to America in 1792 in search of a rumoured tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans.]
The project American Interior developed from an investigative concert tour following John Evans’ journey. There was no contemporary book about him, so I thought I’d write about my tour.
I live in Cardiff now, and in my book, which isn’t entirely true, I leave from Tiger Bay and travel to Baltimore by boat. Otherwise, it was a journey inland for thousands of miles along the river systems of America. But I started and ﬁnished on the coast.
What I wouldn’t have grasped, if I’d stayed at home, was the distance John Evans travelled, mostly on foot.
Did he ﬁnd what he was looking for? Well, it was a fanciful myth, that the Welsh prince Madoc was deemed to have discovered America in 1170. But Evans’ journey looking for the tribe was real, even if they never existed. It’s a tragic-comedy, in a way.
Gruff Rhys’ book, American Interior, is published by Penguin (£20). For more on the album, ﬁlm and app of the same name, go to american-interior.com.
"I’ve recorded a lot of albums on the coast in my friend’s studio in Rhosneigr, Anglesey (pictured). Most of the Super Furry Animals’ records and my solo albums have been made there, looking out to sea. I think it inspires the want to explore – to go places."