Interview: Gruff Rhys, Super Furry Animals

Having worked with one of the Beatles, it shouldn't be too surprising that Gruff Rhys, the singer/guitarist of eclectic Welsh rockers, Super Furry Animals, should harbor special memories of Japan's own special beetles, the kabutomushi.
"We'd been in Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo in the past, but we’d never been out of the city before," he tells me of the band's participation in last year's Fuji rock festival. "It was amazing getting up to the mountains. We saw these big black beetles. We don’t get them in South Wales."
With three gigs here this month, this will be the 5th visit of the SFA to these shores. Gruff (pronounced Griff) is surprised to learn that, following last month's terrorist attacks, several foreign bands have actually canceled trips to Japan.
"That's interesting, he comments in the thickest of Welsh accents. You'd imagine Japan would be the safest place."
The SFA's visit to these shores is to promote their most recent album Rings Around The World, which manages to be as eclectic and unpredictable as anything they've ever done. Only last year they recorded Myng, a straight rock album with a live feel, but sung entirely in their native Welsh.

Rings Around the World hits a totally different spot.

"With this album we wanted to make a completely over–the–top, multi–media, cinematic sound track," he says of the album's rich cosmopolitan sound. "Also we were getting through a lot of obsessions we had with musicians beginning with B – Beatles, Badfinger, Bacharach, and the Byrds."
As an example of this diversity, one of the tracks on the album, Receptacle for the Respectable starts off as 60's harmony pop before mutating into early 70s glam rock, then Bacharach balladry, and finally death metal!

It was also this track that saw their collaboration with former Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney.
"We got him to relive the vegetable sessions he did on the Beach Boys Smile album, because he appears on that album chewing carrots, so we got him in to chew carrots and celery."
Gruff is quick to reassure us that none of the vegetables used to provide percussion were genetically modified.
"No, they were strictly organically grown."
One reason McCartney was so willing to contribute was because last year he had himself called on the services of the SFA.
"Paul got asked by Peter Blake to make a soundtrack for an installation of his 60s Pop Art work at the Tate Gallery and he collected together a lot of unreleased Beatles material, like the Beatles jamming in the studio and outtakes from some of the Revolver sessions and conversations in the studio, and he posted us these boxes of tapes and asked us to do a remix."
More significant than Paul McCartney's vegetarian guest slot, however, is the album's groundbreaking simultaneous release on DVD, giving the band the opportunity to present visuals for all 13 tracks. One of the videos made to accompany the first single, Juxtaposed With U, has already been the subject of some controversy, as it shows yuppies dying in a towering inferno.

Isn't this quite prophetic considering what just happened in New York?
"I know. A helicopter crashes into the building. It's pretty horrible, but we didn't think that two planes were going to fly into the World Trade Center."
Despite the playfulness of their music and his laid-back persona, Gruff reveals surprisingly hard–headed views on a wide range of issues, including the present crisis.
"This is just an escalation of a war that's been going on for 10 years. Both sides are as bad as each other. The UK and America have been bombing Iraq every week for 10 years. I'm against any form of violence on any side."
Juxtaposed With U is supposed to be about social injustice, hence the burning yuppies. It features Gruff singing through an electronic vocoder in a lush take on 70s soul mixed with the robotic pop of Daft Punk, proving once again the SFA’s skill as the ultimate musical chameleons of the moment.

Asahi Evening News
13th October, 2001

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