Gwenno by Katie Ponder.
Gwenno Saunders, formerly of The Pipettes, and now living in Wales, has released a political concept album inspired by an obscure 1970s Welsh language sci-fi novel. Written by Gwenno and produced by Rhys Edwards, Y DYDD OLAF (The Last Day) turns its back on predictable commercial aspirations and lifts a defiant middle finger in the direction of the mainstream. I caught up with Gwenno to find out more about robot world domination, the joy of speaking Cornish (and Welsh) and deciding to do things your own way. She’s an inspiration.
Gwenno by Katie Ponder.
Your new album is almost entirely sung in Welsh, what does the title Y Dydd Olaf mean and why did you chose the title?
Y Dydd Olaf means ‘The Last Day‘ and it’s the title of a dystopian/scifi novel which was written by Welsh nuclear scientist Owain Owain and published in 1976. It tells the tale of a world being overtaken by robots who gradually turn everyone into clones, the novel is written in a diary style and is written in Welsh as the robots can’t decipher the language in the story. It’s a brilliant novel – a warning, and an embodiment of all the fears that I have about the world, it’s about who is going to control technology in the long-term in particular. It was a perfect place to start for inspiration whilst writing the album.
The album is described as a political concept album, what was the inspiration?
The society in which we live – the impending technological totalitarianism, government propaganda, media blackout and manipulation and the real sense of emergency and crisis in the system as it is. I’ve tried to blend these themes with the field recordings I collected which are the basis to most of the tracks, we were trying to create a world with this album, sonically speaking. I absolutely adore a great pop song and I do think you can still play quite a few clever tricks with the genre, there is a beauty in saying as much as you can with a form that is seemingly quite simple and direct on the surface.
What has been the best thing about living in Cardiff for the past few years?
That feeling of coming home for a start! Also, being able to see the city anew. It’s hard for everyone to love where they’re from, and I’m no exception, but learning to do so has enriched me creatively I think. There is a place that I go to in my head and heart for inspiration and Cardiff is the embodiment of that – the memories of how the city used to feel and look, the ghosts of the characters long gone and what the place aspires to be in the future too. Leaving London, and the south east of England in particular has given me a completely fresh perspective. It’s very easy to get sucked in to the idea that nothing ever happens anywhere else as the media and government is based there, and I’ve learned that it really isn’t the case! The whole of what is called the British Isles would be enriched if we paid a closer look, and paid equal attention to each country and area, artistically as well as socially.
How does the relationship with Peski records work? …are you a close knit family with the other artists and do you all collaborate?
We do, and I feel like I’ve found a creative home. As you get older and you develop your ideas, the goal posts change a lot as an artist I think. I’m in this for the long haul, as is everyone else involved in Peski, and the network of artists that we are gives us the space to explore and evolve with the support and encouragement that you always need. Peski itself is an ever-evolving creative entity and that makes it a very exciting thing to be part of I think.
Gwenno by Zona Lewin.
One song is sung in Cornish, why was this and how did you learn the language?
My sister and I were brought up talking Cornish as my Dad was brought up in St Tudy and learnt the language as a child, he’s a published Cornish poet by now (check out his work at Francis Boutle) so it was a massive part of my upbringing. We spoke Welsh with my Mum at home too and I think going to a Welsh school and living in Wales did help us with feeling confident in speaking Cornish even though we were far away from Cornwall. They’re similar languages, and although there aren’t as many fluent Cornish speakers as Welsh (a few hundred in fact!) it’s certainly on the rise and there are lots of individuals and groups doing wonderful work down in Cornwall to promote the language.
What are your hopes for Wales, and indeed the rest of the Uk and Europe over the coming years?
I watched the Scottish referendum campaign intently, it’s revived and inspired everyone around me in Wales, and I really do believe it will have a positive knock-on effect here long-term. I was flabbergasted by the lack of a balanced media coverage from the mainstream press during the campaign, we all know they have their own (and the government’s) propaganda to push but still, it was shocking how one-sided it was towards the ‘No’ campaign. Where would we be without social media in these situations? How long is that ‘freedom’ and platform to share ideas going to last? I hope we can see through the mist in Wales, and be encouraged by Scotland’s progressive take on politics. Local self-governance and federalism is key in my opinion, we need to work out a fairer and more balanced way of governing England, Northern Ireland, Cornwall, and it goes for Europe and further afield too. You miss out and lose so much culture when things are centralised, anything on the periphery becomes poorer by default, and languages and a unique way of life die. It’s the turn of a new century, we’re in the midst of a technological revolution and the basis of the economy is shifting so things are bound to change quite dramatically. It’s really exciting!
Y Dydd Olaf by Gwenno Saunders is out now on Peski Records.
- Video Single: Ymbelydredd by Gwenno
- Ymbelydredd EP: An interview with Gwenno Saunders
- An interview with Georgia Ruth and review of debut album Week of Pines
- An interview with Sue Denim, talking about debut solo album And The Unicorn:
- Welsh artist of the Year, Philippa Lawrence