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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Ymbelydredd EP: An interview with Gwenno Saunders

Gwenno Saunders is probably best known as one third of The Pipettes, but she's now returned to her hometown of Cardiff and recorded a fantastic Welsh language EP. Here she explains the making of Ymbelydredd.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Gwenno by Laura Hickman
Gwenno by Laura Hickman.

A couple of weeks back I posted the video for Gwenno‘s new single Ymbelydredd, which is the lead single from a fantastic EP bearing the same name. Ymbelydredd documents Gwenno‘s Welsh youth growing up in the Riverside area of Cardiff during the 80s and 90s, dreaming of the big wide world. ‘I always wanted to leave, to explore the world, like we all do. But looking back Cardiff was, and is, an incredibly vibrant city. Riverside in particular, even though it’s one of the poorest areas of Cardiff, is rich in a multitude of cultures, being a home to people from all over the world. Brought up as a Welsh and Cornish speaker I fitted right in, you very rarely heard any English being spoken on the streets of Riverside, even today you don’t.’ Here the talented Welsh singer talks about the making of Ymbelydredd and describes why she’s rediscovered the hometown she tried so hard to leave.

Gwenno Saunders by Novemto Komo
Gwenno Saunders by Novemto Komo.

What prompted you to put together your new EP?
Moving back to Cardiff was the main catalyst. I’ve always written songs at home and I’d put quite a few of them up on the internet for the past 8 years or so but they were always fragmented I suppose, reflecting fleeting moments as I tried to grab them. Coming back to my hometown made me feel like I’d finally put my feet on the ground after travelling from place to place and it gave me the focus I needed to put together a body of work.

Gwenno Ymbelydredd
How has Cardiff changed since your youth, and is it better or worse?
I suppose I should say a bit of both but I’m not sure if that’s quite true. I don’t particularly like the new shopping developments in the centre of town, I miss old buildings, even the rubbish ones, as I’d grown to love them and they were such a huge part of the city. Cardiff is such a young capital city, I have to keep reminding myself of that, it’s still trying to figure out what it wants to be and the redevelopers have taken full advantage of that and sanitised it to a certain extent. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad! The Millennium Centre and the assembly building are a wonder, there are some really great independent cafes and venues that have sprung up and a real feeling that artists and the creative industry are making their mark, and you can’t ever kill that spirit, but I could count on one hand the things that I like that are new. There’s a brilliant group on Facebook called ‘Remember Old Cardiff‘ that shows how people feel about the place, I should investigate whether it happens in other cities though, perhaps there is that feeling about Cardiff because we can all share old memories and pictures so easily on the internet these days…

gwenno by charlie
Gwenno by Charlie Rallings.

Any tips for places that visitors must go? I’m thinking music, art, food?
Milgi, which is a vegetarian restaurant on City Rd is absolutely brilliant for the food, ambience, music and cocktails. The Pot Cafe is further up on Crwys Rd, they have lovely dinner and film nights and do the best coffee, Minuet for pizza and Chapter is a great arts centre that puts on small theatre productions and independent cinema. Then there is of course, Spillers Records which is the oldest record shop in the world and just across from it is Capital Bookshop, selling second hand books, I think I may have read every single Dandy and Beano comic that they stocked when I was little, hanging around whilst my Dad browsed downstairs. 

Gwenno Saunders By Lucy Freegard
Gwenno Saunders by Lucy Freegard.

I love your lyrical subjects, how do you write songs?
I’m not entirely sure! I know that I get inspired by trying to remember a feeling or an atmosphere around a particular memory of a time and place. I see songwriting as creating a document, I think I’m trying to capture moments so that I never forget them. I think I work best when I talk about something I’ve experienced personally, and I try not to put it down if I don’t think it has a universal truth and that I’ve been completely honest. 

Gwenno Ymbelydredd by Tara Anne Bush
Gwenno Ymbelydredd by Tara Anne Bush.

Why did you decide to record only in Welsh?
Well, Welsh is my first language but Cardiff is probably one of the more English-speaking places in Wales historically along with a lot of the East. I was lucky in that I grew up in Riverside which is probably one of the more multicultural areas of the city and so speaking Welsh meant that I had a lot in common with the Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Somali communities who also had a culture and language(is) that was apart from mainstream English language culture. So I felt confident that I was different but not so confident in my Welsh-speaking identity because there wasn’t much Welsh around in the area during the 80s and 90s. Fast forward to 2012 and all of a sudden I hear Welsh being spoken on the streets, in shops, on buses and so I’ve come home to a Cardiff that is more confident in it’s Welsh language identity so it just felt completely right to write about Cardiff in my mother tongue.

You did all the production on these, what was the set up?
I have Logic at home, which I just started using on this project, a Juno-D for some essential arpeggiated synth and a replica Linn Drum machine on an iPad. I wanted to keep in simple as I’m always drawn to minimal arrangement on recordings, and I suppose I was just trying to make the most of the set up that I had to see what the results could be. It’s been incredibly satisfying to be fully responsible for the EP from start to finish, I think it was something that I really needed to do after 7 years in a band, to establish what I like, but now that I’ve done that I feel confident enough to try and seek out collaborations again.

Gwenno Ymbelydredd
What was the best part of being on tour with Pnau over the past 12 months?
Touring with Pnau gave me a lot of space to really solidify what I wanted to make next music-wise. They’re just incredible people to be around, so focused but completely open to every creative possibility and that was really refreshing. It’s been really nice to take a step back and watch and learn how other artists do things.

There’s a deliciously light pop sound on your tracks, who were your favourite bands growing up?
Well I remember the impact that the voices of Beth Gibbons, Nina Persson and Sarah Cracknell had on me as a teenager. It was the first time that I heard Women singing on the radio that seemed intelligent and that didn’t sound like they were pandering to anything genre-wise or were bothered about using their sexuality to get noticed. It was like a breath of fresh air!

Who would be your dream band to tour with?
Cocteau Twins would be amazing. 

Gwenno Ymbelydredd
What are The Pipettes up to now and do you have any future plans with them?
I can’t really see it myself at the moment. I can see The Pipettes doing another album, possibly, I don’t think I’ll be on it though. I’ve had a wonderful 7 years with the band, but I think it’s about time that I graduated to the next chapter of my creative life!

Where can fans catch you in the next few months?
I’m playing a gig at the Peski Records night on the 13th of September at Gwdihŵ in Cardiff, and then at the same place for the Sŵn festival on the 21st of October. I also have a night called ‘Bof!‘ where I dj exotica, tropicalia, film soundtracks etc. there’s one on the 4th of September at the Buffalo Bar and on the 19th of October as part of the Sŵn festival

Hear Ymbelydredd here:

Ymbelydredd is out now on Peski Records.

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