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Gruff is making tracks to festival after exploring more new territory

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: June 26, 2014

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GRUFF Rhys has never been content with just writing songs, the Welsh musician has always been too inventive for that.

Take his most recent project, American Interior, not only is it the former Super Furry Animals frontman’s fourth solo album, it’s also a a book, a film and a mobile app.

More than that, as Gruff explains when the Mail catches up with him, it’s “the exploration of a life”.

The life in question is that of John Evans, who left Wales at the end of the 18th century for North America in search of a supposed lost tribe of Welsh-speaking native Americans.

Evans ended up in St Louis, in Spanish Louisiana, where he was imprisoned on suspicion of being a spy.

He found no trace of Welsh speakers on his adventures but travelled 1,800 miles up the Missouri from its confluence with the Mississippi, producing a map showing the course of the river.

Gruff has been telling us more in song and words at gigs since the album’s release, offering a Powerpoint presentation on the life of Evans at each show.

He says: “I am descended from John Evans’s uncle so I have always known about the story.

“In his home village he has been written about but he usually appears as a footnote in books about other people.

“There’s still a lot of mystery surrounding him. We don’t know what he looked like, or what happened to most of his journals and maps.

“But there was enough snippets of evidence to piece his life together.”

Gruff went out to America to see if he could learn more.

He says: “I was coming at it from the point of view of a musician, trying to get a feel for his experiences. What I found quite atonishing was the distances he travelled.

“Eventually I went into the studio and tried to piece it all together.”

The multi-media approach was always part of the plan.

“The songs were inspired by different moments in his life but there was always more to tell about him.

“There’s only so much you can fit on an album and I wanted to document more of his life story and bring in a bit about what America is like today.

“I don’t really feel qualified to be classed as a social historian as I felt at liberty to make things up where there were gaps.

“So I have created some myths of America of my own.”

Gruff seems to be inspired by intriguing lives.

He says: “This is my third biographical project and it’s been really interesting. Touring can be quite a vacuous experience and this way of writing songs and changing the way I work as a musician helps me push what I do and has kept my mind thinking.”

Gruff has changed direction again since completing American Interior, composing a jazz score to the movie Set Fire To The Stars .

Elijah Wood stars in the film and Gruff was keen to add another new experience to his musical craeer, putting together a jazz band to meet the challenge.

He says: “The film stars Celyn Jones as Dylan Thomas and Elijah Wood as his American agent. It’s about trying to keep Dylan Thomas under control during an eventful week in New York.

“It has been something very different for me.”

Gruff is still best known as the singer and main songwriter for Super Furry Animals - the band scored nine UK Top 25 albums and a string of Top 40 singles, the highest charting of which was Northern Lites in 1999.

Gruff also formed Neon Neon, an electro-pop collaborative project with Boom Bip.

But he can be seen in his own right in July at Indietracks, the Derbyshire music festival dedicated to indie music, which takes place at at a heritage railway.

“I’m looking forward to it,” says Gruff. “I have never been before but I enjoy the atmosphere at festivals.

“It’s the chance to get to play to people who might not be necessarily into your music. It’s also a social experience for musicians, much more so when you are often out playing on your own.

“I will be playing a selection of songs from American Interior and my other solo records.”

The combination of steam trains and indiepop music has been a great success for the Midland Railway Centre and the next festival will take place from July 25-27.

As well as Gruff, Allo Darlin’, The Hidden Cameras, Dean Wareham, Withered Hand, Joanna Gruesome, The Chills, The Spook School and Sweet Baboo are all on the bill.

Each year around 50 new and established indiepop artists perform across a range of stages at the festival.

Visitors are free to enjoy steam train rides, railway attractions and museums, discos, art and craft workshops. There is also food and a selection of real ales on offer.

To book tickets and for more information about the festival go to www.indietracks.co.uk.

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