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The Comedy of Errors

Interview: Gruff Rhys

18 February 11 interview: Paul Klotschkow
photos: Mark James

Gruff Rhys is best known as the singer of the Super Furry Animals, but he’s also a documentarian, solo artist and plastic bottle modeller. Guess which one of those skills he’ll be demonstrating at the Glee Club this month?

Your new solo album is called Hotel Shampoo, due to the fact that you’ve built up a substantial collection of hotel toiletries. How did you become such a kleptomaniac?
I lead a quite mundane, normal life, so when I go on tour I find it too good to be true. I just started collecting hotel shampoo bottles as mementos when I was on tour. I started doing it in 1995 and didn’t think it would last such a long time. It’s kind of got out of hand.

Where do you keep them all?
Around the house. Around two years ago, when I was writing the new album, I ended up building a hotel out of them. I became obsessed with building this actual shampoo hotel; it was a way of giving the songs context. The bottles inspired me to think of song titles, so I started to come up with imaginary products.

If you hadn’t been a musician, would you have had the urge to see so many places?
I don’t think the travelling would be possible; I’d have to find a way to pay the bills, so it would be harder to leave the one place. I do feel very lucky to be able to get to see so much of the world.

What are your favourite places to visit?
I’m not fussy, I don’t really have a favourite. Everywhere is good in some way. It’s more about the people – if I meet good people then it doesn’t matter if I don’t see the sights.

What was it like travelling to Argentina to track down a long lost relative for the recent documentary Seperado?
For a while I tried to persuade people to give me the cash to go to Argentina to investigate, but no-one would. Then in 2004 our old record label gave SFA £15,000 to make a video. I don’t think they truly believed it as it took five years to make, and by the time it was finished we were no longer on the label. It was an amazing experience making it – much harder than I anticipated. I had no idea of the work involved. It ended up taking five years to make.Did you get to make any music whilst you were there?
I played with a few Argentinean musicians when I was there. I’ve actually recorded the soundtrack to Seperado, which I plan to release sometime soon. I have seven new tracks, one in English and six in Welsh, plus four to five instrumentals. It’s all ready, it just needs a sleeve. I should really get round to putting it out.

Now you’re not tied to a major label, what’s the process like when releasing a new album?
It’s a palaver. Even once the music has been recorded, it takes a few months to sort out the sleeve, then you have the press and interviews to sort out. My last record was with Tony da Gatorra – The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness – and it took three years to come out. I finished Hotel Shampoo last March and it’s only just coming out nearly a year later.

What became of the tank that the Super Furry Animals used during the Radiator period?
We actually bought that tank from an arms dealer just south of Nottingham – he has a field full of armed vehicles. We ended up selling the tank to Don Henley from The Eagles, as we couldn’t afford to keep it. He collects tanks on his farm in Texas. When we had it, Creation Records kept it on a farm. We all had a go at driving it and we kitted it out with a massive sound system.

Any fond memories of playing Notts?
I’ve played Rock City a few times, but the venue I’m playing this time around is in a new part of town for me. One of my favourite Robin Hood-inspired songs is by Steeleye Span, called Gamble Gold (Robin Hood). It’s very weird – part of the short-lived genre of glam folk. I sometimes play the song when I’m DJing.

What keeps you going? How do you find the inspiration to keep creating?
Before I was in Super Furry Animals I was in another band for seven years. I released my first record in 1994. I started singing when I was 25. There was no real pressure; it was just playing music for the sake of it, and then somehow we got signed. I was used to playing to no-one and making records that don’t sell for a really long time. So now I’m happy to do gigs to five people, I don’t see what I do as a career. I just like to make music and if I make a record that more than ten people hear, that gets me very excited. I don’t feel any pressure to be popular; maybe that’s why I’m still able to do this.

If you were to die and be reincarnated, what would you like to come back as?
Something useful to society, like a rubbish tip or a hospital.

Any final words?
Always keep your keys with you so you don’t lose them. Happy New Year to you.

When’s the cut-off point for saying that to people?
I don’t think that there is one - cultures around the world all celebrate a different New Year, so there’s a different New Year’s Day every month of the year. Happy New Year!

Gruff Rhys plays at The Glee Club on Monday 21 February 2011. Tickets are £13.50.

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