Interview: The Earth
Published on June 11th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
It’s been said many times before but it bears repeating: Super Furry Animals really are an exceptionally gifted bunch. Gruff Rhys’s movements both solo and as part of Neon Neon are well documented, Cian Ciarán’s‘s Outside In LP came in at number 5 in our top 100 albums of 2012 list, Guto Pryce is ‘readying’ a full debut as one half of the luscious Gulp and now it’s the turn of Dafydd Ieuan to take centre stage (albeit, as the drummer, not literally) with his latest project The Earth.
Rocksucker has been luxuriating in The Earth’s impending debut OFF/ON 1 of late; it’s a sublime convergence of sophisticated pop songwriting and classic soul flourishes with just a smidgen of fuzzy psychedelia sprinkled on top for extra deliciousness, but we’ll tell you more about it in next week’s review. For now, we are honoured to lay on for you the results of our chat with Ieuan, who makes up one quarter of the group alongside erstwhile Catatonia guitarist/songwriter Mark Roberts, bassist Tristan Marley and singer Dionne Bennett.
In addition to discussion of The Earth, we talked about SFA’s ongoing hiatus and an as-yet-unreleased album from Ieuan’s previous project The Peth, which featured – amongst others – Bennett and renowned actor Rhys Ifans. First, though, get a load of this delightfully scuzzy blast of an album cut…
Why did you decide to name the band The Earth? Does it have anything to do with the live-only Super Furry Animals number “Earth”?
We had a working chart in the studio while we were making the most recent Super Furry Animals album Dark Days/Light Years and the last song on the chart was called “Earth”, so I don’t know if it was subliminal or something. I’m not quite sure, really…it just sounded good (laughs). It was initially going to be just Mark and I writing songs for Dionne but the more we worked on it the more it became a band, so what was going to be a moniker for her became a band name. There’s not much more to it than that, really.
Where was the album recorded, and who produced it?
It was recorded in Strangetown Studios in Cardiff and we produced it ourselves. I engineered it with help from Kris Jenkins and Sir Doufus Styles. It started off as…I wouldn’t go as far as saying “glorified demos”… It started off when I met Dionne in a pub down in Cardiff about a year and a half ago – we’d been talking about doing something together for quite a while – and then I spoke to Mark Roberts from Catatonia two days after his sister’s birthday, told him I’d been talking to Dionne, asked what he was up to and if he fancied coming over to do some songwriting for her.
We went in the studio the week after and it just came on from there; we went in every Wednesday and almost inevitably came up with a song each time. We started recording some of it, not quite sure where it was going, and we ended up using guitar takes that we were going to use for demos, decided to put real drums on them. So like I said, they’re not quite glorified demos, but some early takes were eventually worked into the album.
How were the songwriting duties divided between you?
That depends – it would be on a song-by-song basis, really – but generally, Mark or myself would come in with an idea, we’d put down a verse or a chorus on a computer then spend a week going back through what we’d recorded and make a song out of the ideas. Dionne wrote the lyrics and could sing it better than Mark or I ever could, so basically we’d start the songs and then Dionne would come in and finish them off for us. Sometimes either Mark or I would finish a song from start to finish, or we’d sit down with a guitar at a computer.
Even after we wrote this album we were still coming up with ideas and demoing them, so we’ve got another seventeen tracks lined up for the next album; we’ve already started recording thirteen of them, or something like that, so hopefully that will come out early next year. I was Catatonia’s first drummer back in the day, but then we formed the Furries and I had to make a choice, so it’s like Mark and I are catching up with business twenty years later.
— dafydd ieuan (@furrydaf) June 9, 2013
Was Mark ever a member of Ffa Coffi Pawb?
No, he was in a band called Y Cyrff, which is Welsh for The Bodies. They were around at the same time as Ffa Coffi Pawb – we were both around the Welsh language circuit, if you like, during the late ’80s and early ’90s – so I’ve known Mark since we were teenagers.
Why haven’t you done a lead vocal since “Atomik Lust” [from SFA’s 2005 album Love Kraft]?
I finished a Peth album called Crystal Peth about two years ago that’s sitting on the shelf, and I did a few leads on that. I’m not sure what to do with it because Rhys [Ifans] has disappeared; I don’t even know what continent he’s on these days, so I’ve just been waiting by the telephone for the right time to release it.
With The Earth, the intention from the word go was to write for Dionne so that’s why neither Mark or myself sing any leads. We did some backing vocals, though, some harmonies.
When do you think would be the right time to release Crystal Peth?
Whenever Rhys answers his phone, so we can get him down to do some interviews and maybe a few shows. I’ve been waiting for two and a half years now so maybe I should just take the hint and release it anyway!
I’ve wondered for a while whether it’s you singing lead on the SFA B-side “Never More”.
No, I think that might have been Cian. It can be hard to tell us apart sometimes, maybe because of the accent or because we’ve got the same genes!
Are there guest Furry appearances on the album?
Guto’s playing bass on a couple of tracks, Cian’s playing piano on a couple of tracks. Bunf’s playing cello on one, believe it or not; that was one of those crazy Bunf tracks that takes about three days of editing before it makes sense! There’s no Gruff, but the other three are on it.
What do you think of all their respective current projects?
With regards Cian’s stuff, I played drums on that album so I’ve been around it as it was made and mixed. It’s a beautiful album, very Cian; he does beautiful very well. I’ve just played drums on the Gulp album as well, and that’s being recorded at Strangetown Studios as well so I’ve seen them quite a lot.
Bunf’s also doing an album at the studio, I did a bit of engineering for him. I’m not really sure what Gruff’s up to; I know he’s just released another Neon Neon album but I don’t bump into him that often these days.
You have a distinctive drumming style and sound, meaty and crunchy but also graceful with all those lovely fluttery fills. How much was this style informed by the work of other drummers?
I love Ringo, John Bonham and all that ’60s/’70s drumming. You don’t hear that way of drumming much these days; everybody Pro Tools everything to fuck so it’s hard to distinguish which drummers are the best on record these days, which is a shame. Even if they are any good, there’s always the chance that it gets ironed out by overproduction. I was listening to the Alabama Shakes album and that’s right up my sleeve, the production and style of drumming, the way it’s recorded even; it’s very raw and that’s what I’m trying to do here in the studio. It takes a while to work out the rhythm, what you’re trying to do and what have you.
Do you plan to tour the album?
I’d like to but that’s not going to happen ’til probably October, anyway. It’s a case of “watch this space”, really, but it would be nice to. It all depends on the tour and what we’d get offered because at the moment I don’t know if I’ve got the will or the energy to do a toilet circuit tour (laughs).
Has the next Super Furry Animals album been discussed at all?
No, God’s honest truth. We’ve been talking about box sets and what have you, but that’s a work in progress so I’m not supposed to say anything about it. But no, there’s nothing concrete; we decided to take time off to ‘hibernate’, as we like to say, but for how long depends on when we starting waking up from our long, slumbering sleep. It could be next year, the year after, in five years; who knows? I wouldn’t like to say.
Could you ever see yourselves doing one of those shows where you play an album in its entirety?
Yeah, why not, but it hasn’t been mentioned so that’s just as hard to answer as when will we do a show again. I really, really don’t know. It was Gruff that wanted to take time off more than anyone so I suppose you’d have to ask him. We were in the machine for fifteen years, touring, writing and recording, so when it stopped we were all pretty fucked up, found ourselves in debt and having to sack a manager for being a cunt. It was a pretty shitty time so we needed a lot of time to recover and have the will to do it again, really.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your life with the entire works of just five different artists, musical or otherwise, whose would you choose?
The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, the whole Motown back catalogue if that counts, Mark Rothko and Christopher Hitchens’s books. I’d probably change my mind from day to day, though.
You’re an ELO fan, aren’t you? I liked your choice of “Telephone Line” on the Super Furry Animals Under the Influence compilation.
Yeah, tomorrow I’d probably have ELO in there in place of something else. It depends what mood I’m in; I’m only choosing Mark Rothko because I’ve got a bit of a hangover and I’m knackered! “Telephone Line” is a bit corny but I’m a sucker for that ’70s production, the style of recording and multitracking. You could choose from a myriad of ELO songs, really.
Dafydd Ieuan, thank you.
Off/On One will be released on June 30th.
The album launch party will take place at Clwb Ifor Bach on July 6th – click here to buy tickets online.
For more information, please visit The Earth’s official website.