Any good Welshman knows the old proverb, "Hir yw pob ymaros" ("All waiting is long"). Gruff Rhys is clearly no exception. As frontman for the always-adventurous psych-pop band Super Furry Animals, he's spent the better part of 15 years avoiding lulls. The band's nine albums have never been more than two years apart, and with the slim gaps in between, Rhys has found time to hone his craft as a visual artist, documentarian and solo musician. His third and tightest solo effort, Hotel Shampoo, arrived earlier this month.
"You know, I've got quite a bad memory," Rhys says from his native Wales. "So every time a record comes out, it feels exciting and new all over again. I'm still amazed that anybody wants to release my records. When a record I make here comes out thousands of miles away, it's still incredible to me."
Rhys' modesty and that aforementioned bad memory are key ingredients in Hotel Shampoo, an album that began as a sort of companion piece to the singer's recent art installation — a miniature hotel made from hundreds of complimentary hotel shampoo bottles.
"Initially, I started collecting them because — in the year before [Super Furry Animals] started touring — I was living off welfare checks," Rhys explains. "Then I suddenly found myself staying at hotels that were giving away free shampoo and things, and I just thought, 'Wow, this is incredible!' So I started a collection, and over the years, without realizing it, those products really formed a sort of tour diary for me. When I'm looking at them all in bulk, they trigger memories that probably wouldn't come to me otherwise. I remember scenarios that I'd likely tried to erase [laughs]."
Not surprisingly, Rhys soon transplanted many of his shampoo-related recollections into his music, as Hotel Shampoo finds the 40-year-old father of two doing the proverbial "midway point" look at his life. Only in this case, all the wistful rock 'n' roller narcissism is jettisoned in favor of a much sunnier, "well-deserved vacation" sort of vibe.
"I think I've generally dealt with nostalgia on a musical level," Rhys says. "And this record is definitely quite reflective, looking back on my touring life. But it's also greatly influenced by a lot of the Mediterranean psych-pop and disco records I've been collecting over the past five years — music from Turkey, Italy, France, Spain, Greece. For some kind of random reason, I've been drawn to these records, and I've sampled a number of them on this album, because they seemed to fit the vibe we were after — a sort of hotel getaway feel. These places are vacation destinations for Northern Europeans, so those cultures and their music — for Northern Europeans, anyway — kind of represent good times."
Hotel Shampoo is a welcome destination for Super Furry Animals fans as well, as SFA's current two-year hiatus (already their longest) clearly hasn't derailed Rhys' need and knack for creating instantly memorable, timeless pop nuggets. "Honey All Over" and "Sensations in the Dark" are perfectly crafted lounge-pop tunes that stand alongside anything in the SFA catalog.
"I imagine my songwriting is refining," Rhys says, "and I don't know whether that's a good or bad thing. I suppose it just changes as you become aware of more music over time. I don't have to do another job, so I've got lots of time to devote to finding new music and listening to old records. Along the way, you might lose some of the spontaneity that comes with being less aware of those things, but it's not something you can really control at that point."
As one might expect, it's going to be a busy spring for Rhys. His American tour features his friends from the Welsh surf-rock outfit Y Niwl as his backing band (with fans literally encouraged to bring surfboards to the shows), and he'll also be promoting his recent documentary Separado — a "psychedelic Western musical" five years in the making.
"It was a pretty crazy experience for me," Rhys says of the film. "It's like an investigative concept tour, where I try to find this distant relative of mine from the Welsh-speaking colonies in Patagonia. He's this amazing longhaired ambient guitarist. So yeah, I was trying to make a feature film with very little money, and it turned into something else entirely."
Hotels made of shampoo, Mediterranean midlife vacation albums, long-lost Patagonian uncles. Sounds like a typical Super Furry Animals song. And despite rumors to the contrary, Rhys says SFA shall indeed return.
"Our next album will be the 10th, so we'll have to make something really ambitious for that."
One can only imagine.
http://www.reverbnation.com/guesthousestud… git some black rain y'all...very nice piece Mr. Anderson
You obviously don't have a clue what touring is actually like snowman69. We all know…
Your illegal Mexican groundskeepers don't count, snowman69.
I know people in their 70s who are day laborers and on their feet all…