Gwenno on Her Debut Solo Album, "Y Dydd Olaf" | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Gwenno on Her Debut Solo Album, “Y Dydd Olaf”

Pop in the Dystopia

Mar 08, 2016 Issue #55 - November/December 2015 - EL VY
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Pop music and the avant-garde don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Gwenno Saunders has boldly delved into both of those disparate extremes in the span of one LP. The sunny-voiced Welsh songstress garnered plenty of praise in 2006 when she and her bandmates in the British indie pop troop The Pipettes released their glossy, hook laden debut LP, We Are The Pipettes. But that success was short-lived, as the band suffered perilous lineup changes and their sophomore album, 2010’s Earth vs. The Pipettes, mustered only a mixed reception.

But that failed second outing didn’t prompt Saunders to fade into obscurity. Instead, she adopted obscure influences, helping her reach new creative peaks. Her resurgence began quietly in 2012, when she returned to Wales to seek out new inspiration. Before long, she was returning to her roots in every sense of the word, not only recording in her homeland but also adopting its native tongue for her lyrics. Her debut EP Ymbelydredd (which she released simply under her first name), marked her Welsh language debut. And her follow-up proved to be even more demanding on her small but devout following, featuring not only Welsh lyrics, but also a dense sci-fi narrative inspired by one of her homeland’s greatest authors. Y Dydd Olaf takes its title from Owain Owain’s 1976 novel about a dystopic future where robots have conquered the human race, only to contend with one man who communicates in Welsh to counter that artificial intelligence’s mass hypnosis of his species.

“The oppression in Y Dydd Olaf reminds me of the way we’re monitored technologically today. Even though the book was written in 1976, I thought it had a clever way of expressing a different form of cultural identity within a dystopic world,” Saunders says, adding that her muse for the new album has not only proven to be timely on a societal level, but also on a personal one.

“It felt like the cleverest idea about celebrating cultural difference, and about revealing that we all have a different story to tell.”

Saunders satiated her desire to not only pen a new personal narrative, but also embrace her cultural roots, when she moved back to Wales and took a reprieve from the stifling music industry network she had built in England. “I think there’s a lot to be said about being on the periphery of capitalism and the mainstream, and I think Wales gives me that,” Saunders explains. “In London you learn to live in this epicenter of business and commerce. But feeling some geographic freedom from that has been important creatively.”

That outlying locale freed her from distractions and helped her into her most dense, conceptually ambitious album yet. And while Y Dydd Olaf deals with heavy, dystopic themes, the album’s actual music is anything but dire and bleak. Saunders instead opts for bright, catchy, upbeat melodies, utilizing incandescent-sounding synth riffs to make the songs sound futuristic and hopeful in the face of an apocalyptic robotic invasion. In that way, she has balanced her earlier pop-hook savvy with her newfound ambition and creative quirkiness.

“I have a real keen interest in electronic music and pioneering avant-garde music, and that was something that I was searching for when I moved back to Wales,” she says. “A lot of Welsh music is rural and folky and acoustic, which naturally affects the landscape. But I come from an industrialized part of the country, and there’s also a lot of industrial music there. I was also looking to learn more about my culture.”

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s November/December Issue. This is its debut online.]

Gwenno is performing at Under the Radar‘s Thursday SXSW day party next Thursday at the Flamingo Cantina at 6th and Red River (515 E. 6th Street, Austin, TX 78701). The party is free and open to the public; head over to the Eventbrite page for our SXSW parties to RSVP. Gwenno goes on at 2:25 PM and the rest of the lineup features England’s Everything Everything, England’s MONEY, South Africa’s Petite Noir, Cullen Omori (the former frontman of Smith Westerns), Pillar Point, and Northern Ireland’s Girls Names. The full set times are below and all the info on our three SXSW 2016 events can be found here.

Under the Radar SXSW Day Party at Flamingo Cantina, Thursday, March 17:

5:00 PM: Everything Everything
4:05 PM: MONEY
3:15 PM: Petite Noir
2:25 PM: Gwenno
1:35 PM: Cullen Omori
12:45 PM: Pillar Point
12:00 PM: Girls Names


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