Gwenno on Her U.S. Tour Dates, America, Welsh Politics, and Motherhood | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Gwenno on Her U.S. Tour Dates, America, Welsh Politics, and Motherhood


May 16, 2016 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern The Pipettes
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After five gigs at SXSW in March, Gwenno Saunders is returning to the States for an east coast tour kicking off in Boston tonight (May 16) and culminating at Moogfest. “What a line up! It’s like a dream festival,” the Welsh space-popstress (and former member of The Pipettes) enthuses. Having followed the continuing success of her debut album Y Dydd Olaffrom its initial 2014 release on Peski Records to being picked up in 2015 by Heavenly Recordings and winning Best Welsh Album at the 2015 National Eisteddfod and the 2014-2015 Welsh Music PrizeGwenno and I Skyped last week before her departure to the States to discuss the political and philosophical questions that shape her creative output, as well as her thoughts on America and her recent motherhood.

Aug Stone (Under the Radar): How have your feelings changed towards the songs over the past couple of years?

Gwenno: The more you do something, the more it reconfirms it to you. The situation I’m in allows me to keep singing the songs and it strengthens how I felt about them when I first wrote them. It’s quite nice because I think the more you sing songs, the more attached you become to them and I’m just glad that they’re songs I always believe in when I sing them. They weren’t fleeting emotions, they are still how I feel about stuff.

This is my last stint with these songs before I start performing new ones. It’ll be nice coming to America because it’s a new audience. It’s always different when you play in front of a different audience, and I had such a good time in Austin. SXSW was ace, the gigs were great. I felt it was a really interesting conversation I was having with people, so I’m excited.

How did the Welsh language go over here?

Fine. Initially when I toured with Gruff [Rhys], I was playing songs that nobody in the audience had heard. Whereas more so now people are familiar with the songs. It’s a complete non-issue really. I’ve sung in English so I can compare it to that experience. And the level of communication isn’t lower in any way. There’s nothing at all stopping a communal experience.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve focused more and more on what I’m specifically interested in. And what I find is that you come across people that have those similar interests. That’s a really nice thing because they become your audience in a way, and you’re constantly having a conversation. It’s quite specialized really, but I don’t have any expectations for it not to be either. My interest has always been in pop music, and it always will be. Those elements are in what I do even though I’m not trying to please the whole world. So I’m only concentrating on what I’m doing, not on some sort of an imaginary audience. Which is good.

How do you feel about America?

I’ve got a certain attachment because as a teenager I lived in Las Vegas, playing the lead role in Lord of the Dance at the New York New York casino. I think that really influenced the way I conduct myself, as it would, being in my formative years. Though obviously that’s a very specific reflection of America. I don’t know if I’d feel the same way if I hadn’t lived there. But America’s just humungous so it’s difficult to think of as a whole. There’s a lot to still be said from an American perspective intellectually. And that’s interesting to me.

While you’re here do you notice your feelings changing from any preconceived ideas you have about America, mediated by your experiences? For example, the political turmoil going on in our country right now and the image that projects to the rest of the world.

But at the same time there’s this other element of American society which I’ve come across because of the gigs that I do. I’m constantly having enlightening conversations about the world, not just America, but Western society in general. How that should evolve and which way are we going next, and I think the States have done so much in that regard.

America’s a fascinating place. But I don’t have enough knowledge to properly make any judgment. I’d be a fool to say “Well I think it’s like this,” because I don’t have enough facts to back myself up.

Well that’s good because so many people judge us so harshly.

That’s weird because it’s judging the hyper-capitalism element. Which is a massive shame because that’s only one component of what has ever happened. The U.K. in its mindset is not that dissimilar to North America in terms of capitalism and with the government trying to dismantle the NHS [National Health Service]. There is less value put on the welfare state from a government point of view in comparison to other countries in Europe.

What’s going on in Wales that we should know about?

Well, [groans] it’s quite depressing. We’ve just had our Assembly elections. UKIP [U.K. Independence Party] won seven seats. I’m still trying to digest it. UKIP were actually against the Assembly in their manifesto until 2013. There’s loads of reasons for it. For the past 17 years, Labour have always been in power within the Assembly. They lost a huge percentage of the votes this time but they still managed to get in. But the average person doesn’t feel Labour represents them so people are defecting and going to UKIP because their policies sound like that guy down the pub who’s really angry with everyone, you know that “someone else is taking my job” attitude. There’s all these factors, you can see why it’s happened, but it doesn’t stop it being a dismal situation.

It’s just so depressing that people would vote in a racist, right-wing party that doesn’t even think Wales should exist. The working class has been so destroyed. All of its frameworkunions, anything that represented the people as a collectivehas been chipped and chipped away. You’re left with this void, and people fill it with anger and hate. Which in turn makes more people reactionary to that“Yes, I hate everything as well. I’m pissed off. I don’t know why it’s happened to me but I’m angry about it.” And that’s just the most unconstructive thing. And pretty dangerous because that’s how Hitler got in.

Are you working on new material?

I’m writing at the moment. Reading and writing. I won’t say too much about it because it’s all got to evolve a bit more, but that’s what I’m doing at the moment between the gigs. There’s a lot of writing going on.

Have you read any other books that had as big an influence as Y Dydd Olaf [Owain Owain’s 1976 sci-fi novel that inspired her album]?

Thinking The Twentieth Century was a massive one for me. It’s coming from an imperial perspective really, it doesn’t really touch on minority cultures at all. But I really loved the idea that the big question is, “Do we want to live in a society that supports everybody or do we want to live in a society where no one is cared for?” Because political ideals that have manifested themselves in say the Soviet Union or America share a lot more similarities in terms of hierarchy, controlling people, and things like that. And I’m reading books about Cornwall, which is interesting. A big thing that’s happened is that there was a very small amount of funding£150,000available for the Cornish language and it’s been just pulled. A lot of questions come up about this. The negative reaction is to say, “If you care about it that much you should just do it yourself. Why should the State have to support things that not everybody benefits from?” It’s such a reflection of the way people have been conditioned to thinking that culture isn’t worth anything. Particularly a small culture or a minority language, even one that has actually been historically spoken in Britain, isn’t worth helping or supporting. People are in this mode at the moment that unless something is generating lots of money then it hasn’t got any value. Like the NHS is a service that we should be sophisticated enough in our culture that we value people’s health, that people should be able to get help if they need to with regards to their health. And I think people believe that, but the government doesn’t.

So lots of big depressing themes going on. [Laughs] But you’ve got to find out what you’re annoyed about. It’s quite a heavy conversation but when I put it into a song it sort of feels more light-hearted and palatable. [Laughs] But those are always my thoughts and feelings and it’s me just trying to communicate, asking “What are we doing?” kind of questions.

How has motherhood affected your creative life?

On a practical level it’s made it slightly harder to be creative because it’s more difficult to have that space at the moment. But that’s temporary. Nico [Gwenno’s son] really needs me now and that’s the most important thing.

It hasn’t slowed you down at all.

I was quite conscious of it not doing that. I don’t know if I’ve got the balance right but I knew I didn’t want to stop. I really felt that if I was lucky enough to be a mum then I’d like to be a mum and myself as well. Which, when you’re self-employed, it can be a positive and obviously a negative if you haven’t got any work either. And from a self-employed point of view you’ve got to keep working. Especially with music, you’ve just got to keep going. If someone says to you, “Do you want to come to the States?” you go, “Right, okay, yes.” Because you’ve no idea when that opportunity will come up again. So you just make it work. It hasn’t changed any of the themes in my writing. It may have even made me more adamant that I have to keep expressing these things that I care about. I think motherhood changes you gradually as well. You’re getting to know a new human being and they’re changing all the time.

What’s coming up after this U.S. tour?

I’ll be doing festivals this summer then I’m recording and getting my ideas together. I feel really positive about it. It’s your life’s work really. Because I’ve been in so many different bands, sometimes you think, “Ah fuck, is that all I’ve got to say?” But actually, now that I’ve that I’ve discovered my tools and worked out what to say, when I imagine it, metaphorically, I don’t see the end. And that’s really exciting.

Gwenno Tour Dates:

May 16 - Great Scott, Allston, MA
May 17 - The Boot & Saddle, Philadelphia, PA
May 18 - Rough Trade NYC, Brooklyn, NY
May 19 - DC9, Washington DC
May 21 - Moogfest 2016, Durham, NC


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