The love of Welsh music, inevitably, transcends Wales itself. The likes of Super Furry Animals, Gruff Rhys, Cate Le Bon, Gorky’s and more have gone on to become nationally and internationally noteworthy artists. Nevertheless, it’s always refreshing to hear someone from far afield espousing the virtues of this fine nation’s musical output. Even more so when they are part of the legendary The Flaming Lips. Andrew Arthur caught up with drummer Kliph Scurlock, a self-confessed Welsh music lover, to see how the affair blossomed…
THE MMP: What sparked your love affair with Wales and its music?
I was on tour with some friends called the Chainsaw Kittens who were signed to a subsidiary of Mercury Records. When the tour went through New York, we went to the Mercury offices. They gave us a bunch of promo CDs. One of the CDs they gave me was “Introducing Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci”, which was a U.S. only comp of stuff from “Tatay” and “Bwyd Time” and singles of that period. I immediately fell in love with it. And, with several Welsh language songs on it, it was my introduction to the Welsh language (I had, up until that point, thought you lot all only spoke English.) My roommate at that time had a computer with dial up internet and I found the Ankst label online and ordered all of the other Gorky’s records and “Bukowski” by Rheinallt H. Rowlands (since he sang on “Iechyd Da”). A couple of years later, I found myself with some extra money, so I went to England to see Gorky’s on their “Gorky 5″ tour and got to talking with Euros Childs about Wales and Welsh bands and he told me I needed to immediately check out Super Furry Animals. There was an HMV next to the train station, so the next day I bought “Radiator” and the “Ice Hockey Hair” EP. Of course, I loved both of those immediately as well. I had the pleasure of meeting them a few years later and Gruff told me a bunch of bands I should check out and gave me several CDs by Datblygu, Zabrinski, etc. I would say that’s when the love affair really happened.
THE MMP: Why do you think as a non-Welsh speaker you still really enjoy listen to songs sung in the Welsh language specifically?
Well, the language is beautiful and I love hearing it spoken and sung, but I wouldn’t like any of the Welsh language songs I like if the tunes weren’t great already.
THE MMP: What is it about Welsh artists that you like? Below is a list of Welsh acts past and present that I was hoping you may want to give your opinion on…
I don’t really know. I don’t think there’s necessarily a common thread that goes through all the Welsh bands I like. I think it’s just because, for whatever reason, Wales seems to breed a lot of creativity and a lot of that creativity is appealing to my ears. As far as the artists listed:
Tom Jones – Well, he’s a legend, isn’t he? But I’ve never liked any of the stuff of his I’ve heard enough to buy it.
Manic Street Preachers – Boring, obnoxious, pretentious and overrated.
Super Furry Animals / Gruff Rhys solo records – absolute genius. The only band I’ve ever purchased a record by (the “Northern Lites” single, which came out a month or so ahead of “Guerrilla”) and thought there had been a mix-up at the pressing plant because it sounded so different to anything else they’d ever done before. It was only when Gruff’s vocals came in that I realized it was SFA. Plus I have Gruff to thank for turning me on to a large portion of Welsh bands I dig.
Shirley Bassey – I appreciate her talent and I appreciate what she does, but it doesn’t move me.
Meic Stevens – ‘Lan A Lawr’ is one of my favorite songs of all time and I really dig a lot of his other stuff that I’ve heard, but I’m really only familiar with a fairly small portion of his catalog. I really should change that.
Budgie – I like a few of their tunes, but they’re kind of third tier heavy rock to me.
Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci/Euros Childs – GZM are one of my all time favorite bands (and the first band I ever heard sing in Welsh) and the range of Euros’ songwriting continues to stun me. I’m actually listening to the Cousins album he made as I type this and I’m pretty sure it’s going to end up being my favorite album of the whole year.
Cate Le Bon – Amazing songstress and a total sweetheart to boot.
H. Hawkline – I am a huge fan. There aren’t many people making music that I can’t find some way to describe, but he does.
Islet – I like them quite a bit, but I feel their truly amazing work is yet to come.
Y Niwl – I really shouldn’t like them because I’ve never been a fan of surf music, but they really are awesome.
Sweet Baboo – I feel like an absolute asshole for saying this, but he gave me a CD at Green Man and I misplaced it.
Race Horses / Radio Luxembourg – I heard a couple of Radio Luxembourg songs I thought were pretty cool, but I haven’t heard Race Horses yet.
THE MMP: If you have any particular favourite Welsh bands featured or not featured on this list, for what reasons are they your favourites?
Well, you listed my two absolute favorites, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals, but two other Welsh bands that I really love that you didn’t list are Zabrinski and Edward H. Dafis. You mentioned Gruff and Euros, the primary singers and songwriters of GZM and SFA, but I would like to mention that the solo/side projects of those bands are almost uniformly excellent as well. Richard James (ex-GZM) has 3 just absolutely gorgeous records out. Cian Ciaran (SFA) has a really brilliant solo album out and made a great Acid Casuals record several years ago. Guto (SFA) has a band called Gulp who only have a single out thus far, but both of those songs are really great. And John Lawrence (ex-GZM) has released a number of records both under his name and the Infinity Chimps moniker that I really enjoy. And Gruff and Euros have done other great things outside of their bands and purely solo stuff – Neon Neon and Cousins, for example.
THE MMP: Are there any particular Welsh Record labels that you like?
Well, I will always have a special place in my heart for Ankst because they put out the early Gorky’s stuff and finding their online catalog was like delving into this strange and mystical world. That being said, I don’t keep up with what they do currently. Not for any particular reason; just laziness, I guess. I do keep up with Turnstile because, not only do they manage two of my musical heroes, Gruff Rhys and Euros Childs, they also release Gruff’s records. But, in addition to that, I am friends with Alun (the owner) and Owain (who I must admit I’m not sure what he technically does for the label), so I am lucky enough to be kept abreast of all the new releases they have on the horizon.
THE MMP: Would you ever consider doing a song in Welsh? Can you speak any Welsh?
I would love to do a song in Welsh, but my vocabulary is very limited and, as I find out every time I try to impress Gruff by speaking some Welsh, my pronunciations are almost always incorrect. I could probably hodgepodge together a bunch of Gorky’s lyrics, but that would be stealing and I’ve stolen so much from them already that I don’t want to push my lucky any farther than I have.
THE MMP: Has your fandom of Wales and her music infiltrated through to the rest of the Lips, have you put any of the other guys on to stuff, or are they already big fans of any Welsh acts?
I don’t think any of them feel any particular affinity for any music just because of where it comes from, but they definitely dig a lot of what I’ve played for/around them. Wayne especially loves the Cousins record these days.
THE MMP: How was your experience of Green Man summer 2010 headline set? It certainly seemed pretty special from the audience perspective. You arrived through a psychedelic vagina on the screen waving the Welsh flag. Wayne even managed to coax the moon out from behind the clouds. Any other fond memories from playing/visiting the country?
Green Man was an amazing experience for me for many different reasons. For one, I got to see Richard James perform live, which I never thought would happen. And I got to see a showing of “Separado!”, which I had been dying to see. And I got to spend some quality time with Gruff, Guto and Rich, which I rarely get to do. But, besides that, I found every person that I talked to as I was wandering around to just be really cool and nice and genuine. We play a lot of festivals and I generally don’t leave our backstage area if I don’t have to because there are a bunch of drunk, rude assholes that block me from getting to hang out with the nice people, but I didn’t experience this at Green Man. I spent the whole 2 days we were there just wandering around talking to people and checking bands and other shit out and it was just a marvelous experience all the way around.
THE MMP: Is there a particular Welsh artist that you have been listening to a lot lately?
Well, there generally isn’t much time that passes that I don’t listen to Super Furry Animals/solo Gruff/solo Cian or Gorky’s/solo Euros/Cousins/solo Rich or Cate Le Bon or H. Hawkline, but there’s nobody “new” I’ve heard super recently that I can think of off the top of my head.
THE MMP: You are known to often wear around a red t-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Cymru’ across it. Does your love for Wales go beyond just being a fan of the music that has been produced by Welsh artists?
Well, it was sort of a happy coincidence that, just as I was really getting into a lot of Welsh bands and Welsh culture and Welsh history (and giving a bit of a go at learning Cymraeg) that I learned from my father that I am of Welsh descent myself. The first of my family that came over to the States were coal miners looking for a better life. And then my best friend, Kim, bought me that Cymru shirt. Some girl probably told me I looked cute in it or something, so I started wearing it more often. Then Wayne said he liked it and that he thought I should wear it every show. It didn’t take any convincing seeing as the alternative was to keep wearing the heavy, hot animal costume I had been wearing, so I guess a lot of things aligned at the same time and it became my go-to shirt. But, even though I haven’t spent a whole lot of time there, I do love Wales very much and have felt very at home when I’ve been there. Plus, every Welsh person I’ve met has just been the dictionary definition of kind and gracious and….I don’t know….I really have hopes and aspirations of “retiring” there. I don’t know how to describe it, but, like I said, I’ve always felt at home and at peace when I’ve been there and that isn’t a feeling I experience a lot when I’m away from home.
THE MMP: Has any Welsh musicians/film makers/actors/musicians had any impact or influence on any of your creative endeavours with the Lips or any of your own projects?
Well, I can’t help but soak in the things I see and hear and experience, so I’m sure that a lot of the music that I’ve listened to from there has influenced my music, though I hope I’m not too obvious with said influences. And I have been very influenced by the wonderful people I’ve met just on a personal level in that I try to be as kind and caring and patient as they are. I don’t want to give anyone else short shrift, but Gruff Rhys really is one of the smartest, kindest, funniest, calmest, most talented and original thinking people I’ve ever met and I think of him constantly as I’m conducting myself day-to-day.
THE MMP: When can we hope to see The Flaming Lips play in Wales again?