Gruff Rhys

Pop Addict: Gruff Rhys’ Atheist Xmas EP

Gruff Rhys

Every other Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Gruff Rhys: Atheist Xmas EP Gruff Rhys: Atheist Xmas EP (Wichita, 12/20/11)

Gruff Rhys: “Slashed Wrists This Christmas”

Around this time of year, before the reality and harshness of winter set in, December is usually a time of good cheer and holiday festiveness. And now, thanks to Gruff Rhys, atheists can enjoy the season too. The Super Furry Animals front-man has just released a new EP called Atheist Xmas — a three-song offering featuring hook-heavy, head-bobbing catchiness — that is sure to help get you through to the coldest days this winter (or at least a few minutes of them at a time).

And don’t worry — this one isn’t sung in Welsh.

Boom Bip

Q&A: Boom Bip

Boom Bip: Zig ZajBoom Bip: Zig Zaj (Lex, 9/27/11)

Boom Bip: “All Hands”

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Ever since his loop-based beginnings, Bryan Charles Hollan — known better as experimental hip-hop artist Boom Bip — has been on the search for his optimal live-band incarnation. He seems to have found it.

In 2002, Seed to Sun demonstrated Hollan’s ability to make compelling organic and instrumental hip hop. On his recordings since that time, nearly everything has been performed by hand, and the results have been admirable — but nothing has clicked quite like his newest effort, Zig Zaj.

Now Hollan is armed with a permanent live band, consisting of Josh Klinghoffer (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Eric Gardner (Gnarls Barkley, Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Josiah Steinbrick. Their chemistry is immediately evident on Zig Zaj, which also sports standout guest spots from Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand (for one very Depeche Mode track), Money Mark, Luke Steele (Empire of the Sun), Cate Le Bon, and Mikey Noyce (Bon Iver).

Partly because of the guests, the new material takes a poppier and more rock-driven direction. But there’s still plenty of the old Bip underneath, as synths and electronics commingle with the bass grooves and delicate acoustic riffs. ALARM caught up with Hollan to find out more about the evolution of his band and what projects he has in the works.

Tell us about the evolution of the live band. How has that affected or led to what we’re hearing on Zig Zaj?

The evolution of the live band has been like creating a new breed of dog. I’ve constantly been trying to fine-tune it to something enjoyable for me. This time, though, I got it right. The current live band is fantastic. With Zig Zaj, I certainly had the live show in mind when constructing the tracks. As a result, intensity became part of the equation, and you can hear that in the tone of the songs.

Coming out of the collaboration with Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals (as Neon Neon), what made you decide to scale back the dance elements for the new album?

The Boom Bip albums have always been more about the moment and trying to not have any limitations or concern for genre. I just let whatever comes out come out. I don’t really think, “What genre does this fit into and what bin will this sit in at the record store?” Although it has become a game for me to see where it is placed. I’ve seen my album in everything from rap to avant-garde.

Super Furry Animals Frontman Discusses Solo Career

Welsh singer and Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys has had a busy year. “It’s been nuts, but in a good way.” Tonight he is performing solo in Chicago as part of a North American tour supporting his solo album, Candylion. By some miracle, Kliph Scurlock of the Flaming Lips just happened to be in town and is sitting in as a last-minute replacement drummer. “We met him at a show just before he started playing for the Flaming Lips. We became instant friends.”

Such an unpredictable evening seems consistent with Rhys’ manic pace in the past year; he released the solo album Candylion, he completed the latest Super Furry Animals record, Hey Venus!, he took a solo tour of the U.S. and the U.K., and played a number of festival dates with Super Furry Animals.

Tonight in Chicago, with the tour nearing its end, Rhys is satisfied. “It’s been great! It’s fun doing these shows because they’re very different from Super Furry Animals shows.” On the Candylion tour, Rhys played with limited accompaniment to small, packed houses, starkly contrasting the arena-rock-like Super Furry Animal tours. “They’re very quiet shows. It’s a chance to play quiet music and interact with the audience. They have to be smaller shows because it doesn’t really translate to a larger venue. Whereas in the Super Furry Animals, we like to make a racket.

“The initial plan was to go off and record an acoustic record. I had a lot of songs written around the acoustic guitar, so initially my idea was to record them as they were: just me and a guitar. We recorded some of that and it didn’t sound very good! I started to play some drums. And then, because there were drums, I invited a double bass player to the studio, and that filled it out a bit.” Lisa Jen, Rhys’ current touring mate, also lent a unique voice to the record.

“I’ve known Lisa a long time from my home town,” Rhys said. “She’s a folksinger, and I’d done a few shows with her in the months leading up to the record, where we sang some folk songs. So it seemed like a good idea to bring her in as well.”

Though slightly reminiscent of the quieter side of Super Furry Animals’ classic work, Candylion is singular in Rhys’ catalogue. Rhys’ previous solo album, 2005’s Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, though similarly low-key, lacked Candylion’s deliberate cohesion. “With Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, I just started making demos and having fun in the studio. With Candylion, I knew I was going to be doing a record. Some of the songs I had written in the same batch I kept off the record because I thought they’d be good Super Furry Animals songs.”

The next twist in 2007 was the appearance of a new Super Furry Animals record, Hey Venus!. “When we started Hey Venus!, we wanted to make a really abrasive, loud record, so I figured I could keep fifteen-minute ballads like ‘Skylon!’ and songs about lions made out of candy for the indulgent solo project.”

Of course the real twist was not the album itself (Super Furry Animals have always maintained a rigorous recording and touring schedule), but the return to the fuzzed-out power pop of albums like 1996’s Fuzzy Logic and 1997’s Radiator. “We actually thought it was going to be a heavier record. When people were asking us initially what the record is like, we’d say ‘Oh, it sounds huge. It’s crazy. It’s going to blow your speakers up!’ But I think we’ve got a real musical sweet tooth. We started adding harpsichords and stuff. By the time it was done, we had a record more in keeping with our back catalog.” With a running time of 36:27, it is the band’s most concise record to date.