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.