Gruff Rhys and Huw Bunford take us through their back catalogue
RINGS AROUND THE WORLD
Not so much an album as a wildly ambitious, mind-expanding multi-platform investigation into the possibilities of digital entertainment – and the band’s most coherent musical statement to boot.
Rhys: We started recording Rings Around The World without a label because Creation had finished and we’d done Mwng, so we started recording another record. We’d started playing in surround sound and did a concert in Cardiff in 5.1 broadcasting for the BBC. DVD technology was coming on at the time, so we thought we’d make an album on DVD in surround sound with films and remixes. Sony came and said they’d take the project. Now we can make DVDs and surround sound things for nothing, but at the time we had to go to an editing suite to mix the record. We spent seven months in London in the most expensive studios in the world. We went to Woodstock, to Bearsville, where The Band used to record.
Bunford: Sony were just leaking money.
Rhys: But we were actually doing stuff with the money. It was a very ambitious project and we were on the right label to spend those amounts of money. They were taking the risk. We weren’t a secure commercial proposition, so it’s a longshot for them. You get people with nightmare stories with major labels but we got it really easy and they were very understanding. We were trying to make a blockbuster album that was going to be like the Eagles, but we left the tracks that sounded like the Eagles off. We had big debates about the line-up, but it ended up being a 50-minute album; it was going to be an hour-and-a-half. I was into the excess of it, that was the whole point. We had Chris Shaw, who’s produced records for Bob Dylan and makes a huge sound, engineering the record. We were trying to make a kind of utopian pop music that had pretensions of being progressive and exciting. I think Guerrilla maybe represents that kind of idea best because it’s more concise than Rings Around The World, but the process was amazing. The making of it was epic and the music represents that, with really over-the-top arrangements. By that point in Britain people knew about us already and were maybe getting bored. We were releasing a weird plastic soul record at the height of a garage rock revival. And then XL put Rings Around The World out in America and that became our breakthrough album there. We were doing sell-out shows coast to coast. People threw eggs at us in Baltimore because of the contents of the DVD, really crazy. And with Rings… we were reborn in Europe. We toured properly and got on easy listening channels in Sweden. We’d always gone down well in Japan. “The Man Don’t Give A Fuck” was on heavy rotation in Australia – it had loads of swearing.
After the success of Rings… another multimedia opus. A case, perhaps, of too much information…
Rhys: Gorwel came back. He’s like, “Go on, one last job.” We recorded the warm-sounding live songs like “Hello Sunshine” with Gorwel. We were trying to tone down the big glossy production of the last record. We worked with our dear friend from Scotland, Tony Doogan, who’s done records with Mogwai and Belle And Sebastian, and he bought an element of danger to the recordings. Loads of guns. We were in Mono Valley studio near Monmouth and he arranged for this guy to come down and bring an Uzi and an AK-47 because we were recording a lot of sound effects. We had a kind of mock battle in the garden and I think he got arrested on the last day. We invented a new game called fire golf where we’d hollow out a golf ball and fill it with inflammable material and set it alight and shoot golf balls at each other…
The idea behind the DVDs was they’d be used like platform games where you’d go into the album and with every song there’s different options for the mixes. On Phantom Power there’s two sets of films for every song and everything was in 5.1 cinematic sound which is far superior as an experience to stereo. But no one gave a shit because people just want to rock’n’roll!