Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Interview with Gwenno (The Pipettes)

Following on from my recent review of her new EP, Ymbelydredd, I was lucky enough to get to interview Gwenno of The Pipettes.

So here goes!

Glenn, kenixfan: I would like to get your thoughts on the overall presentation of The Pipettes. Not to get too intellectual, but there was something very smart about The Pipettes. There were some similarities between your band and The Jesus and Mary Chain, and not just because of your shared love of pre-Beatles pop and Phil Spector. No, the similarity was that both The Pipettes' songs and The Jesus and Mary Chain's tunes -- at least their early stuff -- worked on both intellectual and emotional levels. The material was carefully presented and there was a sense, as a listener, that the creator was knowingly referencing past pop styles all while conjuring up something new. In other words, you could groove on the tunes and the melodies but you could also stop yourself and look at the pieces and see how "smart" the whole thing was. Am I overthinking things? How did The Pipettes put their stuff together?

GWENNO: I think you've nailed it! I'd also add that the element of humour that ran through all the early songs tied it all together too.

Glenn, kenixfan: Your new EP reveals quite a few new influences compared to your work with The Pipettes. Did you intentionally set out to do something entirely different?

GWENNO: It wasn't intentional but I suppose it is naturally a bit different as it's in a different language (Welsh), so there are other influences as well as the more Anglo/American pop stuff. I haven't felt the need to make a massive stand against what we did in The Pipettes so far, I'm really proud of it, and I didn't have to hold back on any of my influences whilst I was in the band, I've just fleshed them out a bit now as I suppose I'm making music that's a bit more personal to me. The Pipettes was a bit like going to university (I haven't had the chance to go, yet..) the 'University of Pop Culture'! so regardless of what I did after it, it would be a big influence over whatever I did next creatively I think.

[Here's evidence to the pop genius of The Pipettes. This is the Gwenno-led flip-side "Guess Who Ran Off With The Milman?" -- that bridge is sublime!]

Glenn, kenixfan: How did it feel to produce your own work? The record has a great sound to it -- your time with Martin Rushent was well-spent 'cause his influence looms large here.

GWENNO: I'm so chuffed you've said that! Martin was a MASSIVE influence on my EP. Whenever I got stuck on something I'd always ask myself 'what would Martin do?' and I'd try and do that. I really missed being able to call him up to ask him for his advice, he was so incredibly generous with his time. We recorded with him for well over a year and stayed at his house so I got to see him at work every day, and it had a massive influence on me. I've recorded my own stuff for about 12 years now, and it just felt like the right time to take full responsibility of the production side of it too, I just made what I like the sound of with the equipment that I had at home.

Glenn, kenixfan: Does it bother you when people -- like me -- compare your sound here to Saint Etienne or Altered Images?

GWENNO: Not at all, I love both bands!

Glenn, kenixfan: The songs are in Welsh. My grandfather's grandparents might have spoken Welsh but I don't so tell me what some of the songs are about.

GWENNO: Well, the general gist of it all is that it's all about my childhood and teenage years growing up in Cardiff in the late 80s and 90s. I've just moved back and I couldn't believe how much my home town had changed, I just wanted to try and remember what it was like for me, almost like a snapshot.

Glenn, kenixfan: Specifically, I'd like to hear more about "Despenser St." as the tune is, obviously, about a Cardiff location that is clearly near to your heart.

GWENNO: "Despenser St." is the name of the first street that I lived on in the Riverside area of Cardiff. We lived in a downstairs flat, and it was pretty rough, I remember the bathroom wall falling down so we had to have baths in front of the fire, and then the ceiling fell down on my Dad's head because upstair's pipes had broken, and then some drunk guy broke in looking for the man upstairs and nearly stabbed everyone with a kitchen knife...and then we moved to a flat round the corner on Neville Place and the ceiling fell down again! it all sounds quite scary but we're all here to tell the tale so we laugh about it now. The melody was really sweet so I wanted to sing lyrics that counteracted that, the song is just a stream of consciousness really. I think the most traumatic experiences in life should be treated with a sense of humour, I think that's what I'm trying to aim at here!

Glenn, kenixfan: What's next for Gwenno? You've done work in quite a few different genres and you're adept at many different styles so you must feel a certain freedom now, right?

GWENNO: I do, definitely. What I'd really like to do is to continue to write and sing in Welsh and Cornish. They're my first languages and I don't think I've had the chance to explore them in the same way as I have English. I think I'll become a better writer if I can master them to some degree through song. It is harder as they're minority languages so you naturally feel more precious about them, but I think there are (still) more thoroughly modern stories to be told through them.

Glenn, kenixfan: Thank you once again.

For now, follow Gwenno on her Facebook page:

Or on her Tumblr page:

Or on the Peski Records Facebook page:
Peski Records

[Keyboard photo:Michal Iwanowski/video stills: Steve Glashier/artwork: Tom Winfield]