GWENNO

The DIY Welsh synth-prog­ger takes on the Cor­nish cause.

Prog - - Intro -

“MY FA­THER GAVE ME THIS LAN­GUAGE AND I WANTED TO MAKE IT MY OWN.”

You’d think that, by the age of 21, if you spoke three lan­guages, had starred in your home na­tion’s favourite evening soap and head­lined as a lead dancer in Las Ve­gas, your ca­reer might have peaked. But for Gwenno Saun­ders – born in Cardiff to a so­cial­ist ac­tivist mother and Cor­nish poet fa­ther – a pop ca­reer beck­oned af­ter her time on Pobol y Cwm and with Michael Flat­ley’s Lord Of The Dance.

“The Pipettes were a pop band, yes,” the synth player and song­writer says of the band she was in back in the early noughties, “but an indie, con­cep­tual one. We were li­censed to Univer­sal but there was no slick pro­duc­tion, just re­ally great pop mu­sic.

“I was mak­ing ex­per­i­men­tal Welsh and Cor­nish pop be­fore then,” Saun­ders ex­plains. “The Pipettes seemed an in­ter­est­ing op­por­tu­nity to work with other peo­ple, which I wanted to do.”

Sec­ond al­bum Earth Vs The Pipettes, writ­ten by Saun­ders and sis­ter Ani, fea­tured elec­tron­ica, 80s pop and sci-fi as themes – from Jeff Wayne to Wham!, as Daily Mu­sic Guide put it. But the Pipettes’ time was up (“It wasn’t meant to last for­ever, it was a shoot­ing star”) so af­ter briefly tour­ing as synth player with Aus­tralian dance act Pnau and, er, El­ton John, Saun­ders was ready to go it alone again – and ex­per­i­ment.

Liv­ing in Lon­don, Saun­ders met and mar­ried fel­low Welsh­man and mu­si­cian Rhys Ed­wards. They re­turned to Cardiff, to a thriv­ing com­mu­nity of out­sider artists, and started work on two EPs for Ed­wards’ Peski la­bel, some­time home to Cate Le Bon and Ed­wards’ own elec­tronic out­fit Jakokoyak. Saun­ders’ first al­bum, 2014’s Y Dydd Olaf (‘The Last Day’) em­braced her na­tive tongue in an elec­tropop sci­ence-fic­tion odyssey based on the book by Welsh novelist Owain Owain.“It’s about a ro­bot over­lord tak­ing over the world and every­one be­ing turned into a clone,” she says. “It was a cry to cel­e­brate cul­tural di­ver­sity when we’re all be­ing told to like the same things.

“Out­sider mu­sic in Wales, and DIY and ex­per­i­men­tal cul­ture, res­onated with me,” she con­tin­ues. “I drew a lot of strength from the lan­guage – it’s de­fi­ant and hon­est and the lan­guage I speak with those clos­est to me.”

As a child, Saun­ders’ un­cle taught her piano.

The so­cial­ist choir her mother sang in gave her in­spi­ra­tion, as well as the Celtic-lan­guage records that played in the house. But Saun­ders spoke Cor­nish with her fa­ther, Tim, and that be­came the ba­sis for lat­est al­bum Le Kov (‘A Place Of Mem­ory’). “He’d given me this lan­guage and I wanted to make it my own. I did a lot of re­search: Cor­nish was at its peak in the Mid­dle Ages and I was fas­ci­nated by char­ac­ters that kept it go­ing,” she says, cit­ing the Aphex Twin al­bum Drukqs as an in­flu­ence.“It’s in Cor­nish and it’s so ex­cit­ing.”

Le Kov’s swirling syn­th­pop sound­tracks take in ab­stract art, a Cor­nish up­ris­ing and, to lighten the mood, poppy fan favourite Eus Keus?, a 17th-cen­tury har­vest­ing phrase that asks,‘Do you have cheese?’

“There’s a lot of play­ful­ness in Welsh and Cor­nish; this is the kind of song my sis­ter and would have wanted to sing as kids,” she says. “It’s a lot of ex­pe­ri­ences crammed into one al­bum.” Jk

GOLDEN GIRL: GWENNO IS STRIK­ING OUT ON HER OWN.

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