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