CERYS MATTHEWS

Cerys MatthewsFOLLOWING LAST YEAR’S WINTRY COLLECTION BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE, RENAISSANCE WOMAN CERYS MATTHEWS TAKES TO THE DUSTY ROAD FOR A 12-DATES AT CHRISTMAS TOUR OF THE UK, BEGINNING 3RD DECEMBER. THE MUSICIAN, AUTHOR AND BROADCASTER WILL SERVE UP A FESTIVE FEAST OF SONGS AND STORIES IN A SEASONAL SHOW, HOOK LINE AND CAROL SINGING.
Earlier in 2013 the ex-Catatonia star published a book featuring a mix of singalong songs for all ages collected from diverse genres; issued an album recorded in her native Welsh; and continued to front her eclectic, award-winning, BBC6 Music radio show. In a cracker of an interview Cerys talks about the show’s broad-range philosophy – music, poetry, inspiration! She discusses the diversity of her records, reveals a little about her festive tour and confides what she’s asking Santa to bring for Christmas…

LAST YEAR YOU RELEASED THE ALBUM BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE. FOR MANY PEOPLE THE CHOICE OF SONGS WILL HAVE RUNG BELLS FROM CHILDHOOD… SCHOOL CHRISTMAS CONCERTS AND ALL THAT…
Ha ha… I know. Nuts, isn’t it?

… AND YOUR VERSIONS WERE REALLY SPIRITED, SURPRISINGLY JOYOUS… 
I just had a lot of fun making that record. I record in a warehouse, basically, which rents out equipment to huge touring bands like Coldplay and U2. They have all the gear, the amps, instruments and percussion boxes, you could possibly want. I hire what’s called the LA Superbox, and that’s all percussion. To a musician, when you open it, it just creates insanity. Instantly. So, you get the coconut shells out, and you get the glockenspiel out, the xylophone… the shakers, the rattles, the vibra-slap – trrrrrrrrrrk – it’s that thing that makes that noise, ha ha… You just go mad with them and you record it.

ALL THOSE INSTRUMENTS – THAT IS DEFINITELY LIKE BEING BACK AT SCHOOL!
Yeah. It’s certainly the old sounds I remember… But the songs themselves, they’re on that record because they are so damned catchy, and so popular and you feel fond of them. I thought it’d be fun to do them in an almost irreverent sort of way, just enjoy the essence of them while having a lot of fun, without being too serious. And it worked – everyone that”s heard that record has fallen in love with it. The funniest thing is that after Christmas, when you’re ready to put your tinsels away and take your old tree out to the street, people have told me they’ve been like “No! I don’t want to stop listening to this album!”. That’s really great. I love that. That sort of thing, for me, is the best compliment you could ever get.


SO, THE HOOK, LINE AND CAROL SINGING TOUR… I GUESS THE NAME GIVES IT AWAY A BIT, BUT WHAT CAN PEOPLE EXPECT?
Well, these days so much music is just so tidied up and processed or autotuned and all those sort of things that we’ve become a bit blinded – or maybe we’ve forgotten – what the absolute joy of making music is. So the Christmas concerts are going to be about that – the joy. It’s actually in the essence of doing it, just going for it. Doing it together, out loud… 

… FULL ON COMMUNITY SINGALONGS?
Really, it’s going to be the same sort of thing as when I put the book HOOK, LINE AND SINGER out. It’s the same idea – a way of nudging people who are perhaps a little under-confident, shy really, about singing to just go ahead and make that noise that they want to make, you know? And hopefully they’ll have fun doing it at the shows – the absolute joy of making their own music or their own noise, in all its imperfect glory. Like the Christmas album, there’ll be plenty of carols and a bit of irreverence as well… I can definitely say that!

YOU MENTIONED THE BOOK, HOOK, LINE AND SINGER. IT’S A REALLY LOVELY COLLECTION OF SINGALONG SONGS THAT YOU’VE COMPILED FROM ACROSS MANY YEARS AND MANY GENRES. THERE’S SOME REALLY SURPRISING STUFF IN THERE… IT MUST HAVE BEEN AN ABSOLUTE JOY TO RESEARCH?
They’d originally approached me and asked if I’d like to do a book about fishing, but I warned them I’d probably be strung up for it because I’m not an expert – I’m a fan… I said that I’d actually like to do a songbook. They agreed. I’ve been collecting songbooks all of my life, so quite a bit of the research was a matter of sitting in my office and throwing all these books on the floor and picking out my favourite songs. The ones I thought might bring the maximum amount of joy to the maximum amount of people. Considering it was for all ages, it was an interesting set of parameters, really. Especially in this day and age when most people just don’t have any margins to play around with and don’t have any money, so no risks. Quite often publishers will want to ask “What age group are you marketing to?” – I was, like, “erm… from birth to death”, ha ha… 

IT’S HARD NOT TO SHARE SONGS WHEN YOU LOVE THEM, ISN’T IT?
It is. But I think sharing songs is actually one of the things that makes life really special. When you admire someone’s art and when you are passionate about it, when it enriches you, you naturally want other people to receive that too. I love a quote from Dylan Thomas which goes “… the world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it”. I go through my life with that philosophy, really. If you have that attitude that you’re open, and you come across somebody who has a passion for something, some piece of art – music, painting, literature – that touches them… well, you can get to have a share of that for yourself. It enriches your life. And that is what it’s all about, I think.

IS THERE MUCH MUSIC AROUND CURRENTLY THAT YOU THINK MAY HAVE THE LONGEVITY OF THE SONGS YOU CHOSE TO PUT IN THE BOOK?
Yes, I think so. All The Beatles records are definitely going to have a long life – a very long life – aren’t they? And probably the Rolling Stones songs. They’re going to as well. Those songs have already proved their longevity, really. These days? There’s the odd really great pop song… but, generally, the thing with pop songs is that so many of them are so heavily reliant on the production side of things. It’s more about the sound than the songs themselves. They don’t translate as easily for people to recreate at home, so that sort of stuff is at a slight disadvantage, whereas things like The Beatles are a lot more simple aren’t they? Like folk music, really… It’s an interesting question. But, really, I don’t think about things like that. I don’t spend too much time analysing music or taking it apart. It is what it is, I suppose. I just jump in there… Pretty much like on the radio show.

IT’S AN ESSENTIAL LISTEN, REALLY, YOUR SHOW ON 6 MUSIC… AS MUCH FOR THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE EVERY WEEK AS ANYTHING ELSE…
Yeah. Just dive in and go for it...

I’M THINKING PARTICULARLY OF THE POETRY SECTION. EARLIER THIS YEAR, ON A SOMEWHAT BLEARY-EYED SUNDAY MORNING IN LONDON, A FRIEND AND I WERE PARKING UP SO WE COULD HAVE A STROLL ROUND THE GHERKIN… JUST AS WE DID YOU BEGAN A READING CONCERNING THE RATHER BLEARY-EYED MORNING AFTER THE NIGHT BEFORE FOR A CERTAIN “MR AND MRS CHERRY OWEN IN THEIR DONKEY STREET ROOM”…
Ha ha – awww. Yeah, perfect timing! UNDER MILK WOOD by Dylan Thomas… I love that bit… I absolutely love it. It’s funny and beautiful…

IT REALLY IS… HE HAD TO DRAG ME OUT OF THE CAR!
Ha ha – brilliant. That section of the show is called POETRY IN MOTION. I absolutely love it. I got the idea when I was listening to Max Richter’s music inspired by TS Eliot’s THE WASTE LAND. I thought “well, if it’s inspired by it, why don’t I actually read THE WASTE LAND while listening?” – so I did, and it worked brilliantly. I put that feature in the show after that, and it’s covered a lot of living poets. And some dead poets too, ha ha…

IT’S ALWAYS GREAT TO HEAR ‘NEW’ OLD STUFF…
I think that the oldest poem I’ve put on, possibly, is a ninth or tenth century one called THE HAG OF BEARE. It’s an anonymous poem with origins in Ireland. That’s one of my favourites. It’s written from the perspective of this toothless old hag who’s losing her hair… In the poem she says things about princes who used to call at her door after travelling over lands, and now no-one’s knocking on her door… She doesn’t even have a door. She’s homeless, now… She’s sat by the sea, looking back on her life – the ebb and flow – and thinking “this is it for me, now”. It really puts you in her shoes – and yet centuries have gone by since it was written.

… THE WRITTEN WORD – AND THE HUMAN CONDITION – TRANSCEND TIME…
Absolutely, they do… In THE HAG OF BEARE, she has the same sorts of fears as us – and certainly the same awareness of mortality… It’s really tremendous stuff. I’ve genuinely, truly, got goosebumps now. Just from thinking about that poem. It’s incredible...

COCKAHOOP, YOUR FIRST RECORD, WAS YOUR TAKE ON NASHVILLE COUNTRY…
That was a lot of fun…

3523223… EXPLORER WAS AN ECLECTIC MIX OF ROOTSY STYLES; YOU’VE RECORDED A COUPLE OF COLLECTIONS OF TRADITIONAL WELSH SONG IN THE WELSH LANGUAGE; AND THE 2009 ALBUM DON’T LOOK DOWN WAS, FROM FRONT TO BACK, TERRIFIC POP MUSIC – CLASSIC SONGWRITING, BRILLIANT PERFORMANCES… YOU’RE ‘ALL OVER THE MAP’, AS IT WERE – LIKE YOUR RADIO SHOW. I GUESS THAT’S WHAT KEEPS YOU SATISFIED, AS AN ARTIST?
It is. For me, what would be the worst case scenario is if I was not able to keep changing things up. It’d be terrible if I wasn’t able to keep taking those risks and work in different areas that I’m interested in. I love learning about different things, growing into new territories… going in different directions.

I THINK IT’S PROBABLY FAIR TO SAY THAT AFTER THE INDIE-POP OF CATATONIA, THE DIRECTIONS YOU’VE EXPLORED IN YOUR SOLO YEARS HAVE GENUINELY SURPRISED PEOPLE…
The thing about that is, I genuinely love so many different genres that it would be hellish to have tried to stay in the same style of music for the rest of time. Whatever that style. That’s why, with Catatonia, it was time to move on. You just can’t experiment that much as part of a band ‘cos you’re limited if you’ve got the same five personel. You’re part of a bigger picture in which you have to make sure that everybody else is happy with what’s happening. That limits your freedom, and I need that freedom. It becomes like working at variations on static, otherwise. You need to explode that and go out and do other things. To take risks – and then maybe bigger risks. Work with other people…

… WORKING WITH SO MANY OTHER MUSICIANS, WITHOUT CONSTRAINTS, MUST MEANS IT’S UNPREDICTABLE AND THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ALWAYS EXCITING...
That’s the beauty of being ‘solo’, if you want to put it like that. The word ‘solo’ is a real misnomer, to be honest – because I’m not really ‘solo’. I’m surrounded by so many musicians now. I’ve got way more musicians when I’m in the studio than I ever had when I was in Catatonia. And the thing is, because it’s not a band set-up, I don’t have any diplomatic issues. I can say “well, you play on this song but you don’t play on that one” and it’s fine. All of a sudden there’s this freedom to conduct, to arrange, the sound without feeling like I’m upsetting anybody. I very much like the production, and enjoy the arranging, side of creating songs… So I love the freedom of being able to hear an amazing ukulele player somewhere and saying “come into the studio with me to work on a ukulele part for this song” or whatever… There’s not in any way, for me, a sense of being disconnected as a ‘solo’ performer. It’s all sharing, the music. You’re never in a battle, is what I’m trying to say…

SO… YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT MIGHT BE NEXT FOR YOU, MUSICALLY? WHAT AREAS YOU MIGHT INVESTIGATE?
No, not really. I never sit down and work it out that much in advance, to be honest. You start recording an album and you might think “I’m going to make a really soft sounding record now, keep my voice in a low register” and do something patient – like a record that’s holding its breath or something. You’ll go into the studio and start off like that, but suddenly you’ll write a song like OXYGEN (from NEVER SAID GOODBYE), which is a real belter… and things become screwed up… At some point in the recording process I’m bound to start hollering, ha ha – and that would be best laid plans blown to smithereens…

YOU HAVE TO LEAVE THE SPACE FOR THINGS TO GROW ORGANICALLY…
Yes, I do. Really, what you ought to do – and this is just an opinion, it’s only my opinion, but it works for me – what you ought to do is allow things plenty of freedom to go where they’re going to go. Otherwise you just end up with an overdone imitation of what it is you thought you wanted. When you make an album you shouldn’t try to, like, pin down a snake to a board or something. I mean, you just can’t pin it down. ‘Cos it should always be able to wriggle free and move the way it needs to go, shouldn’t it ..? Erm – I’ve never tried to pin a snake down to a board, by the way. No animals were harmed in the making of an album, ha ha ha.

BEARING IN MIND WHERE WE STARTED… AS WE DRAW TO A CLOSE, IT’D BE REMISS OF ME NOT TO ASK WHAT SANTA MIGHT BRING YOU FOR CHRISTMAS?
Ha ha – it would. Well, I know it probably sounds really boring, but I could do with some new socks. I’ve got these socks that I bought myself, these trainer socks that come up to just below the ankle..? Well, I found out that they’re no good for me – ‘cos I wear boots, right… The socks just work their own way up into the toe part of each of my boots. That’s no good. I know you can’t see what goes on inside my boots ‘cos we’re on the telephone, but I am telling you that it’s not good… So, if Santa’s reading this: “I’d like some socks that go right over my ankle bone, please… In cotton”.

hookGOOD LUCK WITH THAT – AND WITH THE CHRISTMAS GIGS…
Thanks so much. I think I might probably just take a huge box of mince pies to every show and see what happens. Hopefully plenty of people will bring mulled wine!

 

Courtesy of the generous folk at Penguin, we have a copy of Cerys Matthews’ songbook HOOK, LINE AND SINGER to give away. E-mail our usual address (mark your subject line CERYS) and answer: What was the name of the single Cerys performed in duet with Tom Jones?
The songbook is also available to buy direct from Penguin, 
here. Signed CD copies of Cerys Matthews’ Christmas album are available from Earthquake here, alongside other albums including EXPLORER, DON’T LOOK DOWN, TIR and most recent release HULLABALOO.