REAL WORLD RELEASES TINCIAN, THE SECOND ALBUM FROM WELSH FOLK / DUB / ROCK GROUP 9BACH, IN MAY.
Beginning with LLIWIAU, a song about childbirth (explained as “All the colours you can see when you close your eyes, and the instant love that you feel for this soul that comes out”), and ending with the beautiful ASTERI MOU, the album travels many atmospheric and emotional roads between, reflecting vocalist Lisa Jên and instrumentalist Martin Hoyland’s home environment of Gerlan, North Wales.
9Bach aim to take the experience and the culture of their area to a wider audience. TINCIAN is worked from the mountainous, mining landscape of Gerlan and Bethesda – both harsh and beautiful, ever-changing in mood – and the solidarity of the people who live there.
The songs on the album are stories: some autobiographical, some other people’s true stories and others imaginary. There are stories of quarry men, of strong and brave women, of lost children, of foxes feasting near blood-stained streams in areas of natural beauty, of forgotten derelict houses, of nature, of slate, of red dust, of family and of ‘cariad’ (love). Sometimes there is pain, sometimes anger, but there is also a beauty and serenity – a light and gentle sound that resonates much further: TINCIAN.
In this fascinating new interview with The Mouth Magazine, Lisa and Martin explain the group’s blend of folk, dub and rock, discuss a little of the writing of TINCIAN, and reveal how the atmospheres of North Wales influence 9Bach’s sound…
WHAT DOES THE NAME 9BACH MEAN – IN THE TRANSLATION FROM WELSH, BUT ALSO IN TERMS OF YOUR INTENTIONS FOR INTERPRETATIONS OF IT?
LISA: ‘9’ is the number nine but in Welsh ‘Nain’ is ‘Grandmother’, and ‘Bach’ means ‘small’ – so it means ‘little grandmother’. It’s this fascination with language – how something can mean something so mundane as a number in one language and something real and cozy, like your grandmother, in another… I’ve been brought up in a bilingual home, my dad speaks English (although I have to add, the Welsh language dominated our house!) We sing in Welsh, yes, but we are a bilingual band. Making ourselves accessible to non Welsh speakers is essential. We started by having a name everyone can pronounce…
… AND THE TITLE OF THE NEW ALBUM, TINCIAN?
LISA: ‘Tincian’ is an old word, meaning to tinkle, to ring, to clank or to jingle. It’s industrial in origin – from the old tin man that would collect your pans and pots and mend them. But depending on which area of Wales you’re from – and of course it has evolved over the years – it can mean ‘to be off your head’, or ‘to be furious’, or ‘to be put in your place’. In image form you could interpret it as someone’s head being hit by a hammer – cartoon style! I love it, because of the many connotations – and I also cherish it, as it might not be here in a few years’ time. It’s an old word that’s dying, and yet it has a heart beating a definite clear sound.
9BACH’S MIX OF ‘WELSH SONG’ WITH MUSICAL FORMS THAT ARE NOT TRADITIONALLY ASSOCIATED WITH ‘FOLK MUSIC’ IS A REALLY INTERESTING THING… SO, TINCIAN FEELS ANCIENT AND MODERN IN THE SAME MOMENT…
LISA: Ancient and modern at the same time… I love that. Yes, I guess we don’t have a lot of folk background, or influence or knowledge for that matter… so that doesn’t seep into our compositions, and yet we use traditional instruments like harp and harmonium. So, inevitably, once you hear a harp it takes you to ‘that place’ associated with traditional sound. But Esyllt on the harp, for example, is classically trained – but she doesn’t play the harp like that. She plays it like a drum, almost. It’s all about the rhythm, and counter beats – not embellished notes and posh frills. It’s a groove, a hook… the same as guitar and bass. You don’t have the opportunity to show off in this band! All that is needed is a pump, a line, a hook, a sound, some harmonies… and whoosh – you’re off…
I GUESS THERE ARE LOTS OF DIFFERENT INFLUENCES AT PLAY? I’M SURE I CAN HEAR THAT YOU’VE ENJOYED THE MOOD OF RECORDS BY PORTISHEAD, MASSIVE ATTACK… THAT KIND OF LOW-KEY MELANCHOLIC ATMOSPHERE…
LISA: Well, this is the thing. I, for one, hardly listen to music any more. I’ve gone from working in a record store when I was younger and knew exactly what was out there and what was cool and popular, to knowing sod all, or very little, about what’s going on… I don’t mean to be rude, and I will get out a bit more soon – but whilst this album was being written there’d been no music to my ears for months / years. BUT what seems to be clear is that melancholic atmosphere, yes… That, kind of, coming home at six in the morning from a rave, and coming down to some Air and Leftfield and Massive Attack… has left its imprint on me. It’s that type of music that moves me. It takes you somewhere, makes you think and forget at the same time… I love the darkness, the drama. Yet, again, I’m very partial to a bit of a dance… There are some of our tracks you can move to… Promise!
MARTIN: I love both of those bands. The darkness, the pain… These strong emotions that can move you in music, and yet make you feel alive, can inspire you to do something, however small or seemingly insignificant. Music can – and does – change the world. We are convinced of that.
WOULD IT BE FAIR TO SUGGEST THAT, BECAUSE THE SONGS ARE SUNG IN WELSH, THERE WILL BE SOMETHING ‘ALIEN’ IN THE MUSIC FOR MANY PEOPLE? FOR INSTANCE, I DON’T KNOW WHAT LLWYBRAU IS ABOUT, BECAUSE I CAN’T SPEAK WELSH, BUT I FOUND THE SONG VERY MOVING. OF COURSE, I NOW WANT TO KNOW WHAT IT’S ABOUT! ALSO LLIWIAU AND ASTERI MOU, WHICH ARE ABSOLUTELY MESMERISING… THE FOCUS IS ON THE SUM OF THE PARTS – THE POWER OF THE HUMAN VOICE, THE POWER OF MUSIC…
LISA: Ahhh… Thanks! It certainly is the power of music, isn’t it..? Like any form of art you interpret it how you want, take from it what you can, let it move you, let it infuriate you, let it make you cry, laugh at it… As someone who has been brought up listening to all sorts (Greek and Turkish music, African soul, English music that I didn’t even understand until a certain age, my sister’s Gipsy Kings tape, even!) the language was never a barrier. The lyrics were never crucial in my enjoyment of these brilliant tunes. It’s the mood, the power of the human voice, the vibe and instrumentation… It has to move you and take you somewhere. You’re right: LLWYBRAU is a melancholic song. There’s a long outro that has no words, but a vocal wave of emotion to end it. It paints a picture – and the one holding the brush is the listener.
*In the notes provided by Real World Records, the songs are explained: LLWYBRAU means Paths. This is a poem called LLWYBRAU UNIG by William Griffiths, Hen Barc. A lonely poem about a person who is walking paths. The person is very lonely although the world is full of people… ASTERI MOU means My Star in Greek. This is a very simple song about wishing for the qualities in someone, that love you crave, and it comes to you when you least expect it.
TINCIAN CONTAINS ALL-NEW COMPOSITIONS (EXCEPT FOR ONE SONG). YOUR DEBUT ALBUM WAS RELEASED IN 2010… HAS IT BEEN A PARTICULARLY LONG OR DIFFICULT PROCESS TO ARRIVE AT THE NEW RECORD?
LISA: Do you know what..? We haven’t pushed it! We’re quite a relaxed band, really. There was nothing forced in terms of “what are we going to do now? It’s been years!” – although we were itching to have new songs to play and went through a 9Bach dark period where we were very down on the live set. Mentally we’d already moved on from the first album and we knew where we wanted to go, as there had been tracks on it that had excited us, like MAE NHW’N DWEDYD or BWYTHN FY NAIN. That was the direction we were heading… But we had nothing composed and no new material to play. I think we all got frustrated… I had no hunger for songwriting, and I didn’t crave to be a proud owner of a new song. I thought we’d probably do another album of folk songs until… I involuntarily started to vomit songs, and that was in a Nunnery in Melbourne, Australia! We collaborated with the aboriginal band Black Arm Band as part of a British Council exchange for Cultural Olympiad 2012 and, from that moment, I just started writing. The aboriginal people and culture and spirituality blew me away – I had stories to say for the first time. The writing process was great. It was my new toy… but the recording and mixing process was dark and unpleasant at times… It’s boring really, but as well as state of minds, practicality, technical hitches, it was my impatience with the creative process (which I’m not very good with) that sprayed a hint of bad chemicals over the process.
… AND, FOLLOWING THE DEBUT ALBUM, DID YOU FEEL THAT THERE WERE ‘THINGS TO LIVE UP TO’..?
LISA: I didn’t feel we had things to live up to, to be honest… TINCIAN felt different from the start – and it never occurred to me that people would have an opinion on it. Until a few days ago that thought hadn’t crossed my mind. It suddenly dawned on me when the first review came in!
TINCIAN HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS A RECORD THAT REFLECTS YOUR HOME ENVIRONMENT – WHICH IS GERLAN IN NORTH WALES… WHAT’S THE PLACE LIKE? WHAT QUALITIES DOES IT HAVE THAT HAVE PERHAPS BECOME IMPORTANT ELEMENTS IN YOUR SOUND?
LISA: Gerlan is bloody beautiful. It’s higher than the village of Bethesda (which has the A5 connecting London to Holyhead running through its High Street). We live in the last row of quarrymen’s cottages before you hit the Carneddau mountain range – and from the inside of our home all you see in your eyeline is the Penrhyn Slate Quarry. It’s both beautiful and oppressive at the same time. It projects life and death, suffering and joy. And it’s dark dark, the history of that place. It suffered the longest industrial dispute in British history when the quarrymen went on strike for three years (1900 – 1903). Children and women starved – yet the old stories my Uncle had from working there all his life much much later are full of banter and laughter. It’s still a working quarry now. The place has changed over the years. Lots of incomers, and the community has suffered to some degree… yet it stays strong. There’s an underlying solidarity amongst the people. It’s rich in history and culture and language and breeds artist, poets, writers and musicians galore! My creative brain and ideas swim in the small streams that run into the crystal clear lakes – LLyn Idwal, Llyn Ogwen, the Ogwen Valley. I can’t escape that. It’s in you, if you’ve been breathing this air since forever… The language also comes hand in hand with the landscape: your culture and the stories you tell. It comes out in the music, which inevitably makes it sound different to maybe English music. I don’t feel our music sounds particularly Welsh – but it is specific to here because here is where it’s from. To be heard outside of Wales it has to sound different and unique to Anglo / American music that dominates the world’s mainstream.
FOR EACH OF YOU, WHAT IS THE KEY MOMENT OF THE ALBUM? PERHAPS THAT’S MUSICALLY OR SPIRITUALLY, OR PERSONALLY ANECDOTAL?
MARTIN: For me, the magic in making an album comes either in a special moment while recording in the studio – when something unexpected happens to a song – or before that, when writing and arranging, and you just get overtaken by the excitment of ideas that come out at random, like a snowball rolling down a (Welsh) mountain. For me, those key moments were when we were writing FFARWÉL, and LLWYNOG. With FFARWÉL, lyrics and melody were written – beautiful – but we didn’t know where to take the music. We spent ages trying different ideas which didn’t work and then – out of nowhere – we started with the guitar trying to sound like the echoes of a deep quarry mine. And then everything else followed on from that; the mad drums, the discordant piano. It was uncontrollable, like being possessed. LLWYNOG was similar. Lisa had the lyrics and vocal melody and that lovely piano hook line, but we didn’t know where to go from there. Then that bass line came out if nowhere like the fox (llwynog) running down the mountain, I was so happy I then starts knocking on the back of the bass guitar… Hey presto, the knocking on that track! Again the mad guitar and everything else followed after that. Although not quite, the special moment came as we were driving back from a week locked away writing and making home recordings, and we turned a corner into beautiful Ogwen valley, and out of nowhere Lisa started singing and I had to whip out my phone and record it there and then, just in case we couldn’t remember it! Once an album has been recorded, which is fun and creative, the mixing and mastering process is very dull. Hard work. You listen with ‘working ears’ for what seems like a very long time, and it can put you off listening to that album for a while. But the best thing to do is remember that special moment in the creation of it. You can get back to that place. So, for me, FFARWÉL and LLWYNOG are the key moments of the album – musically, spiritually and personal!
LISA: For me, writing LLWYBRAU on an out of tune piano in a cold, damp and dark vestry in the old chapel in Bethesda… I was alone. It was snowing and there was a power cut. It was freezing, but my hands on that piano were like warm hands on a hearth. Something spiritual happened that day. Someone was there. Ancestors were lurking – just checking me out, quietly signalling that what I was doing was okay… Permission was granted!
Pre-order 9Bach’s TINCIAN from Real World here.