In Ireland, we know all too well the challenge to keep our Gaelic language alive. That’s why, when we heard of Geraint Rhys, a bi-lingual songwriter from Wales who sings in his native tongue alongside the more widely spoken English, we had to sit down and have a chat.
Geraint is a man who is “sick of hearing songs about how people are devastated after a break up”, so he’s developed his own modern pop-political style that’s making quite the buzz over the water. His new single, ‘Think Again’ is out now and can be purchased on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon.
What the most important thing to you, when writing music?
For me it’s all about the lyrics. Most of my songs start off with the words then I try to merge them with music afterwards. Rather than the words being an afterthought I want them to be the main focus of a song. The lyrics themselves often reflect something that has affected me. Whether that is something that has happened in my life personally or whether it is an observation of society around us, I try to make the lyrics mean something to me and hopefully to anyone listening.
For example my debut single ‘Think Again’ was inspired by the aftermath of the Arab Revolutions and the uncertainty afterwards. I then tried to reflect how this uncertainty is something inherent in all political thought and how quickly those who inherit power don’t know what to do with it and quickly became the people they fought so hard to remove.
The difficulty though is trying to merge words with music that people will enjoy and love. I always argue music should make people think, but I want them to dance too.
How would you describe your style?
Well my debut album, ‘All That is Left is Us’, which I’m finishing recording now and should be out around February 2014 has a mix of musical influences running throughout it. I never begin writing a song with a particular genre in mind, but it develops when I try to merge the words with some music. On the album I have some folk, rock, indie, reggae and numerous different things going on, but they are maintained with a familiarity which binds it all together.
I didn’t want to bore the listener by giving them 12 tracks which sound like they were all conceived from one mood. My music is a reflection of many moods and perspectives. However, the other day someone said my music was political popular music, so the term political pop is one that made me smile.
How important is it to you to retain your mother tongue?
Someone somewhere once said that language is not only a tool for communicating but is a window into a culture, a history and a way of life. So the more languages someone knows, the more perspectives they have on the world. Welsh is one of Europe’s oldest languages and by having this perspective on the world it definitely broadens my way of thinking.
What effect do you think speaking in Welsh has on your music?
When I’m developing a song with my guitar it’s strange because I instinctively know whether that song is meant to be sung in Welsh or English. But every time I write a Welsh language song it’s a small political statement that the language is still here and still spoken.
Who are your musical heroes, both inside and outside of music?
Inside music I have always admired people who have made me think. So bands like the Manic Street Preachers, The Clash, Bob Marley, The Velvet Underground where lyrics have been central to their music have inspired me a lot. But like I said I listen to a wide variety of music so each song and artist I like has affected me in some way.
Outside of music the singer, actor and civil activist Paul Robeson has been an influence on me. I think people who stand up to injustice no matter the consequences deserve to be remembered.
Have you ever played Ireland / is it somewhere you’d want to play?
I haven’t and I would love to have the opportunity to play one day. The Welsh language is in the same bracket of common Celtic languages and there is so much cross over between traditional Welsh Language music and Irish music that they both merge quite beautifully.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
A dream of mine would be some super group mish mash consisting of a band of John Cale, Brian Eno and John Frusciante with some visual element directed by Michel Gondry. However, one of my favourite albums of all time is Daft Punk’s Discovery, so working with them would be fascinating too.
Check out Geraint’s new single below, and make sure to stay in touch by following him on Facebook.