It’s difficult to know how to begin describing up and coming Welsh band Adwaith.
Post-punk fits – sort of – but it doesn’t quite do them justice, somehow.
From Carmarthen, South West Wales, the three piece comprise of Hollie Singer (vocals, guitar), Gwenllian Anthony (bass, keyboard, mandolin) and Heledd Owen (drums). After enjoying singles released over the past twelve months, glimpsing live footage on YouTube – they haven’t played the north of England so far, so we’ve grabbed what we can get – and finally having debut album Melyn to listen to, it’s become clear what the these young women create and stand for is much more substantial than a mere genre or label.
When I speak to Hollie, she’s had a hectic few days bedding into university, a frantic enough time for anyone. Yet her life is about to get even busier. Adwaith go on the road around the UK with Welsh Music Prize winner Gwenno this week, and Melyn hits the shops on Friday.
What can we say about Melyn? The record is a bloody triumph. It’s in the Welsh language and rich with melody, yet uncluttered and unfussy, proudly lo-fi. Forceful and dark in places, it’s an optimistic album as well. The short instrumentals Intro, Yn Fy Mhen, and Tair act like an unsettling sorbet; there’s gothic Banshees undertones running throughout; Colli Golwg has a reggae beat, throwing us in another direction again.
Fel i Fod is a thing of beauty, and one of the most streamed Welsh language music songs of all time, clocking 300k Spotify streams since the opening weeks of the year.
With Huw Stephens giving them airplay on Radio 1, Huw Evans aka H Hawkline designing Melyn’s inner sleeve (Gwen did the cover itself), and Gwenno’s endorsement, genuine goodwill for the group is substantial.
Adwaith come from musical families. Heledd’s brothers are in bands, Hollie and Gwen’s fathers play as well. The trio started off “quite folky” which they’ve moved away from, although Gartref from the album in particular shows affection for the genre holds firm.
“I grew up playing acoustic guitar and Gwen played mandolin…I think…for a while we were a bit afraid to make a lot of noise,” reflects Hollie. “But as our confidence grew, and the more we experimented, that made us the band we are today.”
Adwaith is Welsh for ‘reason’; the English translation sounds like a dance or trance outfit, somehow, whereas Adwaith has a confrontational, spiky nuance and fits the music perfectly. It came from a conversation with one of the women’s parents and they realised ‘that’s a cool band name,’ laughs Hollie. “We found out the other day it means ‘unique’ in Hebrew.”
And it’s a boy’s name as well…
“Yeah…we get loads of men named Adwaith liking our page on Facebook…”
Melyn – Welsh for yellow – from this end seems to have rushed up like an unexpected and early Christmas gift, but it’s been a long time coming for Hollie. ‘We’ve been sitting on it for a while now. We are so excited for everyone to hear it. This album we’ve been working on since we started the band.’
‘We were trying to think of an album name for so long and I think yellow or melyn…it goes hand in hand with nostalgic childhood – not childhood, but growing up. And it’s our favourite colour. And we’re into short words!’
In an interview, one of you said the record is like a documentary of the band, in a way.
“…the album is all about us growing up and the band’s journey…for me to be able to look back at what’s happened in the past few years through that music we’ve created…it’s really special.”
You can’t have missed lots of people saying Adwaith are the future of Welsh music. That is quite a big thing to live up to.
‘I don’t think we even think about it…I think we’re the first all female Welsh language band in about 25 years and…there was a ‘gap in the market’ we didn’t even realize at the time. The more we play the more we release (music), people say it’s great to see an all girl band, and we’re “what?”.’
Melyn is produced by Estrons bass player Steffan Pringle, the band’s producer “from day one” and recorded at Giant Wafer studios in Powys (Go Go Penguin, Sweet Baboo, Seth Lakeman have all recorded there) over five days.
“We would do two or three songs a day. We stayed there, it was a residential…We got everything done so quickly. And so efficiently…working with Steff has been an absolute dream. Working creatively he gets us, completely gets our sound, gets where we want to take our music.”
Melyn is a combination of brand new songs and older revamped ones “made new again”. Of those created and written in the studio, “there’s a different process, maybe not with the songwriting but the building of the music because you can obviously add things in the studio that you wouldn’t be able to (otherwise). That’s one of my favourite things definitely about recording in the studio, is having that creative freedom to add bits and add weird noises.”
Adwaith have four English language songs in their set, and one can’t help but hope that includes Femme, a single released last autumn. Wonderfully poppy and melodic, Femme holds no prisoners with its sarcastic, witty and right on the nose lyrics. “I love being a woman, sitting back and being second class citizens ….men can grope us and get away with it…the thought of unequal pay gives me butterflies…”
An anthem for the #MeToo generation if ever there was one.
‘Gwen was in a venue…and there were loads of feminist posters in the bathroom. She got home drunk, and wrote that song. But the music, we wanted it be quite upbeat and cheery to contrast with the lyrics. Some people get quite uncomfortable when we play it live, especially at intimate gigs. Sometimes me and Gwen do acoustic sessions…some people love it, some people are quite confused by it.”
Why do you think that is?
“It makes people think about issues that they probably don’t want to.”
Adwaith set up their own Femme gig night in their home town, something they hope to bring to England at some point.
‘It’s a platform for all women in bands…we want to give them a safe space, to make them feel they are supported within music. It’s what we wish we had when we were starting out as a band,’ explains Hollie. ‘Going to gigs in the Welsh language and seeing just blokes onstage and when we started off some boys just wouldn’t come and stand in the front and support new music like we would.’
Adwaith have been together for three years now. With the thumbs up from other artists, along with Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield who remixed Gartref (“He was a fan of the band…he was the first person to hear our album outside of our circle…we were trying to be sneaky and be like, ‘can we come on a few dates and support you?’…that fell through but he was, ‘I’m going to remix one of your tunes’,” says Hollie), it feels like you’re triumphing already. But how does she measure success?
“I want to break barriers, when it comes to music which isn’t in English to be honest with you. I want people to enjoy our album and…really listen to it and try and understand what the tracks are about. It’s all down to interpretation.
…the more that we do things in Welsh, the more we sing in Welsh, we’re always going to be supporting the language. People say that it’s a dying language but it’s really not. The language is thriving at the minute!”
You’re touring the UK this week, supporting Gwenno. Most of the audience won’t have seen Adwaith before. What can they expect?
“Something a bit different…you should come to one of our gigs with an open mind…with Welsh language music it gives you an opportunity to listen to the actual music rather than the words and try and get the emotion or the feeling or the message from the music and melodies. I think it’s a different way of listening…People even though they (don’t speak Welsh) do actually enjoy it, which is really refreshing!’
Melyn is out digitally this week and via vinyl format at the end of November on Libertino Records; Adwaith play YES in Manchester on 13th October.
Words: Cath Bore
Photo Credit: The Shoot