Gruff Rhys is rightly considered one of the UK’s most unique and creative songwriting talents. His band Super Furry Animals released nine studio albums between 1996 and 2009, managing to perform the tricky feat of having endless hit singles and seeing their boundless eclecticism and creativity lead to them being feted as one of the most innovative acts of their era. They even managed to score the biggest-selling Welsh language of all time with 2000’s Mwng.
Among a series of other maverick projects, Rhys has also released two albums with Boom Bip under the Neon Neon moniker, one of which, 2008’s Mercury-nominated Stainless Style, was a concept album based around the bizarre life of US inventor, engineer and alleged drug trafficker John DeLorean. He’s also carved out a solo career which saw him channel his inner Glen Campbell and Serge Gainsbourg on last year’s hugely acclaimed fifth LP Babelsberg.
So what influenced this boundless, exhaustive creativity? Rhys tells The Big issue which songs got him going growing up and set him on the path to being a national treasure.
Meic Stevens – Y Brawd Houdini
It’s so melodic. I don’t remember a time I didn’t know it. We used to have a 7-inch of it in the house and it had my sister’s name on it, I still have it. It came out the year I was born, and it stayed with me throughout my childhood. We grew up in a Welsh-speaking town, so we used to have Welsh-language radio, and that song would always be on the radio. It’s very melodic, and I’ve played it live quite a few times.
Anrehfn – Stwffiwch y Dolig Ddim y Twrci (Stuff Christmas, not the Turkey)
I bought a cassette aged 13 from a scheme in school where you could buy books directly at a discount from a catalogue, and there was a section where you could get cassettes. You were able to buy this Welsh language punk rock. I don’t know why you were able to get it, they were very organised. It was home recorded – It wasn’t on the radio and had no context, it just seemed to come out of nowhere, although it was the same era as the US punk underground and things like Crass. The lyrics are really powerful. It’s quite a fun song with a subversive and clear message that resonated with me at that age. It’s all an education.
The Mary Chain were heavily hyped, but when I got to hear the record it was the power of the music that really mattered
The Jesus And Mary Chain – You Trip Me Up
Life’s hard when you’re 15. That was a pop song that was completely subversive and at that point I got into subversive music, although I had a musical sweet tooth as well. This was a pop song that was completely subversive. I liked the whole of Psychocandy. It was a record that helped me write my own songs songs, as they demystified the whole process. It was all so simple, and fairly easy to play, but still unique. They were heavily hyped, but when I got to hear the record it was the power of the music that really mattered.
The Velvet Underground – Beginning To See The Light
It really captures the feeling of growing up, lots of subversion and rebellion. It’s got that line ‘Wine in the morning, and some breakfast at night’. When you’re 15 you’ve never felt like that before. It’s a huge revelation. It captures the excitement of making your own decisions, of making your own way in life.
Eric B and Rakim – Paid In Full (Coldcut remix)
This is a big song, and it introduced me to a million other ideas and tunes – for example, Im Nin’alu by Ofra Haza, which it samples. It opened up a whole new world. There was so much great hip-hop at this time, we’d go down the youth club to play pool and snooker and hear things like Mantronix, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. The sampling revolution was really educational musically, I’d want to find where they originated. It’s how I got into Turkish psychedelic music.
Gruff Rhys plays London Roundhouse on January 24. Babelsberg is out now on Rough Trade.