Despite only playing their first proper gig in January of this year, Clwb Fuzz, a post-punk grunge / garage-rock influenced quartet based at the University of South Wales, have certainly hit their stride quickly. Two promising singles and a blistering set at the Sŵn Festival have made them one of the most talked-about new bands in Wales. Joe Woodward (vocals & guitar), Emily Kocan (vocals & bass), Gruff Roberts (drums) and Hayden Lewis (guitar) agreed to meet Wales Arts Review at the City Arms in Cardiff for a wide-ranging chat and a pint of lager. Kevin McGrath was in the chair.
KM: Where and when did Clwb Fuzz come together?
JW: Me and Emily always knew we had common ground as well as similar visions for our future. We jammed with a band back in college, but it never really went anywhere. When we started university together, we recruited Gruffyd on drums. We played one gig at Gwdihw, which Emily put on herself as an endometriosis fundraiser, then went quiet to spend a year just writing, which is when we recruited Hayden on guitar, formally debuting the band in January of 2019.
KM: Many great bands have been formed at college or university. Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett aside, studied at London’s Regent Street Polytechnic and The Doors’ Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek attended UCLA film school (it came in handy for avoiding the Vietnam draft). More recent examples include the Pixies, Radiohead and Vampire Weekend. That’s an impressive list, but presumably, there is an even longer list of those bands that broke up as their studies wound to a close. Is Clwb Fuzz committed to going on beyond university? Have you planned that far ahead?
JW: We like to think that we’re more than a student band, we don’t really associate ourselves with the whole ‘’uni band’’ thing.
GR: We’ve talked about staying in Cardiff and trying to find jobs here after university.
EK: We all share the same enthusiasm, so I think it will go on beyond university.
KM: With Cardiff definitely the focal point?
EK: Absolutely. Everyone’s been really helpful to us here. Very welcoming.
JW: We’ve all really grown to love Cardiff. We really like being here.
HL: There are some really fantastic bands here too, everyone seems to bounce off of each other’s energy. It’s definitely a breeding ground for fresh sounds.
KM: What’s most important in a band, mateship or musicianship?
EK: When we first started jamming together our chemistry was really bad because we’re all really shy. It’s only this year that we’ve started to get close to each other. The fact that we all enjoy each other’s company is definitely helpful for the band.
KM: Did it take you a while to be able to speak up within the band, if something wasn’t happening the way that you wanted it to?
JW: At our first gig, we didn’t even speak to Gruff!
GR: I brought all my friends along and I just hung out with my friends.
JW: It was too awkward to speak.
EK: We knew we looked like we were being arrogant, but it was just shyness.
KM: The band is drawn from North and South Wales as well as Shropshire and the West Midlands. Did any local bands play a significant part in your musical development?
HL: There isn’t really anything in Wolverhampton!
EK: There’s not much gig life in Abergavenny, either!
GR: I followed a lot of the Welsh language bands that would gig down here in Cardiff, so I knew about Clwb Ifor Bach. I used to go to local gigs because that was the way to drink underage! One of my favourite Welsh bands Ffug worked with the Super Furry Animals.
KM: I understand that you’re influenced by a variety of musicians, ranging from David Bowie, Joy Division and The Sugarcubes, to the Pixies, Alice in Chains and Our Girl. How would you define the Clwb Fuzz sound?
JW: In our bio’s we just say fuzz, post-punk and grunge, but it’s very difficult to define.
GR: Everyone says shoegaze, but I don’t really know what that is?
EK: Maybe garage?
KM: Do you draw inspiration from any other art-forms?
HL: I watch a lot of films; I’d say Kubrick and David Lynch are my favourite directors. I’m interested in soundtracks and I enjoy experimenting with soundscapes.
EK: I take inspiration from nature and poetry. My dad had a lot of random poetry anthologies I used to flick through. Maya Angelou and June Jordan are two names that always stuck with me.
KM: Is songwriting a collaborative process within the band?
GR: Joe or Emily will bring a lyric or an idea which we all build up together.
EK: My favourite time to write is really late-night writing. Working through till five in the morning. That’s when I get the most creative.
JW: We haven’t done too many songs where we co-write the lyrics. I think trying to write together is something that we’ll work on.
KM: I liked the cosmic romance of current single “High” – the line ‘Send my love into the skies / And let Gagarin hear my cries’ conjures up a striking image. You could obviously build a song around such an evocative image. but what generally comes first in composition, the words or the music?
JW: With me, it’s usually the music.
EK: I come up with random lyrics throughout the day, which I put down in a book or my phone. When I’ve got an instrumental, I’ll read through all the stuff that I’ve compiled over the last few weeks. I have about 10-15 notebooks which are filled with lyrics, yet I still tend to get writer’s block!
KM: As of today, you have two songs, “Samurai” and “High”, on Spotify. Are those songs fully representative of where the band is right now?
GR: All our songs are wildly different.
HL: They can range from being snarly and punky to more personal, atmospheric and laid back. I’d never want to restrict our band to one genre, as long as there are guitars, I’m happy.
JW: Really punky to psychedelic. The something that links them is usually the “fuzz”.
KM: You’ve only played a dozen or so gigs, have you conquered your stage nerves yet?
EK: I can’t help but feel uncontrollable nerves every single time, I like it though.
HL: I’m never nervous.
JW: I’m getting there, slowly. If I think loads of people are going to turn up, then I get really nervous
KM: There was an interesting finish to your recent Sŵn performance that indicated a degree of self-confidence.
JW: I put down the guitar and started smashing the cymbals. That was the first time I’ve done that, so I guess I’m getting more comfortable on stage.
KM: How did the Sŵn experience compare to any preconceptions that you might have had about the festival?
JW: Not being from Cardiff, I didn’t have a real idea of what Sŵn was. But even if we’re not playing, I’m definitely going next year.
EK: Me and Gruff were already familiar with Sŵn. I recall seeing the line up in either 2013 or 2014, which included Nai Harvest and Broken Vinyl Club, and really wanting to go.
KM: Did you get the chance to experience the festival as a punter?
JW: I saw Working Men’s Club – I knew the name but hadn’t heard anything by them. I was blown away.
EK: Black Country, New Road and Audiobooks were amazing too.
HL: Hotel Lux.
GR: The biggest act that I saw was Gruff Rhys, who was absolutely fantastic.
KM: Someone of my generation rejoices at the ongoing vinyl revival. The experience of listening to music used to incorporate the measured contemplation of the album cover, the inside sleeve and the lyric sheet. It was part of decoding the music, the meaning or message of a record. Do you feel that the way music is consumed today, through the various streaming platforms, makes it a less personal, less aesthetic exchange? Does it matter if the context is missing and that the songs stand alone on Spotify?
JW: I listen to a lot of vinyl because I like the whole thing of having the album cover, which is part of the art as well as the music. With streaming though, you can get any music any time you want it.
HL: I definitely feel as though physical copies of music makes it more special, I have a very big folder full of CD’s that range from Nine Inch Nails, to Lorde.
EK: I can back up that this folder he has is huge, he is definitely the main man keeping the CD business alive.
KM: I can appreciate that the various platforms give you a great opportunity to reach people.
JW: According to Spotify, we’ve got listeners in Israel!
KM: We live in troubling times, with everything from Brexit, our national mental health crisis and the climate change emergency being symptomatic of a wider societal dysfunction. As part of a generation likely to be most affected by those issues, do you feel a sense of foreboding about the future? If so, does that feed into your music?
EK: For sure, there is a lot of awful stuff going on in the world. For us the focus is mostly Brexit, the mental health crisis and climate change, which all coincide to make a very uncertain future for our generation. I have a handful of song ideas surrounding these issues, one in particular exploring the idea of the 1% and how selfish those people are to hoard all the wealth whilst big portions of the world are suffering as a result. We’ve already got a handful of songs surrounding mental health too, I think that’s quite primary in mine and Joe’s lyric writing.
KM: Where can we catch the band next?
EK: We’re playing a gig with Mother Vulture in Le Pub, Newport, on November 9th.
KM: What are your aspirations for 2020?
HL: To play as many shows as possible, to write as many songs as we can.
JW: A tour would be really cool.
EK: To be able to do something with someone on Rough Trade would be fun.
You Can find out more about Clwb Fuzz on their twitter feed.