Ally-Joh Gowan-Day hears from Ifan Davies, the lead singer of award-winning Welsh-language band Sŵnami, covering everything from the struggle making music in lockdown to the rise of Welsh-language music in the mainstream.
Ally-Joh Gowan-Day: Your new track ‘Paradis Disparu’ explores grief, could you tell us a little bit more about what inspired this song and its core idea? I wonder if the landscape of the pandemic and lockdown fed into it at all?
Ifan Davies: Yes, it is about Grief. The emotions that are felt, the feeling of hopelessness as it feels impossible to move on. I think it would be unwise for me to imprint a personal story on the track, as grief can be felt in so many various ways, at several times in your life. I’d hate to muddle how someone reacts to it with my own show and tell. It is indeed a feeling that I was going through during lockdown, a feeling I’m sure a lot of people can relate to!
Ally-Joh Gowan-Day: You’re set to release an album this summer, what can we expect from it, and how does it depart from your debut?
Ifan Davies: We’ve been working on the album for a little while now, originally we intended to release it over the lockdown period, but decided to hold back to be able to play live shows alongside it. Watch this space for an announcement very soon!
Ally-Joh Gowan-Day: You describe yourself as ‘rocky with a bit of synth’ – with ‘Paradis Disparu’ veering more towards the synth sound – can we expect more of that to come? (It’s probably a timely shift considering that Stranger Things has rocketed “Running Up That Hill” back into number one not long ago.)
Ifan Davies: To be honest, the album is very much a mixed bag. We’ve tried to push ourselves sonically, experimenting in the studio with new sounds and trying not to lean back on familiar and ‘go to’ production techniques. Most of the drums and percussion have been sampled, compared to it all being live on the first album. I’d say there’s less rock…and even though a lot of the production was done before Stranger Things, do expect more “running up that hill”-style synths!
Ally-Joh Gowan-Day: Were you able to be creative during lockdown, and who have you been listening to over the last few years – are there any artists you’ve taken inspiration from?
Ifan Davies: Lockdown was fairly tricky for us creatively. We tried to continue with the album recording process via Zoom sessions but it didn’t quite connect in the same way as being together in one room. We’re always listening to music, I’m currently preparing for a show on Radio 1, therefore looking out for new music is always on my radar.
Ally-Joh Gowan-Day: Your self-titled debut, Sŵnami, was nominated for the Welsh Music Prize and won the Welsh Language Album of the Year award back in 2016. How important was that moment looking back six years later? Did you ever have any concern about the “difficult second album syndrome”?
Ifan Davies: We reached a point after our first album where we’d played live and spent so much time in the studio together we all needed a little break. It was difficult at the start to re-energize ourselves creatively and get back into that ‘Sŵnami’ head space, but once we got going, we settled into it. Some of the tracks on the album are 5+ years old, and we feel like we’ve been sitting on it for a while, so we’re all looking forward to getting it out there in the world.
Ally-Joh Gowan-Day: You’ve been outspoken about bringing Welsh-language music into the mainstream, and you’re in good company with Gwenno, Adwaith, Ani Glass, and Breichiau Hir (to name a few), have you felt the reception to the Welsh language change in the last six years at all?
Ifan Davies: Definitely, things are slowly changing. 100%. In the world of streaming and instantaneity, people are much more accepting and welcoming to all sorts of music. We always try new and different things, pushing our music to new corners and trying to get Welsh music in front of audiences that wouldn’t have come across it before. And so far, the reception has been very welcoming! Be that through Radio 1, MTV, Channel 4 – I feel like Welsh creatives can become ‘comfortable’ too quickly, and sometimes build a barrier for themselves, we’ve always been a band who’ve wanted to try and take it one step further.
Ally-Joh Gowan-Day: Your upcoming music video stars Callum Scott Howells (It’s a Sin), can you tell us a bit more about what we can expect from the video? What was it like working with Callum after the huge success of It’s a Sin?
Ifan Davies: We really enjoyed working with Sam Kinsella (the director), Callum and Saran on the video. Again, we were very keen to work with different Welsh creatives and try out different things within the welsh music scene. Aesthetics has always been a big element of the band…and we hope that the audience enjoys the video as much as we did making it.
Sŵnami are streaming in all the usual places.