A chat with the musician Alys Williams
“It feels like an age since anything exciting happened so I’m happy to announce that I’m able to release a new single on the 19th of March. ‘You’ is the name of the song and it sounds more or less exactly like how I heard it in my head whilst writing it on an out-of-tune piano at home in Llanrug. I’m sure that sounds of, bod it’s true that every part of the creative process affects the final output – and the out-of-tune piano is the starting point of many songs I’ve released until now.
I’ve worked as an artist for 8 years now, and have been lucky to have had opportunities to work with all sorts of musicians. I treasure every project I’ve been a part of. More recently, I’ve been experimenting in the studio to create and produce my own songs. It’s nice to have complete freedom that’s possible under these circumstances to try anything out, by using my voice to create sounds and chords.
To elaborate, I’ve been very lucky to have my versions of Welsh and English classics – ranging from Total Eclipse of the Heart in concert at the Wales Millenium Centre with the ‘Welsh Pops’ orchestra to creating a simple and tender version of ‘Un Seren’ by Delwyn Sion, in collaboration with Steffan Rhys Parry, for the S4C Christmas advert. There are a few highlights that have come out of this type of work, which is being able to sing with orchestras, travelling the country performing in amazing places, and meeting and performing with people I’ve respected for years. It was an honour to sing Ryan Davies’ classic ‘Pan Fo’r Nos yn Hir’ with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the leadership of John Quirke to celebrate Radio Cymru’s 40 year anniversary – a truly unforgettable experience. I’ve enjoyed putting my spin on well-known songs but I feel, at the moment, that I need to concentrate more on my own original material. Quite ironically, the opportunity to do just that arose whilst collaborating on a song that Yws Gwynedd wrote and wanted me to give a try. I happened to show him a couple of demos of things that I’d been recording on a loop pedal over the years. I hadn’t shown the songs to many people in general, but the first thing Yws asked was if I’d like to record and release some of them. Less than a year later, ‘Dim Ond’ and ‘Don’t Mind’ were out in the world as my first official songs as an individual artist.
The piano has been out of tune for years and has worsened since moving house a couple of years ago. In addition to the fact that a few notes are completely out of tunes, the whole piano is about a tone out of tune as well. I’ve reached a point where I’m scared to change it as I quite like the sound! This is the piano that I used to write the demos to ‘Llonydd’ and ‘Celwydd’, two songs that were sampled by Ifan Dafydd for ‘Record Las’.
Music that is too perfect or formulated doesn’t appeal to me when writing, and I find myself being attracted to more interesting and primitive things on the whole. It’s possible then, that the piano sounds exactly how it should, and it’s an integral part of my music creating process. That process of having an idea for chords and melody, recording a simple demo, and sending it over to Yws for his opinion – partly because he’s a friend, but also because hi runs the label that will release the song eventually! At this point, I have a pretty solid idea of the type of production I have in mind, and this is where I’m grateful to be able to call the producer Rich Robers a friend too!
Rich has been hugely helpful in bringing the ideas I have in my head to life. As well as having a wide range of experience in creating contemporary interesting things, Rich also understands my different musical ideas – which includes creating unusual sounds from scratch and using unusual chords and structures, and he’s totally open to every idea – like using a ‘hiccup’ as one of the main sounds in a chorus! ‘You’ is a perfect example of the collaboration that happens in the studio, it was originally recorded and completed a week before the first big lockdown. Like many other artists, the hope was to release it when ‘things get better’, but ultimately, everyone agreed that it was time for me to release new music – especially as there were other songs to follow.
For now, I’m looking forward to releasing more original music, and I’m also looking forward to recording and releasing more songs with Blodau Papur, with Osian and Branwen Williams, Aled and Dafydd Hughes, when life starts getting back to normal. One of the things I’ve missed the most during the pandemic is the company of good friends and being able to perform with them in every corner of the country. Releasing the album in 2019 was the fruit of a couple of summers labour gigging as a band, and gave us an opportunity to share the stage with a few of the songs Osh and Bran wrote, some that I wrote a long time ago, and some more recently created as a band. The pandemic has left a huge gap in the live performance world, and although many artists have worked hard to provide virtual experiences for people at home, there’s nothing that can replicate the thrill of listening to live music.
It’s hard to look too far into the future these days, but millions of us have learned a new way of living, for now, and are itching to see life getting a bit back to how it was before Covid. In the meantime, all we can do is focus on the things that make us happy, and creating music is a big part of it for me. After releasing ‘You’, I’m happy to have another song ready to release. Also, I’ve started putting new songs down in the ‘virtual’ studio. I’m looking forward to completing and releasing those, and hopefully having the opportunity to perform them live in the near future. But, until then, every plan is in pencil!”
Read issue 4 here.
Follow Alys Williams on Twitter.