You’ve said that CYRK was the sound of cutting a remote island in half and holding one half up to your ear. Presumably CYRK II is the other half, so what’s the difference in the sounds that live on this side of the island?
[laughs] Well, I recorded all the songs in one batch but I was struggling to put a tracklist together for the album. It’s quite hard to do when you’re in the midst of the mixes. Sometimes you favour certain songs over others for reasons that are not musical, like ‘We had the best time recording this one’, and you’re desperate to put them on the album even though they don’t really fit. So eventually I asked Gruff Rhys [of Super Furry Animals and Neon Neon] if he could assist with the tracklisting, and he quite quickly saw that the songs fell into two distinct groups. At first I defied him and thought, ‘No, I really want to put these songs on the album,’ but then I couldn’t get it right still so I went back to him for help. It’s funny because he’d forgotten about the original order – we hadn’t had it written down – but he made the exact same tracklisting again. This time I thought I should trust him and now I can see he was right. Listening back to the songs on CYRK II, they are a bit more confessional.
Yeah, I definitely got that impression. Was it always your intention to release an EP on the side, or is that something that was only thought of later?
I never wanted all fifteen songs to be on one album, because that would probably be too much for anyone. So I had thought of maybe releasing the CYRK II songs as B-sides but I don’t think I ever thought of putting them out on their own EP. Gruff suggested it, and it makes total sense to me now.
You’ve said that you see CYRK as a sort of time-travel travelogue. How do the songs from CYRK II fit into that idea?
Exactly the same, I think. They were all written at the same time, and each song encompasses lots of different moments over the year and a half in which I was writing them. Chronologically it all jumps around, but it kind of makes sense to me.
Were you tempted to call it something other than CYRK II, seeing as people had so much trouble spelling it correctly the first time?
[laughs] Well, I was initially going to call it The Eiggy Sea but then it just made more sense to me to call it CYRK II. I wanted it to be known that the songs all belong beneath the same umbrella, that they belonged to the same recording sessions and whatnot.
Have you been back to the Isle of Eigg since you went there the first time and got inspired to write CYRK?
No. I was hoping to go again this year but it unfortunately clashed with Port Eliot Festival. Initially I had the ridiculous idea of playing Port Eliot and then driving overnight to make the ferry to Eigg. But as the festivals got closer I realised that I’d double-booked myself, probably as far as you can get away from Eigg. So I couldn’t make it, but I’d love to go up and visit some time soon.
I first heard of your music through Jane Weaver, who featured you on one of her Bird Records compilations. I know everyone always credits Gruff Rhys with championing your music, but what effect did working with Jane and her husband Andy Votel have on your direction as a musician?
Jane and Andy have always been fantastic to work with. When Gruff first introduced me to Andy at a show he was DJing, I think I’d become kind of lazy in my music. I knew that I needed to find some more music to inspire me, but I didn’t know what it was or where to find it. And then Andy rocked up playing this incredible stuff that he and Jane were releasing through Finders Keepers and my mind was blown a bit. I think it was a really pivotal point for me, and it changed the way in which I viewed the music that someone could make as a solo artist. It was very inspirational. Jane and Andy are amazing at what they do; the kind of the music that they find and are huge advocates of is incredible.
Obviously you released CYRK in the US first because of your tour with St. Vincent. Did you get many messages from frustrated fans in the UK who weren’t able to buy it at the same time?
Yeah, I did get a few. But I think the people who really wanted it managed to get their hands on it somehow, which was great. It was just the way it went, really. Things picked up in America because of the tour with St. Vincent and it just seemed like everything was ready to go. So, why wait? I think there was a benefit over here, a knock-on effect from the US release, so it all worked out well in the end.
Do you have any good stories from the tour with Annie?
We just had an absolute whale of a time. It’s funny because I think we were both a little bit dubious about being on tour with another female singer-songwriter, but then after a week we become great friends and it ended up being a really lovely, kind of civilised tour to be on. She’s an absolutely wonderful woman and hugely inspirational, so, yeah, it was an incredible experience.
What do you think was at the root of that worry about going on tour with another female artist?
I guess we were both assuming that the other would be, I don’t know, a bit of a diva, or just hard work – you know how women can be with other women sometimes. It’s funny; we went for food at [cheap UK pub chain] Wetherspoons together before the first gig, and as soon as we both ordered ham, chips and beans at the same time I think we both thought, ‘This is great, we’re going to be great friends.’ And we were!
I was pleased to see CYRK get nominated for the 2012 Welsh Music Prize. Why do you think it took so long for a Welsh Music Prize to be established, and what effect do you think it has had on the Welsh music scene, if any?
I don’t really know why it’s taken so long. There’s a huge a wealth of music coming from Wales in both Welsh and English, so maybe it was time for that to be reflected as opposed to only recognising music sung in Welsh – there have always been Welsh language awards. And of course there are people like Huw Stevens and John Rostron who are huge advocates of the Welsh music scene, be it Welsh language or English language. I don’t know if the Prize has really had an effect on the scene, because that’s as strong as it has ever been, but I do think it illuminates just how much good music is coming from Wales.
You’ve previously talked a lot about how supportive everyone is of each other in the Welsh music scene, and I was wondering if there are any other female musicians from Wales who you think really highly of and that we should check out.
Yeah, certainly. Well I mean there’s Islet, a band my friend Emma [Daman] plays in. She’s amazing. She plays everything and has an incredible stage presence. There’s a woman called Laura Bryon who plays as Tender Prey. I think she’s recording at the minute, and her stuff is phenomenal. Andy and Jane released her first EP. I’m trying to think of some more…there’s loads of other great stuff, and not just by the women. It’s an exciting time in Welsh music, there’s so much that’s going on.
Last question, and it’s one that keeps coming back to haunt you! You’ve been working on an album with Meilyr Jones of Race Horses, under the name of Yoke, for a couple of years now. What’s the plan for that record? Will it see the light of day any time soon?
Well, it’s finished but we’ve kind of just been sitting on it. We’re actually trying to stop ourselves from recording another album before anyone gets the chance to hear this one, but, yeah, hopefully things will cool off for us both and we can think about trying to release it. We’ll see. I think we just need to let go of it and see what happens.