LONGEVITY, a rare quality in the music industry at the best of times, has been the byword of the careers of Gruff Rhys and Steve Cradock.
Playing pivotal roles in the fortunes of seminal 90s bands Super Furry Animals and Ocean Colour Scene respectively, both have begun to establish themselves as respected solo artists in their own right. As both trek north to the Capital this week, how have they adjusted to making music by themselves?
OCS guitarist Cradock enthuses about being able to channel his own ideas into the project, but stresses that the creative freedoms afforded by his venture are no different to that he enjoys with the Birmingham quintet.
“I’ve always been able to do whatever I wanted to do with Ocean Colour Scene, but I suppose it’s having everything resting on your mantle. From the look of it, to the sound of it, to writing the songs, obviously all the lyrics and the whole package. It’s just kind of being responsible for everything really. That’s the thing that’s changed for me, which I really like,” he says.
Rhys, meanwhile, points out that being part of a group makes the song- writing process less certain and the results often make up more than the sum of the individual parts.
“In terms of a group, it’s as it should be, a collective process. Results are beyond anything that an individual can do and that’s exciting. You start a song, but you never know how it’s going to end up sounding. It’s the opposite if I record a solo record. I usually try to document the song very simply. That can be really satisfying, finishing something exactly how you imagined it to be. On the other hand, what’s great about being in a band is that there’s a sense of ‘alchemy’. Bit of a s*** word, but you know, playing with other people.”
Both artists have released well-received records this year. Hotel Shampoo is Rhys’ third album and his first in four years, following 2007’s Candylion. Its conception is grounded in a somewhat minor obsession that has taken Rhys 15 years to overcome; one that’s as humorously idiosyncratic as its creator.
“Before I started touring in the mid 90s - before the Furry Animals had put a record out - I was on employment benefit for about a year, so when I started staying in hotels it was a bit of a shock. I was amazed at how much free stuff they were giving away. It was exciting, but on the other hand, there was this other side, the wastefulness of it all. In any case, I took it all.
“Initially, I was just going to make a lake of shampoo, and then about five years in I thought it’d be a better idea to build the actual hotel out of all this... stuff.”
Cradock’s second artist album, Peace City West, enjoyed a more tranquil gestation. Recorded in a country cottage in Devon, the album features backing vocals from Paul Weller and more bizarrely James Buckley of Inbetweeners fame. How did that come about?
“Ocean Colour Scene played at the Albert Hall for our 20th anniversary, and James came down to that, and we spent the evening talking about his band and about music and we went out for a couple of drinks afterwards, and I said he’d be welcome to come down to the place I record, which is in the southern west part of Devon in this beautiful farmhouse. It’s got no air conditioning, there’s windows that open - it’s quite threadbare but beautiful.”
Cradock’s affection for grand, somewhat dilapidated buildings extends to an Edinburgh venue that brings back memories of his time playing in Scotland.
“My favourite place would have to be the, eh, the eh, theatre, what’s it called . . . big old gaff . . . the Playhouse. That was one of my favourite gigs. In fact, me and Paul Weller played a gig there once. This guy, he was f****** wrecked, right, he somehow managed to get onto the stage, jumped over the barrier. He came running towards me, and I did the typical Keith Richards thing: I took my guitar off and slung it round the back of his head.”
He laughs, before adding ruefully: “And then afterwards I thought ‘aw that’s such a f****** cliched thing to do.’”
Rhys is not without a quirky anecdote of his own. The video accompanying his new single, Shark Ridden Waters, is a wry piece of commentary on the ridiculous nature of social media. In the video, Rhys wears a headset and all sorts of other modern gadgets, completely oblivious to the idyllic French Riviera he is wandering around in or the attentions of his female companion.
“I was interested in how social media would look in the 1960s - it would probably be a cumbersome device of some sort. I was trying to make the video look as ostentatious as possible. Like a ridiculous fantasy life that’s extremely far removed from my own. We didn’t get any filming permits or anything, we were chased by the police so that was quite exciting”, he deadpans in his quiet, unassuming Welsh tones.
He adds, in the same detached monotone, “It was compounded by the fact that we had a fake firearm and 50,000 counterfeit French francs.”
Gruff Rhys, Bongo Club, Holyrood Road, Saturday, 7pm, £13.50, 0131-558 8844
Steve Cradock, Liquid Room, Victoria Street, Saturday, 7pm, £12.50, 0131-225 2564