Words by David C. Obenour
There’s no easy way to discuss the experiences had throughout the pandemic and quarantine. While the realities we shared were global, the ways in which we dealt with those were individual. Means and available assistance, as well as mental health and how we cope, all informed these scenarios.
For Cardiff’s slacker power pop trio, removing all distractions – comforting and not – provided the perfect void for filling with the recording their debut album. In Amser Mynd Adra (Welsh for Time to Go Home), Papur Wal rip through ten bilingual tunes that feel familiar in their melodies and effortless in their execution.
Off Shelf: Amser Mynd Adra is your debut album – can you talk about what it was like writing and recording your debut in the midst of a pandemic? Do you think there were any challenges unique to it being your first?
Ianto: For us, without the pandemic we wouldn’t have created this album. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to do it really, because before it we were struggling to find the time to do everything that you need to do when you’re writing an album. We were able to much more carefully construct songs and develop our skills. It was a real blessing for us.
OS: How has it been like coming back out of lockdown to perform the songs live? Have you played enough to notice any evolutions in how you’re starting to perform them with the feedback of an audience?
I: Definitely, we just played a bunch of shows leading up to a launch show at Clwb Ifor Bach. The crowds got bigger, they knew the words more and more, we felt at ease, we felt comfortable out there. It makes you realize that that’s what you’ve worked towards over the last four years or so which is so cool.
OS: I don’t know how much you’ve thought about it but being surrounded by the birthplace of one of the most globally spoken languages, what about the Welsh language resonates to you?
I: All three of us are first language Welsh speakers from North West Wales, that’s all we’ve ever known. That’s what we live our lives through, so it’s not really about it resonating with us in any particular way. It’s just natural for us to write songs in Welsh.
OS: In terms of music, you mix singing in Welsh and English – what do you like about how each language translates into song?
I: At the start we were doing a lot more in English, you know, but we felt it important to have our debut album be mainly in Welsh. Naturally you can convey different things in both languages, so you might try translate a lyric from one language into another and often it doesn’t work. I find that interesting. There are a couple of bits in English, the chorus in Arthur, because that hook just worked and I didn’t want to change it. Most of Anifeiliaid Anwes is in English too, I suppose that song is a bit of a special song at the end so I wanted to keep it like that too.
OS: Do you think about the language barrier when it comes to your listeners? How does a song change when you don’t understand what’s being sung?
I: It’s natural for bands to wonder if you’d be singing in English would you be more successful but you can’t focus on that. I listen to loads of music in languages I don’t understand, we find that it’s not really a problem. Over the last few months of shows in Cardiff we’ve been playing a lot with non-Welsh speaking bands and audiences, it’s been no obstacle at all. We think it’s really important that our songs reach non-Welsh speaking audiences. We don’t want to just have a Welsh language audience, that would suck.
OS: You have a lot of classic influences that get thrown around in describing your music – Beatles, ELO, Lou Reed, Crosby Stills & Nash – do these feel appropriate to you? How do you think those sounds translate to where we are now as a culture?
I: Yes definitely, we love all of those bands, and hopefully we can use those influences and portray it in our own way.
OS: There’s also an undeniable later influence – call it what you want, lofi, slacker rock – which may be more of a production style or attitude. How does this play into the sound you want to convey on your albums?
I: We started out playing slacker music inspired by 90s indie bands like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr, but over the last two years we’ve kind of evolved into being more inspired by more poppy 70s music. I think that lo-fi, slacker influence is just some kind of style we’ll always be married to and we’re glad it comes over in the music.
OS: The British isles aren’t particularly known for their sunny days – though there’s definitely that sound there in your airry melodies and soft-spoken harmonies. How does where you live seep into your music?
I: I always find that question difficult to answer because we listen to so much anglo-american music from the 70s or whatever that conveys that kind of sunny day vibe that naturally it must come through in the music. I’m guessing where we live comes through in other ways but maybe it’s not the first thing you hear.
But for us, when we listen to the album we hear where it was written in our houses, in our rooms, we hear where it was recorded with our producer Krissy Jenkins, what we ate with him, what we got up to that night. I think everyone will interpret your music differently. So maybe to Papur Wal gig-goers or people who’ve watched our videos will interpret it one way, and others listening from afar might interpret it another way.
OS: Have you had time to think about or even write some of your follow up album after lockdown? Where would you like to take Papur Wal’s sound next?
I: I said earlier that I felt the lockdown and pandemic gave us chance to kind of catch up on everything, developing our skills and finishing the album. Over the last few months we wanted to make sure the live show was all sorted so we concentrated fully on that without writing too much. I think now we have it out we’ll continue to play the hell out of it, and just slowly catch up again with new songs, developing our production, writing and stuff.
We have a plan to release another single and video off the album with an unreleased B-side in a few months though, but we’re in no rush to do that. When you’ve worked on an album you really want to make sure it gets the attention it deserves because it’s taken up so much of your time over the last few years.