AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh singer-songwriter Meinir Gwilym about her music, future plans and her upcoming appearance in L.A. on St David's Day.
AmeriCymru: Hi Meinir and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. You were born and raised in Ynys Mon, Can you describe the island a little for our American readers. Did you come from a musical family?
Meinir: Ynys Mon is an island off the coast of North Wales. It has two bridges linking it to the mainland. I grew up in a village called Llangristiolus, which is in the parish of 'Paradwys'. It's quite a rural area, and I've always loved the outdoors. My roots are pretty deep there, my brothers and I are the 8th Generation to live in our family home. The house was originally a 'Ty Unnos' (One Night House) which is an old Welsh tradition - built in one night on a patch land, and if there was a fire in the hearth by the following morning, the builder then owned the house!
As a family, we've always sung really - at parties, at gatherings, at family meals - any occasion, in our house we're round the piano or guitar singing! It's just a natural thing in our family, and I think that's why music is my way of expressing myself. Both my grandfathers were musical in different ways - one was an exceptional pianist and the other a singer and lyricist, in their spare time of course. My aunt Cathrin, my mother's sister, has the best ear for music - she and I have spent hours sitting around the piano, her playing and me giving orders!
I learned to play the guitar at around 14, when I realised the piano was immovable...I was wanting to write songs, and that process has always been a pretty private one for me. My mother taught me to play on an old Spanish guitar, and I never looked back.
AmeriCymru: Your first recording Smcs, Coffi a Fodca Rhad (Cigarrettes, Coffee and Cheap Vodka) released in 2002 was a huge success.How would you describe the album?
Meinir: I was 19 when the CD was released. It was pretty different to other Welsh music that was around at the time, which is probably why it felt so fresh. Musically it's a mix, from thoughtful and quiet to loud and crazy! But it's a taster in a way - of the hundred or so songs I'd written in my teenage years.
I hadn't really thought about what I'd do with all my songs, but was writing a lot, though I didn't perform any publicly until I got to University in Cardiff. There was a songwriter's competition, and my friends persuaded me to enter. I did in the end, and when I won after performing my own songs for the first time, I realised it was the only possible thing to do. I recorded a demo tape and sent it to a community-based not-for-profit record label called Gwynfryn Cymunedol. They liked it, and from then on I was gigging like crazy, finding my feet, learning how to win the most difficult of audiences, and loving it. Smocs, Coffi was then released. I can't believe it's almost 12 years ago to be honest!
AmeriCymru: You have described your third album Sgandal Fain (skinny rumour) as an album of two halves the major and the minor. What did you mean by that?
Meinir: It's a literal description - the first 6 or 7 songs are pretty upbeat, and the second half is quieter, more thoughful. Because I don't write in a certain genre - I just let the songs do what they want - there's always a wide range of tempos and styles on my albums. On Sgandal, it felt right to split them in half.
AmeriCymru: Bryn Terfel appears on two tracks on your 2008 album 'Tombola'. Care to describe the experience of working with Bryn?
Meinir: Well, what can one say?! He's got the greatest voice, and is an absolute pro, working with him was a wonderful experience. To have his voice on Mam a'i Baban, a traditional song, was beautiful, but it was he who thought it might be nice if I wrote a song for both of us too. I wrote Mellt, and I think it works well.
He lives just a few miles down the road from me, and is a really down to earth person. He sells out Sydney Opera House, is probably the best Bass Baritone in the world, and yet he keeps his feet firmly on the ground. It was an absolute pleasure to work with him.
AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your upcoming appearance in L.A. ?
Meinir: It's going to be at a great venue the Cinefamily Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood, and is obviously the best occasion - Dt.David's Day!
I'll be singing solo, just me and the guitar, so it's going to be quite intimate. I'll be singing some of my favourite caneuon gwerin (folk songs), my own songs, and a few covers too - and I hope to get the audience humming along by the end!
AmeriCymru: You have a CD titled 'Celt' being released to coincide with your headline performance at the St David's Day concert. . When will this be available and where can it be purchased online?
Meinir: It's an 18 track album, released only in North America. There are my own songs on it of course, quite a few traditional tunes, and 2 English lanuguage tracks.
It's available from March 1st through - http://celtic-family-shoppe.myshopify.com/products/celt-by-meinir-gwilym
AmeriCymru: What's next for Meinir Gwilym? What are your plans for the coming year? Any new recordings in the pipeline?
Meinir: Well, I plan to release an album in Wales pretty soon, when the time is right. But next, I have a trip to Croatia planned, a tour in Galicia, Spain, and depending on how the CD goes down in the US and Canada - maybe a North American tour. I'm not really a planning kind of person, I write and sing, and leave the arranging to my manager!
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Meinir: Ooooh, to me 'message' is asking for something deep... I'll keep away from political...so I'm gonna quote my favourite bardd (poet), T.H Parry Williams -
"...am nad ydyw'n byw ar hyd y daith,
O gri ein geni hyd ein holaf gwyn,
Yn ddim ond crych dros dro neu gysgod craith
Ar lyfnder esmwyth y mudandod mwyn,
Ni wnawn, wrth ffoi am byth o'n ffwdan ffl,
Ond llithro i'r llonyddwch mawr yn l."