It was only when Ani Glass was at university in Liverpool studying fashion, that she “fell” into music by accident, as she puts it. But when she got into it, she did so in a big way. Glass does nothing by halves.
Whilst her debut solo album ‘Mirores’ (‘Observer‘ in English) was admittedly a long time coming – she started releasing solo work five years ago – it wasted no time winning acclaim, not to mention the Welsh Language Album of the Year 2020. The prize included the Welsh National Orchestra of Wales interpreting two of her songs, but also led to an interesting twist even closer to home.
Her dad, she tells me, typically refers to her work as ‘controlled madness’.
“He loves it because I made it but I don’t think he quite understands. He likes classical music so when I tell him that the National Orchestra of Wales have recorded it, it makes sense,” she laughs. “”Oh, yes? This means good!” It’s a good selling point to people, if your music doesn’t register with them. So I quite like that about it.”
‘Mirores‘ is rewarding on many levels, from its exploration of 80s synth pop with a sometimes surreal sweetness yet an insistence to be heard. But the joy of pop is the freedom to use songs, albums, how you want. As the mood takes you.
‘Mirores’ is not out of time with all of her previous endeavours, all have pop as their base, from The Pipettes with sister Gwenno, to the Andy McCluskey-managed The Genie Queen and her own work. Ani is a big admirer of k-pop, and we talk a little about how songs not in English language have been sneaking through over the last two or three years, with Japanese and French songs spreading into the wider consciousness, as well of course as Welsh. Ani was a big fan of k-pop phenomenon Wonder Girls’ huge hit ‘Nobody‘, the chorus sung in English, the verses Korean.
“I just loved it so much, just obsessed. It’s sad we don’t get the culture through but it’s great we get that variety of language.”
Glass is a self-confessed “pop kid for life”, as she puts it. It’s a love match.
“In the first instance it’s a language I understand,” she says of the genre. “I know when I like a song and what I like about it so I’m good at reading pop language in that sense. I suppose familiarity and I’ve consistently loved pop music. I have widened my knowledge base of music but at the core it’s always going to be pop music!”
Delving under the tunefulness the record, sung in Welsh, English and Cornish, ‘Mirores’ is a reflection of Ani’s relationship with Cardiff upon her return there after studying and working in different cities in England. ‘On The Ballet of Good City’ we hear field recordings of the life within a city, an urban soundscape of the grind and laughter. The familiar voice of newsreader Huw Edwards freestyles with election night devolution percentages on ‘Peirianwaith Perffaith’.
‘I.B.T.’ is Glass‘ mother’s choir passionately singing South African liberation song ‘Freedom Is Coming‘.
The record is political by default, a concept album almost?
“I suppose if you’re challenging or questioning authority in any sense I guess that would make it political. It’s not that I have any distinct protest songs but I am addressing issues to do with change , development, how places are seen as economic spaces to make money rather than places for people to live. I think all of us are sensing that change.”
That sense is a universal shared experience in towns and cities across the UK. We all now have high streets and shopping centres identical to other cities of a different character hundreds of miles away, had cultural and other buildings within creative areas removed to make space for student accommodation, hotels, luxury flats, big business.
“Even if it’s a horrible building or a building you don’t use, it changes the direction you walk or move and your relationship with that place,” she says.
Ani’s mother’s choir have sung in Cardiff on Saturdays and Tuesdays for the past 36 years. A staple of the city, it was important to include them because they are part of the city’s fabric.
“Anyone who goes to town on Saturday even if they don’t know what they’re singing about or what they’re there for, they’re constant. It’s not something related to me, it’s everyone. (a case of) picking up on things everyone would know, personal experiences, trying to make the experiences more broad so we can all relate to them.
A lot of town centres look the same, the same set of shops. I think we all miss that – that’s where venues come in, we miss that sense of local community. We’re holding onto that last bit of local culture.”
Ani self-produced ‘Mirores‘, for practical reasons but also enjoys the feeling of control. She picked up the skills as she worked on ‘Mirores‘ but tells of how much of privilege it was to learn from Martin Rushent when produced the Pipettes’ second album ‘Earth Vs The Pipettes’.
“‘Learning off someone like him I recognize how lucky I was to have that opportunity.”
She cites the influences on her own work and practices, 80s electronic artists like OMD, Human League, Trevor Horn.
“A good song a good tune, something in it that makes you feel something, good, happy. It moves you. I get attracted to songs, attached to songs. I try and work out what it is about them that’s amazing.”
The power and potential of synths still wows her. “I like the way you can press one button and it makes loads of noise,” she says simply.
Her newly released ‘Ynys Araul’ (Serenity) EP features remixes by OMD/McCluskey, plus versions by Seka and Venus on the Half Shell.
That OMD connection goes right back, and when she was toying with the idea of releasing an EP this autumn she bit the bullet.
“It’s been an ambition since I met Andy, at which point do I have the balls to ask him to do something and I felt like it’s now or never!” she laughs.
“He said yes, but you know people do say yes and things don’t materialize. But he just made it! What I like about it is the other two are complete reworks whereas this is the same arrangement just a different mix. But sounding more OMD-ish!’
‘Ynys Araul’ EP by Ani Glass is out now.