INTERVIEW: Cian Ciarán

INTERVIEW: Cian Ciarán

Cian Ciaran“I’ve been in a rehearsal room with no windows, just came out to have a chat and enjoy the sunshine,” says Cian Ciarán, apologising for his lateness. Super Furry Animals’ songwriter, producer and solo artist with an activist pedigree to match his impressive musical output, Cian is continuing “to urge people not to take any more shit” and joining the general election campaign by releasing a series of collaborative tracks fuelled by discontent and wish for a more progressive political system. Enlisting the help of artists occupying diverse creative fields – from rap to poetry – Cian sends a clear message of defiance and active resistance.

Many artists feel reluctant or even embarrassed to speak out and address political issues. “Sometimes music should be for music sake. It’s entertainment to be enjoyed,” admits Cian. He is realistic about the reasons behind this silence. “Some people choose not to have debates in public. They don’t want to come across as preaching and want to keep their music separate from their personal political views, which is fair enough. Also, it’s not in the media’s interest to give voice to protest. It doesn’t sell music. Labels don’t want to go there ‘cos they’ve got hard time making money as it is.”

He’s quick to point out that lack of interest in politics is often a symptom of general apathy. “People don’t care. They just want to have a good time and not bother with it.” His diagnosis, however, is not an accusation but an acknowledgement of the hard road ahead. “It’s not going to change over night. It’s gonna take a generation before things get better. The mindset that’s been drilled into us tells us that people are powerless and can’t do anything against corporations, that even saying you’re unhappy and trying to make your voice heard is a futile exercise. Politicians don’t represent people who put them in power. Corruption is everywhere.” In Cian’s view things have got even worse over the past few years and the need to speak out is now greater than ever: “The NHS, Trident, climate change… Fucking hell, the list is endless!”

The new protest album, Hero, Leader, God, is released this summer on Strangetown Records. Its name and cover reference a work by American-Russian pop artist Alexander Kosolapov. Witty, subversive and poignant, Kosolapov’s creation is a statute of Lenin, Mickey Mouse and Jesus, hand-in-hand, boldly striding into the brave new world of mass culture and blurred boundaries between art and propaganda. The silhouette of the statute also appears on ‘Stand Up’, the first single knowingly unleashed into the world on 1st April. Featuring last year’s national slam poetry champion Stephen Morrison-Burke, it is an attack on the cynical dissolution of social support services and privatisation of the NHS. The blood red tones of its cover is an allusion to the revolutionary red flag. “Interestingly,” notes Cian. “The first time the red flag was used as a symbol of workers’ struggle and power was in South Wales. Red flags soaked in calf’s blood were flown by marchers during Merthyr Rising in 1831.”

The second instalment ‘Since I Was A Little Girl/End Game’ arrives on 29th April, showcasing the poet Holly McNish and Rashid Omar a.k.a Wibidi. Holly’s sharp social commentary won her millions of fans on YouTube, securing her Glastonbury slot and an opportunity to record at Abbey Road. Wibidi is a regular collaborator with Super Furry drummer Daf Ieuan and a regular on Cian’s label Strangetown Records.

Final pre-election release is out on 6th May. ‘Don’t Give It Away’, is a collaboration with Beta Band’s Steve Mason, known for his outspoken political views and uncompromising nature. The caustic message, calling the election a “subsidised ego trip” and “grabbing them (politicians) by the throat”, leaves no margin for misunderstanding. ‘Revolution of Mind’ has words from Louisa Roach of Liverpool-based band She Drew the Gun. Painfully sharp and beautifully delivered, Roach’s words reveal a confused view of a broken and inhumane world. The release is completed by ‘Womb to Urn’ written by 23 year-old Ely rapper Enbe.

Discussing his choice of artists on ‘Hero, Leader, God’, Cian says it was based entirely on “merit and mutual appreciation”. He admits he’d had the tunes for quite some time but never had an outlet for them. They were instrumentals better suited to spoken word, which is something he’s never done himself. In the end he decided to “marry the two sides”, approaching people he’d seen on YouTube and asking them to put some words to music. For Cian, working with artists from a different creative discipline presented a refreshing challenge. Neither Stephen nor Holly had experience of working with music before, but the result of this joint venture is both musically engaging and politically thought-provoking.

With general election being the catalyst for this release, questions about voting naturally come into play. Cian is honest about the fact that he’s still undecided about voting. Like thousands of others he’s disillusioned with the results of ‘first past the post’ political system that makes many feel their vote is wasted. He’s suspicious of politicians’ motives, yet he is aware of the importance of taking part in the democratic process. ‘I think political engagement should be part of our education system. People need to see the value and relevance of politics to their own lives. It’s about presenting it to them in a way that they can grasp but it’s not in the interests of the establishment. We need to increase the vote from all – young, middle aged, old – but the people in power like it the way it is and are getting away with murder.’

Like many, he saw the Scottish referendum as an example of how hope can kickstart the rusty wheels of political machinery. People can reject apathy if they have something to believe in. “The Scottish debate was an opportunity to stick two fingers to London and declare “We don’t want this any more and we don’t want you to preside over this any more.” It could have been the start of a revolution, which would have given Wales more belief that we can do it as well.  I’m not anti-English but I’d like to see Wales as an independent country.”

No stranger to political activism, in 2013 Cian played a gig atop of a wind turbine in protest of government’s lack of support for renewable energy in favour of more nuclear solutions. He continues his crusade against Trident and proposals for more new nuclear plants in Wales, stating that both are “economically and morally unjustifiable.” When asked how far he would go for his beliefs, he hesitates for a second, answering: “Depends how far I was pushed. It’s hard ‘cos I’m not on that celebrity conveyor belt. I’m not a politician. I don’t do public speaking. I don’t know how to spin or throw one liners. But if I start getting more involved, getting more opportunities to speak to people…”

Whatever his future political plans might be, his motives and passion for the causes he’s supporting are undeniably genuine. In a PR-driven world there is little space for protest music but, as Cian acknowledges himself, the need is greater than ever. So what does he hope to achieve with this album? His answer is “change a few minds, make people aware of something they weren’t aware before, get them to enter into discussion about what’s happening and how we can change things.” He pauses and adds, “And I hope they enjoy the music as well.”

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.