IN CONVERSATION : YNYS "'More is more' is the album's mantra - you only make one debut" 1

IN CONVERSATION : YNYS “‘More is more’ is the album’s mantra – you only make one debut”

When Welsh indie outfit Race Horses went their separate ways, Dylan Hughes largely took a break from music-making. Life and adulting took over, but creativity is a stubborn beast and quietly nudged at him anyway; he took note of the ideas, words, phrases mounting up, storing each carefully on his phone, here and there, all for later. Later arrived proper in 2019, in the form of new project Ynys (‘Island’ in English and pronounced ‘Un-iss’). Quickly finding a home with Libertino Records, there was a gradual sharing of singles, low key shows and festivals in Wales and even a short tour of the UK. During this and since, Dylan took his own sweet time working on songs, with friends and alone, getting Ynys how he wanted. And now it is ready – he is ready – to share the debut Ynys album, released in early November.

When we talk, on the other end of the telephone Dylan is enjoying a cup of tea, surely the most contemplative of beverages. To make the most drinkable delcious tea the water must be precise and hot, the tea flavour specific to the individual palate, milk added at the correct time, to offset the bitter. And of course you must wait until it cools before taking the first sip, using that time wisely, picking out the right biscuit. No point rushing. The gradual care taken is for the good; and so it was with the creation of the album, a collection of charming pop songs from the simple and straight to full blown cinematic experiences, moments of high drama, psychedelia-scented, with the pleasures and pains and sweet melancholies of nostaligia. Each written, arranged, recorded with care and patience. The island theme he explains, is metaphorical; he didn’t have a specific or even imagined place in mind, instead enjoying playing with island imagery. And he’s happy with the Ynys moniker he chose for the project. ‘It’s growing on me, which is good, because I’m releasing an album of the same name!’ he laughs.

The record was birthed out of a period of personal movement and change, centred around leaving an urban existence – ‘residing’ there as he puts it in the song ‘Exile’ – to finding a safe harbour in his hometown of Abersytwyth, West Wales. He’s very on trend I suggest, moving to rural surroundings was quite the thing during the pandemic. ‘I’m not sure how fashionable it is, moving back to Aberystwyth! It’s definitely a decision I don’t regret, but there was some conflict which helped inform some of the themes and some of the lyrics.’  That conflict in leaving a city life behind, and reconnecting with echoes of the past back home, are explored. Cardiff and Aberystwyth are a mere 76 miles apart as the crow flies but Exile is an honest reflection of the slight chill of city life where months pass without seeing the Aberystwyth sea – a central, imposing, vast part of the soul of that town. ‘Do we stay or do we go?’ he questions in the song, pondering on his move from Cardiff, his home for some years. ‘Exile is quite a guitar one, like a Kurt Vile riff was what I was going for at the start. But then going to a George Harrison, ELO big acoustic guitar and wholesome tambourine playing which I quite like.’

I like the thought of a wholesome tambourine.

‘Nobody’s too cool to put swinging tambourines on a song. It’s been the mantra for the album. I wasn’t deliberately sabotaging songs to make them feel abstract. if it feels like it needs a 12-string guitar and tambourine on it, that’s what’s there.’

The trippy instrumental ‘Welcome To The Island” utilizes that open minded approach. If it fits, it stays. Emerging from a jam session, instinctive thoughts bouncing off the walls in the studio, inspired by the other-worldy vibe of the 1960s Port Meirion-filmed TV show The Prisoner. And channeling Vivien Stanshall, by the sounds of things. ‘I whispered “welcome to the island”, and everybody did laugh. I was putting on a 60s sort of posh English accent doing it.’ It wasn’t until Steve Black aka Sweet Baboo contributed saxophone things started, Dylan says, to make sense. ‘That sax busker in a subway, free jazz going over the top of things.’

ynys cup

It’s clear he got a kick out of stretching himself outside comfort zones. On the dark and dramatic, borderline dystopian ‘Newid‘ (Changes), inspired by enjoying compilations of Ethiopian pop jazz, Dylan played a guitar solo himself, a role typically ‘subcontracted to others‘, as he puts it. He went into Ennio Morricone Spahetti Western mode. He took the approach ’this is the first debut album I’m ever going to do. I’m going to try and do it. And I like it. I like the way it sounds.’ Recording the song, the amp was on reverb and got dropped and Dylan loved the thunderous sound. Apologising to the amp’s owner, he dropped it repeatedly to get the desired results. ’Little things like that can sometimes make a song, change your perspective on it. The “ahhhh” harmony over the top and suddenly it was, wow we’ve gone really eerie and quite dark all of sudden. And we’ve got driving saxophones in the background, again, with Steve Black.’

With early single ‘Aros Am Byth’, the recorded version ends with a calm float-out, but takes a different turn played live. Seeing Ynys shows in both Manchester and Cardiff it morphed into a manic wig out, Dylan’s keyboard more frantic, louder and louder and more discordant. We can thank Euros Childs for that, he explains, working with a teenage Dylan and opening up his world. After learning about hitting the keys with a whole palm, ‘there was absolutely no turning back. It was, wow, okay, this is cool. And I think I’d like to do some sort of more of that.’ He confesses some YNYS jams have gone ‘a bit Can’. But y’know what? That’s no bad thing.

Gently psychedelic and melancholic ‘When Do You Know’ is a song of loss, looking in the rear mirror at things left behind. And a bit of trepidation of wondering what is to come. We’ve all been there. This song it has to be said, very sad. Proper plucks at the heart. Prepare yourself. ‘It’s about thinking, okay, this chapter’s over, maybe something that was a big part of your life has come to an end. Some of those 60s girl groups had heartbreaking lyrics. I love that doowop 60s stuff. To shoehorn that into the end of a song and get it on the album makes me happy.’

The upbeat ‘Caneuon’ (Songs) is a live stomper. Music and memory, the security of hearing a song, pulling you to a place in time when maybe we felt the safest. The lyrics reference  ‘Gegin Nos’ by Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, but it’s not concerned with returning to favourite treasured records. ‘It’s about being in the supermarket or something on the TV. I was watching Derry Girls, and every song I’m, like, wow, I’m eight again in a funfair waiting to go on the ghost train, holding my parent’s hand.’

Dylan describes latest single ‘There’s Nothing The Sea Doesn’t Know’ as an affectionate postcard or letter to his hometown, Aberystwyth bigged up so much on the album, he jokes, even the jetty featuring on the front cover, that YNYS should get a grant from the local tourist board. ‘As with a lot of small towns, people move away, but it still part of your life. Back in your hometown things feel different, but also exactly the same.’

The song a full-on cinematic experience, technicolour turned right up to eleven, it’s luxurious, the strings increasing its scope.  There’s a video to go with it, with Dylan putting himself in front of the camera for the first time.  He set out early morning one weekend to make it, but found passing joggers and twitchers out spotting rare birds train binoculars firmly on him as he mimed. ‘I guess not a lot of music videos get made in Aberystwyth!’

At the end of the session recording the strings for that, there was an hour going spare, and as it happens ideas on his trusty phone about album opener ‘Mor Du’ (Black Sea) wouldn’t let go.‘That song came together over two years. We started recording just before pandemic, going back, adding things, taking things away. I always knew it was going to be the intro to the album. So having those cinematic swooping strings worked well, in the end. For that song, going in to record it I always felt that this was going to be, more is more. I was throwing everything at it, trying to make it Beach Boys-esque, but not in LA with a professional orchestra at hand. Doing it a bit more low budget!’

The record has the early teaser singles on it, the aforementioned Canearon, and ‘Mae n Hywedd‘, one of the first songs written. This initial Ynys recording was a duet of sorts, with supportive friends, fellow Racehorses members Gwion and Mali persuading him to hire a studio for the weekend. Mali sang the same words Dylan did, a ghostlike echo. He was self-conscious, he admits, singing lead for the first time. ‘There is no part (on Mae n Hywedd) where I’m just singing on my own which is quite funny, looking back. Knowing that, okay, she is going to sing on top of this, made me feel reassured.’ He is hugely fond of the song and reflects on how the live performance of it has morphed and shifted in the three years. ‘Every gig it slows down a fraction more. Now it’s quite epic, and a fair bit different to how we recorded originally. It’s got harp and JUNO synthesisers. What more do you need in a song?!’ Including those early songs is a conscious decision. He wanted the album to present him fully, show the journey to this point. ‘And in these streaming times, you don’t feel that you’re ripping people off in the same way by putting all the songs on the album.’  

It’s been three years since YNYS went public. Is slowly-slowly his a natural approach to songwriting, does he think?
‘I think so. Writing songs from scratch, lyrics, music, all the arrangements, it has taken a bit of time. I’m not a two or three songs in a day songwriter. Which I don’t think is a bad thing. This definitely wasn’t written to “we need an album by the end of the year”. Or, to keep streaming numbers high.’

And he found its creation a liberating, freeing experience.

‘You’ve got zero expectations from anybody,’ he explains of his debut long player. ‘It’s a new thing. You’re not a well-known artist on your second album where people expect something and you’re trying to make something different. You don’t feel that you have to write a certain way or make a certain album. There’s something about layering parts and thinking, how can I bring this together is something I really like in the process.’

it certainly feels like you were thinking big as you were making it. YNYS is a very visual album.

‘More is more was the mantra. Definitely it needed to feel like this. When you’re not in a band, doing your own thing, nobody’s there to tell you perhaps we shouldn’t. But that’s how I ended up with big cinematic album on a budget!’

Some artists working on solo projects for the first time say one unfamiliar thing is, there’s no one there to validate what they’re doing. Or tell them something is a dodgy idea. Freedom is a double-edged sword. There has been self-doubt, he admits, but ultimately his aim was pretty simple.  ‘Trying to make songs as good as they can be sounds a bit odd as an explanation,’ he analyses. ‘But I didn’t really want to not try anything.’

Explore and experiment he cetainly has. And with this album we find an artist emerged confident and assured with his role as singer, songwriter, performer. Emboldened by the experience of creating it. His band, working out how to tell his stories, how he wants.Taking time to breathe, each ingredient just right. It is the Ynys way, and we are absoutely here for this most perfect music brew.

Ynys is released via Libertino Records on 4 November.

Tour dates:
3 Nov – Other Voices, Cardigan.
4 Nov – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff.
17 Nov – Coopers Arms, Aberystwyth.

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.