INTRODUCING: Bethan Lloyd “having magic in life just makes me feel more alive”
Bethan Lloyd released her excellent debut album Metamorphosis at the beginning of this month. She is a Welsh artist whose roots are deep. Her sonic exploration has taken her from training as a classical singer, immersing herself in Berlin’s experimental music scene, to learning with magicians, masters and the ancient teachings of the natural world. Producing alongside ‘Jet Pack Dog’ bandmate and master of noise Isaac Ray. It’s a soundscape that is rooted in a forgotten past and folklore but also has adventurous electronic sounds. The album explores the cosmos and the dark euphoria within it, the themes of mind control and diluted society and asks a question about where we are heading as a collective. This project delves into the philosophy of animism, guiding humanity back from its abusive relationship with nature.
On the positively transcendental ‘No Umbilical’ she offers a mantra entwined with swooping choral lines and cut-up electro-pop tapestries that body pop. It has pleasing elements of early Bjork as she clambers across European terrains to connect with a deeper force. ‘Cutting Circuits’ is a deeply emotive swirling electro-pop song that fuses Lloyd’s folk-influenced, pagan like refrains that gradually creep from personal and enveloping to swooping awestruck call to the heavens, underpinned by an intricate and pulsing tapestry of shadowy electronic sounds.
We caught up with Bethan to peel back the layers of her artistry.
Hi Bethan, how are you?
I read that you are a classically trained musician. Can you tell us more about your history in music?
I grew up in Wales and was heavily involved with the Eisteddfod. I was lucky enough to have some amazing voice teachers from the age of 6. In primary school it was Gwyneth Vaughn, and then in high school, Dafydd Lloyd-Jones. I sang in choirs, quartets, and duets, and in the North Wales and British Choirs. I studied solo voice and from there found my confidence to perform leads in musicals allowing me to combine my love of voice and movement.
In the end, I found the rigidity of the training didn’t suit me, and so I started singing traditional Welsh & Irish Folk. I later went on to be in a few collectives with people playing music from around the world including one Indian Classical, Flamenco and Welsh fusion band in India, where we played a concert on the Ganges in Varanasi.
My biggest influence came from the Berlin noise and experimental scene. This was a stage where I could just explore all the different sounds my voice could make, not only in nighttime vigils with the fire but in front of audiences working with other weird and wonderful music makers. This is where I started to make music with the co-producer of my music and my ‘Pre-Human’ bandmate, Isaac Ray. We both now live in North West Wales and take a huge amount of inspiration from the land
I read you wrote many of the songs in Berlin. Did the history of the city seep into your work?
100%. The energy of Berlin is so experimental, and it always has been. I really felt very free in that city, and I still love it there and have some ongoing projects I am involved with.
How do your songs start life?
For the album I actually started with voice only and some drum pads. I use vocal effects live in the moment to create the type of synth sounds I would want, and then try to recreate them later with electronics.
I love the inventive use of sound pads and electronic tapestries.What synthesizers and technology did you use?
With the amazing use of Isaac Ray’s genius musical mind, we used a lot of samples with the Elektron Octatrack, Korg Minlogue synthesiszer, Arturia Drum Brute and a little Korg Volca Kick used for the Sub.
Songs like ‘No Umbilical’ and ‘Cutting Circuits’ are rooted in that pagan tradition and history of the land and Welsh culture yet juxtaposes it with the underpinning of electronic music.
Was it your intention to fuse these two worlds together?
Absolutely! I love a quote by Julian Cope in his ‘Neolithic Britain’ Documentary series (you can find it on YouTube) where he says “If the Druids had an electric guitar, they would have used it” I really love how electronics bring the otherworld alive. I absolutely love acoustic sounds but there is something about manipulating sound waves which just gets me going and awakens my imagination, and thus my connection to the worlds beyond :-)!
Some of the songs’ themes seem to deal with the struggle of humanity in the face of modernity. Also, the destruction of nature? Am I way off here?
No, you are right. ‘Parasitic Yes‘ and ‘Cutting Circuits‘ are both discussing many things, but predominantly how our minds are manipulated by advertising and social media, and the dangers of social contagions, and not being a free thinker.
Also, I sense the experience of femininity is also important throughout the album?
Ah, this is not something I had considered myself but I think I throw my whole self and beyond into all of my music, so I imagine there is some femininity and masculinity in there for sure
Elements of the record have avant-pop qualities such as ‘Antares’ which reminds me of Bjork or even Sia. Is the use of vocal styles an important way to shift a song’s dynamic?
Definitely. There is so much you can do with the voice even in the tiniest of changes to evoke different feelings. I really love the dynamic nature of the voice. It’s like John Cage said, “The voice is like a synthesiser”. There really is a whole world of possibilities of what you can do with just our bodies.
Tell us about your recent single ‘Aria’? There is almost a hymn/operatic like quality to it for me.
I agree it has the most classical type of influence in there, and it is definitely a devotional song of sorts. I wrote it in Bryn Celli Ddu which is a burial chamber on Ynys Môn. It is also where the video was shot. I like to go to places in nature and just surrender to my surroundings, letting the landscape sing through me, almost as though we are creating a duet. This song is about Lleu the Welsh God, Solstice and hiraeth, the longing for home.
I read you are interested in uncovering forgotten histories and visiting historic sites. Do you think history can teach us things about our pasts and how we can shape our futures?
I definitely think there is a wealth of knowledge in us reconnecting or remembering our old ways. We can learn from some of the wisdoms that once were in these lands. I have studied a lot of spiritualisms from around the world in all my years of travel, and later in life I got more and more interested in earth honouring shamanistic type practices. I lived with a tribe in Brazil called the Pataxo and learnt so much from them. They were full of joy and laughter and respect for their land and their environment. They lived in symbiosis with it and with their own bodies. They were healthy and hospitable.
Since I left Brazil, I made it my mission to learn more and more about the old Druidic and Folk traditions of Wales and I feel that it deeply connects us to our environment which inevitably makes people care more about how they affect the planet and also each other.
Knowing thyself would have been, and still is, such an important part of spiritual practice and the more we know ourselves, the less we are going to be in conflict both internally and externally. Coming together as community no matter what our beliefs are, or who we are, and enjoying life for me is the most spiritual thing we can do. Enjoying music / dancing / fire / nature, the simple things which are so ancient and whenever they happen there is a deep sense of remembering which feels so good in our bones as this is what we would have always done as humans. Simple things like honouring the seasons just make life more magical. And whether you ‘believe’ in anything or not, having magic in life for me just makes me feel more alive. There is nothing better for me than living as present and potent as possible.
Were there any records that were touch stones for you when recording the album?
I feel as though this album is an amalgamation of all the music I have loved throughout my life all thrown into one cosmic soup. And that ranges from my love of traditional folk from all around the world to industrial noise and rave music. The artists who were on repeat during the making of this album however were Death Grips and although it probably sounds nothing like them, I can definitely hear mine and Isaac’s love for them popping through at various points!
What’s on your playlist?
Holly Herndon – Frontier
Dead Can dance – Nierika
Gazelle Twin : Guts
Alice Coltrane: Journey In Satchidananda
Julie Cruise – Floating
Jenny Hval – Lions
Maro – Saudade, Saudade
Lyra Pramuk – Wirness
Nils Frahm – Says
Björk – All Is Full Of Love
Are there any Welsh artists you admire?
I love the work of Cate Le Bon, Gwenno and Kelly Lee Owens. We have some very strong and original sounding females making big waves from Wales at the moment which is both exciting & very inspiring.
What would be your dream collaboration?
Ben Frost is high on my list right now as someone I would love to collaborate with. I absolutely love his music and his cinematic soundtracks in the series ‘Dark’ and ‘Raised by Wolves’. Valgeir Sigurðsson who runs the label ‘Bedroom Community’ and is a long term collaborator with Björk is another person I would love to work with.
Do you have any shows or festivals lined up for this year?
Yes, I will be playing Glastonbury, Focus Wales, Cardiff Noise and Psych Fest, Green Gathering and Medicine Festival both as a solo act and with my band ‘Pre-Human’.
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