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IN CONVERSATION : Ynys -“I’ve doubled down on ‘more is more’…”

Change is quite the buzzword this summer. Doing something different the vibe of the season. But some got there first. In a surprisingly mild February at the top end of the year, bilingual Welsh band Ynys (Island – pronounced ‘un-iss’) strode onto the stage at Aberystwyth Arts Centre for the Trawsnewid (Transform) festival and laid out a firm, clear intention for their future. We witnessed a dramatic shift from the opening notes and breath, a joyful leap from the largely mid-tempo reflections we’re used to on the eponymously titled debut album.

April’s single ‘Aros Amdanat Ti’ (Waiting For You) with warm, bouncy sax and vocal harmonies, the consistent piano and joyful guitar, drama notched right up, signposted what to expect from the forthcoming album Dosbarth Nos (Night Class), out this week. And what a record it is, of higher energy melody songs with unashamed hooks and fat choruses. All that plus quirks and humour and reality check straighteners, flavoured by lifelong faves Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and ELO, and the more recent nostalgic familiarities of Sam Evian and Father John Misty.

Speaking to Ynys singer, songwriter and Aberystwyth native and resident to boot Dylan Hughes over the phone from Cardiff – he’s in the city to rehearse – it’s worth reflecting how, unexpectedly, Ynys albums are like buses these days. Wait a good while for the first one to get born, delight and dream to its stories of the pull of the coast and home, only to have another record delivered less than two years later.

2022’s Ynys was shortlisted for the Welsh Music Prize. (Dylan’s got the massive board of album cover art from the awards night in a cupboard. ‘It’s so big. I’m looking for somewhere to put it’) and when creating the debut, he himself was barely aware that he was even recording an album. Not at first. ‘I recorded a couple of songs, recorded a couple more and thought, okay, right, if I keep going, we’ve got an album.’   His reaction however to last year being quieter gigs-wise was simple, instinctive, decisive. Why not crack on, record album number two. ‘I felt the clock ticking a bit faster. Maybe in life,’ he laughs. ‘I didn’t want to kind of leave it another year or something.’

There was change in the recording process this time, the bulk nailed down in a solid fixed block. A long weekend, a handful of relaxed and creative days last summer at the picturesque Mwnci Studios in West Wales, songs prepped and ready well in advance. ‘Writing it, I put time in to finish songs. I was waking up, looking at my phone at half six, and “right, I’ll go downstairs. I’ll make a cup of coffee, I’ll try and finish the words”,’ Dylan recalls. The time at Mwnci sounds focused but fun, recording two or three songs per day before strolling to the village pub with band members Heledd Watkins – bass, Sam Roberts – keys, Rhys Jones- guitar, Aled Evans – drums, for a refreshing a pint and a jiggle to the records on the jukebox. ‘I wanted to do as much as the album as we could in that one session.  There’s something about not being at home or not being in Cardiff, just going somewhere, staying there, and recording it in one go. Possibly because, as you say, between everything, the pandemic and all that the first album took, you know, a long time.’

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Ynys at Trawsnewid 2024

The recording sessions in Pembrokeshire were collaborative with Dylan then going off on his own and completing the vocals and some keyboards, before bringing everybody back in, a ‘this is what I’ve been up to’ kind of approach, open to robust feedback. ‘With the first album there was a lot of “yeah, it sounds good”. But with this one, it was “yeah, that’s good…but are you sure you want to do that?”’ Dylan laughs at the memory.

With Ynys, he enjoyed the notion of ‘more is more’, yet pushed on even further with that theme on Dosbarth Nos. The record sounds glamorous, it’s worth mentioning, shiny and glossy, very much a ‘here I am’ album. No one puts Ynys in the corner, clearly. ‘I’ve sort of doubled down,’ he jokes. ‘What’s different I think, this album’s a lot bigger, but there’s a lot less things going on at the same time. I think the first album, there’s ten different things, doing different things at the same time. I think this is big but there isn’t as much stuff and parts. It’s bolder, direct.’

Album opener, the cinematic ‘Darnau Coll‘ (Missing Pieces) edges us in gently before quickening the pace, whirling keys of mystery and unsettling sax sets us up to prepare for the changed Ynys from the get-go. The vocals are almost falsetto; quite high, anyways. ‘It’s that in-between. It can either be falsetto or can either be the octave lower. The band Jungle do that a lot, where everybody sort sings the same line. There’s no three-part harmony. It’s kind of two up, two down, singing the same line.’
There’s a whirling disco glitter ball in the title song, ‘Dosbarth Nos’. It feels such a happy triumph, a bona fide banger that one, a tale of evening class adventure. ‘I was in two minds whether to put it on the album. Whether it was on the right lines. It’s the first song, the only song, in the Ynys catalogue, which I had story in mind, a narrative. A main character, early 30s, a bit lost, disillusioned with city life, single, and the story goes on from there.’

‘I did deliberately set out to do something higher energy, but as mundane as it sounds, there’s practical things going on,’ he explains of the record. Dylan’s move after years in Cardiff back to his hometown is felt on his debut, the lure of home, breathing in the sea after dark. ‘Wild Waves’ on Dosbarth Nos revisits the lure of late night walks on the promenade in Aberystwyth, the soothing therapy of the sea’s crashing waves. ‘I was deep into writing the album, nearing the finish line and I was worried we were lacking sea references. We can’t have an Ynys album without that…’

The physical house move permeated into this new long player in other ways, and indeed helped form and mould it. More space meant a liberation and freedom. ‘The first album was written in a small terrace house with paper-thin walls where you could hear people cough next door. I naturally played a bit quieter and was in that mind frame when writing the songs, subconsciously. In Aberystwyth, there’s more room. I don’t need to be as quiet. I was hitting the piano a lot harder. When you do that, things happen!

In ‘Welcome Back To The Island‘, we have a link with Ynys’ previous ‘Welcome To The Island”, an instrumental refresher halfway through. Drummer Aled stepped up with the aid of effects and turned into a gruff, whisky-soaked voiced Hollywood actor. ‘I had the line, you know, and imagine kind of somebody saying, “I guess I always knew I’d be back on the island” that made me smile,’ says Dylan.

Northern Soul and Motown stomper ‘Gyda Ni’ (With Us) helped win over 6 Music’s Craig Charles as a keen Ynys supporter and enthusiast, but it would be remiss to not ask about the action-packed video, detective/spooks with UFOs, flash fast cars and fashion, filmed in one take more or less. ‘I decided to, maybe for this album and for this music video that I would park the crisis of self-confidence for a bit. Full-on acting because, what’s the worst that can happen? Might look silly, well, that’s fine. And it was an excuse to wear those mad sunglasses again. I don’t know if I’d really needed to wear them in an indoor setting…

New single ‘Shindig‘ is more electronic, one imagines Ron and Russell Mael nodding in approval. The harmonies on it are sweet as well. Dylan took himself out of his comfort zone with this one, in terms of singing and lyrics. ‘I read, you know, bands in interviews saying “I don’t really know what this song is about”. And I was always thinking that’s such a silly thing to say. But, you know, I’m 100% on that page now, I’m still trying to work out what Shindig’s about. The lyrics jump all over the place. There’s some humour in it, hopefully!’ But nostalgia and melancholy are present, for sure. Throughout the record. Part of the Ynys DNA?
‘I think you’re right, it’s in me. I do enjoy songs, like a lot of people, that are upbeat but the lyrics are heartbreaking.’

The record sees us out with the song ‘Ynys’, a sober piano-led instrumental, put together minutes before recording. There are no flies on Ynys in contemporary times, are there. ‘I didn’t have a song title for it and thought it was a bit mad we’ve got a band called Ynys, a first album called Ynys, so we need a song now. There are bands that have done it, song, album and band name,’ he quips. ‘I might come up in a Welsh language music mastermind pub quiz.’
After our conversation ends and Dylan goes off to practice the new songs ready for live shows, it feels a nerdy yet entirely necessary thing to do to put in a shift and come up with a list of artists spreading their name over output. The Beatles, Bad Company, there’s been a fair few in history ‘doing an Ynys’. But in contemporary times, not too much. Doing things differently, then. We do like that.

Dosbarth Nos is released via Libertino Records on 12 July.

Tour dates:

12/07 LLANGOLLEN (Town Hall) w/Adwaith + Melin Melyn
04/08 EISTEDDFOD (Llwyfan y Maes 6pm)
06/09 CAERFYRDDIN (Cwrw)
13/09 CAERDYDD / CARDIFF (Porters)
14/09 LEEDS (Hyde Park Book club)
21/09 ABERTAWE/SWANSEA (Elysium)
28/09 CAERNARFON (Hen Lys)
04/10 LONDON (New Cross Inn)
05/10 ABERYSTWYTH (Cwps)

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.