Somojo Magazine

 

Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog

Discography
2007 – Dawns y Trychfilod (Album)
2008 – Paid a Deud (Single – collaboration with Gwyneth Glyn)
2011 – Dyddiau Du, Dyddiau Gwyn (Album)

Hi guys, how are you?
Not bad at all, thank you.

Would you mind introducing us to your band members?
The core of the band are myself and myself, Aled Hughes, and my two brothers Iwan and Dafydd. For this record we’ve recruited three additional members – Llyr Pari on guitar, who has been playing live with us for about a year and a half now, Branwen Williams on keyboards and vocals, who also sang on our first album, and Euron Jones on pedal steel guitar, who we worked with on the 2008 single ‘Paid a Deud’.

How long has the current band line up been together?
The three of us started the band sometime in 2005, but as mentioned, we have worked with the rest of the members on and off from 2007 onwards. We didn’t play together as a 6-piece until December 2010 though, after recording the album.

How did you meet each other?
The three of us knew Llyr from brilliant Welsh band Jen Jeniro, and we were looking for an additional live guitarist and thought that he would fit the bill perfectly. We’ve been friends with Branwen for years, and she’s a tremendous musician, so it was quite natural to ask for her input. Euron was playing pedal steel for Gwyneth Glyn when we recorded a single with her in 2008, so that’s how we came to know him.

How did you come up with the band name?
Rhos Botwnnog is a tiny piece of common land just north of the village of Botwnnog on the Llyn Peninsula, north Wales. It bears a passing resemblance to a little American prairie, and our primary school headmaster used to call me and my brothers ‘Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog’, which quite simply means ‘The Rhos Botwnnog Cowboys’.

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t yet heard you?
We’re all big country music fans, and I think the new record reflects this more than the first album. I think that we’ve also taken a strong influence from the old traditional Welsh songs as well. Artists such as Neil Young, Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons have been a big influence, as well as more contemporary bands such as the Felice Brothers, Phosphorescent, Calexico and such.

What music did you listen to while growing up?
Our parents are great music fans, and dad would always be playing Ry Cooder, Van Morrison and Neil Young records at home, as well as the old bluesmen such as Big Bill Broonzy and Leadbelly. Christy Moore is another who has a voice that takes me back two decades everytime I hear him!
We grew up with a lot of Welsh music as well, but the one band that sticks in my mind are Plethyn, an incredible three-piece folk group with the finest vocal arrangements you’re ever likely to hear!

Which artist or track inspired you to want to make music yourself?
When was the ‘I want to do that!’ moment?

I think it was a culmination of being immersed in so much music from a young age, and embracing it rather than rejecting it.
Me and Dafydd were in rock bands before, then when Iwan picked up a guitar and started writing songs, we joined him!
I think that Iwan’s discovery of Gram Parsons was the catalyst for this band, though.

What was the last music you put on your ipod or mp3 player?
Last night I put Steve Eaves’ ‘Moelyci’ on there. It’s a beautiful, beautiful record sung entirely in Welsh. It was released in 2007, and in my mind it’s one of the finest records to ever have come out of Wales. Before that it was the Low Anthem’s ‘Oh My God Charlie Darwin’, Molina and Johnson’s album and a Ry Cooder live album. I’ve only just got an iPod for the first time, so it’s all quite exciting!

What have you been up to recently?
Most of our time away form work and education has been taken up by promoting this album and trying to organise gigs for the summer!

What can your fans look forward to in the next 12 months?
We have the material for a new album written, but we have no idea when we’ll be able to have time to go to the studio. We’r hoping to gig as much as we can from June onwards, and then perhaps find time to record new material.

What is your current equipment?
I use a Fender Jazz (strung with flatwounds) bass into a Marshall head and an Ampeg cab, and on the few tracks where I play guitar it’s a Les Paul copy that a local luthier built for me, with P90 pickups and a Bigbsy, for a bit of a Neil Young vibe!
Iwan has this beautiful DiPinto Belveredere Deluxe guitar, so it’s between that, a Telecaster and my Les Paul into a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amp for him, or a LAG acoustic. We do have a pile of effects pedals, but they never get gigged as we haven’t come round to sorting it out yet!
Llyr uses a Fender Telecaster with a Bigsby vibrato into a Maxwatt amp. I think it’s quite a cheap amp, but he gets the most amazing sound from it. We all love his main band, Jen Jeniro, and they have a very distinctive sound – a lot of it is that amp, I think! He also has a handful of pedals – tremolo, reverb and overdrive I think. He uses an E-Bow on the record as well.
Branwen uses a Roland stage piano, usually DI’s into the PA for her organ sounds, and Euron has a Bennett pedal steel and a Peavey amp of some sorts!
Dafydd’s kit is a Premier Artist with a big fat wooden snare, and I’m pretty sure he uses Sabian cymbals for the most part.

Do you have a favourite piece of musical kit that you couldn’t live without?
Not really, I think most of our gear is functional, solid, and pretty easily replaceable. Personally I never want to get rid of the Les Paul as it’s a one-off, and I can’t speak for the rest of the band, but there is nothing we use that couldn’t be replaced at any guitar shop!
Euron has a Gibson 335 though, but we’ve never been lucky enough to see it!

If you had an unlimited equipment budget what would be on your shopping list?
I’d love a good semi-hollow bass, a Rickenbacker 4001, a good double bass and Ampeg Portaflex bass amp.
I’m guessing here, but I’d bet good money that Iwan would want the biggest, fattest Gretsch guitar he could find and a Fender Twin amp, and Dafydd would go for either an old Ludwig or Gretsch drumkit.

Do you use the same equipment live as you do when in a studio?
Pretty much, yes, unless there’s something specific at the studio that would do a better job. At Brynderwen studio, where we recorded the album, they had a Fender Rhodes piano there, so we used that when we needed a Rhodes sound. There’s a Fender Princeton amp there as well, so I used that for my parts as I’ve always wanted one.

Do you try to capture your ‘live’ sound on recordings or do you think that the ‘live’ sound and recorded sound should be different experiences for your fans?
For this record, most of the songs were done live in the studio, with backing vocals, pedal steel, some additional guitars and keyboards overdubbed. We enjoy recording live, and I fell that we perform better that way.
There is no right or wrong way however, and I don’t think it should be anything. Some great albums were only made possible by studio technology and were all but impossible to recreate live, and others great albums were made because a band were a great live band.

Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog


How much involvement do you have with the arranging and production of the songs when recording?
We had worked out all the arrangement, be they structural or vocal harmonies or whatever, before entering the studio, so there were minimal alterations there. In terms of overall production, David Wrench was with us in the studio and he was utterly fantastic to work with – very sympathetic to what we were trying to do, and had a great understanding of our goal.
The sound, though, is pretty much all of us playing in a room, playing the parts that we had intended to. I think Dave’s influence was quite subtle but invaluable – it was more a case of coaxing the best takes from us rather than having an active involvement in the material itself. We were on a very tight schedule – 5 days to record and mix the album – so it was crucial to have Dave there to oversee things!

Is the production side of things something you’d like to get involved more in the future, maybe working with other artists?
We’ve done our own recording from time to time – 2008’s ‘Paid a Deud’ was self-recorded in the local pub during opening hours! We work better with a producer though, even if it’s only a matter of having someone there as a reminder that things need to be done! We can perhaps get a little complacent when working by ourselves.
Working with other artists is something that we have done (again, 2008’s single with Gwyneth Glyn), and is definitely something we’d love to do more of.  

Do you find the process of recording enjoyable and does it get easier the more you do?
We’ve always found it reasonably easy to be honest – we’re not overly fussy, and we’re happy for a few mistakes or wobbly notes to find their way onto a recording if the rest of the take was spot on. I find it an enjoyable experience, especially recording as live as possible, as what you hear on the first playback can be quite close to complete!

Do you have any new recordings planned?
We’re hoping to release a couple of tracks on a compilation EP in the next few months before starting work an a new album.

Which are your favourite original tracks?
Of ours? All the original tracks on the record were written by Iwan. My personal favourite of his, I think, is the album’s opener – ‘Y Ffenast’.

Who are your favourite songwriters?
Neil Young, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Arthur Lee, Paul Simon, Gram Parsons, Leaonard Cohen, Roy Orbison… the list is endless!

Who are the main songwriters for the band?
Iwan writes the great majority of our material, although I have one or two written. We also do quite a few arrangements of old Welsh traditional songs. There’s also a cover of a song off Nia Morgan’s stunning 2009 album on the record as well.

Do you have a set routine when writing and recording or does it depend on each track and the inspiration?
Inspiration can come from anywhere, and I think Iwan and myself are quite similar in that we find it hard to write with others, so peace and quiet are a prerequisite! Recording up to now has pretty much a case of setting up microphones and record what we play as a band.

Do you have a method for writing songs?
It varies – it can come from a lyric, a melody or a riff, I don’t think either of hus have a method.

Do you find song writing easy or difficult?
I find it very difficult, especially lyrically. Iwan seems to have a more natural flow, although he can take a painstakingly long time over a song.

Is there anyone who you would like to collaborate with on writing songs or performing?
Hundreds! All the living artists that I mentioned previously! Emmylou Harris of of course, and someone like Cerys Matthews would be wonderful. Perhaps Mad Professor for a new flavour!

Would you sign with a major record company?
Provided we had control over our output, yes.

Which countries have you gigged in?
Wales almost exclusively, with a single trip to London last year! Hopefully this is about to change…

Which countries would be at the top of your list to tour?
Given our material, America would be lovely, but anywhere would be nice.

How do you promote your music and get your music out to new fans?
It’s mostly been a matter of gigging and word of mouth. We’ve hired a PR company’s services for the first time for this album, however, and they’ve been fantastic. It can be hard to draw attention to yourself as a Welsh-language band outside of Wales, of even to non-Welsh speakers within Wales, but all we can do is try, so we’ll see where it goes!

Which music promotion websites do you use and do you have a favourite?
We have a Myspace as everyone has one, though I don’t like the layout at all, it’s a very clunky site. Soundcloud is an excellent resource, and a much more professional tool than Myspace in my opinion.

Do you think such sites and the internet are good tools for independent and unsigned artists?
It’s a mixed blessing. Certainly it makes things easier in terms of getting your music delivered and available, but it has levelled the playing field considerably, so you’re battling with everyone for attention. In terms of potential, the internet is quite clearly the most powerful system in existence, but I still feel that reputation comes from other places, and reputation counts for a lot, I suppose.

With such a variety of similar websites that exist now for independent artist to promote music, is there something missing from them that you would like to see?
Nothing that I can think of. There’s only so much that can be offered, and it is all probably being offered somewhere. The only other thing left to do try to attract artists to a service is to offer a guaranteed wage!

What is your opinion on ‘battle of the bands’ competitions?
Complete rubbish. Music is not a competition. The prizes can be very tempting at times, but from what I’ve seen, especially among young bands, it can drive bands to dislike each other and feel that they’ve been cheated. Also a lot of the time the voting systems are very dubious. They’re not healthy, and we’ve never entered one.

What's your best/worst experience at a gig?
The best, I think, was the album launch at Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach last December. We hadn’t played the set properly together before, and it all came together nicely.
There have been lots of reasonably bad experiences, but nothing sticks out at the moment – a drunk landlord cutting the power halfway through a set, perhaps.

Do you get nervous before a gig? How do you calm down?
No, I don’t tend to get nervous, and neither do the rest of us for the most part. The launch gig was different, though, as it was a new set and a lot of the material is very dependent on Iwan, so he was pretty nervous beforehand.

Has your music been used on any film soundtracks?
Not on any films, no, but some tracks have been used on Welsh language programmes and S4C.

Is composing for film or tv something you’d like to get involved in if the opportunity came along?
We’d love to have a go at soundtracking some day. We’re big fans of Ennio Morricone’s work for Sergio Leone, so something like that would be great.
There is a great instrumental surf-rock band from north Wales called Y Niwl, who are currently Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals)’s backing and support band. It would be great to work with them on the soundtrack to a Zombie Western someday.

 

 

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