Foto-© Marieke Macklon

Eines der frühesten Alben von 2024 könnte am Ende dieses Jahres immer noch zu den besten zählen: Iechyd Da, das Comeback des englischen Singer-Songwriters Bill Ryder-Jones nach fünf Jahren, ist eine grandiose, vor Ideen überquellende Mixtur aus üppigem Sixties-Pop, feinen Psychedelia-Sounds, zartem Brit-Folk und der typischen hochmelodischen Merseyside-Rockmusik seiner Heimatregion Liverpool. Der Sänger, Gitarrist, Pianist und Produzent (zuletzt für den UK-Kritikerliebling Michael Head, eine veritable Liverpooler Indiepop-Ikone) knüpft mit den 13 neuen Tracks ganz bewusst an sein bisheriges Meisterstück A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart (2013) an.

Wir sprachen mit Ryder-Jones (40), der schon vor 25 Jahren als Gitarrist der Psychedelic-Folkrocker The Coral startete, in Berlin über das am 12. Januar beim Label Domino erschienene, von euphorischem Jubel begleitete Album Iechyd Da und über seine Hoffnung auf breiteren kommerziellen Erfolg nach vielen Jahren in der Kult-Nische. Der auch mit 40 noch jungenhaft wirkende, sympathische Musiker ist ein bisschen desillusioniert, aber letztlich guter Dinge. Bills Fazit in zwei Sätzen: “The reviews of this one are particularly good, even better than before – because it’s a better record. And yes, some money would be great.”

Hi Bill, thank you very much for this interview. I’m especially happy because a lot of people want to talk with you about your new album which got rave reviews everywhere.
Bill Ryder-Jones: Yes, it’s getting a bit more. And I’ve never been to Berlin on a promo before – because there was no need. So that’s great right now.

Let’s first have a look at the cover. There are some connections between Iechyd Da and A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart, your 2013 record. The colours of the cover artwork are quite similar: yellow, pink, blue and red. Did you want to point out the new album is the follow-up to some of your best work?
Bill: No, I just liked that cover artwork of A Bad Wind…, its colours. And this is the reason I chose the new artwork. I simply like the colours.

By the way, thank You, Bill, for introducing me to my first Welsh words through album and song titles. “Iechyd Da”, does that mean the same as “Cheers!”? And “Nos Da” – that means “Good night!”, right?
Bill: Yes, “Iechyd Da” means “Good health!”, it’s repurposed as “Cheers!”. And “Nos Da”, that means “Good night!”.

So why did you chose these Welsh titles of the album and one of its songs? What connects you to Wales and the Welsh language?
Bill: That’s quite easy – we have a family connection. My grandfather moved to England, from that side I’m Welsh. You might see it on the vinyl and the cd – when You open it up, there’s a photograph of me. This piece of water here is a sea , it’s where we used to go on holiday as children. And I was always fascinated by the language. Then there’s my love of Welsh bands, Gorky’s and Super Furry Animals. Or Dylan Thomas.

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Do You speak Welsh Yourself?
Bill: I can read it, but I can’t really converse. I’m getting better now. I’am able to introduce myself in Welsh, I can say “I’m tired” or “Can I have a drink”. (laughs)

You seem to have a special relationship with Scotland, too. The cover artwork of Iechyd Da shows the small Scottish coastal town Crail. I’ve been there last August, it’s so beautiful. What does this region mean to you?
Bill: Well I’ve never been up there, in Crail. I mean I’ve been up in Scotland a lot, I lived in Edinburgh for a while. I’ve got family on the Hebridian Islands, so I used to go there a lot as a child. I saw that picture on Instagram and I said: Uh, I want that for the album. Didn’t really know why – probably for reasons You said, the connection with A Bad Wind…, the similar colour palette. So that was purely a visual thing, like “I like the look of that”.

Let’s talk about the music of your new album. It’s widescreen, heavily orchestrated indie pop that reminds me of the Sixties/Seventies, The Zombies for example, or some great music of the Eighties, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Pale Fountains. Would you agree it’s your most ambitious record yet?
Bill: Hmmm, how do you quantify “ambition”? But yes, it was a conscious decision to challenge myself. I didn’t want to make a safe record. So it’s definitely the most ambitious thing I’ve done in a long long time.

The Mojo magazine called your new record “big-sky music for introverts”. Okay for you?
Bill: That’s a nice turn of phrase, isn’t it? “Big-sky music for introverts”… I like it.

You compiled a Iechyd Da inspiration playlist on Spotify recently. Great idea. So you’re not as shy as other musicians to talk about your influences?
Bill: Not at all. But I know what’s right or wrong. I don’t do anything that’s inappropriate.

In my opinion Iechyd Da feels like a real album – 13 songs one should listen to as a whole.
Bill: That’s nice, thank you.

But aren’t there any key tracks for you? Songs you’re especialy proud of?
Bill: Yeah, I mean I really love …And The Sea…. Just because it was something different, and really fun. I Hold Something In My Hand I’m particularly proud of. But it would be hard to really pick. I Know That It’s Like This (Baby)… I don’t know. I’m quite fond of all these songs.

I read you always wanted to find the brilliance of your second album, A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart, once again. You didn’t succeed with your albums three and four, you recently said. What’s your feeling about Iechyd Da now after you finished it? Did you achieve what you wanted?
Bill: Yeah, I do feel now I achieved that. As you said, Iechyd Da is heavily orchestrated, there’s lots of ideas, lots of considerations. A lot of re-recording things, changing versions of songs to fit the record. That’s why I feel especially proud of this record.

There’s even a kind of reprise song on the new album: A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart Pt 3. Another connection with your second album from eleven years before?
Bill: Yes, it was on my mind that I wanted to link the two albums. So I was on the lookout for a song that could be called A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart. The same with my new song Christinha – that’s a girl’s name I used for A Bad Wind… <“Christina That’s The Saddest Thing”>.

So there are some visible and audible connections between those two albums. Well, let’s talk about the lyrics of Iechyd Da now. They are very honest, intimate, moving for the listener. What inspired you? Your recent state of mind, your development as an artist, as a human being?
Bill: It’s got to be everything really. I mean I’m writing lyrics very much to serve a melody. When the music is harmonically good, then within that framework I will not change the melody. It limits how much I say. So a melody will inform what words I use. I don’t spend a great deal of time for the lyrics.

You quite openly talked about some mental problems and the loss of your brother early in your life. So are your songs personal, or rather abstract?
Bill: The songs I do are always just about a person or an event that’s happened in my life. I think I’m not good enough to write about anybody else. (laughs)

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There’s one instrumental song with spoken words, …And The Sea. Michael Head, legendary singer of The Pale Fountains and Shack and now a solo artist with a great new band, reads from Ulysses. Was that his idea, or your idea?
Bill: It was my idea – you know, it’s my fucking album! (laughs) And Michael Head has become one of my friends. I will never get tired saying this. He was in the studio working on his new album on a Monday, I had written the music of …And The Sea… on the weekend before. A couple of really lovely moments… For me that was really special. That was like the most collaborative thing I’ve done in fucking years.

Another unexpected feature is the Gal Costa sample of the opening song, I Know That It’s Like This (Baby). What does this kind of Brazilian music mean to you?
Bill: It’s a singular thing – because I’m not particularly influenced by Brazilian music despite it being beautiful and I always enjoy good music. It’s specifically about that song, Baby. That was a song my ex-girlfriend, who most of the record was written with or for or about or against, introduced me to. Me and her had a playlist on a well known streaming service that doesn’t pay its artists properly. And we made this collaborative playlist – I got a song, she got a song. A lovely way to fall in love… And Baby by Gal Costa was the first song she showed me. It knocked me out, and it became our song. Me and the girl split up before I finished my song. So it starts off being quite hopeful about two people being in love, and then it falls apart.

So isn’t it a sad thing for you to have this sample in a song forever?
Bill: Yes. But I’ve got songs about all kinds of sad things. I mean that break-up was particular hard. I did really struggle to get back from it. It took two or three years to get over it.

My last question is about your hopes and expectations for the new record. Lots of great reviews coming in as I said before. Could this be your major breakthrough? Wouldn’t it be great to earn some money with this record?
Bill: Oh, that would be nice. My reviews were pretty good though, but I didn’t sell any fucking records. The reviews of this one are particularly good, even better than before – because it’s a better record. And yes, some money would be great.

Now I’m looking forward even more to see you live on stage in Berlin on March 25th. Thank you again for this interview, Bill!

Bill Ryder-Jones live:
24.03.24 Hamburg, Hafenklang
25.03.24 Berlin, Kantine am Berghain

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