Returning this summer with Tresor, her first album for four years, Cardiff’s electronic dreampop icon Gwenno Saunders found herself pondering issues of language, identity and self-doubt – as she recalls to John-Paul Davies.
Tresor (Cornish for ‘treasure’) is the followup to 2018’s Le Kov (‘the place of memory’), which had a massive impact on the interest in the language across the country and across the world. Do you feel you’ve placed yourself in the role of Cornish language ambassador; is there a weight of expectation on you to keep producing music in Cornish?
I don’t think so, because this is just a language that I have – it’s my home language. So it’s not something special: it’s just a part of who I am, really. Obviously, it’s a conscious choice to look into using the language to write songs.
On a creative level, I think it is quite important to just follow your inspiration. You can’t really be too influenced by outside factors when you’re writing because it’s just not possible to write in that way. I’ve written in both [Welsh and Cornish] languages since I started making music – over 20 years ago now – and I think what I find quite interesting with Cornish is, sonically, it’s very different. And also there’s a level of intimacy to it because it’s the language I’ve always used at home – that naturally makes it feel more intimate, and almost less public in a way. It’s not the language of where I’m from, but the language I happen to have, through my dad.
Where I lived, everyone had different languages, because I grew up in [Cardiff district] Riverside, so it was kind of normal in that context. But I think that with the new album, using Cornish is quite a normal thing for me to do, rather than a novelty. It’s a living language for me.
Was that feeling of it being a natural language choice helped by recording in St Ives?
I was really just listening to my instincts and wanting to go to St Ives to record, because I wrote the last album in Cardiff, imagining Cornwall. So I was like, what is it going to be like if I go there? Am I going to feel like a pretender? And as soon as I landed in St Ives, I saw a friend!
I ended up having a great week with a lot of people and really feeling very welcome and very at home. So the opposite happened to what I thought. It really informed the album as well, in terms of just documenting a week in St Ives.
And then for your next single you get to put out an anti-capitalist treatise in Welsh – N.Y.C.A.W., short for ‘nid yw Cymru ar werth’, or ‘Wales is not for sale’ – that has a decidedly different vibe from the rest of the album.
Yeah, it’s funny because, on the whole, the album was about the intimacy of rediscovering yourself after motherhood – after having a child and becoming a mother. And then obviously that song N.Y.C.A.W. is interesting… because if someone pisses me off, I get on my soapbox. I’m sort of at peace with the fact that that will always be the case; I always thought, “oh god, just grow out of it!”
I’m a very, very introverted person, and as an artist, I’m drawn to making very, very quiet music – quiet ambience, and abstract music. So, I think, the record is a good combination of those two things.
Gwenno plays the In It Together Festival, Margam, Port Talbot on Fri 3 June.
Tresor is released on Fri 1 July via Heavenly.
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
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