Welsh alternative folk band 9BACH is one of the bands that we are looking forward to seeing the most at WOMADelaide this weekend. Jen and Martin from the band took some time out from their busy touring schedule to chat to Glam Adelaide.
Your band name can be interpreted as “small grandmother” if we were to take it in a more vernacular context, rather than how it reads on paper. What is the origin of this name?
It’s a play on words- we wanted almost a bilingual name, from the start it was important to us that the non welsh speaking audience could relate to the name. 9 is a number, generic and dull, Nain is your grandmother, cozy and real. It’s interesting how something in two neighbouring languages can sound the same and mean such different things!
Welsh is a language that we don’t hear about too much in Australia. Have you spoken it your whole life and is there a greater cultural significance to incorporating it into your music?
JEN: I have indeed, it’s my mother tongue. A gift from my mother and my community and country. I did my education in Welsh, I played in Welsh and I’ve worked most of my professional life in Welsh. Singing in Welsh is instinctive and natural and not a conscious decision, I create, I write songs that happen to be in the Welsh language because that is me- it’s who I am…when I vomit songs they come out as my “default setting language”
Whilst the music obviously does have strong traditional elements, it also sounds like there are more progressive indie rock influences intermingled in the arrangements. Is there a deliberate mindset, or set of “rules” to how the band manages this eclecticism?
MARTIN: No major rules as such, apart from every part must justify itself, don’t add too much just for the sake of it. We always start with the vocals, and everything else is built around that, to compliment them. I think the eclecticism comes across because of our wide and varied tastes, from Prince, Josh Wink, Jane’s Addiction, Primal Scream, etc etc etc When we start to write and arrange an album we tend to stop listening to any other music, so as we’re not influenced by anything! Hopefully that’s where our “unique” sound that some people have pointed out comes from!
In your music it sounds like the bass has a more prominent role within the song construction, going beyond a conventional role within a rhythm section. Is there a deliberate move to have the bass fill up more of the body of the music to create a more ominous, haunting element?
MARTIN: YES! Every part and instrument is important, and I think the conventional role in a rhythm section for a bass is boring, let everything, including the bass, stand out and be remembered, that’s not going to happen with a standard, 1,2,3,4, bass keeping the beat. After Lisa has come up with the vocal melody then I’ll arrange the instrumentation around that, and I ALWAYS start with the bass, that’s the heartbeat, and pulse of the song, and the danger is if you don’t start with it, then you will end up with a standard bass line. So I spend quite a bit of time getting the bass line right for the vocals and interesting and memorable within the song. When we come to recording the songs, it’s quite easy to put the bass high up in the mix without it drowning anything else out. BASS IS ACE!
It sounds like a lot of the intensity of your music comes through clever use of textures, brought about through the use of a variety of instruments including harps and glockenspiels. At what point of composition do you decide what instruments to use, does it come out of a jam, or do you form rough ideas in your head and then transpose these ideas to paper?
MARTIN: it varies, sometimes by the time the vocals and bass line are worked out, I’ve heard the song enough times that I have the other parts and hook lines flying around in my head, and its a case of trying them out on the different instruments to see which works best. Other times I’ll just play around on the different instruments, they’re laid out differently, so can inspire different things, which is interesting, and fun, although sometimes you can end up with too much, and have to get rid of a few parts which you love! Nothing ever gets written down on paper!
Naturally as most listeners wouldn’t understand the lyrics, there is a mysterious element to the lyrical themes. What do you tend to sing about and do you try to keep the themes contemporary or timeless?
I can only sing about the things I care about. A story that moves me, anything that makes me emotional, or makes me angry or sad or cross. I need to feel the emotion in my womb, or my belly or my heart. I wrote one of my first songs in the back of a 4×4 driving to Papunya in NT, because I’d become familiar with Archie Roach’s song Took The Children Away. I’d spent a lot of time with members of The Black Arm Band, I was moved, I cried, I felt furious about what happened, so I wrote a song called Plentyn – it means Child, and it’s about the Stolen Generation. I sing about the last remaining male white rhino, and question who are we? And what are we doing to this world. I sing about Ivan, the boy in Moscow who grew up with a pack of wild dogs. The songs can be political and yet about nature- never about love! Ha!