9Bach formed in 2005 thanks to a chance meeting between Welsh singer-songwriter Lisa Jên (also known for her collaborative work with Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys) and English guitarist Martin Hoyland. With their unmistakable sound of Welsh language vocals shimmering alongside swamp guitar, harp, rhythm section and a subtle use of technology, 9Bach have been widely credited with giving a new voice to Welsh song. Their second album, Tincian, was described by The Line of Best Fit as “ripped through with transcendence; a brooding melancholy as much as a gossamer dreaminess”, and was voted Best Album at the 2015 BBC Radio 2 Awards by the public.
New album Anian is a soulful, brooding record whose songs take a critical look at the world in which we live. While Tincian commemorated stories from the past, Anian explores more contemporary themes The double CD package includes companion piece Yn dy lais / In your voice, where writers, actors, poets and singers – Peter Gabriel, Maxine Peake and Rhys Ifans among them – give their own interpretations of the songs as a way to convey the meaning to a non-Welsh speaking audience.
Anian: Welsh word meaning nature, the natural order, natural morality, the natural world, creation. What you are made of, your soul and bones, and how you connect with other people.
Music is made for crossing national borders. Written and sung in Welsh (Cymraeg), recorded in England, for a label that has recently released records by musicians from Ireland, West Africa and Columbia, Anian is 9Bach’s third album. Like 2014’s Tincian – it begins in North Wales but broadens out through Greek and Near Eastern influences into an emotional tour de force. Angry, sad, but most of all passionate at the state of the world, Anian taps into a universal language.
While Tincian was very much rooted in hiraeth, the scarred past of the mountainous mining landscape of the Ogwen Valley, North Wales, Anian looks outwards into the present. As singer, composer and pianist Lisa Jên explains, it comes from a desperate, anarchic place. “It marks where I’m at, whether it’s my age, being a mother, or simply being much more exposed to social media where I’m faced with pictures and videos, images and words which I find difficult to cope with right now.”
The eleven songs move from the rolling rhythms of ‘Llyn Du’ to the piano settings of ‘Ifan’ and ‘Deryn’, the layered voices of ‘Brain’ and ‘Si Hwi Hwi’ to the full band Near Eastern climax of ‘Cyfaddefa’. At the centre is always Lisa Jên’s voice, and the instinctive way in which 9Bach work together. “The songs always start with the vocal melody,” says Martin Hoyland. “Then it’s my job to build the instrumentation and arrangements around that, and to compliment it as much as possible.”
Appearances are deceptive. Beneath the crystalline surface of Anian lie raging emotions. “I can’t write a song about nothing’, stresses Lisa. “It has to have a heartbeat. I am trying to challenge the listener, whether it’s making them feel left out because they don’t have a crow that brings them gifts, or scowling at them for killing the last living white rhino. Metaphorically blaming humans for being horrible.”
There is a dystopian feel to this album, its underlying themes are dark and heavy, prompting the question: who am I and what am I doing to help anyone? But there is also hope in the songs, a celebration of relationships and acts of kindness that bring happiness. “There is a seed in my belly, it feels revolutionary, it feels like there is a movement where our generation just might be waking up from a very long deep sleep,” explains Lisa. “Something has to change though, right?”
Anian was recorded in Real World Studios by Lisa Jên (vocals, piano), Martin Hoyland (guitars, hammer dulcimer), Ali Byworth (drums & percussion), Dan Swain (electric bass guitar & double bass), Esyllt Glyn Jones (harp, vocals), and Mirain Roberts (piano, vocals, hammer dulcimer). This is the same line-up as recorded Tincian, but, as Martin explains, it was a very different experience: “We did have a general plan of what we wanted beforehand, but the way we work means it doesn’t always work out like that”. The loose blueprint was to develop those stunning three part harmonies, and then to introduce instruments they hadn’t used before, like hammer dulcimer and double bass. Perhaps surprisingly, Martin reveals they had intended to make a more upbeat album, but soon realised this wasn’t going to work: “There was just no way we were going to make upbeat versions of “Deryn”, “Ifan”, or “Ambell Hiraeth”. The subject matter is far too brooding”.
Recording live in the studio – with just a touch of overdubbing – the musicians were able to respond to each other emotionally, to react to the anger and sadness in some of the songs, the band responding to the vocals, and vice versa. This was a welcome contrast from the last two albums, which were recorded over a longer period of time in a range of studios. “A big part of what we do is to convey sentiment, feeling, emotion in the sound, especially for a non-Welsh language audience, so it made total sense to capture that together”, says Martin. “We never want to repeat what we did last time, either in the songwriting or the recording. You always need to move on, challenge yourselves, make it interesting, different.”
Anian was released by Real World Records on April 29th, 2016. CD copies come with an extra disc of vocal reinterpretations: Yn Dy Lais/In Your Voice. As 9Bach explain, “this project joins writers, actors, poets and musicians, who were invited to express their own interpretation of a song. We explained what each song was about and the writers were asked to retell the story using the emotion, sentiment, themes, and, sometimes, parts of the original story.”
Adapted from a piece by Jon Savage
The meaning of the title Anian – explained by Lisa Jên
The Welsh word Anian means nature, the natural order, natural morality, the natural world, creation. It is your vibe, what you are made of, your soul and bones, and how you connect with other people, or other creatures. You can be in touch with your anian or not. You can recognise your anian in other people’s anian and that’s what connects you to them. You laugh at the same things, you feel the same things, your eyes have a laser connecting to their eyes: it’s electric yet calm and just…is.
If you’ve shared a childhood, a sense of place, the same dialect, breathed the same air and swum in the same rivers, even if you have nothing at all in common as adults, you will be able to connect if you have the same anian. But it’s not about culture, upbringing, language or identity. You can, and possibly will, have the same anian as a gentleman from Arnhem Land in the Australian desert, or a Londoner that accidentally spills a G&T in your lap at 4am. It’s the minerals and chemicals that we are made of, that happen to have the same matching ingredients as that person over there that will connect you forever. It is a magical beautiful intangible thing that hangs there.’
9Bach formed in 2005 thanks to a chance meeting between Lisa Jên (also known for her collaborative work with Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys) and Martin Hoyland. The band’s name is a play on numbers and words. Lisa: “9 is as in Nain, (pronounced nine), which means grandmother in the North of Wales, Bach means little and is also a term of endearment in Welsh. In one language 9 is something so mundane as a number, but in Welsh Nain is a cozy, family orientated lovely thing: your grandmother is a person we can relate to and visualise.”
Following the release of their self-titled debut album through Welsh label Gyymon, they signed to Real World Records. In 2014 they released their second album ‘Tincian’ (an allusive, mercurial Welsh word with several meanings that travels through time and space). An atmospheric, emotional record that reflects their home environment of Gerlan, North Wales, though written and sung in Welsh/Cymraeg and arranged in the folk tradition, it also taps into elements of dub and rock, taking an unconventional and universal approach to form, reflecting 9Bach’s view of themselves as internationalists.