Ynys is the solo project of Welsh songwriter Dylan Hughes, previously known for his work in the acclaimed psychedelic pop band Race Horses. After releasing a series of sparkling singles, the debut Ynys album was released earlier this month on the ever-reliable Libertino Records. Although many of the songs had existed as notes on his mobile phone since the Race Horses days, it was only with the time and space of the last few years that Dylan was able to tap into these ideas and as he puts it, “to look at why they existed”.
Many of the songs it turns out were musings on the push-and-pull Dylan felt between the seaside stillness of his hometown of Aberystwyth and the thriving bustle of Cardiff. It was only after starting these songs that Dylan truly decided the time was right to head home. Musically the record explores everything from unfashionable Italo disco synthesisers from the early 80s through to Ethiopian Jazz and Elliot Smith, all spun through the distinct lens of the Welsh seaside. A record of optimism, reconnection, and re-discovering yourself, this is Dylan’s postcard from Aberystwyth, an invite to the world to see it through his eyes, hear the waves crashing, and feel the wind in your hair, and it’s every bit as exciting as that sounds.
Following the release, Dylan took some time to answer my questions, discussing lengthy lockdown recordings, realising how often he mentions the sea and the current confidence running through Welsh language music.
FTR:For those who don’t know, who is Ynys?
It’s me Dylan (Hughes) and in the live squad we’ve got Aled (drums), Heledd (bass), Tara (keys), Rhys (guitar).
FTR: You’re building towards the release of your debut album, what can you tell me about recording it?
I started recording the album before the first lockdown so it’s been a bit of a long process, but I’m glad that I had some extra time to record and finish some of the songs. It was recorded in Tŷ Drwg Studio in Cardiff with Frank Naughton with the majority of songs recorded over a series of long weekends last summer. We did some additional recording in North Wales (strings) and added some saxophone remotely. Because it wasn’t all recorded in one go I had a lot of time between sessions to listen back and to add parts and instruments, (which was a good and a bad thing)! I find the studio a very creative place and we sort of approached each song as its own world in terms of instrumentation and sounds.
FTR: I read a lot of the ideas on the record were ideas you’ve been sitting with for a number of years. Was it difficult to turn those ideas into fully fledged tracks?
In a way – the lyrics are always what slows things down and takes some time to finish. But I’m glad in a way because I had the freedom and time to write the album I always wanted to write. Generally the songs were recorded before we had played them live which is good in some ways because you’re not confined to certain instruments and you’re more open minded to ideas and where the songs take you when you record them. The downside is it can sometimes feel that you are driving in a dark tunnel and haven’t yet worked out which button turns on the lights.
FTR: There’s a real sense of place on the album, did you know this was going to be such a strong theme on the record before you started recording it?
It’s only when I look back I realise how strong that sense of place and of moving on is on the record. It wasn’t something I set out to do before recording. The songs are generally quite personal in terms of theme but I’m glad there’s a consistent theme throughout the record. I think this was the record I had to write at that particular time and there were certain themes that I found myself returning to often when writing the lyrics.
FTR: There’s an eclectic array of styles across the album, how did you narrow down what would make sense on an Ynys record?
There are certain sounds I find hard to resist. There is a wide range of sounds on the record but it’s held together with a sticky tape of mellotron strings, vocal harmonies, Juno synths and some good old fashion tambourine playing. I’ve always liked approaching each song as its own independent thing and sort of trust that it’s somehow going to work and sound like Ynys! I tend to like using hardware synths rather than getting lost in a never ending world of plug-ins and virtual instruments.
FTR: There are a lot of references to nature in your songwriting, is it something that has always inspired you creatively?
It hadn’t really occurred to me at the time to be honest, but the number of times the sea (ocean/waves) is referenced in the songs is a bit crazy. I haven’t counted but it’s something that runs through most songs. Living in the city for so long I was missing the sea, especially the kind of late night, rough, moonlit sea I remember from memory growing up in a seaside town.
FTR: The album has tracks in both Welsh and English, do you find one easier to write in than the other?
I find it useful to switch languages if I hit a wall when trying to write a song. Like trying a different guitar pedal or something. Welsh is my first language and what I’m most comfortable using on a day to day basis, but I really enjoy writing in both languages to be honest. Sometimes I find writing a bit easier in English but also vice versa. Getting a clear subject/theme in mind before starting is the key to unlocking the song for me. Either that or a really good song title!
FTR: The album’s coming out on Libertino Records, how did that come about? Are record labels still important to you?
It was back in 2018. I’d recorded 2 songs and wasn’t sure what to do with them – I didn’t even have the name Ynys at the time. I really liked their ethos and the artists that Libertino was putting out so I contacted them and luckily they were into the music. They’ve been great ever since.
Labels are important to me as I wouldn’t really want to try and put the record out myself – writing, recording, playing live and selling the t-shirts is plenty for me!
FTR: This seems to be a good time for Welsh language music, why do you think it’s having something of a renaissance?
Really good question and something I’ve thought about but I don’t have an answer. It’s a confidence thing. I don’t think that Welsh language bands/labels feel confined to just Wales as they perhaps did years ago. But with that maybe audiences outside Wales are more receptive, I’m not sure.
As with many aspects of our lives, social media and technology has played a part I think. Where as back in the day you would be heavily reliant on S4C (Welsh language TV channel) for videos and traditional media for promoting your work, bands produce their own records and film videos etc. Welsh bands aren’t waiting around for the NME to pick up on them, they’re out there playing, releasing records etc.
Musically and in terms of production Welsh language artists (like a lot of artists) have really stepped things up – there are great things being released every week. Also labels such as Libertino really help drive the Welsh music scene.
FTR: Who are the inspirations on your sound? What were you listening to when you wrote the album?
I can hear certain influences on some songs. Like Ennio Moriccone and Mulatu Astatke on ‘Newid’, Big Star and Teenage Fanclub on ‘Caneuon’ and maybe Beach House on ‘Gadael’. The Beach Boys and Elliot Smith are never too far away in terms of influence.
For some songs, I go in with a certain sound in mind, but with others it develops over time and it can take unexpected turns. The sound can be quite cinematic in parts and quite dense. But to quote Alan Partridge “people always go on about space, but people forget that you can get lost in space”!!
FTR: Will you be touring to support this record?
We’ve got a launch in Cardiff (Clwb Ifor Bach 4/11/22) and a London Headline gig (14/1/23 The Victoria Dalston) as well as a couple more gigs here and there. Hopefully we’ll be announcing more dates over the next couple of months.
FTR: What’s next for Ynys?
Playing live as much as we can, trying to have as much fun as possible, and start thinking about writing another album.
Ynys is out now via Libertino Records. For more information on Ynys visit https://linktr.ee/Ynysmusic.