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Getting To Know: Bitw

Dive into the sonic universe of Gruff ab Arwel (aka Bitw) – a maestro of sci-fi mountain music. Following the triumph of his self-titled debut, the Welsh virtuoso is back with "Rehearse," a lesson in resilience and a testament to the beauty that arises when plans take unexpected turns. Unintentionally echoing the pattern of his debut, Gruff shares the journey of recording in Caernarfon, unveiling the buoyancy of "Rehearse" amidst unforeseen challenges. With a nod to 60s-70s pop, he cranks up experimentation, exchanging synths for acoustic ambience and inviting a league of musical spirits to join the sonic voyage. In this vibrant interview, Gruff takes us behind the scenes, revealing the evolution of his sound and the collaborative magic that ensued.

1. "Rehearse" is your eagerly awaited follow-up album, and it comes after the well-received self-titled debut. How has your musical journey evolved since your debut, and what can fans expect from this new album?

I hesitate to say "more of the same" because it hints at a lack of ambition, but that's kind of what the album is about – after the first record I had big plans to record the next one as live as possible in a studio with a band, but then the pandemic struck so the recording process was pretty similar to the first record i.e. done mostly at home. Lyrically, the album deals with frustration, stagnancy, repetition, possibly egged on by this forced repeating of process. I suppose the music itself branches outwards, which was to be expected I suppose, seeing as nothing else could.

2. Your musical style has been described as "sci-fi mountain music," a term coined by Cate Le Bon. Could you elaborate on this unique genre description and how it influences your sound?

I don't have any claim to the description I'm afraid, you'd have to ask Cate! 

3. "Rehearse" captures the pop territory of your debut while experimenting with new instrumentation and dynamics. Can you tell us about some of the musical influences and inspirations that played a role in shaping this album's sound?

On its face it's pretty similar – an album of ten pop songs – but I did try to step away from the synth to a degree. More of these songs were written on acoustic guitar; that doesn't necessarily means they end up as acoustic guitar tracks when recorded, but I wanted to lean a bit further in that direction on this record.

4. You mentioned enjoying "left-of-center, late '60s-'70s pop" as part of your musical orbit. Could you highlight any specific artists or albums from that era that have had a significant impact on your music?

I find it hard to quantify impact or influence on my own music – when writing and recording I tend to think of that sound as kind of a default setting because it's what I mostly listen to. I suppose I'm most conscious of it when trying not to lean so far into it that it sounds like a pastiche.

5. Collaborating with fellow musicians, such as Gwion Llewelyn and Stephen Black, added depth to the album. How did these collaborations influence the creative process, and what unique contributions did they bring to the table?

All the musicians on the record have such inherent musical ability and taste, it's a joy to work with them because you're all starting from the same page. Having spent most of the time recording alone, it was so helpful so hear some honest opinions and feedback – it gets pretty hard to tell after a while whether something sounds shit or not, so it was great to have some wider input for both criticism and validation.

6. Many of your songs seem to delve into themes of introspection, self-doubt, and hope. Can you share some insights into the lyrical content of "Rehearse" and what personal experiences or emotions inspired these songs?

The album mostly deals with frustration, stagnancy and repetition. I tried to confront some uglier things about myself which I wouldn't usually do, and writing about it actually helped a lot to deal with those feelings, which in turn had an effect on the writing later on. I suppose in that way the lyrics track that journey, from hopelessness to hope.

7. Your background includes playing in bands with Gruff Rhys and H. Hawkline, among others. How has your experience in these bands influenced your solo work, and what lessons have you carried into your current projects?

I've been lucky to play for some of the musicians I admire most, which is amazing. For a few years – especially when I was starting out – I was very aware of my lack of experience so I'd mostly try to stay in my lane and not fuck up, and I think I got into a bad habit of playing a little conservatively for fear of doing the wrong thing. When I started doing stuff as Bitw, I had no-one else to let down so I started to worry less about what I played, and since then I've sort of loosened up a bit when I play for other people as well.

8. Finally, can you share any future plans, performances, or upcoming projects that fans can look forward to beyond the release of "Rehearse"?

I'll be doing the odd show here and there over the next few months – for all details. Hoping to record another record soon all being well, depending on how everything goes with this one!


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