Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18
Carwyn Ellis is an extraordinary musician and one of the busiest you’re ever likely to meet. He not only finds time to play with his original band Colorama he has also managed to fit in recordings with Bendith, Edwyn Collins and tour the world with The Pretenders. At Chrissie Hynde’s suggestion he has recorded an album with legendary Producer Kassin in Rio de Janeiro. The album “Joia” they recorded together has been gathering high critical praise and is released on Friday 28th June. It’s a joy and certainly one of the finest Welsh albums released so far this year. We met up with Carwyn to find out more about the background to this wonderful recording.
You’ve played with The Pretenders over the past few years. How did that gig come about and what is it like stepping in and playing with a band of that stature?
It’s been an absolute delight! I got the gig courtesy of my dear old friend James Walbourne who plays guitar in the band (and has his own excellent group, The Rails). They’ve been a joy to play with – a fully fledged rock n roll band with everything already in place. I just had to slot in, and they made it very easy. And those songs! I’ve enjoyed every minute.
You have a long standing partnership with Edwyn Collins. How did the 2 of you meet and what is he like to work with in the studio and as a live act?
I met Edwyn way back in 2004 via our mutual friend, Andy Hackett, who’s played with Edwyn even longer than I have! Edwyn was putting a band together for some shows and was looking for a multi-instrumentalist to fill in the gaps, which is where I came in. We only did a couple of shows then – I spent more time in the studio with Edwyn at that point. He was the first established artist to give me total freedom in the studio to help arrange his tunes. I’ve always loved recording with Edwyn – he has a pure love of recording and making new music which I share. it’s always fun with Edwyn, on the studio and on the road. He always manages to surround himself with good people who know how to have a laugh.
You are something of a musical polymath and one of your many activities is a weekly show on Soho Radio. We’re guessing you have a rather large record collection. With so much choice how do you go about choosing which tracks to play each week?
I restrict myself to a theme. Every week, I pick a word, and every song in that show has to contain that word. Otherwise it’d be a pretty random show. It helps to have a story or a theme.
Your first band Colorama is an ongoing entity. What factors help you determine when the music you write and want to record seems right for Colorama rather than a solo recording or other musicians?
I still haven’t quite worked that one out! I just seem to know. I get musically restless pretty quickly so I tend to want to change what I’m doing every few albums. Or quicker…
The new album “Joia!” was recorded in Rio de Janeiro and Carmarthen and is the first Welsh language album recorded in Brazil. You worked with well-known Brazilian producer Kassin who has worked with the likes of Bebel Gilberto. Why him and what was he like to work with?
Chrissie Hynde introduced me to Kassin and his music, and I knew from the first tune I heard of his that I’d love to work with him. He is a musical polymath too, and is very empathetic. These things make him a great producer and fun to work with. He has a big record collection and great knowledge of all musics so we’re able to nerd out pretty comfortably together. Learning together is such an important aspect of musical relationships. Kassin is an absolute pleasure to work with.
(Producer extraordinary Kassin)
The musicians on the album are incredible. How did you work out the arrangements with them? Did you spend time with them building/rehearsing the songs?
No, not really! They’re incredible musicians. I would play them a song, we would run it through once or twice, then we’d record it. It was a phenomenally uncomplicated process! Spontaneity and momentum are really important in the studios and we had these in abundance. Domenico Lancelotti played drums, Andre Siqueira played percussion and Kassin played bass. And Manoel Cordeiro guested on guitar on the opening track, ‘Unman’. These guys are MASTERS.
The album works really well and is surprising varied. There must have been a risk of falling into the trap of trying to impersonate the likes of Sergio Mendes. How did you manage to avoid that?
It was never my intention to make a ‘pure’ Brazilian record – it would be a hack job which wouldn’t hold in Welsh. At least I didn’t think it would. I wanted to throw a load of my favourite latin American musics into a blender and collaborate with some great creative musicians and see what happened. I was confident from the get go that it would be, at the very least, an interesting record, and unusual. That’s half the battle!
You recorded in Rio, London & Caernarfon. Which parts were recorded where and how did you manage to bring it all together at the end?
Everything just kind of fell into place out of necessity! I ran out of time in Rio – we were recording right up until the taxi came to take me to the airport. We recorded the basic accompaniments in Rio for most of the tracks, then I overdubbed some of the extra guitars and keyboards and harmonies in Caernarfon. I re-did a couple of songs with Shawn Lee in London because new arrangements became apparent to me as I was going along. The songs were so new that I hadn’t completely figured them out when we recorded in Rio. Most of them worked, but not all of them. It’s just turned out the way it has because of the beautiful people and places involved.
The album has already had some very positive reaction including 4 stars in Mojo. How do you plan to promote the album?
The old fashioned way – by going out and doing some shows!
How do you plan to re-create the music live? Will you be playing with the musicians who play on the album? What can we expect form the live shows?
I think circumstances will dictate who plays in the band – I see it as an evolving / revolving line-up. I’m hoping some of the guys can come over from Rio to play, and through this album I’ve met some other fantastic musicians in Europe and tapped into the Brazilian scene in London so I’m really excited to see who’ll actually be coming out on the road to play with Rio 18! What I do know is that it’s going to be a colourful, joyous musical experience.