A few weeks ago we caught up with city dweller Ani Glass, the persona of Cardiff-based electronic pop musician, artist and photographer, Ani Saunders. Ani welcomed us at her home in Grangetown where – after showing us her vinyl record collection and performing a song from her first EP, Ffrwydrad Tawel (Silent Explosion) – she opened up about her journey into music and her reconnection with Welsh language, which has grown over the years to become the language of everyday conversation, of blogs and music.
Singing in her native Welsh, Ani’s vibrant, ethereal and socially conscious synth-pop music is both an expression of her soulful creative journey and a testament to the fact that Cardiff’s music scene is booming and constantly evolving.
Later on, we stopped for some refreshing and delicate Chinese tea at Boundary Art and went for a stroll around Cardiff Bay, where Ani reminisced about her American trip and the Twin Peaks waterfalls and shared with us her ambition to complete the work on her first LP.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I have a terrible memory but one incident I do remember in particular is “diving” from the third board of the Empire Pool in Cardiff (I think that’s around 10m in height) at the age of seven. The reason I remember is because I more or less belly flopped into the water and ended up with a huge bruise running down one side of my body. I didn’t try that again!
Tell us about your family. Are they artistic? How do they relate to what you are doing?
My Father is a Cornish poet and my Mother is an illustrator and singer and so language, art and music was pretty central to our upbringing. We would quite often hear songs and stories from around the world and eat all sorts of different foods. This was all due to the fact that my parents were linguists and that their commitment to learning languages reached well beyond the words. I think the question of identity comes up here – I see art as a way of projecting and reflecting, of questioning and realisation. Therefore, trying to “find yourself” within different cultures is an interesting concept and I suppose is something I’ve inherited from my parents. I think this is an aspect of my work they can both strongly relate to.
When did you first consider pursuing a career in Fashion?
Quite honestly, the main driving factor was my ambition to study in Liverpool (and this was, predictably, as a result of my love for the Beatles) and the fashion course seemed quite interesting – or, if I’m truthful, the fact they had a fashion course was good enough for me! It sounds terribly irresponsible, doesn’t it? Although I had an interest in fashion, I wasn’t particularly driven by it at the time. During my art foundation course, I enjoyed experimenting with all sorts of art forms, I was particularly interested in illustration, which I still do, but somehow fashion won on the day. However, the upside of this was that I well and truly had the most fantastic time in Liverpool, I met some of my best friends there and have had a lot of opportunities as a result of studying fashion so I wouldn’t change a thing.
Where does your passion for languages and etymology come from?
I think growing up speaking minority languages (Welsh and Cornish) within a dominant culture gives you a different perspective of language, culture and communication. Of course, a language is more than words; you can learn a lot about a place by looking at its language. I like to learn about the history and development of words – specifically place names. I find this very fascinating. I did a lot of this when studying for my Grade 4 Cornish exam.
Who or what nurtured your passion for music? What about art and photography?
There would always be music playing in the house; mainly traditional or folk music from all over the world. My Mother sings in a socialist street choir and my Uncle was a cathedral organist and choir leader and so the variety of music I heard growing up was quite influential. In complete contrast to this I would always want to listen to pop music with my friends. Music wasn’t something I pursued, I fell into it quite late at 19 when I joined a pop group whilst at university in Liverpool. Art has always been a passion of mine from a very early age, I love drawing and still do – I find it very therapeutic. I see photography as a quick and efficient way of documenting. I was mainly inspired to pick up a camera to document the changing landscape of Cardiff and so my passion for photography developed from there.
You were an Irish dancer for 15 years. Tell us a little about this experience and how did it influence your venture into music and art.
I danced from the age of four until I was nineteen. I would call it a “character building” experience. Most of those who did Irish dancing at the time were Irish Catholics and I was neither. What I liked in particular was having an insight into and becoming a part of another culture – it was a lot more than just the dancing. My experience of music from an early age was always connected to either dancing (as mentioned above) or campaigning – my Mother was and still is a member of socialist street choir Côr Cochion Caerdydd. I think that combination of dance and singing for a cause has stayed with me in my music.
From the perspective of an artist and photographer, you have the ability to create your own visuals. Are there any particular influences that inform your style?
I have my favourite artists which I’ll always reference (people like Nam June Paik, Rodchenko and Richard Hamilton etc.) but I find Instagram to be a fantastic way to find inspiration. From artists and photographers to fashion houses – there are so many creative people out there with fascinating ideas.
You lived and worked in Liverpool, London and Brighton before returning to Cardiff. What made you come back?
The truth – an amounting debt and a broken heart! I had planned to return to London shortly after leaving but it never really panned out and it’s most certainly something I wouldn’t consider doing now. Although, I do REALLY want to have had the experience of living in New York and Paris. I am constantly plotting ways of making this happen!
In your opinion, what are the most pressing social issues that Wales is currently facing?
Where to start! Most of our social issues, especially around the post-industrial areas of Wales, are historical ones that have been allowed to grow, fester and ingrain themselves within communities creating and generating inequality. Successive Westminster Governments have failed to address the basic structural problems in areas where industries have collapsed fuelling feelings of isolation and desolation. This has contributed to the growing narrative of “them and us”, those who have access to financial and social support and those with very little or none. It appears to the many that those in power are out of touch with the people, the austerity they are imposing is cruel, unrealistic and barbaric. If they can impose such changes then they must not understand, or if they do understand they must be cruel – either way instigating dramatic political change as a result of this narrative has become commonplace, dangerous and potentially disastrous in the case of Brexit. So in my opinion, one issue that would be right up there would be disenfranchisement.
What is your advice to someone who feels stuck in a rut? Do you have a recipe for escapism?
It’s something I’m not very good at but I would say try to relax. Take a break, watch TV, go to the cinema (but perhaps not to the pub if you can help it), go to the museum etc. I have a stupid tendency to feel guilty when I try to relax or take time out – this is of course nonsense! However, if you’re anything like me, you can always find ways to be productive whilst relaxing. Perhaps instead of watching a film, try watching a documentary in a subject you’re interested in. If all else fails, watch Curb Your Enthusiasm and forget about the outside world. Larry David will always make you feel better about yourself.
Is there a genre of music that you prefer? What are some of your favourite bands?
I would probably say electronic music – mainly due to its mechanical and industrial sonic capabilities which resonates with me as a city dweller. Having said that, I am mainly driven by melodies and so in that sense, genre isn’t of particular concern to me. My list of favourite bands/musicians/composers is in constant flux however at present, some of my favourites include Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre, Human League, Grimes, Paul McCartney, Datblygu, Frank Ocean, Burial, Girls Aloud, Britney and Solange.
If we were to press play on your music player now, what and who would we listen to?
A wonderful Welsh folk song called Beth yw’r Haf i Mi? by Meredydd Evans.
What are your top 3 favourite national anthems?
I like this question a lot. Although I’m not familiar with very many, my first would obviously be Cymru, then South Africa and Ireland. I do also like the Italian and French National anthems so perhaps they could be tied fourth?
How does your background in fashion influence your personal style?
I learnt a lot about quality of fabrics and craftsmanship during my degree and so that plays a strong part in how and where I buy my clothes. I tend to avoid the high street to an extent (unless there’s a cracking sale!) as, strangely enough for a fashion graduate, I’m not particularly interested in trends. Also, as the clothes are mass-produced there is generally less emphasis placed on quality of fabrics and finishes. As a result, I shop a lot in charity shops – the ones in Roath are fantastic!
What does a regular week day look like for you?
I’ve just started studying Urban and Regional Development MSc full-time at Cardiff University and it quite literally the best decision I have ever made. I absolutely love it! Therefore, a lot of my time is now spent reading (very slowly!) in the library and remembering how to learn again. I’ll then spend my evenings working on my music.
What are some of your favourite places in Cardiff and why?
I spend a lot of time in the city centre, mainly drinking coffee, so I should probably mention a coffee shop or two. I go to The Little Man Café on Bridge Street a fair amount, it has a wonderful atmosphere and very often holds photography and art exhibitions. There’s also a new coffee shop on the High Street called Corner Coffee which I like very much. I like the area around the Hayes, we used to have lunch at Hayes Island Bar every Saturday when I was much younger. I’m also obsessed with the architecture of St David’s Hall – I’m a sucker for brutalist buildings. If I’m out for a drink in the evening I rarely stray too far from Womanby Street – it’s where I feel most comfortable.
Who do you dream to collaborate with?
There are so many people but I think it would have to be Björk. I love her overall approach to making art, it feels very instinctive and pure. It would be very interesting to see her creative process.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on my first LP which I’ll be producing myself – something I haven’t done before. I’m really excited about the prospect of completing a fully-formed, cohesive and focused piece of work. It’s taken me this long to get to the point where I think I could tackle it… better late than never!
Can you recommend us:
A song: Do Your Best, by John Maus.
A book: The Long Revolution, by Raymond Williams.
A film: The Grand Budapest Hotel, by Wes Anderson.