Growing up in Carmarthenshire, Welsh-language songstress Gillie (with a soft ‘g’) has taken time to drift onto a path that feels right. Like many attempting to pursue a similar goal, knowing the difficulty in summoning the self-assurance to make a change, at times she felt her words swallowed or stolen along the way. Previously moving to London to study her degree, and now more recently moving to Cardiff, renewing contact with her Welsh heritage, Gillie is all lined-up for the next step. Her Welsh language debut single ‘i ti’ having been released on Libertino Records last October, bolstered in April by the mesmerising ‘Llawn’ – its ingenious music video premiering on CLASH today, its general release tomorrow – we caught up with Gillie to chat about the formative contexts of her latest release, her Welsh language reawakening, the making of her music video, and the intrinsic relationship between self-worth and control.
At first, ‘Llawn’ (meaning ‘full’) seemed to have its foundations rooted in a number of different lyrical themes and ideas, the likes of which stemming from initial conceptions dating back to last summer. “I started thinking deeply about my skin, thinking about the things we can’t see, things that live in wood, things that live in skin. The song was originally called foreign bodies, like the foreign bodies in the cracks of the walls. When I was a kid I had scabies, and that was a horrible experience. Ever since then, I’ve been a bit weirded out by holes and things like that”
Fragments of this initial intention survive to a certain degree on the track, in shared symbolism and perhaps with the line “mae’r cyfan ‘di newid, dwi’n teimlo’n rydd mae cynhesrwydd ar fy nghroen eto” (everything has changed, I feel free there is warmth on my skin again), but generally the theme was discarded, while fresh intention evolved. ‘Llawn’ in fact relates to “uncomfortably listening to people’s words, then having to eat their words and digest the things they’re saying.” For her the key lyric being “bwyta’r geiriau” (eat your words).
Having moved to Cardiff last year with the seeming security of a career path, Gillie was forced to call her aspirations into question following a redundancy.
“It felt like my decisions are not in my hands anymore, and I was quite hesitant to talk about this when I released the song. But I felt like I needed to revel in that a little bit, and find some freedom within that uncertainty”.
The artist sees her writing process now more and more accustomed to using lyrics and melody as the song’s foundation, Llawn following the same suit. In collaboration with her partner Finn (a jazz drummer by trade) the track was built up at first with “a choppy melody in mind. Then, when we went to record it, we tried to push that a little bit further and give it a slightly uncertain feel that then falls into place”, its littered small releases gesturing towards a serene final catharsis.
For Llawn Gillie incorporated a bilingual approach, at first writing the basis in English and then retroactively translating the lyrics to perform in Welsh, no mean feat when trying to succinctly carry across the deeper meaning. Her relationship with the Welsh language not always as close, Gillie supposes she “didn’t really speak a word of Welsh for a good ten years” while studying in Swansea and then moving to London.
“I’ve been re-realising my identity, in a way… it’s important for me to be writing the Welsh. So much of my life, especially musically, has been centred around being Welsh, and being a Welsh musician, and singing Welsh, and playing at Eisteddfod. It’s been really refreshing, and challenging, to explore the more sensitive things that I have to say through the medium of Welsh, and not English.”
Made in collaboration with Welsh media company Lŵp, the music video for Llawn is a perfectly crafted visual depiction of the song’s nuanced sentiments. At first proposed loosely to be based around food, the concept grew to far greater depths of meaning.
“It always feels hard to say eating disorder, but I have struggled with food, I’ve had my issues around it. And I think that, especially writing a song about the uncertain, and control being taken away from you, my mind was immediately like ‘I feel like I need to do this around the dinner table’. It’s such an innate thing that we need to eat, and it’s an animalistic thing. So I just thought exploring the playful side of it in a way as well was quite liberating for me. That discomfort, to me, represents the song a little bit; moving through feelings of discomfort to feelings of being free and liberated.”
Taking cinematic reference from the likes of Wes Anderson, alongside food scenes in Quentin Tarantino films, and inspired in part by the music video of Katy J Pearson’s ‘Alligator’, the video features two Gillies sat facing one another, divided by a grandiose tabletop buffet. The character adorning a pink dress can be seen toying with the character in the white dress, making attempts to gloat and force-feed her. As tension gradually releases, a certain ambiguity takes its place. The staging laden with symbolism, the truth behind the identities of the pair is playfully obscured.
“I think that’s to be decided by whoever wants to decide it. Because I’m not even sure! I think it’s all kind of one in the same.
With anxieties you often do feel like you’ve got two people in your head, or versions of what the situation could be. So I think it’s totally up to the viewer. I feel like I’m both characters a lot of the time, sometimes simultaneously!”
Llawn’s lyrical intention, compositional contexts and deeper meaning, alongside the narrative of its music video, are bound together by the themes of control and self-worth. It is by no coincidence the song is a personal metaphor for Gillie herself, taking a chance on herself as a creative for the first time.
“It’s liberating to take a chance on yourself and say, ‘it’s enough that I’m choosing this option.’ Happiness isn’t always a simple equation of: you do one thing, and then you’re happy. You might still have to battle with a lot of other things. But you might feel a lot better for it.”
Be the first to catch the music video for ‘Llawn’ here:
Words: Kieran Macdonald-Brown
Photography: Finlay O’Hara