Fergal Kinney on Rhys Evan
By Fergal Kinney (NME ,The Guardian)
New Artists Debut Recordings
Rural isolation, small town boredom, coming of age, dreams of escape and one teenager’s virtuoso talent to convey all of those. Hailstones is the debut single by 17 year old Rhys Evan, and almost entirely recorded by this single talent at.
“Story-wise” explains Rhys, “Hailstones probably spans about six months of my life. It just explores being in a small town, going through relationships that start to make you work out who you are, and that sort of thing. Those were really formative times for me and that song is looking back at that.”
Hailstones is a coming of age story, gorgeously rendered by arpeggiated finger-picked guitar and a kaleidoscopic portrait of a young man’s life changing. If first impressions are pastoral, then quite quickly Rhys’ deep reservoir of pop instincts come to the fore.
Rhys is best described as an old head on young shoulders; his songwriting displaying a stark maturity and sensitivity allowing him to perceive growing up with an almost painful level of understanding. ““I always felt very claustrophobic in my town” says Rhys, “I think it translates in my writing that I’ve felt uncomfortable there.” Rhys was brought up in Llanidloes near Rhayader in mid-Wales. The area has a history of contemplation and reflection and was indelibly shaped by 14th century monks, and it’s no mystery that much of their stoic reflection and mindful contemplation has fed its way into Rhys’ music, and how he perceives the world.
Rural mediocrity and small town boredom, given greater understanding and exposure by programmes like BBC’s This Country. “School fell into two camps” explains Rhys, “here was the tough boys who were into football, and then the rebels who were against that, I wasn’t quite enough for either. I had a really rough time, but ended up spending all my time in the school music room just writing songs.”
Don’t underestimate Rhys’ pop instincts, however. Arcade Running, scheduled for release later in 2021, and is anthemic, widescreen and cinematic – stadium instincts from a boy with parameters no wider than his hometown. Rhys is also a virtuoso musician; writing and performing every single element of his music. “I hear everything in my head” he explains, “and it’s up to my technical ability to realise it.” As soon as Rhys was in the studio – a local studio in mid Wales which has hosted Rudimental, Dermot Kennedy, Cleo Sol and Sampa The Great amongst others – he was quickly able to grasp how to use the studio as an instrument.
So where does this come from? Rhys’ earliest memories are his dad writing nonsense song for him on the edge of his bed. “As soon as I was old enough” he remembers, “I was trying to imitate this.” Rhys had been writing songs in his own small way as long as he could remember, but reading about Declan McKenna aged 13 changed everything. "He mentioned in an interview that he’d started writing songs when he was thirteen, so I realised that I could do that.” That weekend, Rhys sat down with a blank page and just wrote. He’s never stopped.
Lately, Rhys has been thinking about mainstream pop like 1975 or the Killers, ”where there’s themes of anxiety, or the internet” - his greatest ambition is to write “seriously about the modern world”, and his smartphone. Already, Rhys is writing highly perceptive and surprising material. Take I Will Always Be Your Friend, with an authentic R&B groove and electronic influence, which Rhys describes as “a really primary statement” on friendship. “I wrote it for my friend” he explains, “I find often I write stuff and won’t quite know what it means until later on, when I start to work out that I was expressing something I hadn’t quite registered. When something had affected me, but I hadn’t worked out how, I’d start writing more and more.”
As for lockdown life, Rhys is taking it one day at a time and just looking forward to when he can perform his music properly. “Life is slower, and lockdown has pushed everything to a grinding halt” he explains “but I’m writing massively, things are coming out faster than ever.”
Fergal Kinney (NME, The Guardian)