AMERICAN INTERIOR BY GRUFF RHYS
Being the supremely talented artist he is, Gruff Rhys hasn’t just written a book called American Interior, he has also made a full length album, an app and a movie to accompany this great adventure story.
His multi-media package documents the odysseys of both Gruff and his distant relative, Welsh farmhand John Evans across the American plains, two centuries apart.
In 1792 a 22 year old Evans from Snowdonia travelled to America to find out whether there was, as many thought, a Welsh speaking Native American tribe – the Madogwys – still walking the Great Plains.
In the summer of 2012 a fascinated Gruff set off to retrace the explorer’s route into the American Interior by means of an “Investigative Concert Tour” – a series of solo gigs performed along the way with just an acoustic guitar, PowerPoint presentation and the star of the show, a 3ft high felt avatar of John Evans.
This book neatly interweaves both of their incredible and differing stories and experiences. Evans’ strange-but-true crusade started when he arrived in Baltimore with just $1.75 in his pocket and went on to include wrestling alligators on the Mississippi, defecting to the Spanish, hunting bison, single-handedly appropriating North Dakota from the Canadians as well as making many accurate maps of the rivers and mountains he passed. He was frozen and bitten, suffered jail terms, disease and attempts on his life as he surged onwards in search of the Madogwys.
Gruff completed his journey mostly by truck, carefully following in his adventurous ancestor’s footsteps. He wrote songs towards the American Interior LP as he travelled and played shows at the places where Evans was thought to have stopped by or stayed.
To fully immerse himself in how his journey would have taken shape, Gruff conducted conversations with journalists, academics, psychologists and locals on Evans’ route.
Even then he found it hard to imagine “a life played out on such a monumental continental scale.”
He sets off from Baltimore up to St. Louis and the Mandan Reservation before dropping down the Mississippi basin to New Orleans where legend has it, John Evans died at the young age of 29, penniless and out of his mind either from Malaria or booze. He will no doubt have felt that his trek had been in vain and it is therefore sad that he would not have known the impact that his skilful cartography would have when the legendary Lewis and Clark used his maps to help them discover the Pacific Ocean.
American Interior is a lovely book with pleasing covers, nice photographs and illustrations. The chapters split their escapades into manageable and chronological chunks and the whole thing is just a joy to read. Truly absorbing and utterly remarkable.
For me Gruff has never done anything duff!
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 8/10
Notes on the author – Gruff Rhys
- Welsh singer-songwriter
- Solo artist and singer in Super Furry Animals and Neon Neon
- Find out more about the American Interior package at http://american-interior.com/