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American Interior: The quixotic journey of John Evans, his search for a lost tribe and how, fuelled by fantasy and (possibly) booze, he accidentally annexed a third of North America

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American Interior is a psychedelic historical travelogue from Welsh pop legend Gruff Rhys. In 1792, John Evans, a twenty-two-year-old farmhand from Snowdonia, Wales, travelled to America to discover whether there was indeed, as widely believed, a tribe of Welsh-speaking native Americans still walking the great plains. In 2012, Gruff Rhys set out on American Interior is a psychedelic historical travelogue from Welsh pop legend Gruff Rhys. In 1792, John Evans, a twenty-two-year-old farmhand from Snowdonia, Wales, travelled to America to discover whether there was indeed, as widely believed, a tribe of Welsh-speaking native Americans still walking the great plains. In 2012, Gruff Rhys set out on an 'investigative concert tour' in the footsteps of John Evans, with concerts in New Orleans, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St Louis, North Dakota and more. American Interior is the story of these journeys. It is also an exploration of how wild fantasies interact with hard history and how myth-making can inspire humans to partake in crazy, vain pursuits of glory, including exploration, war and the creative arts. Gruff Rhys is known around the world for his work as a solo artist as well as singer and songwriter with Super Furry Animals and Neon Neon, and for his collaborations with Gorillaz, Dangermouse, Sparklehorse, Mogwai and Simian Mobile Disco amongst others. The latest album by Neon Neon, Praxis Makes Perfect, based on the life of radical Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, was recently performed as an immersive live concert with National Theatre Wales.


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American Interior is a psychedelic historical travelogue from Welsh pop legend Gruff Rhys. In 1792, John Evans, a twenty-two-year-old farmhand from Snowdonia, Wales, travelled to America to discover whether there was indeed, as widely believed, a tribe of Welsh-speaking native Americans still walking the great plains. In 2012, Gruff Rhys set out on American Interior is a psychedelic historical travelogue from Welsh pop legend Gruff Rhys. In 1792, John Evans, a twenty-two-year-old farmhand from Snowdonia, Wales, travelled to America to discover whether there was indeed, as widely believed, a tribe of Welsh-speaking native Americans still walking the great plains. In 2012, Gruff Rhys set out on an 'investigative concert tour' in the footsteps of John Evans, with concerts in New Orleans, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St Louis, North Dakota and more. American Interior is the story of these journeys. It is also an exploration of how wild fantasies interact with hard history and how myth-making can inspire humans to partake in crazy, vain pursuits of glory, including exploration, war and the creative arts. Gruff Rhys is known around the world for his work as a solo artist as well as singer and songwriter with Super Furry Animals and Neon Neon, and for his collaborations with Gorillaz, Dangermouse, Sparklehorse, Mogwai and Simian Mobile Disco amongst others. The latest album by Neon Neon, Praxis Makes Perfect, based on the life of radical Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, was recently performed as an immersive live concert with National Theatre Wales.

30 review for American Interior: The quixotic journey of John Evans, his search for a lost tribe and how, fuelled by fantasy and (possibly) booze, he accidentally annexed a third of North America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Quinn Daley

    I've been a fan of Gruff Rhys as a musician for decades, but who knew he'd be such an amazing biographer as well. The story of John Evans is one lost to history, like all the heroes of the long-dead Spanish colony in Louisiana. By following his trail all the way from Wales to his untimely death, Gruff Rhys opens up the whole history of the North American continent in the late 18th century, with special reference to how Welsh people were involved on all sides (hint: a lot) and attempting to tell t I've been a fan of Gruff Rhys as a musician for decades, but who knew he'd be such an amazing biographer as well. The story of John Evans is one lost to history, like all the heroes of the long-dead Spanish colony in Louisiana. By following his trail all the way from Wales to his untimely death, Gruff Rhys opens up the whole history of the North American continent in the late 18th century, with special reference to how Welsh people were involved on all sides (hint: a lot) and attempting to tell the human side of the stories of the Nations who were there before any of the European powers. He tells this story by reference to his own gig tour following the same route, so we get to see all the comparisons between the political landscapes of the American interior now and back then. He spends a lot of time interviewing historians from both the white (British, American, French, Spanish) colonies and from what remains of the original Nations. What's really nice about this is how humble Gruff Rhys is the whole time. You expect musicians to be knobs, but Gruff understands his privileged status as a modern Welsh person by comparison with the Welsh of that day and all white people's privileged status with respect to the people their masters were (and still are) stealing land from. And even John Evans doesn't come out as all hero - he was certainly revolutionary but Gruff tells the story as honestly as he can, from everyone's perspective, without leaving out the unsavoury details. I'm rating a lot of books "5 stars" right now, but I think that's because I'm picking well!!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Taylor

    I live in a place where the only cult that is second to Thomas Jefferson is the Lewis and Clark devotees. This book follows on the heels of many musicians turned literators, but it has the quality of Dylan and Smith, but it actually far surpasses the Sebaldian intentions of David Byrne. Certainly, Gruff Rhys from my cherished Super Furry Animals is far from a household name, even in the world of indie rock. But he uses his relative anonymity to channel the figure of the wandering bard as he retr I live in a place where the only cult that is second to Thomas Jefferson is the Lewis and Clark devotees. This book follows on the heels of many musicians turned literators, but it has the quality of Dylan and Smith, but it actually far surpasses the Sebaldian intentions of David Byrne. Certainly, Gruff Rhys from my cherished Super Furry Animals is far from a household name, even in the world of indie rock. But he uses his relative anonymity to channel the figure of the wandering bard as he retraces the improbable story of early settlement in the contested, yet vast, open territories of what will become the middlewest of the U.S. He delineates the significant and invisible contribution of the Welsh (from early colonial society to Bob Evans), lays waste to many misconceptions about the romance of early travel on the rivers, and still what I find absorbing about the book is his reaction to the vast unexamined belly of this country. I won't belabor how much we expect recent travelers to explain us to ourselves. The sections on fracking and North Dakota were not over done, the motif of finding vegetarian options seemed emblematic of a culture clash within the country, and even the historical sections always had a graceful thread that linked Evans to his homeland and his quixotic journey. And the album is pretty good too!

  3. 4 out of 5

    J.T. Wilson

    Gruff Rhys' work with Super Furry Animals was my favourite music in the late 1990s and, though they never reached the stratospheric heights of their countrymen Manic Street Preachers, you might imagine some laurels being rested on as the band members pass 40. Not so with Rhys who, rather than dictating his memoirs to a ghostly hack, instead chronicles the adventures of misinformed Frontier explorer John Evans and his quest for the mythical Welsh Indians the Madogwys while carting a Dave Gorman-e Gruff Rhys' work with Super Furry Animals was my favourite music in the late 1990s and, though they never reached the stratospheric heights of their countrymen Manic Street Preachers, you might imagine some laurels being rested on as the band members pass 40. Not so with Rhys who, rather than dictating his memoirs to a ghostly hack, instead chronicles the adventures of misinformed Frontier explorer John Evans and his quest for the mythical Welsh Indians the Madogwys while carting a Dave Gorman-esque Powerpoint presentation and an Evans puppet around the States in a journey following Evans' own. Although his biography skirts the surreal at points - an implausible escape from some rednecks, an attempt to meet the devil at Robert Johnson's crossroads being hampered by the unsentimental local council having added a set of traffic lights - he's a confident and thoughtful author. The implicit parallel between Evans' doomed journey and Rhys' sponsored jolly seems a bit of a stretch, but more convincing, perhaps, is the similiarity between the First Nation Americans and the Welsh: both groups oppressed by colonial powers, defiantly clinging onto their language and identity in spite of dwindling numbers. Ry'n ni yma o hyd er gwaetha pawb a popeth.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Gransden

    Engrossing voyage through the US with great considerations of eras and how they reflect and inform across time. I was swept up in the quest for the remarkable John Evans undertaken by Gruff and his chosen companion; the avatar John, who had been made with felt and a full measure of good faith. The stage is already set: the US a multitude of landscapes, each so familiar, and here, as is so often the case, these landscapes seep into the psychologies and souls of those who encounter them. It is compe Engrossing voyage through the US with great considerations of eras and how they reflect and inform across time. I was swept up in the quest for the remarkable John Evans undertaken by Gruff and his chosen companion; the avatar John, who had been made with felt and a full measure of good faith. The stage is already set: the US a multitude of landscapes, each so familiar, and here, as is so often the case, these landscapes seep into the psychologies and souls of those who encounter them. It is compelling to hear the story of John Evans told through the filter of Gruff's very personal exploration. He underlines with quiet passion the sadness of the death of any language: that it is not only the words, inflections and tonalities which leave but the ability to understand a people, their culture and spirit. It was fun to travel along with Gruff and his mess of curiosities, true sense of purpose and open-heartedness. I was left eager to discover more about John but fear I am thwarted by those mists that time throws at us so I will listen to the songs he and this escapade has inspired in Gruff and that will have to be enough.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Excellent. As good as the album. Now to watch the film.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andy Trappitt

    Gruff Rhys is God.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Terry Clague

    "In a musical age where the touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces, and where cities have been renamed markets and entire countries downgraded to territories, the trajectory of the artist has been blown somewhat off course." So surmises the genius songwriter and performer Gruff Rhys, better known by many for his leading role in the best band of the last twenty-five years - The Super Furry Animals. Rhys' innovative response to the new realities of platform capitalism has been "In a musical age where the touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces, and where cities have been renamed markets and entire countries downgraded to territories, the trajectory of the artist has been blown somewhat off course." So surmises the genius songwriter and performer Gruff Rhys, better known by many for his leading role in the best band of the last twenty-five years - The Super Furry Animals. Rhys' innovative response to the new realities of platform capitalism has been two splendid albums released alongside companion documentary/travelogue movies. This inspired approach sees our hero diverting American tours around a shaggy dog interpretation of the BBC vehicle "Who Do You Think You Are". These "purposeful touring itineraries" bring out an element of mythical Welsh history that was fascinating. American Interior is the story of Gruff Rhys retracing the steps of one John Evans who, in the late eighteenth century set out to discover whether there really was a Welsh-speaking Native American tribe. As Rhys notes, "why let the prosaic get in the way of some quality misinformation". It's a little long in sum, and if you want a shortcut, watch the film, listen to the album(ideally on a loop during a driving holiday) or even its key track - 100 Unread Messages: You set foot in America, one fine October day Sailing into Baltimore, well everything's OK New buttons on your jacket, shining like they're brand-new dimes Glistening in the sunlight, blistering my eyes When you said that you love me, I knew it wasn't true I've one hundred unread messages, but not a single note from you You zoomed up to Philly, they'd taught you to make maps They commissioned you in piety, and pitied any lapse So you stormed into Pittsburgh, and waited for the waters to rise And set sail down the Ohio, with a lost tribe on your mind When you said that you love me, I knew it wasn't true I've two hundred unread messages, but not a single note from you As hurricane Charlie was gathering pace At night instead of eyelids, I saw pictures of your face Smiling in the moonlight, shining in a golden hour Bluffing 'round America, seizing every hour When you said that you love me, I knew it wasn't true I've three hundred unread messages, but not a single note from you You left olde Kentucky, and sailed to the west Stopped in Cincinnati, dined with all the best (You) reached the Mississippi, took an oath in New Madrid Fell into a maiden's arms, malaria on your lips When you said that you love me, I knew it wasn't true I've four hundred unread messages, but not a single note from you Up to St Louis, Kaskaskia on the way Walking through the wilderness, sicker by the day Imaginary volcanoes, and reptiles crawl around Your mind was baked just like a cake, as trouble gathered round When you said that you love me, I knew it wasn't true I've five hundred unread messages, but not a single note from you Defected to the Spanish, you joined the mighty crown Up the Missouri, flags were coming down You traded with the Omaha, the Ponca and the Sioux But missed the lost Padoucas, after all the ballyhoo When you said that you love me, I knew it wasn't true I've six hundred unread messages, but not a single note from you Up with the Mandan, you raised the Spanish flag Survived assassination, worked upon your maps But the lost tribe was a lost cause, so you cried a silent tear And fled back to St Louis, to a familiar frontier When you said that you love me, I knew it wasn't true I've seven hundred unread messages, but not a single note from you Down in New Orleans, the church bells did trill The body of Don Juan Evans, is staying mighty still You annexed North Dakota, you surveyed by the stars But here lies your body, by these disease-ridden bars When you said that you love me, I knew it wasn't true I've eight hundred unread messages, but not a single note from you -- seven hundred unread messages -- -- six hundred unread messages -- -- five hundred unread messages -- -- four hundred unread messages -- -- three hundred unread messages -- -- two hundred unread messages -- -- one hundred unread messages --

  8. 5 out of 5

    Travis

    This book exceeded my expectations. Rhys does an incredible job weaving tales of his investigative concert tour together with the journey of John Evans. The book really brings Evans to life and adds great speculation on motives during a fantastic adventure. Well written!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    John Evans left Wales in 1792 with barely a pound in his pocket to try and trace the adventures of mythical Welshman Madog, who was purported to have founded a tribe of Welsh speaking Native Americans. In doing so Evans managed to explore and map the Missouri river, hunt buffalo with the Omaha tribe and claim lands from the British for the Spanish crown. Musician Gruff Rhys retraces the steps of his distant relative, playing music along the way. Slightly rambling, but always gentle and genuine G John Evans left Wales in 1792 with barely a pound in his pocket to try and trace the adventures of mythical Welshman Madog, who was purported to have founded a tribe of Welsh speaking Native Americans. In doing so Evans managed to explore and map the Missouri river, hunt buffalo with the Omaha tribe and claim lands from the British for the Spanish crown. Musician Gruff Rhys retraces the steps of his distant relative, playing music along the way. Slightly rambling, but always gentle and genuine Gruff Rhys you feel manages, like his ancestor, to talk his way into interesting company. The dying languages of the American plains obviously chime with our modern day Welshman.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence McKay

    I can't imagine this story being told any better, or more personally. The last 80 or so pages especially race by - with a moving conclusion after the bottom seems to fall out in New Orleans. A great book with some compelling things to say on the power of myth - both in its impact on history and on the human psyche. I can't imagine this story being told any better, or more personally. The last 80 or so pages especially race by - with a moving conclusion after the bottom seems to fall out in New Orleans. A great book with some compelling things to say on the power of myth - both in its impact on history and on the human psyche.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    interesting reading if you like welsh psychedelia, road trips, early exploration of the USA or quixotic ventures, which I do. Read it in Gruff Rhys' accent and intonation. Have seen the presentation, the gig, the radio interview, got the album and now read the book. not yet seen the film or bought the T-shirt...but will do! interesting reading if you like welsh psychedelia, road trips, early exploration of the USA or quixotic ventures, which I do. Read it in Gruff Rhys' accent and intonation. Have seen the presentation, the gig, the radio interview, got the album and now read the book. not yet seen the film or bought the T-shirt...but will do!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gareth Axford

    informative and entertaining, particularly if read in the voice of Gruff Rhys himself. The story of john evans is amazing, and I learnt a lot about North America at the end of the 18th century that I had no idea about before. Well worth a read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steven Pilling

    how to write a music travel history book the right way. this is perfect it's interesting it's wide ranging and has a sense of the writer running through it. I could imagine some people hating it but that I think says more about them than the book. so good so beautiful and so honest and personal how to write a music travel history book the right way. this is perfect it's interesting it's wide ranging and has a sense of the writer running through it. I could imagine some people hating it but that I think says more about them than the book. so good so beautiful and so honest and personal

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    This is a fun, wacky adventure through the American heartland. Gruff Rhys visits some places, like North Dakota, that this American has never seen. Interesting look at early American history, and at mythmaking on both sides of the Atlantic.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mary Ellen

    Felt thin in several places, indeed it only really picks up at the end. Apparently it's also an album, film and app - I wish Rhys had stuck to quality over quantity. Felt thin in several places, indeed it only really picks up at the end. Apparently it's also an album, film and app - I wish Rhys had stuck to quality over quantity.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rich Taylor

    The story of John Evans is fascinating. The story of Gruff Rhys re-tracing his journey is not. The latter detracts from the former, shame.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Toby Deans

    The New Orleans section I enjoyed in particular as things reach a surprisingly touching conclusion. What I liked most is Gruff Rhys impressive style, it's as distinctive and individual as his music. The New Orleans section I enjoyed in particular as things reach a surprisingly touching conclusion. What I liked most is Gruff Rhys impressive style, it's as distinctive and individual as his music.

  18. 4 out of 5

    NiaDwynwen Thomas

    Oh, what fun! A romp from 18th century Wales to the no-mans-land of middle America with Gruff Rhys and his felt puppet. As is always true: Gruff is dreamy and history is interesting.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Morag

  20. 4 out of 5

    Niklas Pivic

  21. 5 out of 5

    Clark Summers

  22. 5 out of 5

    John Sheehy

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ian Harries

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karen Morgan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kira Williams

  26. 4 out of 5

    Andy Ryan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Fabré

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stephen J

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