-Firstly, are you a migrant?
When you first asked me to do this I debated with myself: would I deem myself a migrant? ‘Cause I don’t want to seem like I’m demeaning anyone else’s journey.
-That’s precisely why we asked you to do it. But how much does it differ from where you came from?
A place is culturally different if it has a different language, but also just the way people behave in South Wales, maybe they’re a bit more unhinged or a bit mad. It’s a really difficult thing to pinpoint but they’re less uptight: freer or something.
-What do you miss about Wales?
I miss hearing Welsh voices, ’cause there’s a certain cadence and there’s a certain rhythm. Even in Wales, the variance in accent changes an insane amount—you go 40 miles and someone sounds completely different. But I came here and I’m, like, the only Welsh person.
-What brought you here to London?
The reason I’ve been pulled back to London is in the hope that I can make the bigger films that I wanna make about Wales, which seems like an odd thing to have to do—to leave the place where you wanna be and tell your stories about, and go somewhere else because you think, hopefully, you’ll be able to bring a bigger audience to it. At the same time, the stuff I make, I want it to be similarly for Welsh people and not for them.
There’s an apathy outside of Wales—I don’t think it’s something that’s inherently actively aggressive—it’s just that people don’t care and have no interest. And within Wales, there’s an idea of a certain kind of existence of Welshness and a romanticism of that Welshness and there are gatekeepers who curate that identity.
-And what is Welshness?
I don’t think Welshness is a definable thing. One thing I’ve always done with my work around Welshness is to try and fight the idea of it being a single, definable thing—it’s many, many, many things and those are the things I try and tell in my stories—those differences.
I think it’s a damaging, fucked idea—and there is that idea in Wales—if you can speak Welsh, you’re more Welsh, which is bullshit and, when you create that, you create a situation where more people are outside of it than are in it.
-Why did you decide to make a film about Dave Datblygu?
The main reason I liked Datblygu at first was nothing to do with the lyrics or being in Welsh; I just thought they sounded like a really interesting and wild band—and then I was like, “Oh shit, they’re dealing with really interesting ideas.”
But he is the most acutely aware critic. They’re just these ideas that people have of what Welshness is and what they hope it is. And it’s a romantic idea. It’s things like the Eisteddfod—a Welsh-culture thing that they hold every year, where they have, like, poetry and stuff like this—and it’s lame as fuck. It’s all about people doing these really lame competitions and stuff—nothing I’ve felt close to or anything like that, but it’s what people hang their Welsh-language culture to.
There’s something inherently wrong in seeing a man, who can see clearer than anyone else, being so far from the public consciousness, when I would say he is Welshness, or he is a Welshness and an understanding of Welshness.
-How important is sound in both your work and your experience of living in a foreign country?
Sound is always a massive thing whenever I do anything. Sound, to me, is more important within film than visuals and it’s also the last part of the production process—it almost feels like you’re gluing it together.
-Are you an artist?
Everything I try and do I’ve realised is around storytelling. I don’t think of myself as an artist. I’m not an artist, I’m a filmmaker or a storyteller. And everything that I’ve ever done—I used to play in loads of bands, I then started writing comics and putting out comics, I became a journalist, I then started making documentaries, and then it’s led to fiction films—I was always trying to tell these stories. I think there’s something in being comfortable with finding out that the things that you’re interested in are inherently interesting like Welsh people, Welsh communities, South Wales: everything that had been around me my entire life that I left when I was eighteen.
To me, these are the most interesting people and, I dunno, the stories that I was seeing about people from where I’m from were always so insincere; they were always so inaccurate; they were not people I recognised. Someone’s not being honest here; someone’s not showing people in an honest way, and mainly just not the funny, interesting, sophisticated weirdoes that I wanted to see.
And that’s what all my work is around and it’s really simple—’cause even my fiction work is based on real people—it’s just looking to find these real people that are around you and you want to tell stories about. I mean, maybe I’m a simplistic man, but that’s, kind of, at the heart of everything I do.
-What is home for you?
I think there’s two different kinds of home ’cause, deep down, I know that I will always end up back in Wales. I just love being around Welsh people—I think they’re funny; I think they’re… I just think my Welsh friends are the funniest people I know, and I think the stories—everything that happens there gives me such joy.
There’s a thing with Wales—people talk about its language and its beauty—which I couldn’t give a shit about: I don’t really care about anything to do with that—what I think of is people. I think about people and stories.
-Why did you leave Wales?
Me and Sion share the love of storytelling. As Sion mentioned, he is fiercely focused right now in featuring Wales in his work and telling those stories are what drives him. And he does it very well. Had I not moved so far away from Wales I’m certain I would be pursuing that top, most likely in the form of radio programmes and audio work but I can’t. I know one day I will eventually share short stories I have about Wales and can continue working on that here. I have also attempted to write stories inspired by my North American experiences which have been more difficult but don’t see it as much as a stumbling block anymore. Whereas before I felt creatively displaced and deracinated. There’s an amazing interview from the 60s I think —which I can no longer find on youtube— with the Welsh writer Gwyn Thomas, he’s a great example of one of those archetypal, Welsh voices Sion talks about. In the interview he is asked why he has chosen to stay in Wales and his response I’ll have to paraphrase. He basically says he seems himself like a sculptor and all of his tools and material are in Wales. He goes on to say that he knows of writers who leave their home for the likes of London and experience a kind of ‘dandruff of the mind’ (lol.) Which I really can relate to. Gwyn finishes his point by saying finally there are a lot of people in Wales who would like to see the back of him, so for them he chooses to stay! Haha. So while Gwyn Thomas stayed because of hate, I left Wales because of love.
– How did moving to Canada affect your creative practice?
I basically packed all my creative work in for a while when I moved to Canada, mainly due to lack of inspiration, opportunity and If I’m truly honest – just some good old fashioned laziness. If I was to be kinder to myself, I might add that being out of Wales really took that spark for wanting to tell stories and reflect my surroundings away from me for some time. Or perhaps not the will to, but rather the sense of HOW I could in Canada. I don’t really know how to define myself right now as a creative, so to speak but I have always worked on writing here and there, and quietly developing ideas be it in the form of documentary proposals or short stories, but I am not a filmmaker nor do I want to be one.
Right now my partner, Czarina Mendoza, who is an artist, and I received funding to create a sound art project reflecting life in the city where we live on the Canadian-US border. It consists of little threads of stories along with outdoor sounds and field recordings. We’ve called it Non-Essential Audio, the first installment of which ‘PHASE 1’ is up on bandcamp *
-A theme that comes up a lot in both the film but also in conversation with Sion is that of sound and language. How does that relate to your life in Canada but also your former life in Wales?
Me and my partner live in a city called Windsor, Ontario where only the 1 mile wide Detroit river separates it from the city of Detroit and the USA. Now that my ears have become attuned to it, to me the two fishermen at the beginning of Non-essential Audio we captured on the Detroit River (Windosr side) sound incredibly Canadian (though one of them is from closer to Toronto) I’m very interested in these dynamics and I’ve come to realise that it’s probably because I grew up living on a different border.
It’s not the Welsh border but the part of Wales where I’m from has this language boundary between the largely Welsh speaking and largely English speaking areas of Pembrokeshire and Carmartheshire which has existed since the Middle Ages. It’s still pretty accurate today with little changes if you look at the geographical line it draws on a map. I existed on the border of the line, though more so belonging to the ‘Little England beyond Wales’ to the south of it. Growing up I would play football in a town nearby called St Clears or we’d do our ‘big shop’ in Carmarthen and hear Welsh spoken widely in both of those places. Then I would go to my school in Tenby where out of about 240 pupils in my year, I only knew of one girl who could speak Welsh. I definitely relate to that thing Sion touched on about being conceived of as not very Welsh in Wales yet very Welsh in England. In Canada I’m an unknown entity haha. Most assume English, or British (which is correct, of course but like Sion, it’s a label I don’t like and more often than not it’s just used interchangeably with things that are English.) Some people have a grasp of what being Welsh is here but usually just use it as an icebreaker to tell me about their great grandmother who was from ‘I-ruh-land’ which must explain why they like whisky or some shit. I will say Windsor is the only place in the world where people have commented on where I’m from by asking about the music of The Oppressed instead of Tom Jones, which is cool.
– Would you ever move back to Wales?
I won’t claim that there’s anything remarkable or difficult about my own immigrant experience at all, with all my privilege (whiteness, English as my first language etc.) I think people close to me are probably more interested in the simple fact I did it. Five years ago I was very content with my life in Wales with no aspiration to leave. Honestly, we’re just not very good travelers, there’s a reason you don’t see Welsh pubs in different parts of the world. But particularly people like Sion and I who are so in love with and interested in Welsh people, their idiosyncratic humour, their warmth and wit, that makes it harder. I honestly think the Welsh are so much better at sarcasm which for some reason England is known across the world for.
Like Sion, I can only imagine myself ever settling in Wales. My own fantasy is to move to Gwynedd in the north west, one of the language heartlands and my favourite place in the country. Wales’ greatest poet R.S Thomas lived there before he died and Wales’ greatest living writer Jan Morris still lives there. So I’d like to live out my days there, on the Llyn Peninsula, in an old cottage crumbling into the Irish Sea. Though more realistically I’ll probably just be drawn back to the beaches of Carmarthenshire or Pembrokeshire. Maybe I’ll write a self-published e-book about the Landsker Line which no one will read. I like to think I could write a screenplay for Sion to film one day. And yes by-damn it will be set in Wales.