The Heights Go Beyond Wales

"It was a bit of a fluke actually," explains The Heights' Owain Ginsberg about the band's Japanese tour dates. "We were playing in a venue in London, a 2,000 capacity for NME magazine. It's always sold out there anyway. Some people came over from Japan and thought we played to a crowd that big every night so they signed us up. We were like 'A-list celebs' for about a week."

- Words, Photo by Dara Hakimzadeh

posted October 15, 2007

The Heights Go Beyond Wales

    In the mid ’90s, Welsh-speaking bands like Catatonia, Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci gained as much attention as the Manic Street Preachers and the Stereophonics back in Wales. However, today many Welsh bands have to convey their message in English to go beyond the British Isles, say members of The Heights, a four-piece band from Llanberis in Gwynedd, North West Wales.

    “You’d never be over here in an airplane if you sang in Welsh,” says bassist Chris Carr.

    “It’s a reality. It’s all the same for Italian bands or anything that’s not English,” continues drummer Geraint Owen, as he and bandmates Owain Ginsberg and Carr grabbed a set on a bench in Ottawa’s ByWard Market.

    Before becoming The Heights, the band was known as the Gogz and frontman Ginsberg sang in Welsh. Ginsberg says the band decided to sing in English partly due to the fact that guitarist Pearse Macintyre doesn’t speak Welsh.

    “We didn’t really want to sing Welsh songs because he’s a great believer in lyrics,” says Ginsberg. “It would be weird for him playing something when he doesn’t even know what we’re on about so we switched to English.”

    Despite the band’s linguistic and artistic change, Ginsberg says he’s still inspired by the Super Furry Animals, which started out with three English speaking records, Fuzzy Logic (1996), Radiator (1997) and Guerrilla (1999) and then created Mwng (2000), the country’s most successful Welsh-speaking album (it reached number 11 on the UK charts).

    “That’s probably the best that anything Welsh will do in our time,” he says.

    As part of the band’s tour to promote its debut album, Toys and Kings, the band stopped off in Toronto the night before hitting Ottawa and a café waitress invited them to a party hosted by former Death From Above 1979 drummer and now solo artist Sebastien Grainger.

    “I think she just liked our accents,” jokes Ginsberg.

    While Owen admits his favorite city to visit in Canada is Montreal, the other band members say they also enjoyed seeing Japan when touring in the country earlier this year.

    “It was a bit of a fluke actually,” explains Ginsberg about the band’s Japanese tour dates. “We were playing in a venue in London, a 2,000 capacity for NME magazine. It’s always sold out there anyway. Some people came over from Japan and thought we played to a crowd that big every night so they signed us up. We were like ‘A-list celebs’ for about a week.”

    Owen adds he can’t really explain Japan’s enthusiasm about the band.

    “When you come back home, it’s all like a fucking dream and it doesn’t stay in your head too long. We should move back there. I don’t know why they took to us,” he says with a smile.

    However, despite loving the attention, he admits his stomach didn’t agree with the Eastern diet.

    “I was pissing out of my ass most of the time,” he says, with Ginsberg and Carr laughing along.

    In retrospect, Ginsberg says the band has probably made the right choice switching to English as the band gains more international exposure.

    “I’ve always thought that if you want to get somewhere, you’ve got to do certain things to get where you want to go. To switch from Welsh to English was a plus, I’d say, rather than a negative. If people turn their backs on us back home then they can go fuck off. Because then they’re not fans of music, they’re nationalists.”

    That being said, Ginsberg adds he would still love to follow the lead of the Super Furry Animals.

    “We’re going to try and make some Welsh songs in the future,” he says.