The musician who fell in love with Welsh bands, moved to Wales and learnt Welsh
There is nothing conventional about how Laura Nunez had her life transformed by Welsh music.
It was the mid-90s when Laura was at school in London when she first heard Welsh bands like Super Furry Animals, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Melys on radio shows such as the Evening Session on Radio 1.
This discovery led her to the Welsh language and this, in turn, set her on a multilingual journey that shows no sign of slowing down yet.
Inspired by the music and language of Wales, she moved to the south of Wales, learned Welsh and made Cardiff her home. She even did her school placement at the legendary TJs in Newport.
Her first album ‘Wedi’ was recorded in Welsh and released in 2018. Her new album ‘Isle Of Dogs’ released this month is inspired by her travels, including a stint living in Russia.
“I first got into Welsh bands from hearing them on radio shows like the Evening Session with Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley and John Peel on Radio 1 in the mid 90s,” she says, of laying down the roots of her story.
“The first Welsh band I was into was 60ft Dolls, and from there discovered more of the Welsh language bands.
“I would go to see Welsh bands play in London, but also used to travel from London to Newport or Cardiff as a young teenager to watch gigs in TJs, the Coal Exchange.”
Her fascination with the language soon followed.
“I started to teach myself Welsh while at school, inspired by the music, before I moved to Newport, then Cardiff for university,” she said.
“My school in London let me choose TJs for my work experience placement, but as I was 16 I could only put stock out or work in the cloakroom, but got to watch bands every day for two weeks as a bonus, and it later became my regular haunt when I moved to Newport.
“When I later moved to Cardiff I was able to start learning Welsh properly on a course at the university.”
She admits a special fondness for Super Furry Animals, especially as her band She’s Got Spies is named after one of their songs – a track from their 1997 album Radiator.
“Super Furry Animals were my favourite Welsh band, although 60ft Dolls were my favourite to begin with, but as they split up after not long after, I got more into SFA and Welsh language bands like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Melys,” she says.
“Super Furry Animals are a superb and very unique band, and I named my band after their song in tribute to the inspiration they gave me to learn Welsh, plus I already had a website of the same name with photos and reviews of Welsh gigs at the time.
“Super Furry Animals are also the band I’ve seen live the most times by far, and hope that I will get to see them play live again eventually.”
Laura’s love of Wales and its beautiful language actually began in junior school, thanks to an inspirational headmaster.
“I loved the sound of the language with the music, and seemed quite different to other languages that I would hear in London,” she says.
“I suppose the headteacher of my junior school was also an inspiration, as he was an evacuee in Wales during World War II, and fell in love with the country, so in assemblies and music lessons we would always hear Welsh stories and we would sing the English language versions of songs with the Welsh lyrics written underneath, so that was the first time I became aware of the Welsh language and culture.”
She does admit learning Welsh was tough, initially.
“It was difficult at first, as it was hard to get my head around remembering the different mutations etc., plus it was very different to languages we learnt in school like French and Spanish, but I had plenty of opportunities to practice, as I would regularly go to Welsh language gigs in Cardiff and elsewhere in Wales. I also had a lot of Welsh speaking friends I could practice with, which was a big help and incentive.
“Listening to songs and watching programmes on S4C also helped me to immerse in the language, which always helps with learning.”
She displayed her fluency in the language on the 2018 album ‘Wedi’, while her new collection of songs ‘Isle Of Dogs’ – named after the area of London she grew up in, takes her language journey to the next level with her new single ‘Harasho’ sung in Russian, thanks to living in Moscow for three years.
Prolific traveller Laura says she ended up in Russia by chance after living in Italy.
“It was an accident, as after my time living in Italy came to an end, I wanted more experience of living somewhere different, so applied for a job in a school in China,” she says.
“They didn’t give me the job there, but offered me a place at the sister school in Moscow, and as I’d always wanted to visit Russia, but hadn’t got around to it due to the awkward process of visas, I thought it was my chance to see the country that has always intrigued me.
“I only planned to stay a year, but ended up living there for three years, and have been back to visit since. It’s a very fascinating country, and definitely somewhere you always come across some sort of an adventure.
“Of course, it can also be a very difficult place to live at the same time, as things don’t always run smoothly, and the culture is quite different to Western Europe, plus the language barrier can be a challenge.”
Undaunted she ploughed on to prove to herself that she could speak some Russian.
“I definitely haven’t mastered Russian, as I only learnt enough to get by, as it is a very tough language to learn, and I didn’t dedicate enough time to it while there, as I was working in an English speaking environment, which can make you lazy with learning it,” she says.
“The easiest thing to learn was the Cyrillic alphabet, which I learnt within the first couple of weeks of living there, which meant I could read everything, but not necessarily understand it.
“There are also mutations in Russian like in Welsh, plus it was interesting, yet confusing that there are words in Russian that are the same as in Welsh, only with different meanings, such as ‘droog’ (друг) in Russian means ‘friend’, whereas ‘drwg’ in Welsh (with the same pronunciation) means ‘bad’.
“My main motive for learning Russian was to be able to travel around Russia more, as outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg there are very few English translations and English speakers, sometimes none at all, so learning some Russian enabled me to travel all over Russia by myself.”
Laura’s new album ‘Isle Of Dogs’, which features contributions from renowned Welsh musician MC Mabon, is inspired by her many travels to more than 50 countries over the years.
“Often I would come up with the ideas while on a long journey, and was able to start writing them while on a coach or train journey by using Garageband on my phone or ipad, so some of the original sounds from those recordings remain on the album,” she says.
“There are definitely certain countries that inspired the songs more than others, obviously Russia being one of them, as I was living there for so long, but in the space of time that the songs were written I visited around 50 countries or more, so there are probably bits and pieces from all over in there.
“Some songs were also inspired by things happening at home, and I wanted to write Super Sniffer Dogs as a tribute to London, as I tend to always write about somewhere else, and felt I’d neglected my home town.
“Also the album title Isle of Dogs is referencing London, but it’s also a play on the Welsh ‘ail’ (second), as it’s my second album. Plus, when DJs say the title on the radio it can often sound like ‘I love dogs’ which can be amusing.”
For the future, Laura is hoping to travel more and keeping her fingers crossed that She’s Got Spies get to play live soon.
“I hope there’s more travelling, but who knows in this current situation,” she says. “I’m glad I did as much travelling as I did, as I always had a feeling things might not be so easy in the future, so I wanted to grab the opportunity while I could.
“I’m hoping at some point to get to play some gigs too, as I haven’t had the chance to play the majority of the new album live at any point yet, and it has now been over a year since the last gig, so I’m hoping it’s not too long until live music returns again.”