American Interior (2014), the tremendous new collaboration between Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys and director Dylan Goch, is a chronicle of dreamers and outlaws; a treatise on two rebel nations that takes the form of a whimsical travelogue. It’s a deeply serious film masquerading as a ramshackle frolic. Armed with a guitar, a shonky PowerPoint presentation and a puppet, Rhys somehow manages to untangle the myth of the West and the allure of man’s utopian ideals. American Interior is concerned with home; where we find it and what we demand of it, with one man’s loopy journey forging an unlikely spiritual connection between two vibrant but downtrodden cultures.
The film follows Rhys as he retraces the steps of John Evans, an eccentric young Welshman from Snowdonia – and a distant relative of the singer – who travelled to the US in the 18th century in search of a Welsh-speaking tribe of Native Americans called Y Madogwys. Evans’ adventure saw him fighting crocodiles in the Mississippi, narrowly dodging assassination in Omaha and even annexing North Dakota from the British. American Interior is a document of Rhys’ “investigative concert tour” whereby he played gigs in all the key locations from Evans’ journey and met the locals in an attempt to uncover more facts about the explorer’s life. A multimedia project involving a book, record and app as well as the film, the singer and director use the journey of American Interior as an artistic process in and of itself.
Rhys recognises that Evans’ expedition was predicated on storytelling; the way we manipulate our cultural identities to create myths that help to alleviate the longing within. From road movie to concert film, the picture uses and skews various cinematic forms – each with their own cultural connotations – to tell the story. Each format is a strand in a broader narrative; if Evans’ adventure was the result of legends he’d read, then Rhys’ trip becomes another part of the same cycle of storytelling. Along the way, we hear snippets of songs in progress telling the unfinished story of John Evans. The lack of finality is key; the goal here is in the process.
When Rhys meets the descendants of a Missouri tribe with whom Evans stayed for a few months, we begin to see the similarities between the community and the singer’s home country. We hear stories of dying languages, battles of cultural relevance and histories of resistance to stronger, more powerful forces. It becomes clear that, in searching for a more perfect Wales, Evans found himself among people subject to similar struggles. American Interior shows the West as an American Arcadia; an ideal that eludes physical place, existing only in the hearts of the adventurers, the prospectors and the pioneers.