9Bach was formed by Lisa Jen and Martin Hoyland in 2005. The name is a play on numbers and words. Lisa: '9 is as in Nain, (pronounced nine), which means grandmother in the North of Wales, Bach means little and is also a term of endearment in Welsh. In one language 9 is something so mundane as a number, but in Welsh Nain is a cozy, family orientated lovely thing: your grandmother is a person we can relate to and visualise.'
Lisa on vocals, harmonium, and piano and Martin on guitars and percussion are joined by Ali Byworth (drums and percussion), Dan Swain (bass guitar), Esyllt Glyn Jones (harp, vocals), and Mirain Roberts (vocals).
9Bach's music is atmospheric, evocative and emotional hybrid of the Welsh folk tradition and contemporary influences and working practices. Building on a deepened, almost ambient sound picture, the songs take you into the landscape and the emotions that it evokes. Music is a living thing, not a museum piece and the way that 9Bach compose and perform reflect this.
As Martin says, 'everything is the wrong way round. We have a Welsh Harp, which is probably the most traditional Welsh instrument there is, but it's not played in the traditional way. It's played with feel, and heart, and it's very conscious of the song, so rather than being the main focus, it's very atmospheric. Then we have a harmonium, an Indian instrument, no one in the band knows how that is supposed to be played, but we just love the sound.'
'The only folk technique we use is in the song. Lisa tells a story in the folk tradition, either in the first person, or in the third person. We also generally arrange our songs in the folk tradition; we don't really adhere to the verse, bridge chorus structure of standard pop or rock music. This in turn demands something different from the drums, bass, and guitar, than your standard approach. The drum and bass will set a strong groove to sway to, and the guitars will weave in and out, creating atmospherics, as the harp does too.'
'Then we take a modern dance approach to the instrumentation, grooves and loops, parts coming in and out, but done with real instruments, and sometimes putting interesting effects on them to create the ambience.'
9Bach's songs reflect their strong roots in home and their frequent international travels. They have played live in Spain, Holland, and Canada and travelled to Australia to collaborate with the Black Arm Band Company - a groundbreaking music and theatre company focusing on Australian Aboriginal experience and identity. Lisa is also a long-term vocal collaborator with Gruff Rhys: she featured on the Candylion album, and sang live on the Candylion/ Hotel Shampoo tour dates.
The tension and interaction between local and international informs the group's songwriting. As Lisa says: 'I don't do heartbreak and ballads. I have nothing to report on those kinds of themes. I'm a very emotional person; I get moved very easily, but by nature, the ghosts of our ancestors, the mountains, the history of the quarry and the men that slaved there. My imagination is very vivid and I often make stories up and convince myself they are true'.
During the last two decades, there has been an upsurge in international awareness of Welsh language music. As Lisa says, 'for us, writing and singing in Welsh is the most normal thing to do, it's instinctive. We've had a few queries and comments asking why do we sing in Welsh when we could make more money singing in English? The answer is Welsh is my first language... my creative brain and ideas swim in the small streams that run into the crystal clear lakes - LLyn Idwal, Llyn Ogwen, the Ogwen Valley. I can't escape that, it's in you if you've been breathing this air since forever.'
'The language comes hand in hand with the landscape, your culture and the stories you tell. It comes out in the music, which will inevitably make it different to English music. I don't feel our music 'sounds' particularly Welsh on this album, but it is specific to here because that's where it's from. For our music to be heard outside of Wales it has to sound different and unique to Anglo - American music that dominates the world's mainstream music. Non-Welsh speakers can pick up on the mood and understand it through the music and vibe. There are so many languages worldwide in the same situation as Welsh, people do get it'.