This time, Rhys, whose name is pronounced "Griff Rees" and who has a knack for writing cheerfully melodic songs about subjects as varied as auto executive John Delorean and a pair of turtles named "Venus and Serena," is on a no less fascinating journey.
He's out to ascertain the truth about John Evans, an explorer from Snowdonia, Wales, who came to America in 1792 at age 22 to find the truth about Prince Madog, a Welsh explorer who was once believed to have discovered America in 1170 and to have engendered a tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans.
Evans walked into the wilderness, Rhys says, with $1.75 to his name, and before dying of either alcoholism or malaria in New Orleans at 29, disproved the Madog myth and cocreated the map that Thomas Jefferson later passed on to Lewis and Clark to guide them on their historic expedition. Along the way, Evans claimed to have wrestled alligators in the Mississippi and witnessed volcanoes erupting in what is now Missouri.
"I'm interested in what's the truth and what's the romantic story," says Rhys, who was to begin his tour this week in New Haven, Conn., where Evans' map, with Lewis and Clark scribblings, is located at Yale University. "That's what I'm trying to figure out with my investigation. I'm very interested in the ways that myths and artistry are intertwined."
Rhys will retrace Evans' steps to Baltimore and Philadelphia before heading out into the heartland. While here, he says, "I'll probably film a lot of those signs with Welsh place names" - Bryn Mawr means "big hill," he informs his interviewer - as well as seek out letters Evans wrote to a Philadelphia Baptist minister detailing his adventures.
For his appearance at PhilaMOCA, the North Philadelphia performance space also known as the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, Rhys says, "I've got a slide show that I'll use as a visual aid to show what I'm trying to do. I'll tell John Evans' story, and try out some new songs. And when people are bored with that, I'll play some of my back catalog."
Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @delucadan. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/inthemix.
Gruff Rhys at PhilaMOCA, 531 N. 12th St., at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Information: 267-519-9651, www.philamoca.org .