The wonderful, the magnificent and the legendary Super Furry Animals, make their return to Irish shores, with their first Irish show in many a year, at Body & Soul this weekend. As one of my all-time favourite acts, I can honestly say that there is more than a hint of jealousy toward those of you who will get to see them this weekend (or any other time in the not so distant future).
With all that in mind, here’s a chat I had with author and authority of all things SFA, Ric Rawlins about all things Super Furries and his book, ‘Rise of Super Furry Animals’.
Originally published for GoldenPlec, March 8th 2015, notably prior to SFA’s reunion. Enjoy!
Throughout their long and fascinating career, Super Furry Animals have proven themselves as one of the most enigmatic, creative and brilliant psychedelic pop bands of our time.
They had an army tank equipped with a techno sound-system, caused national security alerts with 60-foot inflatable monsters, went into the Colombian jungle with armed Guerrilla fighters, and drew up plans to convert an aircraft carrier into a nightclub. Yet SFA’s crazed adventures only tell half the story. Most importantly, there is their music.
Originally, an electronic music collective, Super Furry Animals started out playing raves across Europe before evolving into an experimental rock group in 1993. Signed to Creation Records, they shot to fame and thanks to the record sales of label-mates Oasis; they found they suddenly had a vast budget to play with. By mixing up electronic beats, surf rock, Japanese culture and more, the band produced some of the most exciting and memorable records of the past two decades, in their own uniquely surreal way.
Written with the band’s participation, new book, ‘Rise Of The Super Furry Animals’ tells this remarkable story and ascent to fame. Barry Healy caught up with the book’s author Ric Rawlins, to delve into the weird and wonderful world of Super Furry Animals.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO WRITE A BOOK ON SUPER FURRY ANIMALS?
Ric Rawlins: They’re one of the most radical, creative and catchy bands of all time, but for some reason pop culture hasn’t quite embraced SFA’s legacy yet. Anyone who’s really explored them knows that they’ve created a multidimensional universe… at their best they’re like a crazy Mario-style game, with miles of palm trees and ice mountains to explore. In the ’90s they were labelled ‘Britpop’ by some, but they actually had more in common with stateside acts like Beck or the Beastie Boys; it was this sample-based, upbeat approach to fusing beats with guitars that really marked them out as a cutting edge pop group. So I wanted to kind of visit Furryworld: go behind the scenes of their fantastic songs, find out why they’ve had these radical flourishes, and meet Pete Fowler’s monsters up close. When I met the band for a magazine article in 2009, it sort of green lit the idea.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE THE BOOK AND WERE THE BAND ENTHUSIASTIC/HELPFUL ABOUT THE BOOK?
RR: It took about five years of slowly piecing it together in my weekends and evenings, and that was propelled forwards by a sort of annual ‘Gruff summit’ whereby I’d meet him in Cardiff and scribble down few more notes. The band were helpful although Bunf was strangely AWOL for about a year… the band didn’t know where he was… it was as if he’d been abducted.
HAVING SPENT TIME WITH THE BAND, WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES AND THE DYNAMICS WITHIN THE BAND?
RR: I guess for Furry fans this might not be news, but Gruff is considerate, originally minded and obscurely hilarious… Cian is a kind of evil genius without the evil bits… Bunf is surreally hilarious but I only ever realise this after considering what he’s said for a few minutes, Guto is a real pleasure; he’s generous, considerate and has good manners and Daf is kind of like their star footballer who’ll slide through to score the goals!
YOU’RE BOOK CHARTS 20 YEARS OF SFA, WHICH IS A LONG TIME BY ANY STANDARD, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE REASON FOR THEIR STAYING POWER IS?
RR: I think the band worked better than any of them had dared to dream, especially given the context that their earlier bands in the Welsh language had been to an extent ignored by the swine’s in the English music press. So when it all kicked off they were just happy and I guess felt quite lucky! Put that together with their supercharged creative batteries and a passionate fan-base, and no wonder they kept it going strong.
DID YOU HAPPEN TO FIND OUT HOW THEY MANAGED TO GET AN SFA TEAM INCLUDED ON ACTUA SOCCER 2?
RR: I think they must have mentioned in an interview that they loved Actua Soccer 1, because they were approach by the makers (Gremlin?) about doing it. There is a code you can punch in to play as SFA, which is recreated in the book… it’s something like up, up, left, left, right, down etc.! This is itself a great story though, because when the band got round to playing the game, they realised they were depicted as being on the same team as some of the worst dictators in history, like Attila the Hun and Hitler!
PETE FOWLER HAS DESIGNED THE COVER FOR THE BOOK, WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO HAVE HIM INVOLVED?
RR: So important, the publisher Scott and I met Pete in Soho to discuss it, and really, it was a case of “if we don’t have you, we don’t really have an SFA book.” But we didn’t have to persuade Pete – he’s been really up for it. Pete’s monsters, gods and artwork synched with the band because both were playfully weird, slightly puppy-eyed, and energetic. Pete had also been to Japan and I think that Japanese Shinto gods, electronic gizmos and Kawaii comics were really, where the two artistic entities met in the middle. During the making of Guerrilla, they started looping into each other with ideas on mobile phones and the powers of nature.
WHILE NOT STRICTLY A ‘POLITICAL BAND’, THEIR POLITICS WEREN’T EVER TOO FAR AWAY, IS THIS SOMETHING TOUCHED ON IN THE BOOK?
RR: Yep, it’s a fascinating part of who they are. They grew up in a Welsh language scene that was integrated with political protest: groups who were against atomic weapons and Margaret Thatcher’s policies (which were having a bad impact on Welsh communities) were organising the gigs, so it was a healthy, politically engaged pop culture. They’ve endeavoured to maintain a political conscience since then, and as you may know, they refused to take cash from Coke, politicians, oil companies and the like.
WHY DO YOU THINK PEOPLE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK? WHAT CAN PEOPLE EXPECT TO FIND?
RR: I’m probably biased but it really makes me laugh! But it’s not my writing that makes you laugh so much as it is their cheekiness and inventiveness: they really are a bunch of original pranksters and it’s just so great to be ‘in on the joke’. As for the book itself… I tried to make it as amusing, energetic and colourful as SFA, which obviously which is impossible. But I tried!
IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE SUPER FURRY ANIMALS’ ALBUM TO BE STRANDED ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH, WHICH ONE WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
RR: Guerrilla. In 1999, I’d left my hometown for Uni and had that classic experience: where am I? Who are all these people? Then Guerrilla came out just as the summer opened up and… it was the best summer of my life! I see it as their manifesto album, championing open streams of communication and the maxim of ‘the door to this house remains open.’ It’s exotic and catchy as heck!
IT HAS BEEN ALMOST SIX YEARS SINCE THE RELEASE OF THEIR LAST ALBUM, ‘DARK DAYS/LIGHT YEARS’. DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANY LIKELIHOOD IS OF SFA CALLING TIME ON THEIR HIATUS AND RECORDING A NEW RECORD ANY TIME SOON?
RR: They all have a great deal of affection for one another, but possibly, it’s a Pixies style conundrum: should they record again for the sake of recording again? I think they’ll do it when the time and the songs are right, and like everyone else, I’d love to see it happen!*
*Since this interview ‘the rise of the Super Furry Animals’ has turned into ‘the return of the Super Furry Animals’ with the band reuniting for their first shows in many years.
The Rise Of The Super Furry Animals by Ric Rawlins is out now in all good book shops.