Super Furry Animals Interview

By shane

It's September 1999, and the Super Furry Animals are making their way through the States in support of their brilliant third album, "Guerrilla." During the band's stop in Chicago, Excellent Online got to tag-team SFA frontman Gruff Rhys to find out the scoop on the new records, the current tour, and the whirlwind of critical acclaim that's usurping the band as we head into 2000. A full transcript of the interview is below, from start to finish. Thanks to Adam and all at Flydaddy for the assistance in this interview.

Interview by Shane Brown and Kari Winn

Shane: So how's the tour going so far?

Gruff: Good! Yeah, it's still exciting. Sort of, like, all the road fantasies still coming true.

Shane: Bit of a change after festival season and all, playing small places?

Gruff: Yeah, I dunno. We've always played lots of small places.

Kari: Even over in the UK and Europe, you play small places?

Gruff: Oh, yeah. I mean, every time you go to a new country or whatever, you're unknown, and you play small places. We played small places at home for 15 years. Recently we've played larger places, but this tour's still a very decent thing, y'know.

Kari: You've got a huge one coming up at Cardiff Stadium, don't you?

Gruff: Yeah, the Christmas gig. That's gonna be pretty big. I'm not sure - I think it holds between 5-7000, and 5000 will probably be our relatives. [laughs]

Kari: You guys are sponsoring the football team out there now, right? How'd you get involved in that?

Gruff: It wasn't difficult, they were very cheap. [laughs] Much to the dismay of every other team in Wales, it was. So now everyone will probably hate us now, except for Cardiff fans.

Kari: So you guys are playing the Coachella festival. Are you pretty excited about that?

Gruff: Oh, yeah, very excited.

Kari: Are you looking forward to anyone else on the bill?

Gruff: Everybody seems pretty good, yeah, I don't remember the lineup exactly, but I remember it being very impressive, yeah. We're playing on Saturday, I think?

Kari: Are you gonna be in town for the whole thing, or just rolling in and playing?

Gruff: I think we're going to miss the last day. I wish we could stay for that. We couldn't get our flight changed.

Kari: Are you finding your American audiences different from the ones at home? How are the fans reacting?

Gruff: Yeah, I think people pay a lot of attention in the States, they give you a better listen. They come out from curiosity, and then become fans. So it's all pretty good.

Kari: Do you think that part of that's due to the promotions at Flydaddy, with the impressive roster they've already got?

Gruff: I don't know, to tell you the truth. Last time we played here was with the Olivia Tremor Control, we've done a couple tours with them so far, their crowds are always great.

Shane: Has Flydaddy been a good experience, compared with the Sony distribution deal you had during the "Fuzzy Logic" days?

Gruff: Yeah, I mean, we were sort of signed to Sony by default, they didn't really want us. It was pointless, you know, being where you're not wanted. We're real happy with this deal now. Flydaddy make records I really like.

Kari: They seem to be pushing the new album pretty well for you.

Gruff: Yeah, it's pretty good.

Kari: You guys self-produced this record. How was producing your own stuff in the studio? Did you find it hard, or was it invigorating or give you more space?

Gruff: Well, it's accidental that it happened. We wanted Gorwel Owen again, but he'd been in the studio for about a year and a half producing other people. And he was burned out. He offered to do it, but he asked us if we could wait. We were just so keen to make this record, we decided to go ahead with it anyway. In the past, we've had the luxury of a producer to take sides, y'know, and mediate between the band, which defeats our ability to fall out, row, and shout with each other, because there's always been someone there to be the decision maker. This time we had to reach a consensus on everything. And it ended up being much less volatile than usual, we had a really good time. It was really easy.

Shane: And the end result seems to be a much more optimistic record than in the past. Was this intentional, or did it just sort of happen in the studio?

Gruff: We made quite a lot of down songs as well, but we just left them off. We selected the most, um, "up" songs. We went for the digital songs with more of a constant rhythm. The "up" songs off this are sort of live things. The other stuff just sounded sort of tired next to tracks like "Wherever I Lay My Phone is Home" that sound so metronomical.

Shane: Now, was there a conscious effort to get a more commercial sound on this record? It seems like you're trying to get a more commercial feel, but at the time same broadening your horizons musically and getting away from the standard guitar-bass-drum sort of sound.

Gruff: Yeah, we made a jukebox sort of album, where you listen to it and every song is different. We decided to make a very pop album. In the context of the album, it comes out - it's so much more brash and light-weight album for us, which is good. We actually recorded enough for three more albums. There's a Welsh language album coming out, which is pretty heavy in mood, but with some sunny intervals. There's a digital, experimental album which is pretty intense. And then we're gonna make another pop album, and the songs for that so far are sort of lush and not as straight-forward lyrically. So this is our jukebox pop record.

Shane: What's the timetable looking like for release dates on all this stuff?

Gruff: Well, we finished the Welsh one, so that'll be out probably next March. We hope Flydaddy will release it here. We come off this tour in about February, at which point we'll start on the digital album, which is fully demoed already and all written. We hope to do that in mid-2000, and then we'll go straight into the next studio album.

Kari: I heard that you guys all started out on drums yourself?

Gruff: Three of us, yeah.

Kari: A lot of the tracks on this album are really diverse rhythmically and musically, like a sort of Zappa thing, where all sorts of elements are being pulled in.

Gruff: Cian got to play drums on this album, but we're not as proficient as Dafydd, so we had to sample ourselves. I play drums on "Wherever I Lay My Phone is Home," but it's only like two bars. Me and Cian sampled ourselves and looped it. We'd just been our tour with Grandaddy, and Aaron from Grandaddy is the steadiest drummer in the world, he's incredible. He can keep this really slow groove, very simple groove going, song after song, in a metronomical fashion. He's really amazing. We sort of ripped off his drumming style, but we couldn't keep it up, so we had to sample it.

Kari: The rhythmic layering on the new album is really amazing. It even seems Latin-inspired at some points. Where do you guys pull your influences from?

Gruff: We have a wide selection of records in our collection, but, dunno, we had a song about the El Nino phenomenon, and the only reason that's made in sort of a classy Latin style is because of the subject matter of the lyrics, we adapted it to how the song's played. Because we had this tune, this melody, for a long time, and it started off as a sort of reggae tune, "Love is Rock," and it sort of turned into a dirgy rock song. But I didn't have any lyrics, and when I got around to writing some, we had to re-assess how the song was gonna get played.

Shane: You seem to have a mild Spanish influence to your records - albums called "Guerrilla," songs like "Chupacabra."

Gruff: I spent some time in Spain, in Barcelona, I lived there for a while. It's only a couple songs. We've got Dutch song titles, we've got Welsh... We've got a song called "Debiel," which is Dutch for "crazy person," on our second EP, Moog Droog, which also has "Focus Pocus," which is a tribute to Hocus Pocus by Focus, who're a Dutch band. I think we're influenced more by Japanese stuff all around, I mean, in terms of our artwork.

Shane: All your sleeves are designed by the same guy, right?

Gruff: Yeah, he's been doing all our stuff from the last two albums. A guy called Pete Fowler from Wales. He's very distinctive, he comes from a comic background, he designs skateboards and flyers and comics.

Shane: Did he have anything to do with the "Fire in my Heart" video as well?

Gruff: Yeah, he was called the "creative advisor." People who did the special effects for Star Wars Phantom Menace animated the characters. We got them really cheap.

Shane: We're trying to figure out the video: are you playing a gig on Mars, or in fact is the entire group Martians preparing to conquer the Earth in a rock-n-roll fantasy?

Gruff: No, we've gone to another planet to play a gig, and we're on our way home (laughs.) I've got quite a bad memory from that day. I woke up, and I'd slept all funny, and had a really stiff neck. And so throughout the video, I was just like [holds his neck like a board] and all I could do was down painkillers all day. So that's why I look so wooden in the video.

Shane: The new album's recorded in Peter Gabriel's studio... how did that come about?

Gruff: Well, we didn't go, "Oh, wow, that's Peter Gabriel's studio, let's go there!" It was just a studio that was close to our home in Wales, so we said, "Hey, that's a decent studio, let's go there!" We bumped into him a couple times - he had a different accent every day. I talked to him three times - once he had a British accent, the next time he had an American accent, and then he rounded it all off with a sort of South African accent, as far as we could tell. He seemed like a good old guy.

Shane: What's your take on the Internet - future of communications or evil corporate tool?

Gruff: Ah, both. It's very exciting. We like celebrating technology, y'know. It's like how we sing about mobile phones. It's a wonderful thing, the art of communication. But at the moment, it's a rich man's tool, I suppose. It's only the people in the Western world that can use it.... I suppose it's very elitist. But all in all it's exciting... and eeeevil.

Shane: From a music standpoint, are you seeing an increase in fans due to the Internet? Do you think your American fans are better informed about the group thanks to the 'Net?

Gruff: Oh, yeah, they're better informed than we are as to what's happening to the band and all. It's astounding how quickly people can get their hands on information. I mean, people have been asking us about our football-sponsoring activities about a day after it happened. The other day I found an SFA website in Brazil, it's crazy.

Kari: Do you have any albums of the year so far? Anything you've bought recently?

Gruff: Oh, I'm terrible about lists - I always regret what I've said and changed my mind later. Probably, there's so many... a hot tip, there's a band called Y Tystion, and it means "The Witnesses." They're a Welsh language band. They're quite young and majestic, they've got a new EP coming out next month called The Toys EP, which was recorded using only small musical toys. It's very good. It works, especially for us. Musically and lyrically, it works. They're on Ankstmusik. They've got a website, everybody who reads this should go there.

Shane: Lastly, speaking of lists and how you don't like them, a couple months back in NME, they did their best to launch the "Nu Psychedelic" scene, and they proceeded to put you guys sort of at the spearhead position at the top of that list. Is that a pigeonhole that you're okay with?

Gruff: Well, the thing is, we thought we'd made a really conventional sort of pop album, and then everybody goes, "Wow, that's really psychedelic!" I can think of bands that are sooo much more psychedelic than us. Psychedelia to me is all about improvisation, and our album was almost entirely preconceived, you know. So, I'm sure there are psychedelic bands out there fuming with rage and insulting us. [grins] The best part about that whole article was they couldn't even spell it right. It's "NU-psychedelic." Nuuuu!