Interview with Super Furry Animals
Like their equally eccentric and mad peers, The Flaming Lips, Welsh quintet Super Furry Animals possess a fondness for donning animal costumes. They've also managed to remain a creative force in modern music despite being … well, utterly insane.
So, which bands, then, does frontman Gruff Rhys (pronounced Griff Reese) regard as leading players in modern ‘alternative’ music? “It’s an incredibly difficult question,” Rhys pauses to ponder. “The bands we feel a kind of affinity with are the bands we’ve toured with and meet on the road. We have a great respect for bands like The Flaming Lips and Grandaddy, and they kind of share our taste – a kind of melodic, mayhem,” he adds with a slightly creepy laugh. “And we’ve been able to tour with bands like Mogwai, who we’re completely different to, but we really respect how they’ve crafted their own path in music.”
The crazy five-piece filmed the recording process of their ninth studio album, 'Dark Days/Light Years', on hand-held cameras, which they’ve described as a series of Warhol-like observations. Needless to say, the album features plenty of surprises. “I think in terms of playing, the most different thing about this record, compared to the rest of our back catalogue, is songs like 'Crazy Naked Girls', which along with 'The Very Best Of Neil Diamond' are some of the heaviest songs we’ve ever written. So it’s very rewarding to play them live and in the studio, and rock out a bit,” he laughs.
Indeed, 'Crazy Naked Girls' is an extremely infectious and funky opener to the album. “It’s an incredible song to play live,” Rhys enthuses. “Our guitarist came up with that huge shock riff sort of about three years ago. And it feels great when we’re playing it live; the guitars and harmonies – it’s just completely insane.”
The Super Furry Animals have incorporated basically every genre and musical styling into their music. Is there anything the band hasn’t tried? “That’s a good question … we’ve never done a full-on disco record,” Rhys laughs. “So that was my opportunity with Neon Neon – to try out disco numbers without embarrassing my friends.”
While a few of the band members also have side projects, Rhys’ side-project, Neon Neon, earned a Mercury Prize nomination with the duo’s debut album, 'Stainless Style'. How does he manage his time with both Super Furry Animals and other music projects? “I suppose dividing the time is the most difficult part of it, but getting to do all this music is great,” says Rhys. “Finding the time is a bit of a nightmare, and it pisses a lot of people off ’cause I can’t concentrate fully on anything. So that’s the downside, but the upside is getting to make a lot of music.”
The Super Furry Animals last toured Australia in 2003 and while their next trip to our shores is yet to be determined, Rhys provides an early warning to the fans. “At this time, we’re only playing this album outdoors,” he asserts. “It’s such a ridiculous-sounding record that we fear for people’s safety. If we played it indoors, we’d cause some injuries…we’d cause some kind of damage. So we’re just gonna be playing this record outdoors for the time being.”
In spite of all the madness and unpredictability demonstrated by SFA’s music, their bond as a five-piece has proven tight throughout their career. “The friendship’s always been very strong,” Rhys affirms. “I’ve been in bands with the drummer for the last 24 years. So we’re very close and we’ve gone through a lot of drama and very exciting times together as a band. You get inspired at different times, so you’re not gonna write songs that are as good as other years. I think with this record, we’re all very pleased with the way it turned out, more so than the last five records, maybe. You know, we just feel like it represents us as a band.”