Marko Kutlesa spoke to Gruff Rhys about life with the band, Brexit and side projects ahead of the forthcoming Fuzzy Logic/Radiator anniversary tour.
Last updated: 9th Dec 2016. Originally published: 8th Dec 2016
Super Furry Animals are one of Britain's best loved bands. And they're back on the road. Celebrating a quarter of a century firmly placed within the hearts of UK music lovers, they are undertaking a tour which will see them concentrate on material from their first two albums Fuzzy Logic and Radiator.
Throughout their lifespan the band have released nine studio albums, each of which have entered the top 25 of the UK album charts. After their last, 2009's Dark Days/Light Years, the band went on an extended hiatus, before returning for a tour in May 2015. In 2016 the band released 'Bing Bong', their first single in seven years and followed this with a compilation album Zoom! The Best of 1995–2016 which they've just come back from touring in the US.
Ahead of the opening stages of Super Furry Animals UK anniversary tour, which takes in a date at the O2 Academy in Leeds on Thursday 15th December, Marko Kutlesa caught up with the band's lead singer Gruff Rhys to ask him about life with the band and his recent solo projects, including a soundtrack to the film 'Set Fire To The Stars', which was released on Twisted Nerve Records.
On your recent soundtrack to 'Set Fire To The Stars' you decided not to use any instruments unavailable in the era in which the film is set. Why?
We knew it was going to be a black and white film so visually it was trying to be true to that 1950s era, so I thought it would be a good thing if the music did the same. It was a way of disciplining the work.
Do you find it easier to work when you set some restrictions on yourself?
Yeah. I thought that if I restricted the palette I could just get things done easier. Working with the musicians, we all knew what the limitations were, it just made it more coherent and easy.
The story is an uncommon one, following a Welsh guy, and a extraordinary one at that, to New York. Much more recognisable are films of Irish peoples relocation to the city and the states in general.
I suppose it's about the power of charismatic individuals. I suppose, in the sense of the film, it didn't really matter where Dylan Thomas came from. It's more about the relationship between a fanboy and superstar that just doesn't care.
How did the album come to be on Twisted Nerve?
I've been doing bits and bobs with Andy Votel, Doug and Dom Thomas for about 10 years or so. I helped out on the Welsh Rare Beat compilation they did and Andy Votel's produced some of my solo work. Because it was a largely instrumental soundtrack record I thought it would be something they would understand as a label.
One of your other recent projects was the pro EU single. Is the European Union now a lost cause for the youth of Britain?
Well it was an in/out referendum. I was firmly for Remain. There's obviously a lot of problems with the EU. There's obviously a lot of problems with lots of things, like how large corporations are allowed to dominate the rights of individual citizens and communities.
I just think it's a disaster that an internal Tory party row was allowed to lead to a potentially catastrophic move for the whole of the UK. There are campaigning groups out there that people can join if they're interested in working towards having a more socialist Europe.
Congratulations on your success with American Interior. Do you have a mind yet of what your next solo album will sound like?
Well, I've written a lot of songs and I'm sure some of them will see the light of day. Next time I write a record I probably won't have a film to go with it. Ha! It'll just be a record.
How do you know, when you write a song, whether it's a record for the band or one that you'll do solo?
I just write songs, really. I don't really think about what they're for, except with something like 'Set Fire To The Stars', which was commissioned. For the most part I just write songs and then figure out what to do with them after. I don't put a different hat on when I'm writing for SFA or anything.
You've worked on concept albums that concerned the lives of John De Lorean, the founder of the De Lorean Motor Company.and Italian publisher and leftwing activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. What kind of life story makes for the focus of a good concept album?
Well they had really extreme lives so they were really easy to write about. Specifically you're reading someone's life story and narrowing it down to the twelve most interesting events and when you've got someone like John De Lorean or Feltrinelli, they've just got bonkers lives, amazing anecdotes about them doing something totally crazy every month. Colourful lives like that make it really easy to write about.
Are there any figures outstanding who you would like to base such an opus on?
I done loads of men, 'American Interior' was a kind of biography as well, so I think I'm done with biographies of men now.
What's the secret to the band staying together in the same line up for so long?
It's dead hard being in a band and keeping it going. We were close friends when we formed, so I think that helps. We've a set of brothers in the band and that family aspect helps helps, in or case, too. Nobody's left and I think we know that nobody's replaceable.
So no more long hiatus planned?
There was a period when a rock band was regarded as a romantic institution that was maybe not designed to last. When we started out we put everything into the band, there was literally no life beyond the band. It's really different for us now, we've got kids. We love the records and being able to put them out and I'm sure we'll do stuff, but it's just at a different pace now.
Part of what makes your gigs so special is your audience who are absolutely besotted with the band. Have you ever thought what you might do when they get a bit older and maybe don't want to be such lunatics at gigs or even go to gigs any more?
I think it's reached that point already, we're doing the 25th anniversary tour now. It's definitely different. But it's OK, we've got plenty of slow numbers as well.
How has the shift from earning money from shows and merchandising, rather than by selling albums and CDs affected what you do with the band?
I think maybe it's overstated how much money is involved. When we started out touring wasn't viewed as something that was financially profitable. But then neither were records! So it's more like records are selling less and the gigs are the same. We don't sell any more merchandising now than we did 20 years ago. I suppose it's like in all levels of society, people are figuring out how to get by in weird, new times.
When prompted to reflect upon the band's history, what kind of feelings does that provoke?
The feelings are mixed. We've had incredible times and also some difficult times. It was quite a life changing thing, getting to a point where we can put all these records out, so we look back at that with a lot of joy. And I guess, a sense of relief that we're still around to celebrate some kind of anniversary.
The band was asked in 2005 to contribute tracks for an 'Under The Influence' compilation. What bands or musicians have you discovered since that time that might make it onto a similar themed compilation?
Everyone in the band got to pick three different records. I think, just to make it easier, I picked three Welsh ones that maybe people outside Wales might not have heard.
There's been so much good music released since then and we've gone through a period where people have realised that amazing records were being made all over the world at the same time as classic rock. So, I guess it's been a decade of rediscovery of amazing global pop music. In the past 10 years I've bought a lot of Brazilian, Turkish and Mexican records that maybe I wouldn't have heard 10 years ago.
What plans do you have on the cards for after the Super Furry Animals tour?
I'm going to do a tour for 'Set Fire To The Stars'. We did a show for the Finders Keepers stage at Festival No 6 a year and a half ago. Now that the record's out it would be a shame not to do it again, so there'll be a British tour with projections and we'll show the film before the gig, play some nice venues and I'm really looking forward to it.
It's going to be a chance to do a lot of music that is in the moment, it's a bit less song based. There will be 4 or 5 songs, but then a lot of instrumentals that can go anywhere. That's really exciting for me.
After that, I've got a lot of songs that I'd like to see the light of day so I guess I'll be figuring out how to release another record.