Interview: Ric Rawlins on Super Furry Animals
One of somethingyousaid.com’s favourite bands ever, Super Furry Animals are the subject of a new biography by Ric Rawlins. With illustrations by Pete Fowler and full band participation it marks 20 years since the bands first recordings and catalogues their ascent to fame. 25ThC spoke with the author to find out more:
Hello Ric. When and how did you first meet the band and what were your initial impressions?
I first met Gruff on the rooftop of a Camden pub, to interview him about Hey Venus! in 2007. He had his dog with him and was feeding it milk from a saucer… then I met the others in their Cardiff studio during the making of Dark Days. I think I first pitched the book to them as being “like the Doors movie”, which perhaps wasn’t the best idea.
Can you tell us about the different personalities in the band?
It’s fairly well-known that they’re friendly and enthusiastic people, and creatively rampant too. Bunf is probably the most mysterious: I couldn’t get hold of him for several years, and none of the band knew where he was. It was like he’d been kidnapped by aliens. Then one day he texted me quite casually.
Your book celebrates 20 years of SFA. It is impressive that any band these days can survive for 20 years let alone keep putting out quality and varied albums? What do you think it is about SFA that has allowed them to last and not turn into a tribute act of themselves like many bands do?
Most bands have a spectrum of colours that they stick to – before perhaps dabbling with experimentation on their third album. But because SFA were a sound system travelling between European raves before they were a band, they were kind of forged in a weird fashion… their DNA was off the wall from the start.
That and the fact they’re addicted to creative stimulus and mind-boggling ideas has helped them to stay fresh. They also react against themselves: for example if they have a sneaky suspicion that they’re making traditional guitar-pop on one album, they’ll do their damnedest to make the next one as futuristic and ambitious as possible.
How long did it take to write the book and how much time did you spend with the band? What other research did you do and who did you speak to?
It took about five years with perhaps five Gruff interviews, then individual interviews with the other Furries. I really enjoyed talking to Alan McGee, who spent 30 mins discussing SFA then about two hours talking about the occult!
Obviously Pete Fowler is a huge part of the Furries’ identity so I sat down with him and Mark James to talk monsters, weather gods, mobile phones and all sorts. There are other people I probably should have interviewed, but I kind of wanted it to be the band’s perspective mostly.
As you say, the band have collaborated a great deal with Pete Fowler on their album covers over the years and he has designed the cover for the book. Why do you think they work so well together?
I guess musically and in the band’s name you have this kind of fuzzy, action-packed and slightly Manga-style outlook, so that all chimes with Pete’s amazing work.
On the cover of Radiator you can see a mobile phone in the background, and I think that’s another clue: Pete loved early mobile phones for their rubbery, bouncy qualities and the band were excited about the communication possibilities… no other bands noticed the mobile phone revolution, but Pete and the Furries documented it in a really creative way.
You must now have loads of great SFA stories. Can you tell us about one of your favourites?
Most people know about the army tank and the 60ft monsters, but there were loads of crazy ideas which didn’t see the light of day. They were going to convert an aircraft carrier into a mobile nightclub and sail it out into “waters of no national jurisdiction”… one other idea involved a giant inflatable ghetto blaster with the cassette flap doubling up as the DJ booth. I really enjoyed hearing about all these insane ideas.
Can you give us your top 3 SFA tracks and why these stand out for you?
Ha ha, it’s tough of course. Probably ‘Northern Lites’, because it’s canned summer, ‘Slow Life’ for its sci-fi ambition and ‘Dim Brys dim Chwys’, because you can feel the magic of the outdoors rave era in it.
How did you first get into music journalism and what drew you to it?
Around 2006 I voluntarily reviewed an album called ‘Mystic Chords of Memory’ for Artrocker.com, then I started going to the Artrocker club where I met Tom and Paul Artrocker. They were a really inspirational family of writers and pranksters, and I ended up flying to Texas to cover SXSW, interviewing Lou Reed… and of course learning radio, web editing and so on. There’s a new generation running that show now, and they’re doing great.
Whilst working in London as a music journalist you produced the “worlds first online music festival” for Artrocker. Tell us about that event and what else you were doing at that time in your life.
That was a ridiculously ambitious idea! We had six virtual stages on the website, for one week only, and on each stage a variety of acts including Art Brut, Suicide and the Dandy Warhols.
The content was split between exclusive audio streams, opinion pieces, video… I think the Dandy Warhols submitted a cooking recipe. Each band submitted a different piece of multimedia and it worked out pretty nicely.
You currently make videos for the charity “Send a cow”. Can you tell us more about this work?
Sure, it’s an international development charity that’s based around teaching people organic farming. Most of the staff are Africans working in African countries, but the fundraising and PR wings are here in the UK. I basically make campaign videos for them, along with some design and writing work.
Rise Of The Super Furry Animals by Ric Rawlins is released 19 February 2015 by publishers The Friday Project to mark the 20th anniversary of SFA’s first recordings. Grab a copy at www.amazon.co.uk and all major book retailers.
Super Furry Animals/ frontman Gruff Rhys heads to Australia to play a couple of shows in March. You should check him out if you are in the neighbourhood.
Thursday March 5th
Melbourne – Northcote Social Club
Supported by TOM LARK and Wilding.
Tickets available from https://corner.ticketscout.com.au/gigs/3169-gruff-rhys
Friday March 6th
Sydney – Newtown Social Club
Supported by Jep and Dep and Community Radio.
Tickets available from https://newtownsc.ticketscout.com.au/gigs/3170-gruff-rhy
Interview by 25ThC