FOREWORD: Politically charged Cardiff combo, Super Furry Animals became an important cog in the wheel for the popular musical uprising fellow Welch bands such as Manic Street Preachers, and especially, Gore’s Zygotic Menisci, benefited from quickly. Making some of the greatest orchestral Anglo pop, yet receiving very little attention beyond sold out medium-sized clubs in the States, SA were easily one of the most dazzlingly resplendent UK bands in the ‘90s.No one should be without excellent selections such as ‘96s Fuzzy Logic, ‘99s Guerrilla, or ‘01s Rings Around The World. All three showed off a great culmination of stylistic ideas. Since this martini-filled ’01 interview at a posh downtown Manhattan hotel, SA have released ‘03s nearly-as-good Phantom Power and ‘07s fair Hey Venus. By the by, these crazy fuckers actually owned and drove a military tank – no b.s. (read below). This article originally appeared in Aquarium Weekly.
It’s rare to find a sympathetic pop-friendly band with a liberal-minded sociopolitical consciousness bordering on socialism. Yet alongside fellow islanders, Gore’s Zygotic Mince, Wales-based Super Furry Animals hope to conquer the Western hemisphere.
After gaining first-rate European exposure with the sure-footed ’96 debut, Fuzzy Logic, and its respectable ’97 follow-up, Radiator, ‘99s tremendously diversified Guerrilla allowed the Super Furry Animals to invade the American shores (leading to a sold-out gig at Manhattan’s Bower Ballroom). Then, they had the poised audacity to assemble Mwng, a rarified Welch-sung turnabout available on the bands’ own Placid Casual label.
Recently, this egalitarian unit consisting of lead vocalist-guitarist Gruff Rays, bassist Gut Price, guitarist Huw “Bunf” Bunford, keyboardist Cian Ciaran, and drummer Dafidd Ieuan, unleashed their most provocative, vibrant work to date with the wholly seductive Rings Around The World.
Inspired by soulful ‘70s soundtracks and cinematic hip-hop, the bolshevistic quintet’s latest endeavor brings stirring harmonies and sweeping orchestral arrangements to exciting new heights. Whether mocking doomsday cultists on the heavenly lush “Run! Christian! Run!” or taking a friendly swipe at Monica Lewinski’s sordid affair with ex-pez Clinton on the string-laden neo-soul swoon “Presidential Suite,” SFA move beyond the politics of personal romantic intrigue whenever it strikes their fancy.
Yet the resolutely soft, accommodating balladry of the exquisitely romantic “It’s Not The End Of The World” and the hand-clapped Electric Light Orchestra-derived Classical rock of the mini-opus “Receptacle For The Respectable” stay within traditional pop confines without getting saccharin sweet.
Better still, the cheerful universality of the harmonically insouciant “(Drawing) Rings Around The World” offers a contrary indictment on communication overload.
Co-producer Chris Shaw provdied technical support on Rings while Jersey-based Eric Tew tweaked multi-harmonies and added random noise at the Pro Tools engineer. A simultaneously released 18-song Surround Sound DVD features commissioned films by hand-picked cinematographers.
I spoke to Gruff and Guto in the Big Apple one rainy afternoon about Rings and things.
“Juxtapozed With U” and “It’s Not The End of the World” remind me of the UK’s Northern Soul movement. Does soul music pique your interest?
GRUFF: We tend to regurgitate our record collections…sometimes exquisitely. A lot of the string sounds and references. I like the political consciousness of the whole ‘70s soul era. Gil Scott-Heron, the Impressions, and Curtis Mayfield.
How about the inner city ‘Blaxploitation’ films such as Shaft or Superfly?
GRUFF: Yeah. We like a lot of those soundtracks. We get off on the social tension those films portrayed to full affect. And how the music moved the films along.
The DVD that accompanies Rings had great theatrical quality.
GRUFF: When you go to the cinema to see a film, it always sound amazing these days. Then you go home and put a record on and it’s underwhelming. Ultimately, the idea was if it takes of as a film we could stay at home and count the money. (laughter)
GUTO: We’ve been using Surround Sound at the concerts lately. Hopefully we could bring at least a quad system to America. We have a joystick machine that’s about a foot long. You stick speakers in it and you can spin songs around the room. If you have it onstage you could direct your voice to the back of the hall and put it in the right or left hand corner. It’s a way of getting a little extra out of our sound.
Your harmonies continue to improve as catchy pop tracks “Sidewalk Surfer Girl” and “Receptacle For The Respectable” instantly make clear.
GRUFF: We were trying to filter out our ‘B’ influences like the Beatles, Beach Boys, Badfinger and the Byrds – and get out those obsessions. It was intending to be a harmonic album. We wanted it to be a blockbuster like the Eagles megahit Hotel California. (laughter) Actually I don’t like them. But Don Henley bought our tank.
GRUFF: A killing machine piled high with speakers and a sound system.
GUTO: We persuaded our record company in ’97 to give us a tank instead of money. We used to drive it around to rave festivals. It was a peace tank for shooting fruit at the hungry. It was covered with our name. But the gas was expensive and we couldn’t afford it. An anonymous buyer, who turned out to be Don Henley, bought it. He’s got it on his ranch in California.
Since the World Trade Organization is having its meetings protested one mile north in midtown Manhattan as we speak, what are your political views on that situation?
GRUFF: As I recline on a comfy chair at the Soho Grand. (laughter) These multi-conglomerate corporations have more power than some sovereign nations. The people we vote in don’t have the power of these corporations. So we’re effectively living in totalitarian states even though it doesn’t say that on the packet. Third world nations are still in debt, so it’s obscene to have this WTO. Our songs are political, but we get these ideas from TV soundbites. I’ll see the American President on the news in Wales more than I’ll see my girlfriend. When we recorded Guerrilla, the Clinton-Lewinsky affair hit the airwaves. At the time, Boris Yeltsin was in Japan. His bodyguards were staying at our hotel there, drinking vodka for breakfast. We offered them to come to a party. So these ten Yeltsin bodyguards joined us for some good times.