Music interview: Twenty years and counting for Super Furry Animals
Super Furry Animals are in the midst of rehearsals for their forthcoming tour when keyboard player Cian Ciaran “downs tools” to talk to The Yorkshire Post.
“It’s nice,” he says, not minding the temporary interruption. “It’s a blue sky in Cardiff and there’s no windows in there, so it’s an excuse to get out.”
The band’s 15 UK shows in the run-up to Christmas offer a chance to celebrate two decades since of the release of their first album, Fuzzy Logic. After ending a five-year hiatus from gigging last year, during which Ciaran and his colleagues Gruff Rhys, Huw Bunford, Guto Pryce and Dafydd Ieuan had each worked on individual projects, they seem happy once again be working together.
“I think a series of successive events or occurrences steered this path,” says Ciaran, 40, explaining the events behind the reunion. “We came back with touring last May [to mark the re-release of their Welsh language album Mwng] and then subsequent festivals through the summer and the reception was really good.
“I don’t think we knew what we were doing when we decided to play live again. It’s sort of grown over the past 18 months. After the Mwng reissue BMG approached us to do a ‘Best Of’ [which came out this November] then out of those discussions they agreed to do a reissue of Fuzzy Logic because it was the 20th anniversary. Next year is the 20th anniversary of [their second album] Radiator so we thought if we were going to do a tour let’s do the two albums back to back.
“It keeps us on our toes as well. We didn’t want to do a tour where we just regurgitated what we’d done over the last 18 months, so it’s something different, we’ve never done anything like this before. They’re old songs but it’s a new experience.”
Ciaran has only hazy memories of making the two albums for Creation Records, to whom they’d signed just as Britpop was in the ascendant. “It’s a bit of blur,” he apologises, before adding: “I remember the time more than anything. We felt lucky we signed to Creation but we didn’t know if it was going to be the first and last time we’d ever get chance to go to a plush recording studio.
“We’d been used to our friend Gorwel [Owen]’s place up in North Wales. All of a sudden we’ve got loads of equipment and the luxury of time to hang out in the studio, so it was a good time, happy time, exciting.
“We’d all been in bands or writing music previously before coming together as the Furries. Gruff was prolific as well, so that kind of helped. It was just ‘Get it out, get it out’. Once you’re on a roll you don’t want to stop.”
It was good to take that break so when you do come back you appreciate what you’ve got and what you had and you have that jump in your step again.Cian Ciaran
The band might have been in a creative purple patch but having previously written several songs in Welsh – their EP Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (In Space) holds a Guinness World Record for the longest title ever – they did come in for some criticism in their homeland for now singing in English.
“There’s a lot of history in Wales about the Welsh language, people fought for it to be recognised as an official language both at home and by Westminster, and there was a strong Welsh language scene when we started, so it wasn’t a surprise,” says Ciaran, carefully considering the reaction today.
Conversely, when the band did release the Welsh language record Mwng in 2000, he says: “It did open doors for us in America and Japan. We’d go to Japan and the crowd would be singing phonetically back in Welsh, so we were exporting and making sure it was a living, breathing language. It was the best selling record we had in America at the time as well, so I don’t think it matters what language you speak in – or sing in – music is the common denominator.”
After Creation Records folded Super Furry Animals made a handful of albums for Sony and two for Rough Trade before going into hiatus in 2010. It seems the five felt there were things they needed to do under their own steam.
“It just seemed a process that opened up naturally,” says Ciaran. “I think it was a period in the band’s life when perhaps it needed to happen. There were a lot of issues – not personal issues – that kind of drained the energy, and the fact that we’d been doing it for 15 years, it was starting to get stagnant maybe.
“We were going through the motions, all those clichés, Groundhog Day, almost doing it for the sake of it as opposed to celebrating it, so it was good to take that break so when you do come back you appreciate what you’ve got and what you had and you have that jump in your step again.
“I think the fact that in the six years off the output that came out of all five members – I’ve done three albums, Gruff’s done two or three, Daf’s done two, Guto’s done one, Bunf’s done one, and we all worked on each other’s records as well – it’s not like we stopped working or being creative. Our output continued, it just didn’t manifest itself in a Furries’ record.
“In that respect it’s good to get stuff off your chest. If you’re constantly touring or under pressure from the label to promote the album and go on tour or go to America and blah blah blah, not to sound blasé but when you can do an album like that it’s quite liberating, you’re not doing it for an agenda, you’re doing it for the love of it, and the fact that you’re not on the road frees up time to do other stuff as well. We were all starting to have families as well so the will to go on the road maybe wasn’t as strong.”
Their break over, Super Furry Animals appear reinvigorated to be performing their early material again. “It is good to revisit and remind yourself,” says Ciaran, “plus there’s no YouTube clips of these songs when we first played them so it’s kind of going back to school and re-learning the songs. It kind of takes you back by default. It’s inevitable playing something you haven’t played for 20 years, it’s going to jog some memories.”
Super Furry Animals play at O2 Academy Leeds on December 15. www.superfurry.com