A Chat with Tim Butler of the Psychedelic Furs
It’s always a tricky proposition when a band you love puts out new music for the first time in decades.
Will it be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their earlier work (ala Dinosaur Jr.) or come across as a listless, pale shadow of their former selves (I’m looking at you, Pixies!) Since reuniting at the turn of the millennium – after several years recording and performing as the somewhat heavier Love Spit Love – ‘80s soundtrack heroes (and the best alt-rock band to feature a saxophone not named X-Ray Spex), the Psychedelic Furs had released exactly one song. That is, until now.
Having teased the creation of a new album for at least the past five years and having debuted a few works in progress on their past two North American tours, the Butler brothers and company have finally unleashed Made Of Rain, the first Psychedelic Furs full-length album since 1991’s somewhat lackluster World Outside. And the new record bests that one in almost every way – the songs are filled with moody edge and vitality, slathered with Mars Williams’ woozy sax and the swooning vocals of Richard Butler, whose voice has not aged a day. This is how you make a comeback record!
The band’s bassist, Tim Butler, spoke with me about the creation of the new record, the unexpected delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, being in a band with your brother, and the lasting legacy of their single, “President Gas”.
Made Of Rain is the first album the Psychedelic Furs have done in almost 30 years and the first new music since 2001 when you put out “Alive (For Once In My Lifetime) on the live record – what brought you back into the studio right now?
Well, we were always planning on a recording again when we got back together and we just didn’t have the confidence in the initial sorts of songs that we were coming up with that they would stand up against a back catalog. Finally, the last, probably six or seven months before we recorded Made Of Rain, all of a sudden songs were coming that we were writing and we’re thinking, “Wow, you know, these should be recorded. Let’s do it. Now’s the time.”
Were you writing stuff all along? I know there’s a couple of tracks on the album that are co-writes with former collaborators like Richard Fortis and John Ashton. Did you decide to include those to fill out the album or where they songs that had been worked on and just couldn’t get right for some time? How did that process work?
“Wrong Train” had been around for a while. Back in, I guess it was 2006, I’d actually taken that musical idea up to John’s and we worked on it and he put in some ideas and stuff. So that was a song written by John and I that we’ve totally reimagined musically for the album. We have lots of songs in various forms that could be used in the future, but, most of the ones that actually made it onto Made Of Rain were written in six or seven months before we decided to go in and record. So that it’s still fresh and new to us. Nevermind being fresh for you, an audience. We were really excited about touring with the release of the album and even getting out there and after 20 years of being back together with a vast amount of the set being brand new songs, but that will have to wait until next year.
The album definitely has some of the stylistic hallmarks of the old Furs sound with the soaring courses, the keyboards, Mars Williams’ sax but it also sounds very modern and energetic
Yeah, I mean, it sounds fresh and energetic because they are! We hadn’t rehearsed, you know – we got the rough ideas on demos and then went into rehearsal for a week and just kicked them around as a band and then went straight in and recorded. We would do three or takes of a song and pick the best version and worked on that. So that’s why they still have the freshness. The don’t have a studio overworking on them.
No, not at all. They very much have rough edges on them, which I think plays to your strengths as a band. Leaving some of that rough human sound really makes the songs live and breathe.
You had to push back the release date of the due to the world basically shutting down. How did you rethink the strategy of releasing the record? I know the tour was scheduled to kickoff shortly after the original release date. It must be a challenge getting the stuff out in front of fans.
Yeah. I mean, that’s the reason why we had you have four tracks off the album have been released to the public with lyric videos – to keep people aware that there was a new album coming out and keep the anticipation and excitement going. As you said, it was supposed to have been at the end of April. So yeah, we had to all of a sudden get that idea together of how to keep our name on the front burner. So we figured we’d do a bunch of videos to keep ourselves in people’s minds.
And what’s the response been like?
Really good. I mean, we’ve been getting some great reviews for each single and they were all very positive and we’ve been getting some English paper reviews for the album. So fingers crossed when we play next year we’ll get a super good audience.
I can’t imagine these songs not going over well. They really do seem well-suited to a live presentation.
What’s great is that what you hear on the record is pretty much live anyway. I mean, we went into the studio and all played at once except for a couple of songs. There’s very few overdubs and messing around. So it’s pretty much a band playing as opposed to the piecemeal way a lot of records are made.
Considering what a deep catalog you have, are there songs that you don’t get to play live that you’re really itching to?
I have favorites for sure. I love playing “Only You And I” off of Forever Now, which we plays sometimes but I’d love to play more because it’s one of my favorites off that. And “President Gas” off that album as well. Sadly you can’t play everything – for twenty years we didn’t have any new songs and you do the hits of course, and then, you know, shuffle around the catalog.
“President Gas” is definitely one of my favorites.
The thing is about that song… every year when these elections come around, it’s always very apt lyrically. And it really doesn’t matter which politician is going to be elected!
It doesn’t matter if they’re Democrat or Republican, they’re pretty much going to be lumped in the same basket when it comes down to it.
VIDEO: The Psychedelic Furs “President Gas” Live 1981
And we’re seeing a lot of populist upheaval now where I think people are waking up a little bit to the fact that their politicians’ interests aren’t aligned with people’s in most cases. So “President Gas” definitely gives voice to that really well.
Yeah. With a lot of politicians, I think it has to be a wealthy or rich person to run so they never had to walk a mile in the shoes of working class people. They’re pretty much only after their own careers or staying in office as long as possible or, you know, in the pocket of special interests. So I don’t know what’s going to change that, while they they’re allowed to have Super PACs and stuff like that. I don’t think there’s going to be many honest politicians out there on either side.
No, absolutely not. When you can be bought and sold you don’t tend to have the populace’s interest in mind.
Yeah. They don’t even know what they’re really know what the interests of the people are! It comes down to money. And it’s worldwide. It’s the same.
Oh yeah. It’s not a uniquely American trait, but we seem to have done pretty well with it.
Shifting gears, I’ve always wondered about bands with siblings in them where they are both part of the creative engine of the band. You’re one of the few bands I can think of with siblings in the band that doesn’t seem to have any real kind of public rancor – you and (singer) Richard seemed to work well together. How do you keep that dynamic working, creatively and personally? Or do we just not see the ugly side.
No, I can’t understand all these bands you get with discord between the brothers and stuff. I mean, you’re brothers – blood is thicker than a thicker than rock and roll. I always like to say your brother’s going to be there – he’s going to have your back, long after the rock and roll journey or dream is over. So I just can’t understand. Back in the day you used maybe get drunk and have a little argument, but it would last 10 minutes and then you’d be laughing together. But nowadays we’ve come to terms with the fact that we both have our place in the band. We’re both as important as each other in our own ways. So the sibling rivalry thing is just water under the bridge.
I can’t see the band working without either of your input, your personalities, the playing, and Richard’s voice – it is a very symbiotic thing.
Well, when we was growing up in the same house we’d listen to the same music and we had the same idea of where the band should go. Maybe one of the main reasons why you get other bands with brothers – except they argue and we have the same goals!
Always a good thing! Obviously the tour has been pushed back until 2021 because of the virtual shutdown of live music. Is there anything in the works to keep the momentum going through 2020? Are you doing anything else to promote the album? Are there ideas to try and work on any of those songs that didn’t quite fit on Made Of Rain? What’s next for the Furs?
Yeah. We really want to get working on new songs and some are already in the works. So it won’t be another 30 years between albums! Right now we’re thinking about more videos and singles to keep us in the forefront of people’s minds until her can get back out on the road, which I think is going to be April of next year. Sadly we just have to wait and see how things go.
My daughter turned 13 and her bat mitzvah was scheduled for this past May. And now it’s kind of week by week trying to figure out when’s the world’s going to feel safe enough to get people back together in large groups to reschedule that. I can’t imagine trying to schedule something six or eight months out where thousands of people are in the same place. That’s got to be quite the challenge.
Basically. It’s all down to when we have a vaccine and people will be having enough confidence to not only promote rock concerts, but to attend them. We’re hoping that is sooner than later. We’re really excited and chomping at the bit to get out there and play new songs. And, after 30 years of not having any new songs, I think people are ready.