INTERVIEW: Super Furry Animals | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Of the many bands that emerged from the indie explosion of the nineties, there were very few as consistently colourful, imaginative and productive as the Super Furry Animals. In the decade and a bit between their debut EP Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (In Space) in 1995 and their (to date) last album Dark Days/Light Years in 2009, they embraced Beach Boys-tinged pop, acid house breakdowns, Neil Young balladry, psychedelia, Welsh folk music and anything else that took their fancy.

After a lengthy hiatus, Super Furry Animals finally returned to live duty last year to celebrate the reissue of their 2000 album Mwng (still the highest charting album ever released to be sung in Welsh, fact fans). Following a sold out tour and major festival slots, the SFA touring machine is rolling once more with Northumbria University playing host to them on Saturday 23rd April. Ahead of this latest round of dates, I got the chance to talk to keyboardist Cian Ciaren about the band’s return.

As we spoke, the band had recently returned from their first American tour in a decade. True to form, rather than get suckered in by any hype, the band saw it as a chance to get back to the basics of being a touring act. “When we did the UK shows last year, we really didn’t know what to expect after such a long time away, and it was a similar thing with America. The shows weren’t as big as they were here, but we were pleasantly surprised – if that’s the right phrase. We did better than we thought we would just before leaving – because you don’t live there, it’s hard to gauge… It was like going back to square one, going round in a splitter van. The sun obviously helped once we got into California!”

Having originally got back together for a very limited run of UK shows, this seemingly dormant band has now found themselves back in international demand as a touring and festival act. The way Cian tells it however, this revival is more a matter of happy accident than any grand design. “At the start of last year, we had offers to do a handful of shows in the UK. We had spoken with Domino about two years previously about doing a reissue of Mwng, which didn’t happen then but the interest was still there, so when the offers started coming in and Domino got back in touch it just worked. Once you start rehearsing, you have to rehearse as much for one show as for fifty, so it made sense to carry on. I wouldn’t say we planned to do as much as we did, but I just went into it with an open mind and I think we all thought if we were still interested and there were still offers there that there wasn’t any reason not to keep going.”

you don’t want to do your first show after seven years with one smoke machine and a strobe light – you want to come back with some sort of a bang!

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their reunion shows have been praised for finding Super Furry Animals back at the peak of their live powers, replete with sci-fi costumes and trippy visuals. Having always inhabited their own distinct visual aesthetic, thanks to their work with frequent collaborator Pete Fowler, it’s unsurprising that they wanted to make their comeback shows a full experience (in contrast to their more stripped-back performances prior to their hiatus). “We’ve always been keen to put on a show, musically and visually. Obviously, you don’t want to do your first show after seven years with one smoke machine and a strobe light – you want to come back with some sort of a bang! We had some new visual clips, some old videos, animations from Pete Fowler, it’s a collaborative process. Four of us went to art school, so the visual element of the band has always been important to us.”

But there’s far more to their live shows than just the props. Talking about the experience of playing live again, we discuss their performance at Brixton Academy the day after last year’s election – a cathartic experience for both band and audience, the latter bursting into an incredible roar during the break of Hello Sunshine. “I still remember the roar. Things like that you don’t forget. That was a dark day in terms of politics – the never-ending Tory cuts. We definitely felt that on stage.”

Unsurprisingly for this band, it’s not the financial incentives but the joy of playing music again that’s the main point. Cian remains non-committal about the future of Super Furry Animals beyond this year’s dates. “To a point, it’s just take it as it comes. We all like playing, so there’s no reason not to do more. We just want to enjoy what we’re doing and enjoy it as it lasts and not make any promises or ultimatums or anything like that. That’s the reason you’re in a band when you’re fifteen, because you have a laugh and you enjoy it, you don’t think about making a living or what other people think necessarily. It’s nice to revisit that frame of mind: when you do it fifteen years non-stop, I suppose you can forget why or what you’re doing it for and what excited you when you were a kid. That’s what it’s about – an adult childhood!”

Super Furry Animals play Northumbria University, Newcastle on Saturday 23rd April.

 

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