"There's a real sadness and a real melancholy to the songs" - The Psychedelic Furs return after 30 years with new album Made Of Rain
The last time a new album from British new wave pioneers The Psychedelic Furs was on the shelves, it was July 1991.
Since then, the band have split, reunited, pursued side projects and solo projects before eventually reuniting as a very successful touring act.
The band, best known for their genre-splicing hits 'Love My Way', 'Pretty In Pink' and 'Heaven', have averaged 50 shows a year since 2010, but a new album has never been on the agenda. Until now.
Produced by Richard Fortus, the Guns N'Roses guitarist who was briefly a member of the band's live outfit, their new album Made Of Rain is a collection of dark, brooding pop songs. Quirky and unmistakable.
With the new album out now, we spoke to frontman Richard Butler about why, after such a long gap, 2020 is the year that the band finally releases a new album...
Having not made an album for a long time, was there a moment when you realised that you were making an album? Did you have enough songs? Or did you decide that was what you wanted to do?
"We wanted to make a record. We'd been writing bits and pieces over the years. 'Wrong Train', that's been around for a while. But it was more that the band was playing really well. This is the best live line-up we've had and I wanted to put that on a record. A few of the songs, one or two, they've been knocking around for a while, but mostly it's new songs."
How did you find getting back in the groove? Studios must be different, the music industry is very different...
"We've all been in and out of studios over the years. I've made three records since the last one with The Psychedelic Furs, that didn't take any time at all. The music industry is completely different now. Touring was almost an incidental in terms of the money you made when we were young, now it's how you make your money. It's how young bands survive. I know COVID-19 is going to push a lot of young bands to the brink. It's terribly sad."
Were you nervous about making a new Psychedelic Furs LP? Did the 30-year-gap weigh on you at all?
"I didn't really think about how long it had been. I just knew it had to be a good album. To come back with a weak record would have been heartbreaking. You'd never have heard it. It would have been quietly put in the trash."
Whenever you do get back on tour, you must be excited to finally have some new songs in the set...
"Oh yeah. But it's not like it's been a drag for the last few years. People say to me all the time 'You must get bored of playing the old songs', and the funny thing is, we don't. Not really. You go onstage and you add an audience into the mix and it becomes about them. The energy from a crowd transforms a song and how it comes across. We are excited to have new songs and to have the challenge of learning how to play them in a live environment."
How was the writing process for this record? Has it changed over the years?
"It's changed in the sense that when we were a younger band, we would get together in a rehearsal studio and plough through ideas. We'd jam until something sounded good. These days it's more different members of the band sending me music and me putting a melody over it and sending it back. We got about 20 songs that way and then we went into rehearsal and made them into full songs. Writing over email and Dropbox was new, but it's the way to go."
Was there a conscious effort in the writing that it had to sound like the Psychedelic Furs that people know? Or were you confident it would just happen organically?
"It was going to happen anyway. The band has been playing Psychedelic Furs songs for a long, long time. Paul Garisto, who drums on the album, and Mars Williams, who plays saxophone, they've been with us since the 80s. These are people who know what the band is all about. Even the producer, Richard Fortus, he was in the band for a while. We sound like what we sound like, we didn't need to make a conscious effort."
Why did you decide on Richard Fortus to produce the record? People will know him best as a member of Guns N'Roses...
"We're really good friends and he has a great studio in his house. He'd written a lot of songs with me for our project Love Spit Love, so we had a rapport. It was a bit of leap of faith to trust him as a producer, but I had full confidence in him."
Were you tempted to get in a producer who's been making records for the last 10 years? A Mark Ronson type...
"I wanted somebody I knew. I thought that was important. The thought crossed my mind to work with Steve Lillywhite again, I'd still love to do that. But I enjoyed working with Richard. I don't think anybody could have done a better job."
What's your process when it comes to lyrics? Is it the same as a young Richard Butler?
"I let myself be carried along by the piece of music. Band members will send me music and sometimes I just can't come up with anything. That happens a lot. It's probably one in three that get a melody out of me and it has to be quick, I need to just start writing. Lyrics are always automatic writing. Once I've got some imagery down, I'll try and tie things together. It's always rooted in my subconscious."
Can you pick out any themes on the record now?
"Isolation, sorrow, melancholy, lack of faith in religion, lack of faith in anything really."
When did you decide on Made Of Rain for the title? Was it there throughout or was the record done?
"It was done. I'd read this epic poem by Brendan Kennelly. He was going through a heart operation and in and out of death. At least that's the way he describes it. He's visited on his hospital bed by this character he calls 'The Man Made Of Rain'. I really liked that, but I didn't want to rip off Brendan entirely. It sums up the record well. There's a real sadness and a real melancholy to the songs. It summed it up perfectly."
Did the rest of the band go for it straight away?
"They didn't really have a choice."
In terms of your live plans, you've got a UK tour booked for 2021, were you due to be out this summer?
"We had some festivals for this summer, which obviously didn't happen. We've got some US shows and some other UK dates. We won't just be jumping straight into the Royal Albert Hall, that would be terrifying..."
You must be excited to get back out there, whenever it is...
"I love playing live. I miss it when we don't do it. We haven't been to Japan in a long time, and I'd love to get back. I want to get back to Australia. We've started to play South America in recent years and I've loved that, I'd be keen to get back there."
You were with Columbia Records for a long time, but this album is coming out on Cooking Vinyl. How have you found setting up a record in 2020?
"They've been very enthusiastic and very involved. That was great. I was particularly pleased we'd be able to get it out on vinyl again. It's such a wonderful format."
Finally, having had such a long time not releasing music, have you got the bug and kept writing? Or is it more a case of wait and see?
"We've got the bug. During the lockdown, I've been asking band members to send me music and I've been writing songs. We want to make another album. It certainly won't be 30 more years..."