Super Furry Animals
Super Furry Animals (also known as "SFA", the "Furries" and the "Super Furries") are a critically acclaimed Welsh alternative rock band, with leanings towards psychedelic rock, punk, britpop and electronic experimentation.
They formed in Cardiff, Wales in 1993 by Gruff Rhys (lead vocals, guitar), Huw Bunford (guitar, vocals), Guto Pryce (bass), Cian Ciaran (keyboards, electronics, vocals) and Dafydd Ieuan (drums, vocals) and have released nine full length albums and numerous EPs. The most recent release is 2009's "Dark Days/Light Years".
The band formed in Cardiff after being in various other Welsh bands and techno outfits in the area, among them Ffa Coffi Pawb. Lead vocalist/guitarist Gruff Rhys, drummer/vocalist Dafydd Ieuan and bassist Guto Pryce had been together since the early 1990s and had toured the north coast of France as a techno group. The other two members of the band are lead guitarist/vocalist Huw Bunford and keyboardist/vocalist Cian Ciaran; the latter is Ieuan's younger brother. They then got to work on writing some songs, and in 1995 ended up signing to Ankst, the famous Welsh Indie rock label. The band are considered to be part of the renaissance of Welsh music (and art, and literature) in the 1990s: other Welsh bands of the time include Catatonia, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and the Manic Street Preachers.
The actor Rhys Ifans was briefly lead vocalist of the band, before they found national success.
The name of the band came from T-shirts being printed by Gruff's sister. She was making Super Furry Animals T-shirts for the fashion and music collective and a side project of Cian's, Acid Casuals (variants of whose name have appeared throughout SFA's career - for example, in their song "The Placid Casual" and in their record label Placid Casual).
The earliest SFA track to be commercially available is Dim Brys Dim Chwys, recorded in 1994 for Radio Cymru: an ambient piece, the track shows the band's techno roots. However, by the time it was released on the "Triskaphilia" compilation album in August 1995, the band had already put out their debut EP on the Ankst label.
The Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyndrobwllantysiliogogogochynygofod (in space) EP appeared in June 1995 to general critical acclaim and has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having the longest-ever title for an EP. The Moog Droog EP followed in October 1995, named after the synthesizer manufacturer Robert Moog and the Nadsat term for "friend" in 'A Clockwork Orange' - (droog, itself though derived from the Russian word друг). The EP's title is also a pun on the Welsh term Mwg Drwg, meaning "wacky baccy" (slang for cannabis, more literally "bad smoke"). The lyrics on all the tracks on both EPs were in Welsh, except for God! Show Me Magic.
-Commercial breakthrough on a major label-
After gigging in London in late 1995, they were noticed by Creation Records boss Alan McGee at the Camden Monarch club (only their second gig outside Wales), who signed them to his label. Creation was also home to the likes of Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub, and had recently found massive commercial success with Oasis. The band have said that having watched their gig, McGee asked them if they could sing in English rather than Welsh in future shows. In fact, by this stage they were singing in English, but McGee didn't realise, because their Welsh accents were so strong.
In February 1996, the band's debut on Creation, Hometown Unicorn, became NME's Single Of The Week, chosen by guest reviewers Pulp, and the first SFA single to chart in the UK Top 50, peaking at #47. The follow-up, a re-recording of "God! Show Me Magic", charted at #33 upon release in April 1996 and also became NME single of the week. Rawer than the "Moog Droog" version, it clocks in at only 1 min 50 secs.
In May, their debut album Fuzzy Logic was released, again to wide critical acclaim. Sales were slow, with the album peaking at #23 in the charts, but it garnered a little more interest when next single Something 4 The Weekend (a reworked, more mellow version of the album track) was given considerable radio airplay and charted at #18 in July 1996.
The final single from the album, If You Don't Want Me To Destroy You, was to have been backed by a track called "The Man Don't Give A Fuck". However, there were problems in clearing a sample from "Showbiz Kids" by Steely Dan which formed the basis of the chorus, and it was switched for a different track. The single charted at #18. However, SFA regarded The Man Don't Give A Fuck as one of their best songs to date and continued their efforts to clear the sample. When they managed this, there was no upcoming release to attach it to - so it came out as a limited edition single in its own right, in December 1996. This ultimately cemented its legendary status and did much to establish SFA as cult heroes, as the song contained the word "fuck" over 50 times and was therefore received practically no airplay. However, it hit #22 in the charts and became SFA's standard closing number when they played live.
In early 1997, SFA embarked on the NME Brats Tour and completed work on a speedy follow-up to "Fuzzy Logic". Two singles preceded the new album, Hermann Loves Pauline in May and The International Language Of Screaming in July, hitting #26 and #24 respectively: these releases were the first to feature cover art from Pete Fowler, who has designed the sleeves of all their releases since. The album, Radiator, hit shelves in August. The reviews were, if anything, better than those for "Fuzzy Logic", and it sold more quickly than its predecessor, reaching a peak of #8: however, Creation did not serve the album particularly well by releasing it just four days after the long-awaited new effort from Oasis, "Be Here Now".
Two further singles, Play It Cool (released September 1997) and Demons (released November 1997) both hit #27 in the charts, suggesting that SFA had hit a commercial ceiling though which they were struggling to break. However, they had established themselves as favourites in the music press, a cut above the majority of their Britpop peers.
After a chance to think about their music and their direction, SFA decided to recorded a new EP in early 1998 at Gorwel Owen's house and released it in May. This was the Ice Hockey Hair EP, widely held as one of their finest moments. ("Ice hockey hair" is a slang term for a mullet - the haircut). Featuring four tracks, the EP presented SFA's unmistakable songwriting skills alongside fresh-sounding beats and a loop sampled from Black Uhuru. The title track, a melodic and very moving epic, gained airplay while Smokin' became another favourite with the fans. Its "I just want to smoke it" refrain won instant appeal and approval. In a Melody Maker interview, SFA said the "Smokin'" part referred to smoking haddock, or to truck drivers' tyres when they're "burnin' the roads". It became their most successful single up to this point, hitting #12 in the charts and leading to a memorable appearance on Top Of The Pops.
In November 1998, the album Out Spaced was released. This was a collection of songs from the 1995 Ankst releases (including "Dim Brys: Dim Chwys"), the band's favourite B-sides, plus "The Man Don't Give A Fuck" and "Smokin'". A limited edition appeared in a comedy rubber sleeve, shaped like a nipple. Many saw the collection as drawing a line under SFA's initial phase, in preparation for more ambitious work to come.
1999 proved to be a big year for SFA. NME readers named them Best New Band in January. In May, the single Northern Lites was released and made #11 in the charts. A dense production, with steel drums clattering out a calypso rhythm whilst Gruff sang an irreverent lyric about Jesus, it was an apt taster for the new album, Guerrilla. Recorded at the Real World Studios, the album retained SFA's pop melodies but took a less guitar-centric approach to their execution and was their most experimental work to date. Layers of samples over brass, percussion and Gruff's melodic singing produced an album which took the freewheeling approach of 1960s groups such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground and updated it to the late 1990s.
The album swung from glam and garage rock inspired songs (Night Vision and The Teacher) to novelty techno (Wherever I Lay My Phone (That's My Home)), ambient indietronica (Some Things Come From Nothing) and upbeat drum'n'bass (The Door To This House Remains Open). For the cover art, Pete Fowler created the band's first three-dimensional models, rather than the paintings he had supplied for the "Radiator" album and singles.
After playing several of the summer festivals, SFA released Fire In My Heart, the most soulful track from "Guerrilla", in August and saw it chart at #25. They then embarked on a US and UK tour. SFA finished their UK tour at the Cardiff International Arena, where they showcased the first ever concert in surround sound and broadcast it on the Internet.
-Creating their own label and singing in Welsh once again-
January 2000 involved a series of changes for SFA. The last single from "Guerrilla", "Do Or Die", was released and made #20. It was also the last single SFA released on Creation Records, as founder Alan McGee set off to pursue other interests. It had always been SFA's plan to release their next album on their own label, Placid Casual, as it would be a deliberate sidestep from their recent work: a largely acoustic album of Welsh language songs entitled Mwng. Meaning "mane", its lilting melodies established that SFA's songwriting did not have to fall back on head-spinning production tricks. A limited edition (of 3000) 7 inch record, Ysbeidiau Heulog (meaning "Sunny Intervals") preceded "Mwng" in May 2000. It came backed with "Change", a hard-rock jam recorded as a Peel Session for the BBC. The album, released the same month, sold remarkably well for a non-English LP - it made #11 in the charts - and received a rare distinction for a pop record, being commended in Parliament for its efforts in keeping the Welsh language alive.
2000 also saw the Furries nominated for a grammy, for their work on the sound collage "Plastic Beatle". They undertook this remixing of unreleased Beatles recordings at the invitation of Paul McCartney, whom they had met at the NME Awards.
-Back to one of the majors-
With the demise of Creation, SFA needed to find a new label for their next album. Sony had long held a substantial stake in Creation and offered deals to many ex-Creation artists, including SFA, who signed with one of Sony's subsidiaries, Epic. The band pushed for a deal which allowed them to take a new album elsewhere if the label wasn't interested in releasing it - thereby allowing them to find a home for any esoteric project they might want to undertake in the future.
The greater resources afforded them by Epic were apparent in their first album for the label, Rings around the World. Again the first single was a good indication of what was to come: Juxtapozed With U, released in July 2001, was a lush soul record which made #14 in the charts. The album followed in the same month and major label marketing muscle made it their biggest-seller to date, reaching #3 in the album charts. One of the tracks from the album, Receptacle For The Respectable featured Paul McCartney on "carrot and celery rhythm track" (a homage to his performance on the Beach Boys' Vegetables).
SFA unleashed their experimental side on tracks such as Sidewalk Serfer Girl (which switches between light techno-pop and hardcore punk), "(A) Touch Sensitive" (gloomy trip-hop) and No Sympathy (which descends into chaotic drum'n'bass), but also apparent was an angrier edge to the lyrics: Run! Christian, Run! seemed to be an attack on the complacency of organised religion.
"Rings around the World" is also remarkable for being the world's first simultaneous release of an audio and DVD album. It was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2001. The ceremony took place on the day after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and SFA's performance of the album track It's Not the End of the World? took on a somewhat bitter edge. It was released as a single in January 2002 (chart #30), following (Drawing) Rings around the World (chart #28): neither had that much impact but still received some airplay, notably on BBC Radio 2.
The next album, Phantom Power, was released on CD and DVD in July 2003, preceded by a single, Golden Retriever, in June (chart #13). Although the reviews for the album were generally good and it sold well initially, charting at #4, the album broke little new ground by SFA's standards and the band had fallen out of fashion, receiving little coverage in the music press. Another single, Hello Sunshine, hit #31 in October 2003 and was eventually featured on one of the soundtracks of "The O.C.".
Perhaps recognising that their approach to "Phantom Power" had been a little too straightforward, SFA followed it up in 2004 with a remix version, Phantom Phorce, with tracks reworked by the likes of Killa Kela, Four Tet and Brave Captain. They accompanied this with a download single, Slow Life, which also included the track Motherfokker, a collaboration with Goldie Lookin Chain.
-Recent years, solo projects and other trivia-
In October 2004 the band released a "best of" album, Songbook: The Singles, Vol. 1, accompanied by a single - a live version of "The Man Don't Give A Fuck" (chart #16).
In early 2005, Gruff Rhys released a solo album Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, ("The Stuttering Generation", and also a play on words as "Atal Genhedlu" means contraception), sung all in Welsh. Gruff played most of the instruments himself, mainly using guitars, drums and his own multi-tracked voice. The band also selected tracks for a volume in the "Under the Influence" series of compilations, in which artists present the songs that they feel have most contributed to their sound.
Also in 2005 it was reported that SFA turned down a $1.8 mio. advertising deal with Coca-Cola after visiting a Coca-Cola plantation in Colombia, where they heard of management directed killings of trade-union members. The company were asking for use of "Hello Sunshine" as part of their campaign. In a statement to British magazine Q, Coca-Cola denied the allegations, stating they had been "an exemplary member of the business community" in Colombia.
In August 2005 SFA released the album Love Kraft, recorded in Brazil. This represented a departure from their previous working methods: Although all five members had always contributed to the development of the songs, Gruff had always been the main songwriter. On "Love Kraft" this was no longer the case, and all five members contributed songs and lead vocals. There was only one single from the album, Lazer Beam, released on 15 August (chart #28): the lack of subsequent singles is partly a reflection of the nature of "Love Kraft", which is more of a coherent whole than their previous albums. The laid-back ambience recalls early-1970s The Beach Boys albums such as Surf's Up (which SFA have referred to as their all-time favourite album), whilst the heavy use of strings suggests the likes of Scott Walker and Curtis Mayfield. The album's cool commercial reception (it charted at just #19), suggests that they have returned to their familiar status of critically-acclaimed cult favourites.
Daf is currently recording with his new band The Peth, which has been described by Gruff as "Satanic Abba".
Recording sessions took place in a chateau in the south of France in 2007 for the band's first release for Rough Trade, Hey Venus!, which was released on August 27 that year. The record was a step back from Love Kraft, and is very much in the vein of the band's late-90s' records. Gruff himself described the record as "speaker blowing". The album's first single, "Show Your Hand", failed to enter the top 40, their first to do so since 1996's "Hometown Unicorn", despite modest airplay. The album itself faired much better, peaking at #11 and was a slight improvement from the sales of Love Kraft. The album became their first to enter the iTunes Music Store top 10 album charts, peaking no higher than #9. Over the 2007 christmas period SFA released the christmas single "The Gift That Keeps Giving" free from their website.
For the album artwork for "Hey Venus!" the band tracked down the (in 2007) 82 year old Japanese artist Keiichi Tanaami to replace the album artwork of Pete Fowler's with whom the band had had, what Gruff in an interview with Pitchfork called, 'a blood pact' to make their cover sleeve artwork for 10 yeras. Although Gruff didn't actually know if Tanaami was still alive, he had been a fan of his works for many years. Gruff also stated in the earlier mentioned interview that Tanaami apparently had been known to be one of the first people in Japan to take acid in the 60s, and that coincided with the first pizza parlor opening in Tokyo. So Tanaami used to go into this pizza parlor and look at all the different color combinations from the toppings and have a psychedelic experience.