Eight albums into their unlikely career, Welsh rockers Super Furry Animals remain as unpredictable as ever
. After a series of ambitiously inventive orchestrated albums like 2003's Phantom Power
and 2005's Love Kraft
, the Cardiff quintet has released Hey Venus!
, a winningly concise collection of stripped-down songs about cowardice, consumerism, war, oppression and eightball-eating babies. Recalling past efforts like 1997’s Radiator
, an early career highlight, Hey Venus!
could be a new chapter in the band’s history or simply a brief layover before picking up where previous efforts left off. Either way, these infectious songs sound less like a retreat to a familiar, safe sound than a hairpin turn in a different stylistic direction. Paste
caught up with drummer Dafydd Ieuan while the band was waiting to play a show in San Diego.
Paste: First of all, what’s the significance of the title Hey Venus!?
Ieuan: It’s this line in one of the songs on the album
[“Into the Night”]. There’s a storyline running through it about a
young girl and the loss of innocence when she moves to the city. I’m
not sure if she’s actually Venus or not, but it just sounded like a
good album title. They can actually come from the strangest places
sometimes, but that one’s actually a line in the song. I wouldn’t read
too much into it.
Paste: How did recording for Hey Venus! go?
Ieuan: This one we did in a place in the South of
France called Miraval. It was actually a vineyard that happened to have
a recording studio in it. It was absolutely beautiful. The winers were
picking the grapes for the next season, and the food was amazing. We
did it with [Broken Social Scene's] David Newfeld, from Canada. We were
only there for three weeks. It was pretty much live, with the whole
band in the room and not that many overdubs. We had to spend so much
time recovering from the eating and the wine drinking. It was really
quite festive until we came back to Wales to mix it with a guy called
Chris Shaw, who’s worked on some of our albums before. That was it,
basically. We had like 30 or 40 song ideas worked out and sort of
whittled them down to find out what works and what doesn’t.
Paste: It sounds much more concise than the last few albums.
Ieuan: It wasn’t a conscious effort to do that,
really. It just happens to be out of all the songs, I suppose we could
have done a totally different album, with all the different kinds of
songs. But these go together and they turned out to work really quickly
because we did them live and without a lot of overdubs. If they sound
good when we play them live, there’s no need to fuck around with them,
you know? Because we have been in the studio in the past and messed
around with songs. It’s a bit daft. But we just decided not to this
time, I suppose.
Paste: How different was that from the way you worked on the last couple of albums?
Ieuan: Very different. We’ve always gone into a studio
and recorded, but we were still generally a bass-drums-and-guitar band
with keyboards. We’ve always gone to different places to do albums,
just to keep the sound good and you can feel the vibe or something
maybe. So we do things differently. The last album in the studio we
recorded live as well, which we’ve always done, but I think that’s the
hardest thing to do. We’ve got a batch of songs and we know roughly how
they’re going to go, but until we start recording them for real, it’s
too hard to say what going to come up in the recordings. We went into
the studio like we do every time, but this is how it happened to turn
out this time.
Paste: So it could have been a really different album.
Ieuan: I think so. We’ve always got a back catalog of
songs. We’ve already got another two albums on the go as we speak. It
all depends on what we fancy doing. So you start recording, but even
then it doesn’t mean that you can’t end up arranging them in a
different way. We only had three weeks in the studio, so you tend to
work quicker with pressure like that, I suppose.
Paste: What did David Newfeld bring to the album?
Ieuan: He was recommended by some friends of ours.
We’d never met him before. He’s quite a character, actually, we
thought. And he smoked more weed than we did in the studio. I think
he’s a really good producer. It was interesting. We wrote some
different songs that we hadn’t done before. It’s risky sometimes. There
are pluses and minuses. There are certain things you end up doing that
you wouldn’t do before, and there are certain things that you like
doing and you’re set in your ways sometimes. I’d describe it this way:
it was… interesting. I know that was a cop-out, but there you go.
Paste: Can you tell me a little bit about the guy who did the cover art?
Ieuan: Keiichi Tanaami. He’s a Japanese artist. We
just liked his work. We’d been working with this guy named Pete Fowler
for years, for all the other albums. I just think we just wanted a
change maybe. Fowler’s work is quite well known, especially in the UK
at the moment, so maybe it was time to move on and come up with
something that’s still a bit mad, you know? I think we got on the top
20 worst album covers in some magazine. I forgot what it was, maybe
Pitchfork or something like that. We thought that was great! We’re
going to use it on the posters!
Paste: That’s a good way to turn that around.
Ieuan: Yeah. Throw it back in their faces. It’s
fucking all about taste. We met [Tanaami] in Japan when we were over
there a couple of months ago. I think he’s a really nice guy. He was
one of the first Japanese people to take acid in the '60s. Looking at
the pictures, I can see that, you know?
Paste: In general, what role do visuals play in your music?
Ieuan: It is important, but I don’t know. There’s a
50-50 success rate with visuals, I think. We don’t always agree as band
either. There are some things I think are shit that we’ve created and
vice versa, do you know what I mean? We all do get involved in
everything we do, from recording onwards. But no, it’s really
important, I think. You often buy a record because you like the cover.
You can guess that it might be interesting based on the artwork. It’s
the thing you come across before you hear it, I suppose. It’s the first
Paste: Can you tell me a little about moving from XL to Rough Trade?
Ieuan: No, not really. I mean, we did the record and
now we’re out on tour to promote it. That seems to be what we do, no
matter what record label we’re on. So, I mean, it’s hard to tell. We’ve
been on a few [labels] now, but we’re only on our first album with
[Rough Trade]. But I mean, we’ve been living in a bus on tour and in
the studio, so that’s why we’ve got managers to deal with those issues.
Paste: So it doesn’t really affect you on a day-by-day basis?
Ieuan: Well, the problem is these things do affect
you, you know what I mean? When you’re talking about budgets or
something like that, I think the records are basically the same. As
long as we can do what we need to do, then that’s fine. Managers are
there to do all that, aren’t they?
Paste: It seems like a lot of the more recent songs are very pointed and angry.
Ieuan: Occasionally, yes. But you can’t be angry all
the time, or you’ll go mad. I will say this, this is not a political
band, but we’re not apolitical either. We’re just commenting on the big
political things that affect the whole world, as well as the banal.
Like, don’t chew gum in bed, because you’ll wake up with it stuck in
your hair. I don’t think political agitation is wrong or anything, as
long as the songs don’t suck and you’re not pious enough to believe
that just because you’re in a band, people are going to listen to your
Paste: What’s next after this tour? Do you have more recordings planned?
Ieuan: There’s always recording planned. We’re in the
middle of working on a couple of albums of our own. And Gruff is going
on what you call medical for a bit. His girlfriend is… Um, he’ll be on
paternity leave. But we’ve always got stuff to do. After this, we’ll
have to sit down and see what we’re going to do and in what order. So I
don’t know, but I know we’ll be doing something.