Catching Up With... Super Furry Animals

Music Features Super Furry Animals
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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 impression.

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 fucking politics.

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.

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