Super Furry Animals - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
There’s something to be said for a band that shows up to a festival gig in a tank. The sight of a large war machine cutting through an audience blaring epic psychedelic post rock-techo fusion could only mean Super Furry Animals were behind the wheel…or gun turret as it were. The Super Furries arrived in the mid-90’s as part of the UK “Welsh Movement” that included other Welsh bands like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Catatonia. The Super Furry Animals were arguably the leaders of the Welsh Movement pack and definitely lasted the longest with eight full length albums released to date and two more on the way. By far one of the most inventive, eclectic, and experimental bands to come out of the 90’s Britain alternative scene, the Super Furries are widely hailed as the progenitor of post-alternative: a genre that emerged in the late 90’s defined by an eclectic amalgam of different musical genres. The Welsh quintet have become masters of mixing techno, psychedelic guitar rock, Beach Boys harmonies, and pretty much everything else under the sun into their intoxicating brew. Of course, their live shows (which really did include a tank at one point) usually consist of costume changes, wild lighting effects, and projected self made films have made the band a force to be reckoned with. Although the Super Furries never quite made it into the mainstream they have developed a dynamic world wide following that’s made them one the most beloved cult bands of their generation.
The Super Furry Animals formed in Cardiff, Wales in 1993 after lead singer/guitarist Gruff Rhys’ early all Welsh language folk rock band Ffa Coffi Pawb disbanded. Seeking to form a new band, Rhys formed a techno group including drummer Dafydd Ieuan and bassist Guto Pryce. After guitarist Huw Bunford and multi-instrumentalist Cian Ciaran joined the ranks the group began to record more guitar based psychedelic pop with electronic flourishes. Seeking a band name, Rhys took the moniker “Super Furry Animals” from some T-shirts his sister was making at the time for a side project band of Ciaran’s called The Acid Casuals. The group released their debut EP, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (In Space) in 1995 on the Welsh independent label Ankst. Sung entirely in Welsh, the EP’s title currently stands in Guinness Book of World Records as the longest title for an EP in history. The group followed the release later that year with another EP titled, Moog Droog (Ankst) whose titled is a Welsh pun for marijuana that literally translates to “naughty smoke”. After gaining a cult following in Wales the band began to gig around the UK. At a London show the band grabbed the interest of Creation Records chairman Alan McGhee, who agreed to sign the group if they wrote more songs in English. Turns out the band were singing in English that night but their Welsh accents were so thick they couldn’t be understood.
The following year Super Animals released their debut full length, Fuzzy Logic (1996-Creation) to huge critical acclaim with the power pop single “Something 4 the Weekend” generating commercial buzz throughout the UK. Unfortunately the group’s best song from the Fuzzy Logic sessions, “The Man Don’t Give A Fuck” was left off the album due to a Steely Dan sample that wasn’t cleared. The song was released as a single in December of 1996, although it received almost no radio play because the word “fuck” is uttered over 50 times. Eventually the track became a fan favorite and is still a popular encore for the band today. While making festival rounds in support of Fuzzy Logic the band would often, and infamously, show up in a large tank. The Super Furries wasted no time recording a follow up album and released, Radiator (1997-Creation), which continued to mine the experimental prog electronic fusion vein. The singles “Herman Loves Pauline” and “The International Language of Screaming” faired moderately but the Furries were still wallowing in cult status as bands like Blur and Oasis continued to dominated the UK airwaves. Seeking to expand their sound even more the Super Furries regrouped to record the Ice Hockey Hair EP (1998-Creation), which showcased the band taking a step away from guitar oriented material and experimenting more with loops and samples. The band continued their electronic experimentation on their next album, Guerilla (1999- Creation) their most critically lauded album up to that point. A significant stepping stone for the band, Guerilla showcased horn and string arrangements with Rhys taking a more melodic approach to his singing. The group embarked on a subsequent tour of the U.S. and Europe, performing their last show in their home town of Cardiff.
Guerilla would be one of the final albums to be released by Creation Records as Alan McGhee folded his financially unstable label in 1999. The band decided it was a good time to change things up and recorded the mostly acoustic all Welsh language full length, Mmng (2000) released on their own Placid Casual imprint. The album received favorable reviews and sold remarkably well for a Welsh language album. Later that year the band signed with Epic Records and released the album that cemented them as post-alternative icons. Rings Around the World (2001-Epic) flawlessly fused Rhys manic word play with 70’s prog and pop elements and melodic electronic soundscapes. The band even got Sir Paul McCartney to make a guest spot chewing carrots and celery on the song “Receptacle for the Respectable”. The album not only gained the Super Furries that elusive foothold in America but also was their first album to be release with a companion DVD that featured videos for all of the Rings Around the World tracks. After a world wide tour, and a Mercury Prize nomination, the group returned with their sixth full length, Phantom Power (Epic) in 2003. More stripped down than its predecessor the album delved into new genres like classic country and even R&B, spawning a hit single with “Golden Retriever”.
The next two years saw The Super Furries take a long overdue hiatus with Rhys releasing his first solo album, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (2005-Placid Casual) a mostly acoustic all Welsh language album with Rhys playing almost every instrument. Super Furry Animals regrouped in Brazil to record their next full length. Love Kraft (2005-Epic) relied on grandiose string arrangements and ambient electronic elements resulting in a mellower sound than anything the band had released previously. Even though the album sold moderately well it wasn’t as commercially success as their last two albums and after touring the band once again went on hiatus with Ciaran reviving his Acid Casuals project while drummer Ieuan started his own band called The Peth, which has been described by Rhys as “satanic ABBA”. Rhys also released another solo album, Candylion (2007-Rough Trade) this time mixing in English and Welsch language tracks with one track sung in Spanish. Rhys also announced he had formed a side project with electronic artist Boom Bip called Neon Neon and the duo are working on a concept record about the life of car designer John Delorian.
In early 2007, Rhys announced the Super Furry Animals were recording again in the South France, only this time they were working on three separate records. Seeking more of an “intense band experience” Rhys said that two of the albums would be guitar based psychedelic rock while the third was a symphonic instrumental album recorded with various orchestras. True to his word, the Super Furries released the first album in the trilogy later that year titled, Hey Venus! (2007-Rough Trade) to rave reviews. The album found the band returning to their power pop origins yet with tighter song structures and more original lyrics. The Super Furries are slated to embark on a North American tour in early 2008 and will release their two subsequent albums later in the year.