Over the past few years I've reviewed a few things on Strangetown Records, the label run by Cian Ciaran from Super Furry Animals, so naturally I jumped at the chance to interview the multi-instrumentalist when the band stopped in Washington, D.C. this week on their semi-reunion tour.
I got there early, met Gruff Rhys walking into the club after his stroll around D.C. in the 100 degree heat, and then settled in the downstairs bar with Cian to discuss both his projects and the history of the Super Furry Animals.
When asked if the release of the "Bing Bong" single this year and this tour were signs that Super Furry Animals were back for good, seeing as how the band had never even officially gone on hiatus, Cian replied that "they hadn't really talked about it much" but that the activities in 2015 gave the band a "boost" and they had "done twice as much" as they had intended. Just concentrating on the live shows to see "where it takes us", the group wanted to see where things went before committing to any new project as a band, nor could he see the individual members ever stopping the solo projects that are well underway. "We have been working together" but "just not as a band," he said, referring to his work with Guto, and Daf's work with him on his projects on Strangetown Records, including an upcoming new album from FFUG, another band with the brothers Daf and Cian.
Other projects from the prolific Cian on his still-rising label include an upcoming new album from Baby Queens which features Cian's wife (also in Zefur Wolves with Cian), and perhaps a new release from The Earth at some point in the near-future.
"It's not something I sit down and go 'I'm going to do this today' but usually it's a collection of songs I've had," Cian explained about his solo albums and side projects, including an upcoming orchestral work due for a debut later this year with a live performance. "I haven't gone to press yet... but it's about an hour-long piece, with full orchestra, so it's 84 players, performed by the BBC Wales orchestra. The music's based on an old Welsh tragic love story... it's quite a dark story." Trying to work out a way to document the "initial performance in November" 2016, Cian seems excited to be entering what he said "was a whole new world for me" with the composition. While the piece may not end up being "avant garde" or "groundbreaking" Cian explained that he "didn't set out to be" and that "I just set out to make beautiful music" with an orchestra, and the result will be something "quite filmic" since he likes the work of John Barry, Morricone, as well as classical artists like Bizet even.
"It's different for me," he said, and that "the band has always had a love for different music," which led to their work with Sean O'Hagan (High Llamas) on string arrangements [on 2005's Love Kraft, for instance], which in turn led to a desire to work with even more string players, he joked. Now it seems he's got his wish as he finishes up work on this piece for the November premiere.
Recalling the band's revolutionary live sound system, something I heard first-hand back in 1999 in Wolverhampton, Cian said that there had been bands who had done "quad" sound live, like Pink Floyd, but that the Furries "wanted a piece of that" and the experiments with live "surround sound" pointed the way toward "the first surround album" ever, 2001's Rings Around The World.
The band's sonic adventures and experiments with live sound are detailed at length in the fab 2015 book, Rise Of The Super Furry Animals, reviewed by me here, and so obviously I had to ask what the band thought of the book. Not officially "endorsed by the band" but approved in a sense, Cian's face brightened up as he perhaps thought about some of the SFA antics in the tome and he said "I don't remember half the things that happened" in that era. "I remember the moments but not so much the detail," he joked, a big grin on his face.
When asked about the band's days on Creation, and how the Super Furry Animals had once been a "Creation band", Cian seemed content with what the association had brought them back in the Nineties. "They had the money," and that money led to freedom for the Furries who benefited tremendously from the generosity of spirit of Alan McGee. Perhaps lumped in with the wave of post-Oasis acts that hit these shores from the label, Super Furry Animals literally began their rise thanks to that Britpop boom despite going beyond the label later, to sign on to Sony and elsewhere. "We were happy to be part of that label, that family. We liked all the bands prior to Oasis so it kinda made sense to us," to join that roster of acts in 1995 or so. "They let us do what we wanted... didn't put any reins on us [in the studio] and that's what we wanted." And having the cash on the back of the success of Oasis, the label was then "willing to invest" and that's "something labels don't do these days," he explained. "We were lucky to be in the right time and place" and that basis on Creation Records "gave us the foundation" to go on for another 10 or more years.
It's going on 20 years now for Super Furry Animals and they show no sign of slowing down. With each member of the act pursuing side projects, there's little real reason for the members to come together again except for the fact that these 5 fellows love working together and the results are usually spectacular. Offering up absolutely no hint of further new music from the band, Cian Ciaran's comments seemed to indicate that this tour was simply a celebration for the group, a way to perform old favorites for appreciative fans on both sides of the Atlantic. "We're still enjoying it," he said, outside of getting "bogged down" in the old cycle of new album and tour every 18 months. That audiences are so appreciative only makes things even better for the 5 members of Super Furry Animals.
After our conversation that spanned both his current side projects and all the way back to those Creation Records days, Cian headed up to the soundcheck for the evening's gig. My wife and I watched from the side as the band ran through "Bing Bong", "Ice Hockey Hair", "Run Christian Run", "Slow Life", and "Juxtapozed With U" all cuts that would sound tremendous later in the evening.
The sound cranked up, the bass reverberating through your solar plexus, the Super Furry Animals took the stage about 10:15 last night to run through a whole set of tunes from their voluminous back-catalog that were familiar to most fans in the audience. As well as the tracks mentioned above, they did "The International Language of Screaming", a silly but fun "Receptacle For The Respectable" (complete with carrot and celery in homage to Paul McCartney's credited contributions to the album version of the cut), a rousing "(Drawing) Rings Around The World", and a nearly-punk-y stab at "Golden Retriever" near the end of the set. All this was before finishing up with "The Man Don't Give A Fuck" while dressed as Sasquatches.
A big, big note of thanks to Cian Ciaran for taking the time to sit down with me for an interview. And thanks to Joe Puleo too for arranging the opportunity. It was a helluva night and now I can say that I have met all of the Super Furry Animals too, having met Guto Pryce in D.C. nearly 2 decades ago and the other 4 Furries last night at the 9:30 Club. It was also great to hang out a bit with D.C.'s own Nalinee Darmrong last night and see her in action as the 9:30 Club's house photographer. Her own book of her photographs of The Smiths, reviewed by me here, is out now. Check out the link up above on this page.