Day 2 of Super Furry week on Mint Custard and as promised here is the first part of an interview I did in 2003 for the launch of Phantom Power.
The band were in Sydney for a gig and Guto, Gruff and Cian came to promote the album at a community radio station where I was a volunteer. I was excited about being given the job but also a bit scared because at this point I'd only ever interviewed Turin Brakes, which as you can probably appreciate wasn't quite on the same scale. There's also that big thing about never meet your heroes, but it turned out to be fine as they were genuinely nice guys. Considering the fact that they had probably already answered similar questions for days they were very chatty, though they were more animated about sport than having to talk about their album again...
We ended up in the beer garden of the pub around the corner, so picture if you will picnic tables, sunshine and scavenging birds leaping about the place, one of which which will play a part in our story.
Gruff: Australia’s sponsored to fuck isn’t it? The product placement… it’s insane.
MC: What things have you seen that make you feel like that?
Gruff: Kitchen knives. You know, they go to the adverts in the cookery section of a program and it’s “Woah, check out these knives by so-and-so company. Don’t they glide through the strawberry?”
MC: I remember my first rugby league game in Australia and each try was brought to you by Beazer Homes or something. I guess the rugby is on everybody’s minds right now, did you watch any of the rugby while you were travelling around?
Gruff: Just the final.
Cian: We’re not big rugby fans, contrary to popular myth about Welsh pride. It’s a butt sniffing game
MC: Wales did you proud though – even though you don’t care
Cian: Well, I care but I’m not a fan.
Gutto: We’re Welsh football fans. We’ve had more important things to think about (Wales have just narrowly lost in the playoffs for the European Championships). We’re a nation of three million playing against Russia and it’s 1-0 over two games
Gruff: I’m glad they’ve missed out cos we’d have all been seriously depressed (watching Wales lose in the tournament)
MC: What do you think the Welsh fans would have brought to the European Championships?
Gruff: A sense of the unbelievable.
Cian: I think if we’d actually made it the Welsh fans would have been thinking ‘this could be the only tournament we’re ever gonna go to’ and that would have made it special.
MC: Are you fans of Sparky (Mark Hughes, then-Wales manager and now with Manchester City)?
Cian: Yeah of course. The guys just an absolute solid, steady minded guy
Gutto: Cos when he took over they were on the verge of being the worst Welsh team in history. Something like 11 defeats in a row, but the backbone of the team is the same as it was then so he’s turned it around.
MC: I’d be happy to support them more but Craig Bellamy plays for Newcastle United and as a Sunderland fan it sticks in my craw…
Gruff: Aye, I understand. But he was out in the States having an operation on his knee unfortunately so he didn’t make the playoffs. But Sparky is also one of the only existentialist managers in football at the moment. He’s a big fan of Camus… which is unusual for a football manager.
MC: Wasn’t Camus a goalkeeper?
Gruff: Exactly. So he’s found an intellectual tradition in football
MC: So you think that’s they key to their recent success?
Gruff: And their loss… and the pain…
MC: I guess we should talk about your new album, Phantom Power
All: Oh yeah, aye…
MC: Super Furry Animals have always been a politicised band if not overtly political. How do you feel about people picking up so much on the politics on Phantom Power? Is it all George Bush’s fault?
Gruff: I dunno. It was recorded over a very strange time where we were confronted by images of war anyway you turned and a war that was being fought in our name as British citizens, which is highly embarrassing. We travel the world on British passports and we have a Prime Minister who’s making completely illogical decisions… it’s completely insane and he’s dragging millions of people down with him to some gutter level that’s dictated by oil companies and it’s just really depressing. It ended up affecting the whole mood of the album and the lyrics.
MC: It’s still quite an uplifting experience listening to Phantom Power though. Do you hear that when you listen back to it?
Gutto: Yeah, you know we sing sometimes about dark subjects but I don’t think we’re a dark band. It’s not depressing. It’s better to shout about it than go all quite and be miserable.
Gruff: It’s balanced out by songs about dogs and tennis players and road trips…
MC: We played Golden Retriever on our show the other day alongside Poodle Rocking by Gorky’s.
Gutto: Excellent – well you know there’s a big dog movement going on at the moment.
Gutto: It’s just a Welsh thing
Gruff: Snoop Dogg in America as well, he’s representing ‘Dog Rock’ in the States. And Nate Dogg. Erm, I could go on. Elvis? With Old Shep…
MC: Hound Dog?
Gruff: Fucking hell yeah – he was big on dogs wasn’t he?
MC: You worked with Mario Caldato, Beastie Boys producer. How did that come about and what did he bring to the album?
Gruff: He mixed the album. We started recording with Gorwel Owen who’s produced a lot of our albums, doing live tracks with him, but he wanted to spend some time off at home in his garden with his wife, but he was willing to give us two weeks. So we recorded some live stuff at Rockfield Studios (in Wales) where Black Sabbath and Queen and Hawkwind used to record as well as Stones Roses and people like that. Then we took all the tapes back to Cardiff and did a lot of work in our own time on a computer. We stuck all these organic sounding songs into a computer and then a guy called Tony Doucan came along to finish it off.
MC: Did Mario bring any hip hop influences do you think?
Gruff: Well, I’m well into his records by Money Mark, you know? He deals in song writing like we do but also electronics and he just brings an interesting texture to the songs and he doesn’t clean it up too much. He makes it powerful and it’s really interesting to see him work. He’s very friendly with effects, dub effects, and we didn’t really want him to add beats - just keep the texture and the warmth and not polish it too much.
MC: Cian, you’re the techno wiz of Super Furry Animals, was it interesting for you working with Mario?
Cian: Everyone in the band, when they’re in the studio, no-one has a set job as such… FUCKING HELL!
MC: Cian’s just been attacked by a giant lizard… oh it’s a bird…
Cian: ARRRRRGGGH! Sorry, erm, everyone in the band has erm… I’ve forgotten the question…
Gruff: We had everything in the computer and we avoided tape so it was interesting working with him in terms of … you know… we … erm… (Gruff loses the plot completely and it all tails off…)
More in Part 2 tomorrow: in which we hear about Bobby Brown, deciding whether to sing in Welsh or English, how to bankrupt a record company and Super Furry aircraft carriers