SUPER FURRY ANIMALS
EMP, Sky Church, 206-770-2702, $15/$13 members
9 p.m. Sat., Oct. 12
AS SUPER FURRY Animals bassist Guto Pryce answers his cell phone, the noise of a loud organ hums violently in the background. The band's been rehearsing in an old church in Cardiff, Wales, and just down the road is an office—"a small room with a computer"—they've been using as a studio to work on songs for a forthcoming album. It seems ironic that a group known for cutting-edge sonic forays has decided to take a step back to relearn the technology that's made them indie rock's answer to Pink Floyd.
"We used to be really hands-on in the studio and we want to get back to that," says Pryce. "We've got to wait until everyone leaves the office at 6 o'clock before we can do anything. They've been pretty late night sessions, which is quite cool."
You could argue that every Super Furry album sounds like the result of some winding, woozy, all-night adventure. Shortly after forming in Wales in 1993, the group signed with U.K. powerhouse Creation Records, which issued their full-length debut, 1996's left-field classic Fuzzy Logic. Over the course of their next two albums —1997's Radiator and 1999's Guerilla —the Super Furry Animals would forge further into the American underground psychedelic scene, earning critical praise on both sides of the Atlantic in the process. But whatever momentum SFA had built up would come to a screeching halt with the release of 2000's Mwng, an album with lyrics sung entirely in Welsh.
"We've always made Welsh records," explains Pryce. "You can't help writing in Welsh. We were stupid enough to put it out as an album that the world could hear. [But] I don't think it's a bad thing. The way we did it, we put it out ourselves. We didn't spend any money on it or do any big promotional expense, and it was the only album that's ever made any money for us. We're not going to make our records exclusively for Welsh people. It's like listening to Brazilian music— you don't wish it was in English. You just enjoy it."
THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE theme, however, made it difficult for many to appreciate Mwng's pop prowess. That's why the band's latest album, Rings Around the World, is such a welcome relief. On it, SFA—again singing in English—deliver lush pop panoramas as sophisticated and complex as anything they've ever done; the list of musicians alone—playing everything from strings to piano and horns—fills an entire page of liner notes. Recorded at Woodstock's Bearsville Studio, Rings also creates a compelling lineage, linking '60s white-soul merchants The Band and modern-day alchemists Mercury Rev, both of whom have recorded odd, beautiful music in upstate New York.
"We heard so much about the amazing drum sounds," Pryce says of Bearsville. "It's as sad as that, really. We just wanted to go somewhere with a musical past. I was expecting more hippies, but the rich New Yorkers have taken over. There's a lot of clean Harley-Davidsons and nice, brand-new leather jackets. It wasn't naked people rolling around in the mud. I was disappointed."
Regardless, the Woodstock sessions were so productive, they yielded more songs than the group could fit onto a single disc. As a result, Rings Around the World comes packaged with an extra, seven-song CD, making the album nothing short of epic. The material ranges from the fractured fairy tale of "Sidewalk Serfer Girl," a song about a woman who wakes up from a 15-year coma and immediately craves pizza, to the Brian Wilson-inspired title track and the meandering, twangy "Run, Christian, Run!" At one point, a manic freak-out ("Receptacle for the Respectable") is followed by a somber, pulsating instrumental ("(A) Touch Sensitive"), showing just how deftly SFA can change pace.
The band's ambitious, exploratory efforts have attracted some notable followers. Paul McCartney and John Cale offer cameos on Rings, while Sofia Coppola, the Pet Shop Boys, and Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie all turned up at SFA's last U.K. gig. Still, Pryce insists the group doesn't have stars in its eyes.
"We've never been a celebrity band," he says. "We're not one of those groups who go to L.A. and get whisked off to somebody's mansion. I didn't join a band to hang around with celebrities," he adds, laughing. "I've got too much punk in me."