The Psychedelic Furs' Richard Butler On The Band's First New Album In 29 Years | WAMC

The Psychedelic Furs' Richard Butler On The Band's First New Album In 29 Years

Jul 31, 2020
Originally published on July 31, 2020 6:57 pm

With soaring synths, spiked hair and studded leather jackets, the Psychedelic Furs were the quintessential '80s rock stars. But once the '80s ended, so did the band. Now, 29 years after the group's last album, the Psychedelic Furs is back with a new record called Made of Rain. Singer Richard Butler says this time, the band made it on its own terms.

"Back in the '80s, it was the old treadmill of make a record, do a tour, make another record, do a tour," he says. "And this was — clearly, taking 29 years — it was up to us."

Butler talks about the beginning of the band, before the music videos and sold-out stadiums, and finding inspiration in early punk music and a legendary Sex Pistols show in the spring of 1976.

"When they appeared onstage, we'd never seen so much intense anger," Butler says. "I walked away from it blown away by it."

"I'd wanted to make music a long time, but I wasn't personally a musician and I didn't see a way into doing that until punk rock came along," he continues. "And I thought 'Yeah, you can buy or borrow a guitar and go out and do what you can.' You didn't have to be a fantastic musician. That gave me a way in."

NPR's Ailsa Chang spoke with Richard Butler about drinking backstage during the band's heyday, its fan base before and after the song "Pretty In Pink" was used in the John Hughes movie and its journey back to making new music. Listen in the audio player above, and read on for an excerpt of the interview on the Psychedelic Furs coming back together again.

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Ailsa Chang: Well, in 1991, The Psychedelic Furs decided to part ways. Tell me why. What happened?

Richard Butler: We kind of lost direction I suppose, in the late '80s. I didn't want to go in the studio with the same bunch of guys and make the same-sounding record. I felt like I knew what it was going to be like and I knew what the work process was going to be like, and I felt like I even knew what it was going to sound like. And I didn't want that. I wanted a break from that.

What does it feel like to see your first album in 29 years coming out now?

It's exciting. I feel it's a great record and I'm very proud of it. It feels like I spent 25 years saying "Why make an album?" and then the last four years thinking "Why not make an album?"

What made you guys decide "let's do this again" after three decades?

The band was sounding really fantastic live. We really were a very cohesive unit. We didn't say we wanted to sound like this part of the Psychedelic Furs or that part of the Psychedelic Furs or we wanted to sound like the Psychedelic Furs from 1982 or whatever. It just felt like "Why don't we write a record? This band is as good as it ever sounded."

Even though you say that you guys didn't intentionally try to recreate anything you guys did in the '80s, there is a lot on this album that's reminiscent of your music from the '80s. Also your music was featured on the show Stranger Things, which is set in the '80s; it's been featured in the movie Call Me By Your Name, which also took place in the '80s. There does seem to be this resurgence now of nostalgia for the '80s and '80s music. I'm curious, what do you think? What's going on with us? Why are we hearkening back to the '80s?

Why are we looking back? I don't know. These days, there's not a lot of rock and roll going on. People who love rock and roll are kind of going back to those days — the '80s, '90s, even the '70s, '60s — all of those decades were a great time for rock and roll. This isn't a great time for rock and roll, and I think people who miss that and love that are perhaps looking back.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Soaring synths, spiked hair, studded leather jackets - The Psychedelic Furs were the quintessential '80s rock stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE MY WAY")

THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS: (Singing) Love my way, it's a new road.

CHANG: But once the '80s ended, so did the band. Now, 29 years after their last album, The Psychedelic Furs are back with a new one called "Made Of Rain." And singer Richard Butler says this time, they did it on their own terms.

RICHARD BUTLER: Back in the '80s, it was the old treadmill of, you know, make a record, do a tour, make another record, do a tour. And this was clearly - you know, taken 29 years, it was up to us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T BELIEVE")

THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS: (Singing) I don't believe. I don't believe you. Don't believe me. I don't believe...

CHANG: I asked Butler to take me back to the beginning, before the music videos and sold-out stadiums, back to the band's original inspiration, which was early punk music and a legendary Sex Pistols show in the spring of 1976.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANARCHY IN THE UK")

SEX PISTOLS: (Singing) I am an anti-Christ. I am an anarchist.

BUTLER: We were waiting outside, in the line outside, and the Sex Pistols got out of the cab. And everybody was looking at them, like, wow, there they are. That's the Sex Pistols. There they are. And when they appeared on stage, we'd never seen so much intense anger. I walked away from it, you know, kind of blown away by it.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS' "FALL")

BUTLER: I'd wanted to make music for a long time. But, you know, I wasn't personally a musician, and I didn't see a way into doing that until punk rock came along. And I thought, well, yeah, you can buy or borrow a guitar and go out and do what you can. You didn't have to be a fantastic musician. That gave me a way in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FALL")

THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS: (Singing) Fall in love like sailors do. Tell your lover you'll be true. Sail upon the stupid sea.

CHANG: Well, you guys ended up forming The Psychedelic Furs, and there's this quote from your brother Tim, who played bass. He said in this recent interview that in those early years, quote, "we were a very argumentative band, especially after a few beers."

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: And I wanted to ask you about that. What do you think Tim meant? Like, what was it like between you and your brother back then?

BUTLER: Well, the arguments within the band were never between Tim and myself. You know, it was always with the other members of the band. But, you know, we were kind of louts. We were very nervous, for example, before we would do a show, so we would often get completely drunk...

CHANG: (Laughter).

BUTLER: ...To enable us to go onstage.

CHANG: Yeah. Yeah.

BUTLER: And, you know, when people get drunk, the arguments happen.

CHANG: Well, I want to fast-forward a few years after that. I want to talk about "Pretty In Pink."

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS' "PRETTY IN PINK")

CHANG: You released that song in 1981. And then five years later, Molly Ringwald, the actress, tells John Hughes, the screenwriter, about the song. He ends up writing this whole movie around the title of this song. And I'm wondering, like, when you first heard that happened, what did you think of that - your song becoming the title track for a 1980s rom-com?

BUTLER: Initially, it was very exciting to have somebody write a movie about - around your song. But it carried with it mixed blessings, I suppose, in a way. It brought us a legion of new fans - younger fans, but fans that probably misunderstood the song.

CHANG: What do you mean?

BUTLER: The actual message of the song isn't about a girl that dresses up in a pink dress.

CHANG: Yeah.

BUTLER: For me, "Pretty In Pink" meant pretty naked...

CHANG: Right.

BUTLER: ...You know, as in, in the pink, so to speak.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY IN PINK")

THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS: (Singing) ...Same. Pretty in pink, isn't she? Pretty in pink...

CHANG: When you look back at that movie, at that moment, do you think it shifted the path for The Psychedelic Furs? I mean, you said it gained new fans. But, like, going into the late '80s, do you think the path for your band shifted because of this moment with the movie?

BUTLER: Yes, I would say so. I mean, it did gain us extra fans. And I think probably a lot of the older fans were maybe turned off by that.

CHANG: How so?

BUTLER: I think originally our fans were darker, possibly more, as they're known now, gothier (ph) (laughter). And they became - you know, there were more young women at our shows than there were before. And a lot of the - our older audience kind of went, I'm not sure we like this band anymore. It's - you know, we don't like being seen with these "Pretty In Pink" girls, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS' "PRETTY IN PINK")

CHANG: Well, in 1991, The Psychedelic Furs decided to part ways. Tell me why. What happened?

BUTLER: Well, we kind of lost direction, I suppose, in the late '80s. And I didn't want to go in the studio with the same bunch of guys and make the same-sounding record. I kind of felt like I knew what it was going to be like. And I knew what the work process was going to be like. And I felt like I even knew what it was going to sound like. And I didn't want that. And I wanted a break from that.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS' "STARS")

CHANG: Well, now The Psychedelic Furs are out with this new album. What does it feel like to see your first album in 29 years coming out now?

BUTLER: It's exciting. It's a - I feel it's a great record, and I'm very proud of it. It feels like I spent 25 years saying, why make an album, and then the last four years thinking, why not make an album (laughter)?

CHANG: Yeah. Well, what was it? What made you guys decide, let's do this again after three decades? Let's do it again.

THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS: Well, the band was sounding really fantastic live. I mean, we really were a very cohesive unit. We didn't say, we want to sound like this part of The Psychedelic Furs or that part of The Psychedelic Furs or - you know, we wanted to sound like The Psychedelic Furs from 1982 or whatever, you know? It just felt like, you know, why don't we write a record? You know, this band is as good as it's ever sounded.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS' "THE BOY THAT INVENTED ROCK AND ROLL")

CHANG: Well, even though you say that you guys didn't intentionally try to recreate anything you guys did in the '80s, there is a lot on this album that's reminiscent of your music from the '80s. Also, your music was featured on the show "Stranger Things," which is set in the '80s. It's been featured in the movie "Call Me By Your Name," which also took place in the '80s. There does seem to be this, like, resurgence now of nostalgia for the '80s and '80s music all around us. And I'm curious - what do you think? What's going on with us?

BUTLER: (Laughter).

CHANG: Why are we harkening back to the '80s?

BUTLER: Why are we looking back? I don't know. Maybe because there's not a lot - I mean, these days, there's not a lot of rock 'n' roll going on. And I think, you know, people who love rock 'n' roll are kind of going back to those days. That was - you know, the '80s, '90s, even the '70s, '60s, you know, were - all of those decades were a great time for rock 'n' roll. This isn't a great time for rock 'n' roll, and I think that people that miss that and love that are perhaps looking back.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS' "THE BOY THAT INVENTED ROCK AND ROLL")

CHANG: Richard Butler is the lead singer for The Psychedelic Furs. Their first album in 29 years is called "Made Of Rain," and it is out now.

Thank you so much for speaking with me today.

BUTLER: Well, thank you, too. And lots of love to you all.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS' "THE BOY THAT INVENTED ROCK AND ROLL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.