Image Credit: Matthew Reeves.
In the first half of the 1980s, the Psychedelic Furs released a string of albums — 1980’s self-titled effort, ’81’s Talk Talk Talk, ’82’s Forever Now and ’84’s Mirror Moves — that stand as some of the post-punk and new-wave era’s best, with a brilliant mix of Richard Butler’s trademark rant-and-croon vocals atop blistering guitars and smoky saxophone. But eventually, as the band courted mainstream success, the Furs lost their way.
Midnight to Midnight, from 1987, yielded the U.S. hit “Heartbreak Beat” but felt overproduced. Book of Days (’89) and World Outside (’91) righted the ship, and Butler reemerged later in the ’90s with Love Spit Love before reforming the Furs in 2000 as a touring unit. The British singer released an acclaimed self-titled solo album in 2006, but the Furs hadn’t issued a new studio record until now.
Originally set for a May release but postponed due to the pandemic, Made of Rain finds the Furs back in top form with a set of songs that rivals the material from their ’80s heyday. The album features the band’s current lineup — original members Butler and his bass-playing brother, Tim; saxophonist Mars Williams and drummer Paul Garisto from the mid-’80s lineup; and two relative newcomers, guitarist Rich Good and keyboardist Amanda Kramer. It was produced by the Furs and Guns N’ Roses guitarist Richard Fortus, who was a member of Love Spit Love and the Furs’ touring band in the early 2000s.
We hooked up with Butler, now 64, via phone from his home in upstate New York, to talk about the band’s new album, history and future. He seemed to be in good spirits, laughing often during our chat, despite the fact that the band was forced to cancel their tour to promote the album due to Covid-19.
How have you been holding up during the pandemic?
OK, surprisingly. I’m upstate so I’m not in the city, fortunately. I have a garden, which means I can have people come over and sit out in the garden at a safe distance, so I’m still seeing friends, writing music and painting. So life is pretty much normal, except I would have been out touring, which I miss.
You were going to play the whole album at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
It was pushed back until next year and hopefully we’ll be able to do it. We have a date [April 27, 2021]. Whether everything will be back open by then, who knows?
Why did you wait until now to make a record again?
With the band, the lineup became so solid, so consistent at playing live, I just thought, “Wow, this is one of the better incarnations that this band has ever had. We should make an album.” That was the reasoning behind it, I suppose, and once we decided that, everybody started sending me song ideas and it just blossomed. It came together very quickly.
“Wrong Train” is my favorite song on the album. The first time I heard the lyric, “A wife that hates me / So does her boyfriend,” I laughed out loud. Were you trying to be funny or was that just the way it came out?
[laughs] When the line came to me, I realized it was funny and sort of heartbreaking at the same time. I liked that about it.
Are these characters or is there biographical stuff in there as well?
Probably a bit of both.
It seems you’re not too fond of the institution of marriage. There’s “Wrong Train” on the new album and songs dating back to the first album, “Fall” and “Wedding Song.” Is that accurate?
Yeah, especially then.
What about now?
I’m actually engaged to be married this summer [laughs], so I’ve changed my mind about it a little.
The Furs are a six-piece again. Do you prefer that format?
“President Gas,” from 1982, has the lyric, “It’s sick, the price of medicine,” and on “Don’t Believe,” on the new album, you sing, “Money’s got the medicine.” I take it you’re not a big fan of the healthcare system in America.
No, I’m not. Not at all. And sadly, the Tory government seems to be dismantling the National Health Service in England, slowly. And I thought the National Health Service was a great institution. I wouldn’t mind paying extra taxes for healthcare.
Over the years the Furs have shared members with Guns N’ Roses, which seems kind of bizarre. You sound nothing alike and yet Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer played with you in Love Spit Love and the Furs, and Fortus produced the new album with the Furs. Are you a fan? Have you seen them live?
No. Not my kind of music at all. I haven’t been to see them. I hear their shows last a very long time and there are a lot of guitar solos, which isn’t really my kind of thing. But, you know, I’m sure they’re all very nice people. Richard Fortus tells me stories. Duff McKagan has been down to a Furs show and we’ve gone and had coffee a couple of times, and he’s a very nice, very eloquent, smart man, but I’m not a fan of that music.
What did you think of Pretty in Pink, the movie?
It’s a double-edged sword, the Pretty in Pink thing. It brought us a good deal of attention, but I think — John Hughes, God bless him — the song was sort of misrepresented. I think a lot of people think it’s about somebody actually wearing a pink dress and taking it all quite literally, but it wasn’t about that at all. So when “Love My Way” was used in Call Me By Your Name, it felt like it righted the balance somewhat. Because I thought that was an excellent use of it, and that song couldn’t have found a better place to be.
What was your original intent with the song “Pretty in Pink”?
It’s about a girl who sleeps around a lot and thinks she’s very clever and thinks all these people are madly in love with her, and really they’re just talking about her and laughing at her behind her in back.
Looking back, it seemed the band went off course a little bit with Midnight to Midnight. What happened?
When we were going to get ready to work on Midnight to Midnight, Daniel Lanois was originally going to produce it. He came to the rehearsal studio and worked with us a couple of times through songs and he said, “These are sounding good, but I think you need more songs.” We just wanted to record and we were used to going into the studio sort of half-ready. So we said, “No, we want to do it [now].” So we went with another producer and it didn’t quite work. I couldn’t come up with lyrics. The music we were coming up with wasn’t that great and we kind of got lost.
I look at the cover of Midnight to Midnight and I think “hairspray and cocaine.” Is that accurate?
Oh yeah. I hated that cover. And when we did the tour, we had this hot stage setup that had hydraulic ramps that came up the back. It was this big setup and I just hated it. I started off kind of dressing like the cover and ended up in a black suit again, like when we started out. I came off that tour and just did not want to be in the band anymore at all. I was very depressed about it. And [early guitarist] John [Ashton] and Tim said, “You don’t want to leave on a low note. Come back and make a record that you feel honestly reflects the band.” So we did. We came back and did Book of Days and World Outside, and we toured for those and I didn’t want to write songs with that same lineup again. It just didn’t seem right, so we took a 10-year break.
At one point, you guys kind of moved away from the sax. Was that because of a personnel change or you wanted to change the sound up?
We changed band members. We had massive rows with the original incarnation of the Furs, especially Duncan [Kilburn], who was the sax player, and myself. So when we didn’t have him on it, we didn’t use sax quite so much. … We’ve always had sax songs, but not quite so prominently as we do on this one.
It’s sort of a signature of the Furs sound.
Oh yeah. There aren’t that very many people that have sax. Roxy Music comes to mind, and the E Street Band, but none that sound like us really.
“The Boy That Invented Rock & Roll” is a great opener. What was the inspiration for that?
I started off with the verses and thinking this very down, depressive, angsty vibe, and thinking that’s what rock ’n’ roll comes out of a lot of the time. It certainly does for me. I kind of thought this could be the feelings of the boy that invented rock ’n’ roll. It wasn’t directly about Little Richard or Elvis. It just felt like that was the feeling that rock ’n’ roll could come from, or possibly did come from.
Now that you’ve been in the studio again, should we expect another album anytime soon?