July 24, 2020 Interview – Tim Butler of The Psychedelic Furs
Rising from the underground music scene of the 1970s, in the decade to follow, Alternative music had blossomed into something unique and special. Coming in the form of artists that included The Cure, The Smiths, R.E.M., and more, distinctively their own, included were The Psychedelic Furs. Lead by brothers, Richard and Tim Butler, The Furs would marry a sometimes dark, dream-like tone with exceptional songwriting and energized live performances. Accomplishing international success with hits including “Pretty in Pink,” “Love My Way,” as well as “The Ghost in You,” The Furs were an Alternative Rock staple of the ’80s era.
Sustaining longevity, and minus a hiatus during the ’90s, their story continues over forty years later. Now, after 29 year gap between albums, they return with the massively anticipated Made of Rain. A long time coming for this exceptional band, co-founding Bassist Tim Butler recently sat down to reflect on the history of The Psychedelic Furs, the decision to finally put out new music, the working relationship between him and his brother, plus a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – The Psychedelic Furs has been established for over four decades now. Attaining a massive amount of success during the 1980s, the band would recapture that magic when reuniting in 2000. Touring regularly ever since, how would you describe your overall journey with the band?
Tim Butler – Rocky with lots of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change anything really. It’s just great to come to this part of it where you can look back and think you actually did something to help advance Alternative music. When we first started in the late ’70s and early ’80s, we actually did something that people remember. I feel we’ve made a mark on Rock-n-Roll.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. You mention about advancing Alternative music, The Psychedelic Furs were very unique to the other bands around during the ’80s era. What inspired the band’s initial artistic direction?
Tim Butler – When we first decided to form a band, Richard, I, and my other brother, had been down to see the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club in London. We were just blown away by the image, aggression, and power of it. Coming at a time where Prog Rock was a big thing, it just blew us away, so we decided to form a band. The bands we listened to were The Velvet Underground, early Roxy Music, and early David Bowie. Those were our big influences when we started playing.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting to hear. You certainly developed your own sound from that through each album the band released. The Furs released six albums during that ’80s, a lone album in 1991, but it has been almost three decades since you have put out a record. Now in 2020 you are back with Made of Rain. What inspired the band to finally put a new album together?
Tim Butler – We got back together to play/tour in 2000. At that time we were constantly talking about doing a new record and we were writing new songs. We were also always second guessing ourselves if the songs we had would be of a sufficient standard to hold their own against our back catalog. It came to a point that we had a 6-7 month period where we had a new influx of songs from different members of the band, and we thought, “Wow, these songs could be great. I think we can go in, record theses, and come out with a great album.” So we finally decided it was time.
We recorded them pretty quickly. We rehearsed the songs that are on the album for maybe a week. We then went in and had two separate two week sessions to record, and it took probably a month for Tim Palmer to mix. When it came together, it came together pretty quickly.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds fantastic and it is exciting to hear new music from the band after so long. An aspect that sticks out about this new album is a thick, dreamy atmosphere. Was that something the band was going for in the writing and production process?
Tim Butler – No, it just happened with the musicians that we have in the band at the moment. They were just being themselves and coming together. Richard Fortus guides us in the direction, because had had been a fan before being the producer; we’ve known him since the early ’90s. He guided us in the direction he felt was the best of The Furs and steered us from the bad areas. I think the sound is maybe a cross between Forever Now (1982) and our first album from 1980, which were dark and atmospheric. I think it is back to our roots.
Cryptic Rock – It works well. For this new album, you also worked with Amanda Kramer, who was a part of Information Society. With Amanda, among others, there are just a lot of great musicians coming together to work with yourself and your brother for Made of Rain. What was it like coming together with this group for the first time in the studio?
Tim Butler – Really easy. We’ve actually been playing together since we got back together in 2000; we know each other’s style of play inside and out. We were not nervous about criticizing or being criticized for what we were playing. It was a lot of back and forth, which is really healthy. As I said, we went to rehearse for a week before we started recording and it came together really quickly. There are no huge egos in the band, we just get on with each other personally and musically, we are in the same head space.
Cryptic Rock – It shows, and Furs fans will not be disappointed when they hear Made of Rain. While we are in a bit of a strange time amidst a pandemic, will the band be picking up and touring in support of the album as soon as able?
Tim Butler – Oh yeah. We are so happy with the album and so excited to get out there to play it live for the audience. They have been loyal to us since 2000 and coming in increasing numbers to see our live shows. We are really excited to have new stuff to play for them. As soon as the restrictions are lifted, we will be touring.
Cryptic Rock – That will be great to see. The band has been extremely consistent touring since reforming in 2000. Spending a lot of time on the road, what has it been like for you?
Tim Butler – We took a break in the ’90s because we got tired of playing The Furs songs and being in the band. Since we got back together in 2000, the excitement is there night after night for us. There is no real record company pressure; we tour when and where we want to. We just enjoy each other’s company on and off stage. It is just a real pleasure touring again.
Cryptic Rock – You can see that from the audience because the live shows are always a blast. Taking a break from The Furs in the ’90s, you and your brother were not inactive, because you formed Love Spit Love. Love Spit Love was a different direction from The Furs, but very good. What was it like working with that project?
Tim Butler – That was a nice break. I did the first Love Spit Love album, then I left the band and had my own band in New York for a few years, which didn’t go anywhere. The whole Love Spit Love thing was a nice experience. I never toured with them because I had my own band. Writing with Richard Fortus and Frank Ferrer was great. Funny enough, when The Furs got back together in 2000, they played with us. It was a pleasant change, it cleared our heads of The Psychedelic Furs. When we got back together it was fresh and new again.
Cryptic Rock – Sometimes a change is all you need to be re-inspired. You and your brother, Richard, have been the driving force behind The Furs for so long. Is it a different dynamic working with a sibling opposed to outside musicians?
Tim Butler – No, I think it helps. Growing up we had similar, if not the same, musical tastes. We both grew up with my father buying the latest Bob Dylan record when it came out. We grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Hank Williams, so we had the same sort of musical background. Then when Richard and my other brother got into music, they would play The Velvet Underground and The Stooges records, but I would listen to them too. We all came from the same influences.
In the ’80s, we’d get drunk, have fights, but it would be over in a few minutes and we’d be joking around again. I think at that point we had a bit of sibling rivalry and ego problems. Since we’ve gotten back together we have realized that we both have an equal influence on the band, and we’re happy with our individual inputs. We really love each other because I can’t understand these bands where the brothers can’t get on because of the music. I think blood is thicker than Rock-n-Roll. Your sibling is always going to be behind you, where music might not be.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed. Since there was a decade gap of no Psychedelic Furs, do you find a different generation of listeners coming out to shows?
Tim Butler – Yea. One of the reasons we got interested in getting back together was we got a lot of name checks by bands in the ’90s. We started to think, “We actually did have something that changed people’s lives.” People would come up and tell us, “‘Love My Way’ was playing when I got married,” or bands would tell us, “Your first two albums really influenced us.” We started to think, we did help Alternative music blossom in the early ’80s and our career was worthwhile. We then thought, let’s just try getting back together, see how we get on and enjoy it.
We were first asked to do an opening slot in 2000 with The B-52s and The Go-Go’s. We were third on the bill and only had to do 35 to 40 minutes. That was perfect to see if we could go on stage and making it out without throwing a tantrum or whatever. The first time we got back on stage we looked at each other and John Ashton, smiled, and said, “Yea, this is fun again.”
Cryptic Rock – Here we are 20 years later. You have the new album coming out on July 31st and you will be touring in support of it as soon as you are able. This all in mind, the year 2021 is also a big year as well because it will be the 40th anniversary of your second album, Talk Talk Talk. Is there any celebration planned for this special anniversary?
Tim Butler – I don’t know, I didn’t even know it was the 40th anniversary. (Laughs) You’ve got me thinking now that maybe we should do something. Maybe we’ll have to arrange some sort of a birthday party for it.
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) It would be something great to see. That is an album that turned a lot of people, especially in the USA, onto The Furs’ music.
Tim Butler – Yea. For our first album, we toured a lot behind it, and I think people realized by word of mouth that we were a great live band. I think when Talk Talk Talk came out, which I would have to say is my second favorite album, it all started from there.
I think it was with Talk Talk Talk that we started to know how to write and construct songs properly. On our first album we used to play and everyone wanted to make their presence known, so the music turned a sort of wall of chaos. With Talk Talk Talk, we learned how to harness each member’s best attributes.
Cryptic Rock – It is fascinating to look back on that time and that album in particular as a turning point for the band. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and/or Sci-Fi films, do you have any favorites?
Tim Butler – I am open to all genres really, I’m not a genrist. I love a really scary movie, although my wife doesn’t. (Laughs) That is part of what is good about them though, my wife is jumping and screaming into the popcorn. (Laughs) I think the best Horror movie is The Thing (1982), it’s scary.