First published by God Is In The TV Zine 19 February 2015
The Welsh psychpop band Super Furry Animals are weird beings enshrouded in plumes of myth. Boasting a poly-lingual discography filled with chirps, beeps, woofs, whistles, squeals and shrieks and a long and psychedelic history involving UFOs, mountain monsters, a first meeting on the roof of a speeding train, the single with the most instances of the word ‘fuck’ ever to reach airplay, and a tank flying the band’s colours and pumping acid house from a specially installed sound system driven into London in the small hours of the morning (to dodge a by-law prohibiting military vehicles moving about the city, obviously), it would require a brave soul to take on the story of the Super Furry Animals, let alone to do it well.
Music journalist Ric Rawlins claims to be that man, though he humbly concedes around his e-cigarette that the story more found him than the other way around. ‘I started thinking about it after Gruff [Rhys, frontman] used an interview with me to appeal to publishers to do a big coffee table book of band artwork, and I wrote a couple of bits and bobs. Then I was in the pub one time and I was a bit pissed, and I told someone I was writing a Super Furries book. But then they grabbed me and started looking sort of threatening, and they were like, “Everybody says they’re writing a book! Are you really fucking writing a book?!”
‘It took about 5 years. Every year I’d meet Gruff in the summer – I came to know it as the Gruff Summit – and we’d gradually go through their history: four hours, one day, every year. And then I did individual interviews with the others. Other people really told this story, and I kind of formatted their memories and hammered them into a narrative.’
The finished product, The Rise Of The Super Furry Animals, is a chatty, colourful paperback volume with a sleeve designed by Pete Fowler, whose psychedelic cartoons have become integral to the Super Furry’s identity. Rawlins recounts fondly, gesturing to the shadowy mauve figures lurking in the mist on the jacket: ‘The first time I saw them I was like, “What are those things?!” He’s reincarnated the five members as mountain deities, and that’s so perfect for the theme of the book. It’s about trying to rubber stamp the mythology and the story. To reincarnate them as mountain beastie deities seemed kind of appropriate.’
The myth, then, runs deeper than the rumours. Not that Rawlins would be a stranger to those – explaining the round table discussion at the book launch, held in London at Rough Trade East on the 19th of February, the words ‘negotiated the inflatable bears’ come up casually with reference to guest John Andrews from Creation Records, the Super Furries’ marketing guru in the late 90s, and Rawlins happily contributes his own introduction to the band: ‘Me and my mates when we were teenagers used to play Mario Kart and smoke, uh, various exotic herbs, while listening to the Super Furries. When I went to university I had the classic experience of missing my mates and being a bit disoriented, and then Guerilla came out and it was something to cling on to. It sort of grew from there, and I saw them at Glastonbury that year, which was the year that the truck famously ploughed into the audience.
‘Listening to that album I thought, “Holy shit! This band is amazing!” It’s a psychedelic documentation of mobile phones and communications. I was about half way through the book when I realised that oh my god! it’s all about communications and the will to just break down walls and have a conversation with, say, a Japanese person. I think they came to be suspicious of communications a bit later on in Rings Around The World but at the time of Guerrilla, mobile phones are exploding and you can just feel them fist-pumping the sky at the fact that all these walls are breaking down. And Pete Fowler’s ‘Northern Lites’ character is like the god of international weather or something, all these gods and monsters influenced by them discovering the Japanese Shinto religion.’
He demonstrates a chirping, beeping mobile phone toy across another new technology, Skype, for our interview, and the book, released in both paperback and e-book format, will be breaching yet another. ‘The band have been quiet for, what, five years now – loud in other ways – and my dad when he found out I was doing this he asked, “Do they have any fans any more?” There’s a small, very vocal community of fans on the internet which I knew about. But it’s been amazing using Instagram and seeing on Facebook and Twitter, Japanese people getting excited about the book, Americans, and I think it’s to the band’s credit that they introduced a global community to Welsh pop culture even if they had to be inspired by Japanese pop culture to get there. It’s been crazy seeing the book climbing the charts on Amazon.
‘I’m just really grateful people are enthusiastic about it, but it’s not the book that people are enthusiastic about necessarily. It’s entirely to the Super Furry Animals’ credit that people still really hold a big place for them in their hearts.’
Rise Of The Super Furry Animals is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon.com. The launch party will be held at Rough Trade East in London, February 19, starting at 6pm with Pete Fowler DJing and live covers of Super Furry Animals hits, and a round table discussion with key players at 7pm – entry for two on the door with purchase of a paperback.
‘INTERVIEW: Ric Rawlins on Rise Of The Super Furry Animals’ by Richard Moore, 2015.