By MARK GUARINO
Daily Herald Music Critic
Most comebacks from ’80s-era bands are unwelcome to my ears, but the Psychedelic Furs are an exception.
The Furs bridged the gap between the dark moodiness of the Velvet Underground in the early ’70s and the synth-happy New Wave bands of the early ’80s. Just listen to the droning Furs song “President Gas” and the more danceable “Heartbreak Beat” on the band’s new greatest hits album to compare the transition.
The band called it quits in 1991. From there, scratchy-voiced lead singer Richard Butler formed Love Spit Love and released two albums, the second on Madonna’s Maverick label. Im many ways, the band’s techno pop surpassed later Furs records, but the band failed to catch on with a wider audience.
This reunion of the Furs unties Butler with his brother Tim plus guitarist John Ashton. The tour is a warm-up for recording sessions for a new Furs album. They play three shows at the House of Blues in Chicago this weekend.
I talked to Richard Butler last week about his band then and now.
Q: Love Spit Love’s second record from 1997 was some of the best work you’ve done/ Why then return to the Furs?
A: I was writing songs, I wasn’t sure what they were going to be for. Both Love Spit Love albums had a couple of songs each that I was writing with Tim. Tim came over to write and he asked “How many songs do you have?” I said, “I’ve got about 15 or 20.” And he said, “Wow, you could make a Psychedelic Furs albums as well.” I started to think about that. It’s difficult to make two records. You have to put your best foot forward and pour all your best ideas into one. At least I have to. That’s how we came to be doing a Furs album.
Q: The Furs started out with such a dark sound, lyrically and otherwise. How did you develop your sound?
A: In England at the time it was a part of the vibe. Plus our influences were all rather dark. We all listened to the Velvet Underground, we all liked Roxy Music and Bowie and punk rock. It was just a very dark mesh of things. Plus we had six people in the band who all wanted to play at the same time! (laughs) So that’s how we came up to that wall of sound.
Q: I think it’s interesting that you were in England in the middle of the punk revolution, but you weren’t a punk band.
A: The punk rock bands were trying to start everything from the year zero again. But I had grown up listening to Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground. I loved the energy of punk rock. I loved what it represented, but I wasn’t willing to throw everything away. It was something clearly about fashion. When you get a lot of people claiming to be individuals and all wearing the same leather jackets and anarchy signs it can be a pretty dubious thing! (laughs)
Q: Despite the gloomy lyrics, some of your best songs, like “Heaven” had the opposite vibe with their danceable beats. What led the band to the dance floor?
A: It just seemed that dance mixes were something that came along before we did. The clubs were doing dance mixes of our songs and we liked what we heard. We got round to thinking, “why don’t we make them like that from the beginning?”
Q: Anyone who came of age in the ’80s has seen John Hughes’ Brat Pack epic, “Pretty In Pink,” which featured your song of the same name? How much did that movie help and hurt the band?
A: I think it helped in making people aware of a song that was a great song. It didn’t give us more popularity. I think it hurt in that people associated the band with the movie, which was vapid in a lot of ways. I think some people thought the story line of the song was probably the story line of the movie, which it absolutely isn’t.
Q: What came first, the movie or the song?
A: The story I heard was (“Pretty In Pink” actress) Molly Ringwald took the record to John Hughes to listen to and said, “You gotta write a movie about this.” And John Hughes took it away and teen-ized it. He made a movie that had something to do with the title, but absolutely not the content of the song.
Q: I’ve always heard a rumor that, at the insistence of his son, Bob Dylan wrote a song for the Furs, but you never used it.
A: Yeah, he sent us a song. I don’t know whether he wrote it for us or not. He sent us “Cleancut Kid,” which really didn’t fit with what we were doing. That was around the time of (the 1984 album) “Mirror Moves.” I was a huge Dylan fan and still am a huge Dylan fan. And I was incredibly flattered, but the song didn’t fit with the record.