|-Going back a step, was there a lot of music round the household?
Oh yeah. My dad used to listen to. . .Well, Bob Dylan he picked up on. My father was like this government chemist who was a raving communist and he picked up on all that - the blues we were listening to since we were kids, and Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan. He was bringing Bob Dylan home from when I was about 10 or 11. There was some crap in there too - Burl Ives I never cared for, Jimmy Reeves. But Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf, Big Bill broonzy, all those were good. Art school was all about Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Roxy Music, New York Dolls out of that pretty much into punk rock.
-The first recordings that came out were with Howard (Thompson, A&R Manager) and Ian (Taylor).
And Ed Hollis. We did some tracks with Ed Hollis that may just have been demos. He's since passed away.
-Have they surfaced?
We were sent some demos from that period and they w ere fucking awful.
-It wasn't uncommon for A&R people to produce so much in those days, someone would sign a band then go into the studio with an engineer and say I know what i want from this band. The two tracks that you did with Howard and Ian have definitely survived the test of time.
Yeah. I forget how we came by Steve Lillywhite but he had just done the Banshees and he was doing Peter Gabriel, but Peter Gabriel takes such a long time that he was moonlighting from Peter Gabriel. And he had either just done U2, or was doing U2. . .
|The original six-piece Psychedelic Furs line-up featured Richard Butler on vocals, Tim Butler on bass, John Ashton on guitar, Vince Ely on drums, Duncan Kilburn on saxophone,Vince Ely on drums and Roger Morris on guitar.
-What was the difference for you between having your A&R guy produce a single and then having someone like Steve Lillywhite, who's your producer.
Well we liked him, and he was very young at the time and he was kind of hip. His brother was in the Members, I think, and so we were all on the same page. It was fun. Steve was a great guy, had a great drum sound, and seemed to know what he wanted. What he said to us, which immediately put us all at ease - though we weren't that much ill at ease because we didn't know how it worked - he said, 'I just want this first record to be like a great live show. I don't want to push it in any direction.' He was very instrumental, in that I used to sing 'Sister Europe' very angrily. And I remember Steve Lillywhite getting me back in the studio and saying, 'Why don't you go down the pub, have a couple of beers, and when you come back I want you to sign it like it's three in the morning and you're talking on the telephone to someone. It was a good way of putting it, and it was a good way of letting go of having to feel like you're angry with every song. Which funnily enough, Todd Rundgren did later on with 'Love My Way.' That came across to him as an angry sounding demo. He said 'Why don't you actually sing it, this could be a good single. If you don't like it, you can go back to the way it was.'
-Was there to any extent a defence mechanism at work? You might think, 'I've written a really poppy song but I can't be seen as being really poppy so I've got to be angry with this?'
Well given the times, yeah. It felt like 'This is croony.' But then I would go back to Bob Dylan, and I loved 'Sad Old Lady Of The Lowlands,' so it wasn't that big a stretch to go back and say, well it doesn't fit in with these days, but it does fit in with other stuff that I like.
-Your early lyrics were very oblique, very impressionist-ic.
I still like them to be oblique. Because I think that's where poetry happens in a way. I don't get Bruce Springsteen particularly. He will set out and write a story and it's basically a narrative, and it always sounds vaguely corny at the end of the day. 'Cos there really are no real truths to be told, and it's all in the way that you tell them. Bob Dylan always seemed very oblique, and I liked that way of going at it, where you could listen to something and say, 'Well what is this about? and is this because of that or because of this?' and it makes you think when you're listening to it, and it means you could use words to fit the music rather than writing a straight narrative. You can enjoy words more writing that way. Some would maybe argue that it's a lazy way to think about it. But to me it's more poetic - and ultimately more honest - to write that way.
-I would say that if you're going to be more poetic, then just like a narrative you have to do it well to pull it off. You can't just pick eight words out of a Thesaurus and put them together. . .From the early days, what reactions were you getting to your lyrics? How did people take 'Imitation of Christ'?
Well there's a clothing company called Imitation of Christ now (laughs) - and they credited me as the inspiration. Whereas I stole it from a catholic tract written by
-But that's one of the beauties of those days. For a first album it was like, 'We'll take a snapshot of a band live, and just introduce them,' there was far less of this 'you have to have a hit.'
Well, we had Muff Winwood (head of A&R at CBS) saying 'We don't mind if there's a hit on this record, or if there's a hit on the next one, we'd like you just to keep getting better and better known a nd selling more and more records.' And that was the ethos that allowed a band like R.E.M. or U2 to exist, or bands that didn't have an immediate smash hit, but built up a following by touring and making records.
-It struck me while getting these notes together that your first two albums combined are what many people would expect out of a first album these days. You were given that breathing space to learn and progress, and there's a subtle progression between the first and the second. . . After the Psychedelic Furs came out in the UK, you did a couple of tracks with Martin Hannett.
We tried out Martin Hannett because I really liked the way that the John Cooper Clarke album sounded.
-Rather than Joy Division.
I liked Joy Division, but it was more to do with John Cooper Clarke - another obvious Bob Dylan wannabe! So we tried Martin Hannett out but we didn't like it. It was too murky.
-Was there any personal conflict there?
No, not at all. We just didn't like the sound of it. I think Steve Lillywhite at that point said, I'll never do two albums with the same act, and then he went and did a second album with U2. So we said "hey, you said," and he said "Alright then, let's do it." Then later he heard us in Berlin doing 'President Gas', and he said "That song, I just want to produce that song," but we'd already decided to go with Todd.
-The US edition of the debut album was different.
They thought 'Blacks/Radio' was racist, which on a superficial level you could think that it was. That was taken from an Andy Warhol quote. He was asked if he liked black people and as usual, he replied very tongue in cheek. "If it wasn't for the blacks in the south, my father's refrigerator business would lose down." I thought 'Wow that's a great quote' and used it and then people didn't see the irony in it.
-When it was pulled was that a fight?
Not really. We loved the fact that the album was going to be released in America for one thing, and that it would give us the chance to come over and tour. We played at the Mudd Club, and got to stay in New York for five days which was incredible, after years of being a fan of the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol, it was totally a different world, totally alien, incredibly exciting. And then we went back and planned to tour here. The American record company weren't really interested in us touring, nor were the English one, so basically we did it off our own bat. We came over in a van (not a plane?) and toured around like that, which did relatively well as club tours go.
-The first album did very well in the UK, it was a top twenty album, and yet there was a perception that you didn't fit in in the UK. Did you have that perception?
We felt like journalists were very unkind to us - some journalists. And didn't get it, and accused us of ...well I forget what we were accused of being but it was none of it true and it kind of hurt. And England didn't have anything like...you couldn't get on the radio. It was very difficult to get on. Whereas over here there was a whole network of college radio, so you could get well known in a genuine underground way, which in England the only way of getting your music spread was MM and NME and Sounds.
-I've always considered that the key difference between the two countries with their underground. The question remains, did you feel that you didn't fit in in the UK?
At the time we were very hip in a weird way, but at the same time English journalists, and English people can be very nasty, and it affected us in a way. I guess I was pretty thin skinned about it all, which I'm not anymore. I didn't feel like we didn't fit in, because we were doing well. But certainly it was exciting to be in America, and it very quickly became that we were more popular in America.
For Talk Talk Talk, I remember playing the Ritz in NY, and we had people queuing round the block to get in, and it was wow! This is for us? It was an incredible feeling. Whereas back in England we'd be playing Newcastle Poly, half full or something.
-Did you stop to think why the Americans were taking to you so quickly?
No I never figured it out.
-The Americans always appreciated 'real' bands.
But England still did at that point too. It wasn't until the mid-eighties that suddenly England decided that anything with guitars was completely out the window, it had to be all synthesized. Then they came back to guitars later on in the 80s. I can remember guitars were very much frowned upon for four or five years.
||"I never really saw myself as a singer, still don't in fact. But I always thought, well Bob Dylan can't really sing, John Lydon can't really sing, it's not about being able to hit notes, it's more about having a sound that sounds like you."
-When you came here and played the first dates, was America everything you hoped it would be?
Yeah, And more. It was exciting, enormous. But New York - the steam coming out of the roads, it was absolutely incredible. Late clubs, there used to be clubs you would only turn up for at two in the morning and roll out at dawn. You had nothing like that in England - in England it was a case of sticking a ginger wine in your last pint of lager to see you home!
-There's a cohesiveness to Talk Talk Talk.
For most of the part they're better songs, it's better realized as a sound, and I think the lyrics are better as well.
-They seem to move on a little bit from the pure poetry, or abstractness into something that's a little more narrative. You can read a story into Pretty IN Pink - as someone obviously did!
John Hughes' was such a horrible take on that story. So Hollywood. It's very weird to look in fashion magazines and see Pretty In Pink all over the place. Before I wrote that song I just liked the alliteration of it, the fact that it could mean someone could be pretty when she was naked, or it could mean something else. To have coined a phrase that has gone into public use is very odd. When I see it in a fashion magazine, or on the last tour the opening band dropped off a porn mag cos it had pretty in pink in there, and I think they're using it, it's passed into -not popular usage, because people don't say it to each other. But magazines like it.
-A lot of people see it as their favorite album. With cult groups, fans often love the second album.
I think it's our best album. If I had to look back on all the stuff - as I've been forced to recently - I think it's the most solid album. But it's not an album that you can say 'That was our best album, let's go back and do that again.' You can't imitate it, it was so much of its time. But I think it's a great record.
-Was it easy to make?
No! We spent ages in John Henry's [writing and rehearsing]. I think we were in there for months solid, like six months, say from nine to five. We were booked in there daily five-six days a week for six months its seems. Our typical day would be, we'd arrive there around ten or eleven, hopefully not everyone would be there so we could go round to the pub, roll out of the pub when the pubs shut around three, with a few cans, and then work till about six or seven, then go back around the pub.
-An average English work day!
Right. (Laughs.) Always with the hope that we would do more work.
-You were in that classic position of having three years to write the first album and then just six months to write the second.
But it worked. Back then, people released an album a year. I would think we were being busy and then you'd look at someone like Elvis Costello who would release two albums a year.
-The six piece band at that point, was it a very tight unit? Were you feeling strong together?
Oh yeah. Some live shows, I remember from the early days before we were signed, I remember hectic shows where we were so drunk from hanging out waiting to go on that our manageress would say "you're too drunk, take these" and it would be speed, so by the time we got on stage we'd be well in the mood to do these improvised long guitar-smashing . . . But we weren't doing that anymore even by the time we were touring the first record. By the time we got back from doing our first tours, especially of America, we were very much a band for the first time. Then it was down to, You've got to write another record. And given the times, where you brought out a record a year, there was a certain amount of rush attached to it, and so we went in and worked hard - I suppose - between bouts at the pub! That's why we were in John Henry's for so long. You come out of John Henry's when you've got an album.
-And then it was quick to record?
We had a bit more time. Twenty one days seems something I remember.
-There was more interest in doing overdubs now?
Yeah, and more weird percussive stuff, and more guitar weirdness. Which is where John Ashton really came into his own, because that's what he does best. He's not an incredibly gifted technically proficient player but he's very good at sounds, and that's where he first found himself I suppose.
-By putting Pretty In Pink up front on the album, there must have been a sense that that was your most commercial song to date.
I suppose it was. I could never pick one out. I think my favorite was 'All of This and Nothing,' but there was a sense from the record company that that's what they would like to release from the album. They didn't do the sequence, and 'Pretty In Pink' (being the lead track) came from us.
-Did you consider yourself a better singer?
No. I was less unsure than I was on the first record, because of the relative success of the first record. But I never really saw myself as a singer, still don't in fact. But I always thought, well Bob Dylan can't really sing, John Lydon can't really sing, it's not about being able to hit notes, it's more about having a sound that sounds like you.
-Your voice seemed further back on Talk Talk Talk.
I don't know why I wanted it pushed back. I think the reason I would have given to the band and Steve Lillywhite was "I don't want it to be way out front, I want it to sit in there with the music and be part of the music," but probably there was a little bit of not being sure of how I was singing either.
-You were saying for the first album that only a couple of tracks needed more than one vocal take. Were you more up for it now?
Oh yeah. And Steve had this system where we would put down the backing tracks, and we'd put a list on the wall of tracks where I needed to finish the lyrics, and we'd say 'okay we'll finish that one tomorrow.' And I'd go home and finish the lyrics.
-To what extent would the other band members comment on the lyrics?
Never. Not at all. No one ever made a suggestion. No one ever offered a rhyme. It was just, Okay, that's your thing, get on with it.
-And you were the same with the others?
No. We used to have serious arguments all the time in the studio, drunken brawls. There was a lot of that, a lot of drinking and a lot of fighting.
-You're making a lot of references to the drinking.
-It didn't seem uncommon. Bands went into the studio and got drunk at the end of the day
Or during the day!
RICHARD BUTLER INTERVIEW PAGE 1 2 3 4
The best Psychedelic Furs web site is probably Burned Down Days, from which I lifted some of these photos, which I hope is not a problem for them.