Stylistically unmistakable due to singer Richard Butler's gravelly but tuneful vocal style and the presence of saxophone throughout their discography of seven full-length albums, the Psychedelic Furs were one of the more successful and visible alternative/college-rock propositions to break in the states (like the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Modern English) after having originally emerged from the U.K. post-punk movement. Moody classics like "Imitation of Christ" from the self-titled 1980 album and the menacing but timelessly catchy "Dumbwaiters" from their '81 follow-up, Talk Talk Talk, are now-definitive examples of how the band could straddle the fence separating post-punk and alt-pop ear candy, while they clearly excelled in the latter category with the whopper hook of "Love My Way" (from 1982's Todd Rundgren-produced Forever Now album).
The original version of "Pretty in Pink" that opened 1981's Talk Talk Talk album was brought to the attention of screenwriter John Hughes by his script muse (and Furs super-fan) Molly Ringwald. Hughes' brat-pack mega-hit of the same name is very loosely based on the track, and the rerecorded radio-friendly version of the song on the soundtrack rocketed the band beyond college-radio subculture and into the arena-sized mainstream for a spell. In 1991, after releasing seven full-lengths, the Psychedelic Furs went on hiatus until 2000, when founding brothers Richard and Tim Butler (bass) reunited the band (which has actually been based in the states since 1983). They've been touring a slightly different lineup of the band ever since. In preparation for the band's appearance at the New Daisy Saturday night, we spoke with Tim Butler about his band's origins, early days, second act, and saxophones.
The Memphis Flyer: You first broke out of the original U.K. post-punk scene at the turn of the '80s, but officially formed a bit earlier in 1977 when the first wave of punk was still happening ...
Tim Butler: It was sort of the end of punk rock ... I consider the end of punk when the Sex Pistols split up. Richard and I got the impetus and kick up the ass to do it from seeing the Pistols in '76 at this place called the Flat in London, and we were just blown away. It was right then that we decided we wanted to form a band.
I've read that the Stranglers were a big influence, too ...
No ... not really their music, but Jean-Jacques Burnel, their bass player, was a big influence on me personally with his bass sound and style. Our musical influences were more Velvet Underground, Roxy Music, some Stooges, and some Bowie, mixed with the energy and aggression of the Sex Pistols.
What influenced the inclusion of a saxophone? Would that be Roxy Music?
Actually, that wasn't on purpose or planned at all. We were jamming around at home with some of my other brother's friends, like Roger, our guitar player, and he had a friend, Duncan Kilburn, who happened to play saxophone. He just turned up one day to jam, and we liked the sound of it. We didn't purposely include a saxophonist for effect. It just sounded good, and there you are.
The saxophone seems to do much more than simply fill up a space in your overall sound in place of keyboards or synths, especially on your first two albums ...
The whole thing was that when we were starting out, we had two guitar players, a saxophone, plus me, and all of us were fighting to be heard. We didn't really know when to lay back, so it was like a wall of chaos. The reason we started to use keyboards at all was that when we were recording the second album, Talk Talk Talk, our saxophonist went out to a club, got into a fight, and someone broke his jaw. So because he obviously couldn't play sax, he just brought a keyboard into the studio and started playing parts. From there the use of the keyboard expanded.
As the producer for the subsequent album, 1982's Forever Now, did Todd Rundgren have an impact on that? What was it like working with him?
Not really. When we went over to record with Todd, we had all the demos of the songs and 90 percent of arrangements already written. Working with him was great. We wanted to move into using strings and had recorded with a cello player on the demos. We'd heard his album, Deface the Music, where he does covers of Beach Boys and Beatles songs and did all of the cello and string parts of the original songs himself. Plus, we were big fans of Todd's and thought he'd be a perfect producer for the album. And he was. It's my favorite of all our albums.
Any plans to record and release new material?
Yeah, we've been recording new material and hope to have it finished in time to release an album at some point next year. But we've been taking our time to make sure it's exactly what we want a new Psychedelic Furs album to be.