Posted December 21, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

The Psychedelic Furs’ Tim Butler Says Best Is Yet To Come

Psychedelic Furs
Psychedelic Furs

Taking their musical cues from ‘60s acts such as The Doors and the Velvet Underground, The Psychedelic Furs stood out from its punk contemporaries when it formed in London in 1977. The band had a great run in the ‘80s with commercial hits such as the snotty “Love My Way” and the poppy “Pretty in Pink.” Although the group hasn’t released a new studio album since 1991’s World Outside, it continues to work on new songs and tour. Bassist Tim Butler recently phoned us from his Kentucky home to talk about the band’s history.

When the band first formed in 1977, the punk movement was still going strong. What made you want to stretch your songs out a bit and do something different from what was popular at the time?
People were getting bored of the punk three-chord thrash and all the nihilism. They wanted something different. Our sound came about from the fact that we were six people jamming and not really knowing how to play or write songs. We would go on stage and jam for 10 or 15 minutes on a song like “Imitation of Christ” and “Sister Europe” and it was refreshing to people. We delivered a wall of sound. We didn’t know when to hold back. Basically, it was chaotic but it was refreshing to the audience. We had a month-long residency every Wednesday at the Music Machine in London and the first gig we had 100 people. By the end of the residency we were filing the place, which was like 1500. People were hungry for something new.

If you had started the band today, do you think things would have still worked out or has the industry changed too much?
I really feel for bands starting now. Back when we started, you could get a four or five album deal. For the first album you’d sell maybe 30,000 and by the time you get to the fifth, you’d be selling millions. Now, if you don’t have a hit with the first record, you’re dropped and it’s all over. You don’t have a chance to build an audience that’s going to stick with you.

You did that first album with Steve Lillywhite. Was he a big-name producer at the time?
He was starting to get a name. When he came to do us, he had just done Peter Gabriel and I think he had done a couple of things with the Banshees. He was pretty new. He did our first album and then he did U2’s first album and then our second album and then he did October. He was leapfrogging between us and U2. He was a young, fresh producer.

What made you want to incorporate the saxophone?
It’s funny. We started out just fooling around in my room and Duncan [Kilburn] wanted to play sax. We told him to come along and play. It wasn’t like we felt we needed to have a sax and had to have Duncan. He happened to be a friend who happened to play saxophone. It worked out and made us different from other bands around. There still aren’t many bands with the saxophone.

I think part of the band’s success stems from the keyboard sounds you get for songs such as “The Ghost in You” and “Love My Way.” Were you intentionally trying to do something different with synthesizers?
Those were both written by Ed Buller who was our keyboard player at the time. He did those keyboard parts off the top of his head. I think he thought they captured the atmosphere and the lyrics of the songs. Those are the most memorable parts of those songs.

How did John Hughes initially approach you about his film Pretty in Pink?
Molly Ringwald was a big fan of the band and that song in particular. She asked John Hughe to write a movie vehicle for her around that song, which he did. The movie has nothing at all to do with the song. He obviously misheard something in there. It was very flattering. It was a help and a hindrance in our career. It did some good things and some bad things.

“Love My Way” is even more popular than “Pretty in Pink.” What is it about that song that has made it endure?
I have no idea. The two songs that get the most reaction live are actually “The Ghost in You” and “Heaven.” I don’t know what makes those songs get more of a reaction. I would have thought “Heartbreak Beat” would because that’s our biggest single, but it doesn’t. I don’t know how these things work.

Do you hear an influence in bands that are playing today?
I can hear in some of the guitar parts and the mood of a lot of the music nowadays. It’s crazy that a band like Korn recorded a cover of “Love My Way.” It’s weird. Their music is totally different from our music.  The Foo Fighters cover “Sister Europe.” It makes you feel good.

There’s a spoken word segment at the end of “Pretty in Pink.” Was that scripted before the recording?
That was made up in the studio. Richard [Butler] did that and he can’t remember what he said. Every night he sings something different. That’s his prerogative since he’s the lead singer. At the beginning of the tour, Richard will have his cheat sheets of lyrics in case he forgets. It takes him a couple of shows to get them back in his mind.

The band’s been back together for more than a decade now. You’re soldiering on at a time when the music business is in sad shape. What keeps you going?
Having fun. Before the hiatus/break-up we were not really having fun being in The Psychedelic Furs. Since we’ve been back together, we’re having fun with no big ego clashes or in-fighting. The audience is singing along to the lyrics and having a great time. Having been around for so long, it’s a great thing to realize that people still like you that much.

We have an audience that ages from 16 to 60 and they’re singing along with it. It makes us realize it was all worth it. Plus, our best is yet to come. We’re not finished.

What’s the status of a new studio album?
We play a new song called “Little Miss World.” We’re writing new songs but we want to make sure it will stand up alongside the rest of catalogue.

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Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].