.Iconic ’80s Rockers the Psychedelic Furs Come to Santa Cruz

After more than 40 years of ups, downs and in-betweens, the genre-bending Brits release ‘Made of Rain,’ one of the most significant records of their career

It’s a cold March afternoon in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Tim Butler says the sky looks like it might even snow. But it will take a lot more than weather to derail the Psychedelic Furs show at the Academy of Music in Northampton—or any of the longtime band’s 2022 shows, for that matter.  

The Furs had to cancel their last attempt to tour after just a couple of weeks of shows throughout the Midwest and Florida, due to the pandemic. The forced hiatus was a punch to the gut for Butler, the group’s bassist and co-founder, and his bandmates. 

“When [the tour] came to a grinding halt, it really hurt,” Butler says. “We had just released Made of Rain and lost that huge opportunity to tour behind it, which is so important. But we’re making up for it now—a year-and-a-half later.”

It was almost like a cruel joke: The Brit rockers had recently released their first new album in three decades, Made of Rain, and were feeling inspired in the same way they had decades ago,  when they established themselves as something a bit different from their ’80s New Wave peers like Echo and the Bunnymen and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The group’s self-titled 1980 debut is a Sex Pistols-Velvet Underground bastard lovechild, channeling the punk and art rock that coursed through the veins of Tim’s older brother, Furs co-founder and singer Richard Butler. Duncan Kilburn’s dissonant sax parts brought an unexpected yet welcome component reminiscent of John Cale’s grating electric viola in the Velvets. 

Along with his musical influence and never-crack-a-smile-in-public sensibility, the Butlers—natives of Teddington, Middlesex in England—borrowed Lou Reed’s pre-goth, all-black fashion sense, including the nighttime sunglasses. The entire band sported hairdos that looked like Johnny Rotten dipped his head into a vat of L’Oréal Mousse. Aside from some gray hair and updated (but still primarily black) garb, their style hasn’t changed much throughout the years—although they do smile every so often nowadays.

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“When I said I loved you and I lied/I never really loved you, I was laughing all the time,” Richard Butler sings in “Come All Ye Faithful.” PHOTO: Raul Umeres

The Furs have been called post-punk and New Wave, which Richard has openly disagreed with, but Made of Rain is a return to the music that the Butler brothers and the core band initially set out to make when they began—whatever the fuck they feel, with no rules confining them to any particular genre. 

“When we started again, we were revitalized,” Tim says. “We were talking about a new album, and we all were writing songs in the back of our minds while thinking, ‘Is this good enough to stand up to our back catalog?’ It finally got to the stage when we had a bunch of songs, and the band was playing really well together—locked in.”

The Furs dashed into the studio with high velocity, as if they were on some wonder drug that only lasted a certain amount of time, and they had to record before the effects wore off. Made of Rain was recorded in just two two-week sessions. 

“We had the songs, and we had the right band,” Tim says. “[Made of Rain] sounds fresh. It doesn’t sound like every song’s been overplayed, because we only needed two or three takes to record each track.”

The result is the Furs’ best album since the early-to-mid-1980s. Made of Rain sits somewhere in between the outfit’s gritty debut, the poppier Talk Talk Talk and the Todd Rundgren-produced Forever Now, powered by intricate arrangements. However, Made of Rain isn’t one of those sentimental pieces of naval-gazing crap that we sometimes get from once-great bands trying to rehash earlier masterpieces. It helps that the Butler brothers continue to surround themselves with killer musicians, with the addition of drummer Paul Garisto (Iggy Pop) and saxman Mars Williams (The Untouchables), both of whom are good enough to carry their own bands.

“Over the course of the years, we’ve listened to a lot of different music, and it tends to seep into the way we think about writing,” Tim says. “I think [Rain] is very current-sounding and intense, musically, which we always have been. When we started, we used to make a wall of sound. The things around us have always influenced our [sound]. So, we might be influenced by the people we influenced.”

After listening to Made of Rain from start to finish, the paradox of writing songs “influenced by the people we influenced” becomes clear. 

“Wrong Train,” a song that was 15 years in the making, opens with a guttural, shoegaze guitar wall of sound that could be from a My Bloody Valentine tune. But that boisterous cacophony is nicely juxtaposed with deep-tone bleakness that recalls the National’s Matt Berninger (whose vocal style ironically reflects Butler’s).

“I took the wrong train, ate all the wrong pills,” croons Richard. “I ran the wrong light, got in a car crash/ A wife that hates me, so does her boyfriend.”

Such lyrics might seem heavy, but the famously snarky Richard talks about the song as if it is light as a feather, and darkly humorous.

“[“Wrong Train”] was written at the time of a break up which initially inspired it, but it took wings from there,” Richard says. “The line, ‘a wife that hates me’ is kind of a joke. It made me laugh anyway. Still does!”

As personal as Made of Rain may appear compared to the Furs’ previous records, Richard says that’s not unusual. 

“[Made of Rain] isn’t any more personal than most other records I have made,” he says. “The lyrics always have to ring true in some way, which often involves lots of rewrites.”

“A flight of crows my insect heart/ The ticking veins this godless dark,” he belts out on the eerily spectacular album opener, “The Boy Who Invented Rock & Roll.” His trademark raspy baritone vocals carry his prose with the panache that the mainstream gravitated to with the Furs’ biggest hit, “Pretty in Pink.” This time, however, the path spins, with Rich Good’s reverberated guitar riff mimicking a murder of crows squawking in the distance alongside a hypnotic drum beat. 

A Hard Rain

Tim’s memories of the Furs’ early years, especially the writing process behind the songs that appear on their 1980 eponymous debut, is that the music “flowed easily.”

“We were young and naïve, and we’d write a song and say, ‘This is good’,” Tim says. “We just had the attitude to back [the songs] up. It might not have been a great song, but with the energy we put into it, it worked. We’ve gotten more adept at writing songs. We’ve become pickier, and we no longer crash everything in together just to make the wall of sound. We structure songs better now.”

Unlike early hits “Love My Way,” “Heaven” and “Heartbreak Beat” that center around one riff, the songs now have multiple sections and middle eights. Tim credits the Furs’ evolution as songwriters to spending so much time around producers like Rundgren and Steve Lillywhite, who shared their knowledge about “proper songwriting.”

Since forming in 1977, the Furs have had their share of disagreements, extended hiatuses, reunions, personnel changes and so on—it seems to be par for the course for bands who stick around for a substantial amount of time. 

“Love My Way,” off Forever Now, was the band’s first big MTV video hit. At the time, any band that didn’t have a video on MTV playing in heavy rotation was forgotten.

“We weren’t planning on using [“Love My Way”] as a single, but Todd said, ‘I think this is the single,’” Tim says. “It wasn’t like anything else on the radio, but seemed to catch on with people. We started to go off the rails as far as our original sound—it was a very poppy record.”

Poppy was not the Furs’ vision for the band, but it was the direction the record label pushed them in. In 1987, Midnight to Midnight—produced by another big-time producer, Chris Kimsey—produced “Heartbreak Beat,” the band’s first Billboard Top 30 song. The album placed high in the charts in the U.S. and the U.K.

In 2020, the Psychedelic Furs released ‘Made of Rain,’ their first new album in 29 years. Furs co-founder Tim Butler (pictured). PHOTO: Matthew Reeves

“I think we bent to the will of the American record company and got into the Americanization of our [music], which we really regretted,” Tim says. “We were also seduced by the idea of getting a big producer like [Kimsey], who wanted us to use loads of keyboards. It was a lush production—they wanted us in big, puffy hair and touring with all the largescale staging and ramps, walkways and stuff. It was like what we fought against when we first started. This whole pomp and circumstance and nobody listened to what we were playing or saying, so we just stopped doing interviews during [the Midnight to Midnight tour].”

The band didn’t even want to make a video, but relented and made a video for “The House.”

“By the end of the Midnight to Midnight tour, none of us were happy, and we almost broke up,” Tim says. “We fought to get back to where we started.”

End of Days

Tim considers the Furs’ 1989 album Book of Days as the one that kept the band together. It was a blatant rebellion against the mainstream that had smothered them over the previous five years. Book of Days is thrashier and more guitar-driven, there are no synths, and it’s rife with dissonance, and what Tim calls “natural-sounding keyboards and piano.”

“It’s the kind of music that makes us happy,” Tim says. “Many of our hardcore fans had left, but when we did Book of Days, they returned. Even though the record company got behind it, it was too late; many of our other fans got tired of trying to follow what we were doing.”

1991’s World Outside, which Tim regards as the band’s most underrated album, continued the group’s momentum as a guitar-oriented rock band, but the record was a commercial flop. 

Shortly after its release, the sextet disbanded indefinitely. The Butler brothers formed the alt-rock band Love Spit Love with Furs guitarist John Ashton in the mid-’90s. They released a couple of records, but the Psychedelic Furs’ glow was too strong to simply lock away in a closet and throw away the key. 

The Return

In 2001, the Furs reunited and toured behind Beautiful Chaos: Greatest Hits Live, which featured one new tune, the gloomy and somewhat forgettable “Alive.” Around this time, Richard began toiling with some of the lyrics that became songs on Made of Rain two decades later.

In addition to persistence and remaining true to their roots, Tim and Richard acknowledge the importance of maintaining a solid relationship as siblings, unlike many notable bands. They’ve had disputes throughout the years, but nothing that couldn’t be resolved. Most of the arguments he and his older brother would get into resulted from partying too much, jealousy and an overall lack of maturity.

“I think now, since we got back together [in 2001], we are sort of more grown up,” Tim says. “We respect each other’s importance in the band. And we both have a role to play. We’re happy with that. We always had arguments in the ’80s. We’d have them just because we’re brothers. We’d have an argument, and 10 minutes later, we’d be over it. Family is more important than rock ’n’ roll when it comes down to it. Bands like Oasis and the Kinks brothers, I don’t know why they have such arguments with each other. I think it’s all over the money they get from their songwriting or whatever, which is stupid because we’re always going to be there for each other, but rock ’n’ roll might not.”

Adds Richard, “Tim and I share pretty similar tastes and aims. We have never really had any serious fights that I can recall. No more so, at least, than any other band members. We are pretty close, actually. I never understand why brothers in some bands have such a tough time. There are plenty of bands with siblings involved that get along famously, but I think people tend to focus on the disastrous ones.”

Technically Speaking

Tim says that the songwriting process now is entirely different from how the Furs worked throughout the 1980s, primarily due to technology—everyone writes on their phones and uploads everything to Dropbox. Also, it no longer matters how far the band’s members live from each other.

“In the ’80s, we’d have ideas and jam for weeks and weeks and weeks,” Tim says. “Sometimes, you’d stand there scratching your head, and someone would have an idea, and you’d say, ‘Oh, and join in.’ It was very laborious.”

But Richard says technology also has a down side. 

“I think it’s good that [bands] can get their music out there more easily, but I think it’s much harder to get people’s attention, simply because there is so much more to choose from,” he says.

Still, technology has connected a whole new generation of fans to the Psychedelic Furs’ music. And Tim says the band’s new guitarist, Rich Good, who grew up on the My Bloody Valentine style of guitar-centric rock, has brought an additional freshness to the music, even the tunes written over 40 years ago. The Furs’ Made of Rain tour is set to continue, as of now, through August 2022. Several shows, including their Pasadena and Baltimore concerts, are already sold out.

Richard says touring now is much better than in the early years.

“We don’t have to travel in a van these days!” he says. “Touring is more comfortable in many ways. It is fantastic to have developed something of a fanbase. We have a much larger catalog of songs to pick from also.”

Adds Tim, “We’ll keep [performing] until it doesn’t interest us anymore or we get bored of it. But ever since we got back together, it’s exciting and fun to play and take the audience with us. We had to wait so long through the pandemic that we were able to pick up where we left off and get out and play the album. For now, the new album is still super fresh to us. So it’s really exciting to play, and we have a whole different vibe now with a new drummer [Zack Alford]. We’re excited to play as long as the energy is still there.”

The Psychedelic Furs with The Grinns play Tuesday, May 10, 8pm. $39.50/$40 plus fees. The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. catalystclub.com.

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Adam Joseph
I am the Managing Editor for Good Times Santa Cruz. For more than 15 years, I've worked as a professional writer, journalist and editor, covering various people, places, music, food and everything in between. My work has appeared in the Monterey County Weekly, Relix Magazine, Gayot.com, 65 Degrees and the Salinas Californian.
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