Tim Butler Interview (12/04)
By Sean Koepenick

Right: Richard Butler and Tim Butler [Photo courtesy of Cabal Management]

The Psychedelic Furs rose out of the English punk scene in the late 1970's hoping to combine two disparate genres of rock music. With one eye on the music that had come before them-The Velvet Underground and David Bowie-and another on the (then) underground punk movement of The Clash and The Sex Pistols, the band ended up creating a new sound that was uniquely their own. Formed in 1977 by Richard Butler (vocals) and brother Tim Butler (bass) the group added guitarists Roger Morris and John Ashton, saxophonist/keyboardist Duncan Kilburn and drummer Vince Ely for the initial line-up. Their self-titled debut came out in 1980 to great critical acclaim and music fans took notice. But by 1982's Forever Now, the band was down to the core three of Butler, Butler and Ashton. Texture would still remain a large part of The Psychedelic Furs sound-but augmented by various sidemen over the years instead of official members.

Although the 1980's saw The Psychedelic Furs sometimes being lumped in unfairly with bands of this era-like New Order, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Cure for example-they continued to chart their own path for global domination. Success for this English band hit the US big time in 1986 with a reworking of the song "Pretty In Pink" (from the fantastic Talk Talk Talk) for John Hughes teen classic of the same name featuring Molly Ringwald and good old "Ducky". 1987's Midnight To Midnight punched back with the massive US radio hit-"Heartbreak Beat." But the band has grown tired of this slick image and pulled back the reins on the subsequent releases-Book Of Days and World Outside. By 1991 the band was over.

However, the songs were what mattered to music fans and artists alike. "Love My Way", "Heaven", "All That Money Wants", "The Ghost In You", "Dumb Waiters", "President Gas." The Psychedelic Furs' music has been covered by such artists as: Buffalo Tom, Robyn Hitchcock, Good Riddance, and Face To Face just to name a select few.

Members of the band remained active in music-most notably with Love Spit Love (featuring "hot-shot" guitarist Richard Fortus-now in Guns 'n' Roses). Their debut featured both Tim and Richard Butler and took a somewhat harder edge to the songs. But by early 2000, while Richard was preparing a solo record, the band decided to test the waters again and reformed to fans delight across the world. The recorded result was the Beautiful Chaos record-which features "Alive"-the first new Furs song in over ten years. Plans for a new studio record are well on their way.

Through the years and the many ups and downs of The Psychedelic Furs-one thing you could always be sure of-any time you heard any bass guitar on a Furs songs-it was the stylish and creative bass lines of Tim Butler you were listening to. It is definitely an absolute thrill to be able to hear them live again and wait with anticipation like a giddy school girl for the new record. As some of the band's contemporaries may have struggled, The Psychedelic Furs and their fans-have always kept the faith. I was recently lucky enough to interview Tim Butler-bassist extraordinaire of The Psychedelic Furs.

E.C.: How and when did you first get involved with music?

Tim Butler: I first got involved after leaving school. I was about 17 years old and my brother Richard and I were sitting around discussing music one night, and he asked me if I wanted to form a band. I told him I couldn't play anything. He said "what do you want to play". I told him, "bass" to which he replied "then, buy a bass and we'll form a band". Needless to say I did, we did, and here I am.

E.C.: What bands/artists did you first listen to growing up?

Tim Butler: Growing up, I listened to Bob Dylan (my father bought all of his early records), The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers and The Clash.

E.C.: Was The Psychedelic Furs your first band?

Tim Butler: Yes, The Furs were my first brush with Rock and Roll.

E.C.: How did you see The Furs within the post punk scene that was gaining popularity at that time?

Tim Butler: I think The Furs were very influential in the post punk scene. We made music which broke the 100mph three chord mold. We were more into creating a wall of melody by jamming. In those early days a song would change from night to night.

E.C.: What was recording the first record like-was this your first time in a studio?

Tim Butler: Recording for the first album was fun, fast and painless. Our producer, Steve Lillywhite, wanted a live sound, like a really good concert. So we all played together in one room, with very few overdubs. The whole thing was recorded and mixed in 10 days I think.

E.C.: Describe some of the most memorable gigs you have played with the band- and maybe a few that you would like to forget.

Tim Butler: I remember playing a theatre in Turin, Italy. It was on the 'Forever Now' tour. We had just started the first song 'Pretty in Pink', when the house lights were turned on and police came running in because the audience was rioting. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. There was chaos in those days. A gig I would like to forget happened at the Windsor Castle pub in London, back in the very early days. We were playing a song when my E string broke. At that time I had no spare, no replacement strings and no knowledge of how to transpose to other strings. The band played most of the set with no bass. I think I drowned my sorrows at the bar, until our manager rushed in with an E string. Apparently he'd managed to find a bass player on the street and bought his string off him, so I made the encore.

E.C.: What's the largest crowd The Psychedelic Furs have played in front of?

Tim Butler: Two of the largest crowds we ever played for were The Glastonbury Festival at the Beginning of the 'Midnight to Midnight' tour and the Merce Festival in Barcelona on the 'World Outside' tour. We headlined both shows, and each drew about 100,000 people. Recently we played at the KROQ Inland invasion festival in Southern California with The Cure and Duran Duran to more than 50,000 people.

E.C.: What record do you consider to be your most solid-musically and lyrically from start to finish and why?

Tim Butler: My personal favourite is 'Forever Now'. Musically I think those songs have extremely interesting arrangements and use both horns and strings very inventively, while still maintaining the energy and attitude of the earlier albums. And the lyrics are the best, from the best.

E.C.: Looking back now, did the eventual reduction of the core of the band down to three members help or hinder the songwriting process?

Tim Butler: The reduction in members had its good points and bad points. Less members meant less arguments, and also decisions could be made quicker and easier. Although arguments can sometimes be constructive, for us, it was becoming less and less the case. Having less permanent members also meant more space for more inventive arrangement and instrumentation.

E.C.: Of all the bands you have toured with-which one did you enjoy playing with the most?

Tim Butler: 'Talk, Talk' and 'The Sisters of Mercy'.

E.C.: Recording sessions for the band are usually pretty internal settings. Would you ever consider an outside artist to record on a Furs song with you?

Tim Butler: It would be cool to have Richard do a vocal duet on a song. We actually approached Kim Deal around the "Book of Days" sessions, but there were scheduling conflicts. We really liked her vocals on "Gigantic".

E.C.: Pretty in Pink: the movie. How do you feel now about the band's participation with this project?

Tim Butler: At the time it gave us an opportunity to experiment and try to improve on the song. It also got us out to a much wider audience. It was fun, but those kinds of things can be very risky business.

E.C.: In the early 1990's the band decided to call it a day. What were the major reasons behind that?

Tim Butler: We had grown tired of the record/rehearse/tour/write/rehearse/record/rehearse/ tour treadmill. And we felt needed a break from it and from one another, although I did continue writing with Richard for, and played on, the first 'Love Spit Love' album.

E.C.: After the band's end, what other projects were you involved in?

Tim Butler: For a while I had my own band "Feed" which was about to be signed, but imploded for unknown reasons. After that, I did a bit of production and engineering work at "Electric Lady Studios" in New York.

E.C.: What were some of the factors that brought the band back together in 2000?

Tim Butler: We felt it was time. We got back together because we think we still have something to say, musically and lyrically.

E.C.: You've been touring fairly regularly since then. Are there any bands out there today that you would like to share a double bill with?

Tim Butler: Sure…. U2, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Love.

E.C.: There's been a live record, a B-side record and of course a few greatest hits collections. Would the band ever consider releasing an acoustic CD of both old and new material-similar to that great mini-set you did for WXRT radio in 2001?

Tim Butler: Yes we would. In fact our new manager has some interesting ideas for our future direction.

E.C.: The band line-up has remained fairly solid since the reformation. Do you see that continuing into the recording of the new record?

Tim Butler: Yeah, I'd imagine so.

E.C.: Fans have been waiting patiently since the "Alive" teaser on the Beautiful Chaos CD. Can you shed some light on how the new record is sounding and a possible release date?

Tim Butler: We are busy writing new songs at the moment. It'll certainly be recognizable as The Furs, but with an update. We definitely absorb what we hear in new music, and we'll use and discard what we like or don't like, which is pretty much what every band does to evolve. Hopefully it'll be released in the fall of 2005, with a world tour to follow.

E.C.: Obviously The Furs have a fantastic recording legacy that many others artists have been impressed with-and covered as well. What covers by other bands of Furs material do you like the most?

Tim Butler: For me, no one sings a Richard Butler lyric like Richard Butler.

E.C.: Are there any new bands or artists out in today's music scene that you are currently enjoying?

Tim Butler: Muse, the Electric Six, the Killers, the Mansions, and Pharrah Phosphate.

E.C.: What band or artist would you most like to collaborate/write a song with?

Tim Butler: I think it would be cool to write a song with Radiohead and have it produced by Brian Eno or Steve Lillywhite, or even Johnny Greenwood (awesome guitarist).

E.C.: When history looks back on bands that have continued as long as you- (Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order, The Cure to name a few) how would you like The Psychedelic Furs to be remembered by music fans around the world?

Tim Butler: I think we would like to be remembered as a band who never sold out, who stuck to our ideals and who wrote exciting thought provoking music.

E.C.: What are The Psychedelic Furs' plans for 2005?

Tim Butler: Work, Work, Work. Hey! We were away for a long time.

E.C.: Tim-thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

Tim Butler: My pleasure. Thanks a lot!

Selected Discography-

The Psychedelic Furs -(Columbia Records)-1980
Talk Talk Talk -(Columbia)-1981
Forever Now -(Columbia)-1982
Mirror Moves -(Columbia)-1984
12" Tape EP -(UK CBS)-1986
Midnight To Midnight -(Columbia)-1987
All That Money Wants EP -(UK CBS)-1988
All Of This and Nothing -(Columbia)-1988
Book Of Days -(Columbia)-1989
Crucial Music: The Psychedelic Furs Collection -(CBS Special Products/Relativity)-1989
World Outside -(Columbia)-1991
Here Came The Psychedelic Furs: B-Sides & Lost Grooves -(Columbia/Legacy)-1994
In The Pink -(Sony)-1996
Should God Forget: A Retrospective -(Columbia/Legacy)-1997
Radio One Sessions -(Strange Fruit UK)-1999
Greatest Hits -(Columbia/Legacy)-2001
Beautiful Chaos -Greatest Hits Live-(Sony)-2001

With Love Spit Love:

Love Spit Love -(Imago)-1994
Trysome Eatone* -(Maverick/Warner Bros.)-1997
(*songwriting credit)

For more information on The Psychedelic Furs-please go to www.burneddowndays.com