Last week I capitalized on an opportunity to interview Furs co-founded and bassist Tim Butler — younger brother of singer Richard Butler — for this piece in this week's hot-off-the-presses edition of the Scene. A jolly English gent, Butler talk, talk, talked to me about why they chose to dust off classic sophomore LP for a tour, hinted that they might give the same road treatment to its follow-up Forever Now, lamented the "soulless" state of contemporary pop radio — praising footstep-followers The Killers, while awaiting rock’s next Sex Pistols-, Nirvana-like shot in the arm — and mentioned tentative plans for a forthcoming Furs album (their first since 1991's World Outside), among other things. Read, read, read it below.
Nashville Cream: So, you guys are playing the Talk, Talk, Talk record.
Tim Butler: Yeah, we do the whole Talk, Talk, Talk record, then we take a 15-minute break, and come back and do other favorite tracks, and hits, and near misses — the fun stuff.
NC: Is this the first time you’ve done one of these outings were you play a whole record?
TB: We did a couple last year. We did England and the UK, and about six weeks ago we did the West Coast — we did Texas and the West Coast.
NC: How’s the feeling differ on stage, playing something that’s as rigidly scripted as a record is, as far as song and order and all that, versus just playing a regular show with a traditional set?
TB: It’s strange doing this record, because every song is a very up, aggressive, angry song, so it’s very much a record that takes stamina to play [laughs]. But, it’s fun. It’s fun to relive that — it brings back memories. When we wrote that record we were angry young British rockers (laughs) who wanted to take on the world, you know? Angry at everything.
NC: Are you still angry?
TB: Uh, yeah, but at different things [laughs].
NC: Are there song on the record you haven’t played live before this?
TB: Oh yeah, there’s song we haven’t played since we actually did the tour for the album back in ‘81. Songs like “I Wanna Sleep With You,” “So Run Down,” “It Goes On,” “She Is Mine,” so yeah, it’s cool, we’re finding it very cool to do it.
NC: Was this the obvious choice for a record to take back out on the road, or was there some debate?
TB: Well the favorite two — Richard’s and my favorite albums are Talk, Talk, Talk and Forever Now, and, I guess Talk, Talk, Talk came first in the recording so, who knows? Next time we might do Forever Now.
NC: Do you consider this, or either of those to be the band’s best records, or just kind of the signature record? Do you have a personal favorite?
TB: Yeah, my personal favorite is Forever Now. And Richard’s personal favorite is Talk, Talk, Talk. I think they're both great but for different reasons. Talk, Talk, Talk has a certain energy and aggression, and I think Forever Now is slightly more melodic and thoughtful.
NC: What would you consider, in your opinion, to be the band’s best song?
TB: My favorite song would have to be “Only You And I” off Forever Now.
NC: I was listening to those records this morning, and I was thinking, saxophone was a fairly popular instrument in the ‘80s, but not quite as much when it came to bands that were your contemporaries. I mean, was Duncan Kilburn, or Mars Williams, the Clarence Clemons of New Wave, or something along those lines?
TB: Mars Williams, the Clarence Clemons of New Wave? [Laughs] I’ll have to tell him that! The “little man” of New Wave! But, I don’t know why it wouldn’t be used more. We got it in the band because we were fans, when we started, of Roxy Music, and they had a cool sax player, and they had a cool sound, and I like to think of our sound as like a melding of the Sex Pistols and Roxy Music.
NC: Now you were there, and I wasn’t, but, in 1977 — that’s when the band started, correct?
TB: Uh, ’77, ’78. I mean, seriously probably ’79.
NC: Now a lot of people look back, and they see Roxy Music and Sex Pistols and punk rock as being very much a part of the same sort of continuum, but at the time, was it really like that? How did you guys see yourselves fitting in, in those first couple years?
TB: The whole thing is that people in punk bands didn’t feel they could fit in with that sort of music — the glam and the prog rock. You look at those videos of those bands, or hear them and say, “I can’t play like that. It’ll take years for me to learn to play like Steve Howe or Carlos Santana or whatever." But they had so much anger at the things around them that they want to get out musically, so, what do you want to play? You pick up a guitar or a bass and play two cords and yell and scream over it. But you’re saying something aggressive and you’re getting your opinion and your thoughts out there, which is what punk did. Now whether anything lasted, other than the fact that it gave a shot of adrenaline in the arm to the music business, and made younger people that weren’t these stodgy sort of prog-rock people get into music, that’s what it did. The same thing that Nirvana did in the early ‘90s, the much-needed kick in the butt, which I think it needs now. I think music is pretty soulless for the most part, so we need another Sex Pistols or Nirvana to come along and take it to the next place it’s going to go.
NC: Is there anyone out there that you see potentially doing that? Is there anyone current that you like?
TB: Um, The Killers? [Laughs] I tend to listen to a lot of the ‘70s-type music, especially Roxy Music. I can still listen to Roxy. But I don’t, from what I hear of music that’s around at the moment — I’m not that impressed.
NC: It doesn’t sound like it. I wanted to ask you about Richard’s voice. He has this very distinctive timbre to his voice, and it always seemed to me like a lot of the sound of the band was crafted around it.
TB: His vocal style, I think, when we started out and came along from the fact that he was trying to get himself heard over everybody else that was jamming around in the background. As the albums went by, and the years went by, I think he got melodic. I think it’s one of the most distinctive voices in music. I mean, you hear his voice on the radio and you can’t mistake it, just like you can’t mistake Morrissey, or Bono — it's very distinctive. I think nowadays, music — especially the drum machine, four-on-the-floor sort of music — every vocalist sounds the same. It might as well be one 24-hour song going on most radio stations. And they need distinctive voices like Richard’s, and Morrissey’s, and Bono’s, and Robert Smith’s.
NC: You guys have been reunited for 10 years now, right?
NC: What inspired you to get back together, and back on the road? Did you expect it to last as long as it has lasted?
TB: What inspired us? Just the fact that people in bands had been citing us as influences — saying out names in interviews and stuff — and we were thinking, “Wow, we had a longer break than we initially thought it was going to be.” But it’s like, “Hey, let's get back together and see what it’s like, and see if we enjoy being the Furs again.” And, we did, and we do [laughs], and now we’re working on a new album.
NC: Oh yeah? Tell me a little bit about that.
TB: Well, we’re taking our time. I mean, we’re not going to rush it. You know, the whole thing that made us stop in the first place was the fact that you get pressure — you have to get your record out before Christmas, for the sales for Christmas, or you have to have it out [at] this time because somebody else’s single is coming out, and we have to push that. So there’s so much pressure that we’re just taking our time and when we’re happy with everything, we’ll put it out.
NC: What kind of direction do you think you’ll go with it — sonically and musically? Are you going to go for a throw-back kind of thing, or are there new sounds and textures that you’re experimenting with as well?
TB: Well, it’ll definitely be the Furs, but the influences we’ve had over the last 18 or 19 years since or last album came out, you know, you get influenced by what you hear on the radio and the records you buy.
NC: Sure, but you said before you’re still listening to Roxy Music?
TB: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, you can’t lose those influences.
NC: What’s it like going on stage now, versus going out there in the late ‘80s or the mid ‘80s?
TB: It’s clearer, because we’re all stone-cold sober, so you can take in more and have more fun.
NC: Right. And I imagine it would allow you to play better?
TB: Oh yeah, I mean the shows are definitely — I mean, I’ve never seen a Furs show, but I’ve heard they’re pretty good.
NC: What’s it like for the audience, you think? Just watching them from your perspective, on stage?
TB: What’s strange is that I’ve heard people who’ve never seen us before say they didn’t know we we’re such an aggressive, hard-edged band. And, I think that’s because we’re doing Talk, Talk, Talk, which is an aggressive, hard-edged album, and people are more used to hearing the “Love My Way,” or “The Ghost In You,” and the “Heartbreak Beat,” so when they see us doing Talk, Talk, Talk, it’s a surprise.
NC: Do you think it’s also, in a way, more of a challenge to some of the more casual fans who only know those hits, and come and see that?
TB: Uh, yeah, I mean, definitely. People who have come along to see those hits have been sort of nonplussed by a lot of Talk, Talk, Talk, but they accept it, and they seem to enjoy it. Especially when they know that what they’re waiting for is coming, in a few minutes anyways, so they’re patient, they're patient [laughs].
NC: Lastly, tell me about the current lineup of the band?
TB: I’ll tell you, I’ve said this to other people, I think this is the best incarnation of the Furs I’ve played with, and I’ve played with them all. This is definitely the best one.