Super Furry Animals are widely regarded as one of the most exciting and innovative bands to come out of Wales, consistently combining all manner of styles and influences within their music with a back-catalogue that covers such everyday topics as dogs, radiation, rising house prices, the Clinton sex scandal, pet hamsters and the erosion of indigenous languages. They have always followed their own path, earning comparisons with such groups as The Flaming Lips, The Beta Band and Mercury Rev. This might explain why they've never achieved mainstream success, but unlike many of their Britpop contemporaries - who shone brightly before fizzling and fading away - the Super Furries (as they are also known), are still going strong with a dedicated fanbase all around the world.
Super Furry Animals (hereafter known as SFA), have consisted of five members since their formation:
Cian Ciaran (pronounced 'Kee-an Kee-aran') was born in Bangor on 16 June, 1976. He plays the keyboards, electronics and also sings some vocals.
Dafydd Ieuan (pronounced 'Dav') was born on 1 March, 1969 in Bangor and plays the drums. He is also Cian's older brother.
Huw Bunford (pronounced 'Hiw') plays lead guitar and was born in Cardiff on 15 September, 1967.
SFA came together initially as an instrumental group in 1993 in Cardiff. The various members had been performing in a number of Welsh-language groups and techno outfits, playing around Wales and at Celtic festivals in Europe. Gruff, for example, had played in the bands Emily, Ffa Coffi Pawb(with Dafydd) and Ahnfern (with Dafydd and Guto). It was during this early period that Rhys Ifans was the lead singer for a short period. He later supplied backing vocals on a couple of Fuzzy Logic's songs and appeared in the video for 'Hometown Unicorn'. His brother, Llyr is a member of the clothing and musical collective Acid Casuals, along with Cian.
There are a number of stories regarding the origins of the band's name. Apparently, the name came from T-shirts printed by Gruff's sister for the above-mentioned Acid Casuals, though who suggested the name is open to debate. Alternatively, Guto once said:
It was written in the sky. It appeared in letters in the sky. I've no idea where it came from. I think a swarm of locusts created it.
Now with an appropriate moniker, the group signed with Ankst, the famed Welsh indie label, in 1995.
SFA had two releases whilst with Ankst, the first 'Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyndrobwllantysilio-gogogochynygofod (In Space)'1 EP met with critical acclaim amongst the Welsh music press with the title chosen as an attempt to get into the Guinness Book Of Records. The second release was the 'Moog Droog' EP, the title a combination of the name of the famed synth manufacturer and the slang term from A Clockwork Orange for a friend.
It was not long after this release that SFA signed with Creation Records. They had been noticed by label boss Alan McGee at a gig - only their second outside Wales - at the Camden Monarch. Offering them a deal afterwards, McGee reportedly requested that the band sing more songs in English - only to be told that every song in that night's set had been in English.
After the release of 'Moog Droog', the band made the decision to move towards the mass, specifically English, market. As Gruff later explained:
Between us we'd released about six or seven albums in various bands in the Welsh language. So we formed an English language band to make accessible music. We put out English language albums because we've got ambition and we thought it was potentially easier for an international audience.
With this move to the English language, the Welsh media dubbed them traitors. As a response to their critics, SFA recorded a song called 'Nid Hon Yw'r Gan Sy'n Mynd I Achub Yr Iaith' ('This Is Not The Song To Save The Welsh Language').
In early 1996, the band's debut release on Creation, Hometown Unicorn, became NME magazine's Single Of The Week and the first SFA single to chart in the top 50. The second release, 'God! Show Me Magic', climbed even higher, also became NME single of the week. In May, their debut album Fuzzy Logic was released, again to wide critical acclaim. Unfortunately, it peaked at only number 23 in the album chart. The band's first big success came with the single 'Something 4 The Weekend', which charted at number 18.
It was during this time that the band had a bright blue tank complete with soundsystem, which toured that year's festivals playing techno music. Unfortunately, it was later sold to Don Henley of The Eagles.
The band courted controversy with the stand-alone single 'The Man Don't Give A F___', released in late 1996. Originally intended to be a B-side, it was delayed after problems clearing the Steely Dan sample that forms the core of the song. When finally released it quickly became a collector's item with all profits from the single going to Steely Dan for use of the sample. It was the first top 40 hit to include 52 f___s and would reach number one in Australia. The song would become the band's anthem, used almost continuously since its release as their closing number.
In July 1997, SFA released the single 'The International Language Of Screaming', followed by their second album, Radiator in August. This album, which reached a peak of number eight in the album charts, saw the beginning of a fruitful relationship with graphic artist Pete Fowler, who has gone on to become internationally feted for his Monsterism creations. The video for another single, 'Play it Cool' featured the band as digitised characters playing football in the computer game Actua Soccer 2 on the Playstation. You can play as the band yourself if you have a copy of the game, though a cheat code is required.
Early 1998 saw the band recording a new EP, which signified a change of direction. Released in May, the Ice Hockey Hair EP was followed by a B-sides and rarities album called Out Spaced in November; a limited edition of these featured the CD inside a rubber sleeve in the shape of a breast.
1999 was a busy year for the band. In January they were suprisingly voted Best New Band at the NME awards, much to Gruff's confusion as he collected the award.
May saw the release of 'Northern Lites', the first single from Guerrilla. After headlining several summer festivals, they followed this with a US and UK tour, completing the UK leg at the CIA in Cardiff, where they showcased the first ever concert in surround sound.
They also sponsored Cardiff City Football Club, with the team wearing the band's logo on their shirts for the 1999 Welsh Cup. Unfortunately, Barry Town knocked them out in the first round.
The final single from the album, 'Do Or Die' was released in January, 2000. It was also the last single SFA released on Creation Records, as Alan McGee had decided to close up shop and move on to other projects.
Finding themselves without a label after the demise of Creation Records, the band, wary of how a larger label might to try and market a Welsh language album, decided to release the album through their own Placid Casual label, established in 1998. Mwng ('Mane'), was recorded on what Gruff called 'pop strike', who pointed out that since their English language pop songs didn't get played on the radio, they might as well make Welsh pop songs that didn't get played on the radio.
Recorded for only £6,000 and released without much marketing, Mwng became one of the biggest-selling Welsh language albums of all time much to everyone's surprise, narrowly missing out on the top ten. It also became the band's most successful release in the US and Japan.
Also released in 2000 was the Liverpool Sound Collage mini album, featuring the SFA remix track 'Free Now', which made use of out-takes from Beatles recording sessions. The album was later nominated for a Grammy.
Now signed to a new label, Epic, the band released the first single from their new album, Juxtaposed With U. 'Rings Around The World' followed soon after, and in July, 2001 SFA made history, being the first band to simultaneously release an album on CD and DVD. The DVD was mixed in 5.1 surround sound, and contained videos accompanying each track. The album received widespread critical acclaim and was a great success, reaching number one in midweek album charts during the first week of release. It even guest-stars Paul McCartney chewing carrots and celery on the song 'Receptacle for the Respectable'2. Two other singles were released from the album, 'Drawing Rings Around The World' and 'It's Not The End Of The World?' but did not do so well despite receiving some airplay, mostly on Radio 2. The album would be later short-listed for that year's Mercury Music Prize.
Phantom Power, SFA's seventh studio album, was released in July 2003, and was again accompanied by a DVD with surround sound. The first single released was 'Golden Retriever', the video for which featured the band in Yeti costumes, which would regularly make appearances onstage duing the band's encores. Shortly afterwards a limited edition remix album called Phantom Phorce was released, which featured commentary by executive producer Kurt Stern in-between the tracks, including such observations as:
Really, what I did was, I rescued this record from the cut-out bin.
He's singing about a dog. This perfect rocking track and he's singing about a dog. There goes all that money. It's so disappointing.
A greatest hits album and DVD, entitled Songbook: The Singles, Volume 1, was released in September 2004, with a live twenty-minute single of 'The Man Don't Give A F___' preceding it. The DVD featured videos for all songs along with the documentary American Sasquatch, which detailed the band's 2002 tour of America.
In January, 2005 Gruff released a solo album sang in Welsh entitled Yr Atal Genhedlaeth('The Stuttering Generation'), and went on a short tour of Wales in support. This was followed in April by an Under The Influence compilation, which highlighted the groups diverse inspirations, ranging from The Beach Boys to Jussi Bjoerling, The Undertones to Underworld.
The group's seventh studio album, Love Kraft was released in August, 2006. The single 'Lazer Beam' preceded its release and it was confirmed that this would be the only single released from the album, the band's final release with Epic.
Rough Trade Records
The band have been concentrating on side-projects since signing with Rough Trade Records, with Acid Casuals having released their debut album Omni in January, 2006 and Dafydd recording with a new band The Peth, along with former member Rhys Ifans amongst others. Gruff will be releasing a second solo album called Candylion in January 2007.
Would You Like To Know More?
SFA's main website is www.superfurry.com, though the band have set up a number of websites over the years, promoting each new album. There is also a very good BBC Wales website as well as a number of fansite and a yahoo group.