Interview: Ric Rawlins on The Super Furry Animals

Ric Rawlins‘ new book, Rise of The Super Furry Animals, charts the iconic 90s Welsh band from margins to mainstream in a constantly surprising, and often hilarious, way. Pete Cary spoke to the author to find out what fans can expect from this intriguing new volume.

You’re obviously a dedicated fan of the band yourself; what was the most surprising thing that you learned throughout the writing process of the book?
I guess it’s how strong the communications theme is. SFA were perhaps the only band to document the explosion of mobile phone and internet technology as it happened at the turn of the century. Albeit in their uniquely tropical way!

And that’s always been apparent, but learning about the way that Gruff had used CB Radio systems – aka “trucker radio” – as a teenager really flicked a switch with me: there’s always been this thing about embracing communications over perceived barriers.

In some ways this originates from their roots as Welsh language bands. The Welsh language scene informed their politics, their poetry and their DIY enthusiasm. But they also wanted to hold a megaphone up to the world, and you can see it in everything from ’The International Language of Screaming’ to the Guerrilla album, which really celebrates open channels of conversation on songs like ‘The Door To This House Remains Open’.

In your opinion what are some of the most fundamental reasons why this group became as popular and culturally important as they did?
On the one hand, there’s the aforementioned; that their work could be viewed as a psychedelic documentary on the rise of the “global conversation”. But they became popular because their songs are so good! Although they were associated with ‘Britpop’, they had more in common with The Beastie Boys or Beck. They were trying to create a new, ‘hyperdelic’, third kind of music. Samples and electronics were part of the equation but they also had an almost Beatles-level grasp of melody.

Famed as a Welsh-speaking band and champions of the Welsh language, what did The Super Fury Animals mean for Wales, and, specifically, Welsh music fans?
I daren’t answer this too extensively because I’m not Welsh; I’m from Bath! But since the book was announced I’ve had Welsh radio, record shops, music fans, all expressing huge excitement, which has been fantastic. They’re like sleeping giants for many Welsh people, I’m sure.

What I can say is that they got a global community into Welsh culture, without a doubt. Look at me! Mwng is a beautiful album whether you understand it all or not, and together with Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, SFA did a great job of opening people up to an entire history of Welsh pop, and Welsh language pop.

The book opens with an account of the band crashing a tank through a hedge to arrive at Eisteddfod Festival in Llandeilo (in central rural Wales). Do you think part of their success stems from an inclination to break the rules?
Definitely. They remind me in some ways of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, or The KLF. Insane publicity stunts merged with a really proactive message; lines like “when I get home from school I’m going to write some books” – they’re really endorsing self-education, creativity and grabbing life by your own rules, as opposed to somebody else’s.

Gruff Rhys and Dafydd (Daf) Ieuan started playing together aged 12; is the long-held connection important to the music that they went on to create?
Theirs was certainly the original friendship, the original Goonies-style ’pact’ if you like, that led to the band forming. Daf also instigated ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’, which some people might not know!

Despite the many strong anti-English sentiments among Welsh speakers in the 1970s and 1980s Wales that the group hailed from, they had a non-violent outlook that tended to focus on unity and emphasising togetherness. Was music integral to this?
Yes, but the Welsh Language Society played its part too: their manifesto was “non-violent, direct action”, which SFA reprinted on the artwork to Guerrilla. In some ways the society had parallels to Adbusters: they would graffiti over English language signs with subversions, and that underground ‘revolutionary’ spirit stayed with the band during their career to various degrees.

SFA are definitely pacifists: “You’ve got to tolerate all those people that you hate” pretty much hits that one. And I think this stance also informed their decision to modify a World War II army tank into a techno sound system!

The Furries’ big break arguably came with their signing to record label Creation (also of Oasis fame) – and immediately set about making seemingly crazy demands. What ultimately made the deal possible?
There’s a great quote from Alan McGee which I don’t think is reproduced in its entirety in the book, so I’ll post it here:

“Initially I just heard Super Furry Animals as being similar to Blur. So I thought, well fuck! Blur sell lots of records, I could have my version! So I signed them. I thought I was getting an out and out Britpop band. Little did I know that I was signing the Beach Boys meets fucking Gong meets Isaac Hayes on a fucking acid trip… To this day a lot of people think it was one of the best Creation signings ever.”

Among the many hilarious stories the book recounts is one particularly strange account of the lads drunkenly stealing a speedboat and sailing it out into the ocean. What’s your personal favourite?
It changes every day but I like the fact they were going to dress as yetis then climb onto an iceberg, and worship a huge fire god. The only reason it didn’t happen was that Sony decided it was “uninsurable”!

Radiator is hailed as a cultural masterpiece of the late 90s. Did the band know that it was going to have the impact that it did?
I think the producer Gorwel Owen did, and of course he’s like SFA’s George Martin in some ways. He says in the book that, with the strength of the material, it would have been hard for Radiator to fail.

The band was reacting against what they perceived as the traditional “rock and pop” of Fuzzy Logic: they felt that they hadn’t been radical enough. The great thing about Radiator is that it’s not only a radical record, but it’s also one full of feeling and euphoria.

SFA always had a creative approach to their artwork and the physicality of their albums; does the decline in physical record sales, combined with a shift in cultural attitudes and buying habits over the past few years mean that the band could not have existed in the same way if it had started today?
In a word, yes! Every signed band in the ‘golden age’ of record companies had access to a budget, but we’re lucky that SFA had Creation Records too. That label, and its staff such as the marketing manager John Andrews, really worked hard to bring the Furries’ crazed ideas to life. It enabled them to release the album Outspaced, which was encased in hard rubber that is apparently designed to “survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.”

But if SFA were starting now they’d have to be innovative in different ways… they’d have to be more like Anonymous or something.

The band have been on a hiatus since 2010 – what’s next for them?
Their individual “solo” bands are still popping records out like rabbits: Bunf is working on the second Pale Blue Dots album, and Zefur Wolves is incoming. As for SFA, I don’t think they’ll reunite for the sake of it – but when the timing and the songs click, hopefully they’ll go for it.

Rise of the Super Furry Animals will be published on 19th February, and is available for pre-order at

Pete Cary

Pete Cary

Pete Cary

Pete Cary

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