Q&A - Super Furry Animals
We talk to Cian Ciarán from Super Furry Animals ahead of his appearance at this year's Liverpool Psych Fest.
Q: Hello Cian. With your contributions and involvement with projects such as SFA, Acid Casuals and Paps you have garnered the reputation as one keen to explore the more experimental elements of music. However, your two acclaimed solo albums were more guitar based than was anticipated. Can you talk about what first motivated you to go out on your own and what inspired you to make the records you made?
A: I don't choose what music to make, I document everything or at least try to and I'll go to the studio with no agenda really other than to make a coherent body of work. Music has no borders in the sense of experimenting or not , it's all music to my ears. I've tried to write music from an early age and still not sure what the motivation is, but it's there so I don't question it at the moment , perhaps that's why I document everything in case the well dries up.
The guitar based albums you mentioned came about from different circumstances. The first was all written on the piano and when SFA took a break it made sense to commit the ideas I had to 'tape', why wait around. Daf and Guto played on that record. We've kept working on each others projects in some capacity just not under the name SFA. The second was simply because I had the time to pick up a guitar and learn how to play it. Still can't, but it did make me write in a different way, almost like going back to your youth writing songs with three chords seeing how far you could get. In some cases it was on one string. It also allowed me to turn up the volume for a more aggressive sound which is what I needed to do. It reflected the lyrical content and the way I felt about the world at the time and still do. This is all in retrospect, in all honesty I don't know why I do what I do or when I do it. A victim of circumstance.
Q: You teamed up with Steve Mason and collaborated with poet, Stephen Morrison-Burke for protest song, 'Stand Up'. Can you tell us how this project came about and what were the ambitions behind it?
A: Again I had a collection of songs but written on the computer this time, all electronic based rhythms and melodies. But I didn't want to sing on them so approached like minded people who I felt had something to say. The hope was to get this album out some years ago, it's still ongoing and I've managed to get some more lyricists, poets and singers on board since those releases, I've just not had the time to finish the process and get it out there. Unfortunately, the messages within those recordings are still relevant and probably will be for a long time to come.
Q: There are those who perceive a general depoliticisation in contemporary (mainstream) music? Would you agree with this? If so, what do you believe to be the causes of this and what are the ramifications for us on a social and cultural level?
I think it's been manufactured to be that way over a long time. Apathy is rampant and governments and corporations seem to be getting away with more and more right under our noses or even with our consent. It'll take a generation if not more to put things right, that is if we don't run out of time.
Q: There have been huge changes in how people are accessing music. Artists such as Radiohead have released their own records on their own platforms whilst others use newspaper giveaways or Apple marketing promotions. Can you please tell us your views on this trend - perhaps in reference to your own involvement with Pledge Music?
A: Artists, musicians, everyone is trying to get their work out there any way they can. It's getting beyond saturation point in terms of new music, I can't keep up anymore.
Since the dawn of the internet, we've seen artists empowered with the ability to be independent, it's given the masses opportunities that would never of been there otherwise. The flip side is that there's a whole load of shite to sieve through. What's good though is that the alternative to the mainstream is more accessible than ever so you don't have to be told what to listen to by the majors as perhaps the case may have been in the past. It's never ending and always evolving, I guess that's one of the few things that's attractive about the music industry. But none of the above is a consideration to me when making music.
Q: There has been a resurgence in interest in 90s music. The Verve and Blur returned in recent years with new albums, an Oasis documentary is about to be released and indeed, SFA have been going strong for over 20 years. What do you think it was about this period in British music history that captured the imagination and why does it continue to resonate?
A: I still listen to The Beatles, Sex Pistols and Acid House too, all of which debatably made more to change the course of music making than anything that happened in the 90's?? I don't care much to question why , I'd rather look forward where possible and take influence rather than regurgitate or live in the past.
Q: Who did SFA relate to most from this period, or were you a lone wolf?
A: I don't know to be honest or don't remember. I discovered so much 'old' music during the early years of SFA I was playing catch up in many respects. I remember a dressing room being trashed in Sweden somewhere to the soundtrack of Nirvana but I wouldn't say I relate to anything or anyone musically, how can you ?
Q: Did you hang out with the other Creation bands? Who were your favourite bands on the label?
A: Only when we'd bump into them at the offices or the local or on the road. We lived in different cities. I don't have a favourite that's what I liked about the label as a whole. I will text Noel from time to time after a City win.
Q: We’re big fans of your Welsh contemporaries Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci here at Coney’s Loft, they could be one of the most underrated bands in history. Is that an overstatement?
A: Yes . . . only joking. I grew up listening to Gorky's, I even asked Euros in a gig toilet once if I could play drums for them when I was about 16. Tremendous band and a wealth of material.
Q: But we all like an underdog. What bands do you like that don’t get the credit they deserve.
Q: Tell us about the Rhys & Meinir project. I find the storytelling aspect intriguing, hearing the tale as a child then bringing it to life as an adult in a different medium. I like the romance, tragedy and sense of place. You have described the project as “quintessentially Welsh”. What do you mean by that?
A: That was actually a quote by Michael Garvey, Director of BBC National Orchestra of Wales. It's a project that's taken it's time to come to fruition partly because of the costs involved. The score features many ideas developed while on the road, in sound checks or during studio breaks, while with the band or working on solo projects, coming together in the last five years as a work completed for the 84 piece orchestra to perform.I thought I'd never get there but the first rehearsal has been , I'm looking to complete the final draft this week and the performance is now confirmed for November the 4th in Cardiff.
Q: What are your thoughts on The Welsh Music Prize?
A: It's a great platform and I think people and the media outside of Wales are starting to take an interest and keep one eye on not only the winner but the shortlist. It's always a mixture of acts and one hopes it can only help or push Artists to develop further and seek new opportunities outside of Wales.
Q: What new Welsh artists should we be listening to?
A: Hippies v's Ghosts, Liam a Niamh, CaStLeS .
Q: What role do you think SFA have played in popularising psychedelia? How popular a genre is it in Wales?
A: What is psychedelia ? I imagine it means different things to different people and different generations. I wouldn't know how to answer this other than this way. It's probably more in need of a debate.
Q: You’re touring later in the year, taking in places you’ve not performed before, including Mexico. How do you feel about touring?
A: It's kind of gone downhill since the age of 21. Too much travelling and time away from home can take its toll but the 90 minutes on stage and being given the opportunity to see the world is something you must be thankful for. I always feel lucky to be doing what I'm doing. I do prefer studio life though.
Q: On the tour, SFA are performing Fuzzy Logic and Radiator back-to-back. Why did you decide to do that, and what challenges do the band face with such a mighty task?
A: The timing of the 20th anniversary for both Fuzzy this year and Radiator next year might have something to do with it. It's also something we've never done before and are unlikely to do again. Some of the songs haven't seen the light of day since the album itself was out. We wanted to put on a show without going through the motions or repeating ourselves from last years' and this summers tours and festivals.
Q: What do SFA and yourself have planned for the next year or so? Once you have recovered from the tour, that is…
A: There may be stuff on the horizon but nothing's on the radar . . .
Questions by Cath Bore and Elliot Jesset.