Modern rock legends are back with new material, ‘Made of Rain’—their first album of new songs in thirty years.
Most bands typically don’t take more than a couple of years between albums – but it’s been almost three decades since The Psychedelic Furs have released new material. Made of Rain, their eighth studio album, was released on July 31 – 29 years after their last one, 1991’s World Outside. Even bassist Tim Butler knows this is excessive. “It took us long enough!” he admits with a laugh.
Some of this long wait can be chalked up to the band taking a hiatus after World Outside until they reunited 2000. But while the Furs have remained popular as a touring act ever since, Butler says it took them another twenty years to make Made of Rain because of their own lofty standards. “When we got back together, we were talking about doing another album. We were writing songs,” he says. “But we would constantly second-guess ourselves: ‘Is this good enough to stand up against our back catalogue?’ We set such a high benchmark for ourselves with our best work. That was preying on our minds over the years.
“Finally, we started to write a bunch of songs which we were knocked out by,” Butler continues. “We impressed ourselves! We said, ‘It’s time: we can go in and record an album that will stand up there with the best of our past work.’ So we did. We’re excited for everybody to hear it.”
Once they found their groove again, Butler says the songs came together very quickly: “Except for [the track] “Wrong Train,” all the songs on the album were written in five or six months. “Wrong Train” was probably written roundabout 2006, and we played it in our live set.”
The passing decades haven’t altered the distinctive Psychedelic Furs sound – they are still creating lush post-punk that has a certain romance to it, but always with a dark edge. Yet, these new songs also sound modern, though Butler says they didn’t deliberately try to update their music. “You progress because you take in all the music you hear around you. Things you hear on the radio might start you thinking of a song idea or a direction for a song, so you’re inspired by all sorts of music. You don’t have to sit down and think, ‘How can I modernize the sound?’ It’s a natural thing.”
Much as Butler hopes that fans will love the new songs, Butler knows that The Psychedelic Furs will always be associated with their past hits, which they will be expected to perform at their shows forevermore. “We have the songs we have to play, otherwise we’d get tracked down and killed!” he says with a laugh. They have an impressive list of successful singles they have to pick from for their set lists: “Pretty in Pink,” “Love My Way,” “Heartbreak Beat,” and “The Ghost in You” among others.
But, Butler promises, he and his bandmates absolutely do not mind playing “Pretty in Pink” for the umpteenth time. “Every night, when you see an audience that’s singing along to a song, it makes it fresh for you again,” he says. “It’s a constantly exciting thing. It’s the most wonderful job to have. I would do it all over again, the highs and the lows, just for the feeling you get when you see thousands of people singing along to a song that you’ve written.”
It’s been a remarkable career that began in the 1970s when Butler founded The Psychedelic Furs with his older brother Richard. Although they have long lived in America (Butler is calling from his home in Kentucky), they grew up in London, England – which enabled them to witness the then-new punk scene, which would prove pivotal for them.
Butler recalls a 1976 Sex Pistols show as being a particularly crucial event. “We came out of the show blown away. We were talking about it, and Richard said, ‘Do you want to form a band?’ I said, ‘I can’t play anything.’ He said, ‘Well, what do you want to play?’ And at the time, I liked drums but I couldn’t afford a drum kit. But I wanted to be on the bottom end, the part that holds it together and makes people dance. So I said, ‘I’ll play bass.’ I went out with my first paycheck from my first job after leaving school and bought a bass.”
The Butlers weren’t the only ones who were inspired by punk’s DIY ethos. “You looked at any club calendar in London and there were all these hundreds of punk bands,” Butler says. Despite the competition, though, The Psychedelic Furs soon set themselves apart, releasing their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album in 1980. The songs on that release sounded unlike anything anyone else was doing, which Butler admits was something of a happy accident: “Everybody in the band wanted to be heard, so it turned into a bit of a wall of melody, of beautiful chaos, for the first album.”
Butler has further theories about why the Furs were able to stand out. “I think the main thing of our sound from the word ‘go’ was having a saxophone,” he says. “and we’ve stuck to our own ideals. We haven’t followed the trend.” Also, he adds, there’s “Richard’s vocal style. As long as you’ve got Richard Butler singing vocals on a tune, I think it’s instantly recognizable as The Psychedelic Furs. I think he’s one of the best vocalists in the last 40 or 50 years. We’re very lucky. Richard’s lyrics and vocals are just brilliant. They get better and better.”
Even though Richard Butler has become an iconic frontman, the brothers still share the work equally. “We both have an important input into the band’s sound and direction,” Butler says. He dismisses any notion that being in a group with his brother might cause friction, as it has with The Kinks and Oasis. “I can’t see how music would be more important than your family,” Butler says firmly. “Your family always has your back. Whereas rock and roll might not: it might all come crashing down.”
2020 has, in many ways, made it seem like things really are crashing down – it forced the band to cancel their tour to support Made of Rain. But Butler promises that The Psychedelic Furs will be back on tour next year – and, in the meantime, they’re making sure that fans won’t have to wait so long for their next album: “We are writing at the moment,” he says, “so we’re already raring to go for the next one. We’re not going to take another 30 years!”