You may know The Psychedelic Furs as a seminal post-punk ‘80s band. You may recall their brooding British sound, falling just on the edgy side of pop, strangely at odds with the angsty teen romance of Pretty in Pink, (although it was the Furs' song of the same name that scored the 1986 John Hughes film).
You may not know that lead singer Richard Butler, whose snarl gives "Pretty in Pink" (the song) its decidedly menacing bite, claimed in interviews over the years that Pretty in Pink (the film) ruined the original meaning of his song: "Pink" referred not to prom dress, but to undress. ("I don't watch TV anyway, but if [the movie] came on I couldn't get to the remote quick enough," he recently told the San Francisco Chronicle.)
"But, it gave us a lot more people checking out the band," says bassist/Furs co-founder/Richard’s kid brother, Tim Butler. "So it was a good thing that it happened. But it was a bad thing that it drove a lot of our hardcore fans away. But hey, you take a gamble."
You may not know that Tim, born in southwest London, now lives in Liberty, Ky. "I met my wife on MySpace," he says. "She lives down here. I was living in South Jersey and I got bored of South Jersey so I moved down here." They're now a happy family with two children. (Richard lives in New York.)
A pleasant surprise: Since the Psychedelic Furs have been back out on tour, the band’s live show has been widely applauded. Tim speculates that's due, in part, to the fact that most of the band's music avoided a typical '80s sound. Recently, the band reissued its 1981 sophomore record, Talk Talk Talk. On tour, they've been performing the entire album.
"When we decided to do the tour with the whole of Talk Talk Talk, I didn't even realize it's actually the 30th anniversary of the release of it," says Tim. "Playing it, it's like it could be released now. It's not dated.”
He adds, "It’s fun, but it's very aggressive. It's actually a tiring album to play now." So much so that fans of the Furs' later work comment that they didn't know the band who put out poppy Midnight to Midnight was so heavy live. And in their second set, the Furs play their pop hits. "It seems really laid back after doing Talk Talk Talk," says Tim.
The Furs' last studio album was 1991's World Outside, which included the hit "Until She Comes." That was four years and two records after Midnight, the band's biggest mainstream success, but a bitter pill for Richard who told iJamming.net, "By the time we got to Midnight to Midnight we turned round one day and said, ‘How the hell did we get here?’ I felt like I had come a long, long way away from what my roots were, which was Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan and all that sort of stuff. …I remember getting physically ill from Midnight to Midnight."
After World, the band split, with Richard and Tim forming Love Spit Love which lasted most of a decade. In 2000, the Furs reunited and put out greatest hits album Beautiful Chaos, with three previously unreleased tracks. But other than those songs and Richard's well-received, self-titled 2006 solo album there's been nothing new from the Psychedelic Furs camp in this millennium.
"We started working on a new album, but we don't feel there's any pressure to put anything out," says Tim. The band went on hiatus during the '90s to escape that sort of demand from labels. "We're going to wait until it's right and put it out when we're 100-percent happy with it. We were always slow workers."
In Psychedelic Furs: Beautiful Chaos, biographer Dave Thompson asserts that the band actually had a greater effect on future musicians than on the music market.
"One of the reasons we decided to go for it again is there are so many bands around citing us as an influence," says Tim. One of those groups is The Killers, who invited the Furs to play a couple of shows, including the Benicassim festival in Spain. There, says Tim, it was Brandon Flowers' idea for the Furs to play "Pretty in Pink" on stage with the Killers. "It's really cool that someone like Brandon would say what a big fan he is of the band," says Tim.
More than influencing a later generation, the Furs affected the music landscape even at the height of their own fame. "We helped put alternative music on the map," says Tim. They took the energy of punk and brought in the songwriting of bands like Roxy Music, he says. "We're happy with what we've done to help music."
And they've been at it for a long time. Tim says Richard got the idea to form the band during the late '70s, when he was in art school. Richard realized that he could get ideas across to more people through song than painting. Tim was game to join a band but couldn't play anything — but it was an innovative time in London. "Kids in bands had the idea they could do anything," Tim says. "You didn't have to be a Carlos Santana or a Jimmy Page to be able to write a song. Lots of people were picking up instruments and learning as they went."
For the bassist, the best era of the Psychedelic Furs was "the buildup in the '80s.” Their peak was selling out the 18,000-capacity Forum in L.A., he says. Then the Furs lost direction, and found their way back, and lost their audience, and gained it back. And now, with the return to Talk Talk Talk, the Furs are tapping into that early energy again.
"You get transported back to 1981," says Tim. "The swagger, the whole bravado, like you could take on the world."
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: The Psychedelic Furs
where: The Orange Peel
when: Friday, July 8 (8 p.m., $22.50 advance/$25 doors. theorangepeel.net)