SFA: Urbane guerrillas

Super Furry Animals are an unusual commodity in the music industry – a band which has been in the public eye for a decade yet can still win the acclaim of critics, music lovers and fellow bands. As they prepare to visit Norwich, Ben Kendall talks to them.

Be it appearing on stage in yeti costumes, driving a purple peace tank or recording an entire album in Welsh, Super Furry Animals have never been ones for conformity.

More controversially, lead singer Rhys recently caused uproar by saying “I suppose that's the problem when you declare war on terror - people are going to start fighting back,” just a day after the London bombings.

Nonconformity may occasionally count against them. Other than the bombing comment - one which by the way they have since stood by - the band's early days were littered with bizarre comments made to the press while they were, in the own words, “off their faces”.

But it is perhaps this taste for the unconventional which accounts for their enduring success. And yet it would be wrong to dismiss them merely as lovable eccentrics.

They have a proven flair for classic pop, psychedelia and techno. Noteably, of their former Creation label mates, only the behemoth that is Oasis can claim to have experienced more enduring success.

At an age when many bands would be happy to live off past glories and regurgitate their sound, each SFA album reveals hidden musical depths - something which is certainly true of the new album Love Kraft.

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It is the first record on which every member of the band has contributed to the songwriting, yet it is possibly their both cohesive body of work to date.

Recorded in Spain and mixed in Rio De Janeiro, it features swooning string arrangements alongside the odd (in both senses of the word) appearance from a 100-strong mixed voice Catalan choir.

It's all a far cry from the feedback-drenched guitars of their 1995 debut Fuzzy Logic.

But as they prepare to visit Norwich on Wednesday, keyboardist Cian Ciaran promises this maturity would not see the band abandon their traditionally spectacular and anarchic live performances.

“We've got a few tricks up our sleeves, but people are going to have to wait and see. It won't be Yeti costumes, but we've got our little box of magic,” he says.

“We've never been a band to leap around the stage so we have to find some other way of making the show entertaining.”

Interviewing an SFA member can be problematic - they seem to approach life with a frustratingly geriatric sense of urgency, the conversation is potted with protracted tumbleweed moments.

Quizzed on the recording of the new album, Cian responds slowly: “Yeah, it was good.”

After a long pause, just as you're beginning to think that's all you're going to get, he continues: “We started with a shortlist of 25 tracks written over a five-year period which we cut down to 12 before adding another four.

“At one point we were just going to release a 16-track album - it's really hard cutting out songs that you've put so much time into.

“But there are some songs you write and everyone else in the band just gets them straight away. That's when you know you're on to a good thing.”

In the past their albums have drawn inspiration from radiation, dogs, rising house prices, the Clinton scandal, war, pet hamsters, the erosion of indigenous languages and, it is fair to say, the occasional use of illegal substances.

While perhaps not their best album to date, Love Kraft offers something different to this impressive back catalogue.

Cian says: “The first time we played these tracks live we had the normal nerves - you never know how it's going to be received.

“But they seemed to get the crowd going and they were wanting more which is great when you consider these are songs they've never heard before.

“In some ways you could say it is a bit of a departure for us - the tracks are perhaps slower and build up more gradually.

“But I think what unites this album with out previous work is it has the same sense of intensity - as long as it doesn't send people to sleep, we're happy with it.”

Narcolepsy is not a condition anyone could expect to suffer from while listening to SFA.

Often lyrically obtuse, on Love Kraft their songs enter stranger territory yet. Opener Zoom is a bold seven-minute undertaking, painting a grand picture of mournful world via a surrealistic stream of consciousness set to the daunting atmosphere of a requiem mass.

Ohio Heat ostensibly concerns itself with the plight of Salty Marine, a Welsh emigree facing an unwanted “bun in the oven” in the 19th-century Mid-West. Its melancholy, nostalgic and softly psychedelic verses relating Salty's decline are marvellously contradicted by the diffuse golden glow optimism of the chorus.

While the band can now count themselves as music veterans, it is somehow difficult to envisage them imitating some of their contemporaries - touring endlessly and allowing their brand to overtake the pioneering quality of their music.

For the time being at least, they are here to stay - but only while the music, and presumably the process of recording and performing, remains fresh and exciting.

“We are the same band as we were 10 years ago - we all still get really excited about what we're doing and that is what matters,” says Cian in a decidedly unexcited tone.

The music however, speaks for itself.

t Tickets at £16 in advance are available in Norwich from UEA Union, Waterfront, Soundclash and HMV. Credit card bookings: P 01603 508050. Online bookings go to www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk

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