The Psychedelic Furs
Photo: Matthew Reeves / Courtesy of Big Hassle

The Psychedelic Furs Discuss Their Latest Album and COVID-19

Tim Butler of the Psychedelic Furs talks to PopMatters about the band’s first new album in nearly 30 years, COVID-19 delaying their tour, and a hopeful future.

Made of Rain
The Psychedelic Furs
Cooking Vinyl
31 July 2020

On the last day of July in 2020, the Psychedelic Furs finally released Made of Rain.

The last time the legendary post-punk/new-wave English band had an album, hardly anyone outside of Seattle had heard of Pearl Jam, and a little trio named Nirvana were slaving away on their sophomore album. The British invasion of the 1980s that brought us bands like the Psychedelic Furs was winding down, and hit singles like “The Ghost in You”, “Pretty in Pink”, “Love My Way”, and “Heartbreak Beat” seemed to belong to another era.

Possibly by reading the writing on the wall, the band split after their 1991 album World Outside. Singer Richard Butler formed the band Love Spit Love with guitarist Richard Fortus but continues to write songs with his brother Tim, the Furs’ bassist. As the ’90s gave way to the 21st century, the Butler brothers, together with guitarist John Ashton and saxophonist Mars Williams, absorbed Fortus into a full-blown Psychedelic Furs reunion. Keyboardist Amanda Kramer of Information Society joined soon afterward. The band toured and toured and toured over almost 20 years, promising fans that an album of new material would soon be in the making.

After Ashton’s exit, Rich Good of the Pleased stepped in to be the band’s guitarist. In 2019, they finally went into the studio, with Fortus co-producing, to record Made of Rain. The music was as dazzling as it was devastating, with Richard Butler piecing together one-of-a-kind melodies while the rest of the band conjured dark, noisy magic from thin air. Fans and critics alike praised the band’s new material. Uncut called it a “showstopper”. Pitchfork proclaimed it “a new road”. Mojo made a favorable comparison to the band’s 1982 masterpiece Forever Now. There was just one problem: a global pandemic.

Made of Rain’s release date was postponed by three months in hopes that COVID-19 could come under control in time for a 2020 tour. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Like all other working musicians who earn their living through traveling and performing live, the Psychedelic Furs just had to sit and wait until the coast was sort-of clear. They passed the time by releasing “Evergreen”, an outtake from the Made of Rain sessions. Richard Butler called that ode to dirt naps a “song about memory and the passing of time”.

In mid-September of 2021, the Psychedelic Furs finally got the Made of Rain tour they wanted. Well, kind of. There are strict guidelines to follow, but these are our current times. Looking out for one another doesn’t just apply to your neighbor; it applies to the two-way street that is audience and performer. PopMatters caught up with Tim Butler while the band was on a break between North American dates. I started by double-checking the lyrics to the chorus of “Evergreen”.

“I was dirt / And I’ll be dirt again.” Do I have that right?

[Laughs] We all go back to dirt!

Is there anything that has you guys thinking about your own mortality these days?

Well, COVID! [Laughs] That has us thinking of our mortality. It doesn’t have any favorites as far as who it affects or who it kills. It’s a very scary time. Richard wrote the lyrics before COVID came along. So he was probably thinking about that “everyday” mortality. But it still all fits nicely with the mood of society at the moment.

COVID pushed back the release of Made of Rain.

Yeah, it was supposed to come out in April of last year, and we were all geared up to do a tour to support it. We were really excited because it has been quite a while since we had an album out, like, 30 years. We were just excited to get out there and play the new songs for our ever-patient fans. Then COVID came in. You never know, with an upcoming tour, if it’s going to be canceled. And with the variants and stuff, it’s still a very up-in-the-air atmosphere to be touring in.

We just did four shows about a week ago [mid-September in Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Buffalo], and it was great to play for such vociferous and grateful fans. It’s strange going out on stage having not played for two years; you almost forget what you’re supposed to do [laughs]. You get like a deer in the headlights for a while.

How are the crowds responding to your new material?

Oh, great! I mean, it’s cool if they don’t latch on to it like our old stuff. It’s always the same when a band goes out with a new album. People can hear it on the radio or CD or the download or whatever, but it’s not as ingrained in their minds as songs like “Pretty in Pink” or “The Ghost in You”. Because they’re new and pink, they’re still absorbing them.

Apart from the “deer in headlights” feeling, what else can you tell us about touring during COVID?

We have pretty stringent protocols for being on the road. No one is allowed in the band dressing room other than the band, and everybody backstage has to wear masks, and we don’t really meet with fans after shows. We go from the dressing room to the bus. We’re not unfriendly. It’s just that we can’t risk having to shut down a whole tour because one person tested positive. Other than being on stage, it seems impersonal. We’re just careful because we want to finish the tour and play for all the people that want to see us. It’s strange, you look out into the audience, and you see some people wearing masks, and it’s very strange. It’s really satisfying to be out there playing after a two-year layoff and just entertaining people. I think people have been starved of live music for a long time.

Since reforming in 2000, the Psychedelic Furs have been touring a lot. Do you feel like you guys are a better band than 20 years ago?

Yeah, now we’re looser. When we first got back together, we played the songs perfectly. Now we’re bouncing off each other more. On albums like Midnight to Midnight, the songs are very produced. Now when we play them live, it’s more rock ‘n’ roll. We just want to rock ‘n’ roll! We’ve had Rich Good on guitar for 14 years, and we have a new drummer for this tour, Zach Alford. He’s a great drummer, a great guy. I think he’s most known for playing with [David] Bowie on a few tours and albums. He played with Bruce Springsteen. So he’s a seasoned drummer. That was a nervous thing, doing these first four shows with a new drummer. New songs with a new drummer! It was double the worries, but it worked out great, and the shows were great. So we’re looking forward to doing a lot of touring, now that we can.

You’re scheduled to play the Cruel World Festival next year.

That’s another thing that was supposed to have been last year. It was canceled, and it was rescheduled. Actually, I think it was canceled [before that], and now it’s next year over two nights [currently scheduled for 14 and 15 May 2022]. I think we’re playing both nights. We’ve always liked Southern California audiences.

Jumping back to the new song “Evergreen”, is there a reason it didn’t make the album?

We had other songs that we recorded the basics of. I think we recorded 14 songs, and at the end of it, you decide which 12 were going to go on the album. Not to say it’s not a good song. We just preferred the 12 we picked—no real reason why it was cast off. At the time, we decided on the 12 that are on the album. We always figured we would put [“Evergreen”] out at some other time or maybe on the next album or whatever.

I hope we don’t have to wait another 30 years to hear the next one.

[Laughs] We’re already passing around some ideas. I think the reason it took so long before when we got back together after the hiatus in the ’90s, we always talked about doing another album. But we’re always so over-worried whether we had good enough songs to stand out against our back catalog. It came to a point where we had all these guys in the band that worked great together, and we got input and song ideas from Paul Garisto, the drummer, and Rich Good. So, lots of songs were coming in. Normally, it would be Richard and I trading ideas. But with more people working on tunes, it makes for less pressure. 

I think Made of Rain is excellent from top to bottom, and I’m glad you guys pulled the trigger on that one.

It’s been getting great reviews, better reviews than any of our other albums. And it’s given us a bit of confidence to think about another album.