In the Pink
After nearly 35 years, these UK New Wave pioneers are touring on their own terms
Of all the bands birthed from Great Britain's late-1970s cultural revolution, The Psychedelic Furs always presented the biggest quandary. Although influenced to form after brothers Richard and Tim Butler attended an early performance by The Sex Pistols, the Butlers, Duncan Kilburn, Vince Ely, Roger Morris and John Ashton clearly weren't punk in the same sense of the word. And though bands like The Smiths and The Cure took the English alternative rock ball and ran with it in the '80s, the Furs were clearly more indebted to past glam-pop bands like Roxy Music.
Here in America, The Psychedelic Furs will always be best known for their 1982 song "Pretty in Pink," which was rerecorded in 1986 and used as the centerpiece of director John Hughes' teen classic movie of the same name. But as Tim Butler told Folio Weekly via email, the Furs cultivated a rich musical history before and after that pop-culture high-water mark.
Folio Weekly: After nearly 35 years on the road, what does a Psychedelic Furs live show look like today?
Tim Butler: It's a mix of songs from the entire history of the band — new songs that haven't been released yet, spanning back to songs that haven't been performed live since 1981. The band is undoubtedly the best it's ever been live, and we're very excited for our current U.S. tour.
F.W.: Is it more strenuous to do a six-week tour today than it was in the early '80s?
T.B.: It's a lot better these days. We tour on our own terms and are no longer on that nonstop album-tour-album-tour treadmill, which was absolutely exhausting. We go out and play live because we love to — after all these years, we've got the balance between road life and home life down pretty well.
F.W.: The Psychedelic Furs formed in Britain in the late '70s. How influenced were you all by The Sex Pistols and that era's punk revolution?
T.B.: I don't think The Sex Pistols influenced us much musically, but they certainly did attitude-wise. Our roots musically were always more based in Roxy Music, Velvet Underground and Love. That's what we grew up listening to. [But that time period] was cool. Richard and I actually went to see The Sex Pistols early on at a gig that many people claimed to have been at! It was full of energy and played a part in the thought of forming a band. But it wasn't what [we were] about musically at all.
F.W.: Was it unusual in the late '70s for a rock band to have a saxophone player?
T.B.: Not many, other than Roxy Music. The current trend at the time was punk, and we really weren't trying to follow any trends. We were doing our own music with our own influences.
F.W.: Your song "Pretty in Pink" was featured in the 1986 John Hughes movie of the same name. How did that come about, and how pivotal was it in terms of fully breaking the band?
T.B.: We were well-established by the time "Pretty in Pink" was released. "Love My Way," "The Ghost in You," "Heaven" and a few others were already quite successful. The story we always heard was that Molly Ringwald was a fan of the band and asked John Hughes to write a movie for her around the song. [But] it was a double-edged sword. It brought us a tremendous new audience, but the Top 40 popularity seemed to alienate some of our earlier hardcore fans.
F.W.: Why did The Psychedelic Furs break up in 1991 and decide to reunite in 2000?
T.B.: We didn't really break up — we just needed time away. Richard and I immediately went to work on Love Spit Love, and John had a couple of side projects he wanted to produce. We just got tired of doing the same thing for so long. When we got back together, it was pretty natural. Our agent called us up and asked if we wanted to do a run of shows with The B-52s and The Go-Go's. There was no real pressure or anything, so we thought, "Sure, it might be fun." It was — and we've kept on ever since.
F.W.: How has the Furs audience evolved since 2000?
T.B.: We see young faces at a lot of shows now, and we hear from time to time that the Furs don't sound dated like many bands of our era. I tend to agree — if any of the first four albums came out today, I think they'd do quite well.
F.W.: Will there ever be another new album?
T.B.: Yes! It will happen. We're working at entirely our own pace, but there will be one. Slow and steady, as they say.
F.W.: Do The Psychedelic Furs have much experience touring in Florida?
T.B.: We've been to Florida many, many times, and every time we come, we have a great time. The shows are fun and exciting and the crowds there are always very enthusiastic. Besides, what's not to like about sunshine?