Super Furry Animals’ Techno Guy Gabfest!
Cian Ciaran Spills the Beans: 40-Foot Inflatable Bears, Non-Singing Bass Players, and Why Does Anyone Listen to Marilyn Manson Anyway?
Cian Ciaran is the keyboard player and all-around techno genius in Super Furry Animals, by far the world’s coolest band. We caught up with him in Wales as The Furries are gearing up for their U.S. tour in support of Rings Around the World. (Not literally “caught up,” as he was on the phone, but you catch our drift.) This is transcribed as best as we could — a failed tape recorder and a thick Welsh accent turn out to be double trouble for our intrepid reporter. (We also left out the part where Cibula completely sucked up to Cian and said that he thought Rings was maybe The Furries’ best album yet. It was unseemly.)
Oh, and Cian is pronounced “KEE-un.”
So you are rehearsing now for the big tour? When do you leave for the U.S.?
On the 16th [of April] — we have a couple of gigs in the U.K. first, and an MTV live show, and then we leave.
Rings Around the World is a very studio-driven album. Is it difficult translating that into a live setting?
It’s been all right. We were touring on it last year, so we really need to brush up rather than start from scratch.
What’s the hardest part of getting ready for this tour?
Just remembering what the vocal parts were. We have to sort of amalgamate two parts into one a lot of times. Other times, we use a machine; that can be okay sometimes, and sometimes it just sounds shite. Live, we have to keep it between the five or six of us onstage, to keep down the cost. We’re not a stadium band, you know?
Are you looking forward to coming back to the U.S.?
Yeah. It’s different from last time: we haven’t been to Dallas and New Orleans and some of those places in the South before, so we’re going to play some of the old stuff when we go there. But we’re still coming to the cold places up north, too.
Is this your second tour of the U.S.?
I think it’s our third. We’ve done two or three three-week tours in America.
Do you have a favorite city over here?
It’s weird, but every city, really. I mean, of course when you go to New York, you’ve already seen it in movies and TV, so you feel like you’ve already been there. I’ve enjoyed San Francisco.
I’m closest to Chicago, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to make that show.
Chicago’s great too.
Are you received differently on your home turf in Cardiff than in London or other places in the U.K.?
Initially it was different, but it’s starting to level out now that we’ve been around so much. We get as good a reaction now in London as we do back home. As far as other places: they’re always up for it in Ireland.
Do you ever pay attention to critics? You seem like a band that doesn’t care what anyone says about you.
Sure, a little. You don’t do music to please critics, but we read stuff. If it’s a bad critic, we don’t, but the good ones, you have to pay attention to that. You can learn from that.
Do you have any favorite critics?
We pay more attention to what our friends and family say than to what anyone writes about us.
Are you gratified by the reception to Rings Around the World, or disappointed?
It was weird, because we had a good tour, lots of good reception. We had good shows in Finland, Germany, France, Spain–everything was a step up from the last time. So yeah, gratified.
I was talking about the album itself rather than the shows.
No, that’s what I’m talking about too: the fact that they came out to see us and they were all into it. You don’t come into contact with people that much, so that’s how we know. Although we do get a lot of people finding us after the show and telling us, “Oh, the album’s great.” We just wanted to get out — with everything that’s happened in the world, we let go of it. If things hadn’t been so crazy, we might not have gone out so early, might have released another single or something, but we wanted to get on with it.
There are a couple of misperceptions about SFA in America, I think. One is that it’s Gruff’s band.
That’s a States thing, I think. We don’t get that much over here; I think everyone here knows that we’re a real band. People think that way because he writes the lyrics, so most of the interviews are with him. But no member really has a “role” — we all do everything.
Except you don’t let the bass player [Guto Pryce] sing.
The bass player doesn’t want to sing! Actually, he makes his debut vocal on Rings.
Actually, it’s on a B-side called “Tradewinds.”
We got that on the bonus disc.
Yeah, you know the messed-up part at the beginning? He does the weird noises at the beginning.
That’s a great song.
Yeah. We argued about it; some of us thought it should be on the album itself. We did that with a lot of songs that ended up as B-sides, but we gave you all of ’em on that bonus disc.
Another idea everyone seems to have is that you’re the techno guy in the band. But everyone has a techno background, right?
Yeah, that’s how we started out. Bunf [Huw Bunford] and Guto have a little electronic set-up live, so we all do that. Live, you know, we all have strict roles: someone’s got to be the drummer, someone’s got to play bass. But in the studio, we’re all very technology-minded in terms of sound. We’ve got a laptop, and everybody goes around to each others’ houses to play stuff.
Rumor is that your next album is going to be a whole “techno” album.
Well, kind of. It’s techno in the sense that it’s not guitar-based. We recorded a bunch of tracks like that, but there’s just a handful of them left, ’cause they sound dated now. We’ll keep the ones that sound fresh.
So you’re definitely working on the new album already.
Yeah. We come back from the States, play three festivals in Germany, have three days off, then we come straight into the studio.
Yeah, we actually have two albums we’re working on. One is the follow-up proper to Rings, one is the electronic album. We’re also kind of working on a party mini-album, seven or eight tracks, something like that. But we’ll see.
Be careful with all these projects, you’ll turn into Radiohead.
[Laughs.] We’ll see what it all turns into. We’ll only release ’em if they’re any good. Maybe it’ll all just be one big album. God only knows.
Speaking of The Beach Boys: everyone always says you guys are influenced by them, The Beatles, and Electric Light Orchestra, who I got made fun of for loving back in 1976 when I was in fifth grade, thank you very much.
[Laughs harder, at my expense.]
What other bands have influenced SFA, or you personally, that people might not think of?
Fuckin’ hell. [Long pause.] Bollocks. [Long pause.] I can’t. It’s too vast, you know? We all have so many influences! We want to hopefully bring out so many that it all ends up sounding like Super Furry Animals.
Who’s out there doing stuff that you really are blown away by?
Well, there’s this band called El Goodo that just put out a good song, they’re from Wales. Speedy J, who’s a Dutch guy, he’s got some great stuff that’s hard-house techno. Plastikman, you know, Richie Hawtin? He just did this thing where he had two interlocked grooves on vinyl, so when you put the needle down you get one track or the other depending on where you put it down. That’s cool.
Is there anyone you love but everyone else in the band hates?
[Long pause.] Not really.
Okay, moving on: how big a diva was Paul McCartney, anyway?
[Laughs ass off.] I dunno. My only interaction with him was the remix we did of the Beatles’ stuff. As far as the chewing thing, he did that over the phone, so I wasn’t involved.
I was surprised how subtle that was on the album — it was just another percussion effect.
I know! It came out better in surround sound, but you can’t really hear it as well on the album.
Your brother Dafydd [Ieuan] was in the band first, and you were the tagalong little brother. Do you and Dafydd ever get into a big Gallagher brothers-style punchup?
Naw. Maybe at the beginning, you know, but not now. Now, it’d be over in 30 seconds and we’d be down the pub buying each other a pint.
Who in today’s music scene do you just hate, or think is wildly overrated?
Oh, I don’t know. It’s hard to say… I will say that I don’t get Marilyn Manson at all. I don’t know why anyone would listen to his music. It’s got nothing to do with his look or his image or anything — I’m just talking about his music. I don’t get it. But that’s just me.
How about your other ventures: Are The Acid Casuals still around?
Yeah, we’ve just finished work on a little 12-inch we’ve done.
Is everybody doing something on the side?
Pretty much — there’s a lot of that with us.
Okay, getting close to the end. What’s the question I didn’t ask that I should have?
How about, “Who’s going to win the World Cup?”
Okay: Who’s going to win the World Cup?
Argentina, or anyone else playing England.
Not a very strong side this year.
No, not at all.
You guys sponsored Cardiff City for a year. Is that still going on?
No, it was a one-year deal only. They’re having a great year this year; they might go up a league. If that happens, Cardiff’ll go ballistic. There are a lot of fans waiting for that, especially in South Wales: Cardiff’s a sleeping giant. Playing against Man[chester] U[nited] and those people? Amazing.
When will you say to yourself, “I’ve arrived, we’ve made the perfect album”?
When I retire. Once you get there, you might as well quit. We’re always trying for the perfect album.
What’s your favorite one that you’ve done?
Oh, man. The last one, Rings. But if you’d asked me that before we made Rings, I’d have said Guerrilla, and before that Radiator. I always feel like the last one we’ve done is the best we could have done. Mwng came from a different place, you know, but we always feel like that.
Last question: gimme a good Spinal Tap moment.
I’ll give you a good one. We used to travel with 40-foot inflatable bears [the images from the cover of Radiator] and we’d set them up. One gig we played, and the good one burst; the evil one stayed up, but there we were playing with a 40-foot bear that deflated and looked crap. There are Spinal Tap moments on every tour.