Tim ButlerBass guitar1978-
The Psychedelic Furs were born amidst the chaos of the late-'70s punk scene in England when bands like The Sex Pistols were chewing scenery and spewing vitriol to the delight of disgruntled teens. But the Furs, formed by brothers Richard and Tim Butler, resist the constant stream of labels thrown at them and their unique blend of sound. Tim explained in a Songfacts interview
: "People for years have been trying to lump music into different categories. Music is just music. I can remember when we first came out, people were asking, 'How would you describe yourself? Punk? Or alternative? Or new wave?' Why pigeonhole people? It's just music."
The group is far more popular than their chart success indicates. Their most popular song, "Pretty in Pink
" - forever linked to the 1986 John Hughes classic of the same name - made just #41 in America and #18 in the UK when it was re-released that year. "Love My Way
" (#44 US, #42 UK) and "Heartbreak Beat
" (#26 US, #79 UK) still get significant airplay, but were only middling hits.
The Psychedelic Furs is an interesting choice for a band name, considering the band doesn't play psychedelic music. One of the prevailing stories is that the name is an homage to the Velvet Underground's "Venus In Furs
." Tim Butler set the record straight in an interview with That Music Magazine
: "It's a myth. We were getting drunk in a pub one night and were thinking of all of the punk band names we liked, such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols. There was an interest in the psychedelic and 'Furs' just fit."
After seven studio albums, the band broke up in 1991 but reunited in 2000. In the meantime, the Butler brothers found more success with their alt-rock project Love Spit Love.
Tim Butler compares his brother's songwriting skills to that of the legendary Bob Dylan but admits that, even after more than three decades penning lyrics, there's no exact method to their madness. He explained their loose approach to Songfacts: "I'll sort of jam around a bit more and he'll sing over it, and it goes from there. Basically, if something catches on to him really quickly, then we'll work on it. If it doesn't, then it's scrapped."
In the Furs' heyday, bands were breaking ground by rattling social structures and attacking authority, but Richard Butler wanted his band to ask relevant questions without forcing people to accept his answers. He explained in a 1982 Creem interview: "Society tends to place people in a structure, telling them what they're supposed to think. One of the big problems nowadays is that people tend to believe exactly what they're told without questioning it. That's what I find depressing and disillusioning. What I find optimistic are people who think for themselves and make their own minds up about things. That's what our basic message is all about – encouraging people to think for themselves. That's why I don't write lyrics that are obvious. I don't want to say, 'Here, take this because it's the right way to think' like the Clash or bands that assume a specific political stance. I prefer to work inside people's heads a bit more, and give them some credit for having a brain – working from the inside out. If you can make somebody think they're remotely intelligent, they can usually reach some conclusions of their own."
Before co-creating the The Psychedelic Furs, Tim Butler had never even picked up a musical instrument. In an interview with Ear Candy Mag, he recalled the night Richard had the idea of forming a band: "I was about 17 years old and my brother Richard and I were sitting around discussing music one night, and he asked me if I wanted to form a band. I told him I couldn't play anything. He said 'what do you want to play?' I told him, 'bass,' to which he replied 'then, buy a bass and we'll form a band.' Needless to say I did, we did, and here I am."
Tim was still finding his way around the bass when he nearly ruined an early gig at a Windsor Castle pub in London. He told Ear Candy Maghow a temperamental E string humiliated him: "We were playing a song when my E string broke. At that time I had no spare, no replacement strings and no knowledge of how to transpose to other strings. The band played most of the set with no bass. I think I drowned my sorrows at the bar, until our manager rushed in with an E string. Apparently he'd managed to find a bass player on the street and bought his string off him, so I made the encore."
Richard Butler is also a trained painter and has displayed his art at US galleries in New York City and Miami and internationally in Florence, Italy. In 2013, his "ahatfulofrain" exhibit was showcased at Freight + Volume in New York City. The press release describes the work as "at once mysterious and ambiguous, as well as deft and graceful - nearly surgical - in their depiction of emotion. Mostly focusing on renditions of his daughter and a few close friends, Butler creates an intensely private vision - dark and dreamlike, as well as stark and unapologetic."
Although the Furs' music has been memorably featured in '80s teen flicks like Pretty in Pink and Valley Girl, Tim Butler leans toward a different genre. He told That Music Magazine his favorite film from the decade is John Carpenter's The Thing. Unfortunately, there are no songs from the band in the horror movie.
Their first two albums were produced by Steve Lillywhite, who worked on much of U2's '80s output. Phil Thornalley, who would later co-write the Natalie Imbruglia hit "Torn
," was an engineer on these sessions. In a Songfacts interview with Thornalley
, he credited Lillywhite for giving the band a much-needed boost. Said Thornalley: "Steve Lillywhite, he could take a band like The Psychedelic Furs, who weren't great musicians, and he could create such an atmosphere in the studio of kind of gung-ho, positive, we can do this
, that it would raise their morale, like a football coach would. The sum of their talents, which was not great, would suddenly become something quite outstanding. And I saw him do that with a few bands."
Despite reuniting 20 years earlier, they didn't release another album until 2020: Made Of Rain, their first since 1991. It was produced by Richard Fortus, who was in Love Spit Love with the Butler brothers and by this time was member of Guns N' Roses.
Lead singer Richard Butler writes all their lyrics. He spoke with Songfacts about his method
: "I'll listen to the music and let it put me into a certain mood and then write lyrics that are inspired by that mood. I'm not writing about anything or anybody or any situation in particular at that beginning point. Sooner or later it starts to make sense and then that'll be the point where I'm like, 'Well, this line has to go because it doesn't tie in with the rest of it and it doesn't make sense next to this line.' And then it gradually coalesces into something like a readable, understandable form."