|Gruf Rhys’ track by track guide to Super Furry Animals’ Phantom Power album |
Hello SunshineGolden Retrieve
The voices at the beginning are a sample of Wendy and Bonnie. There’s a sense of loss in the sample: a sense of longing. I suppose it’s a courting ballad with a ‘been so down looks like up to me’ mentality. It’s easy to wallow in misery, it’s the most comfortable place to be. But it’s always worth trying to get out of it.Liberty Belle
For this I devised cartoon characters called Liberty Belle and Memory Lane, and Liberty Belle I suppose
represents the bells of freedom and Memory Lane represents history’s harsh lessons that Liberty Belle always forgets. Liberty Belle represents the American Dream, which is all conquering and has no fear. She’s young, innocent and carefree, skipping along. Memory Lane is the flipside, the one that’s learnt from history’s harsh realities. It’s sung from the perspective of a bird living almost in a parallel universe to humans, oblivious to the
gravity of the games which are being played around us. I think that’s how I feel a lot of the time, and a lot of other people do too.
I listen to a lot of people like Davey Graham, a lot of British folk and bluesmen and European acoustic musicians from the 50s and 60s, and musically Golden Retriever has that kind of feel. The lyrics are a blues parody – “I met the devil at the roundabout”. I tried to update blues vocabulary, because I think that one of the things that bothers me most about rock and roll music is that people keep regurgitating the same words. I try to make my own clichés, you know? It also coincided with passing my driving test a few years back, which had a great affect on my life. In studying for my theory test I had to absorb a lot of road sign and driving theory vocabulary, which has made its way into songs like Golden Retriever and Valet Parking.Sex, War & Robot
Bunf discovered the pedal steel during the recording of the last album and he’s played it on Hello Sunshine and Bleed Forever. On this one we got a pedal steel player from Cardiff called John ‘Catfish’ Thomas for this track. There are a lot of songs on this record about broken relationships and war, and I think they go hand in hand, but always with a positive outlook to the future.
Piccolo Snare is a song about societies torn apart by war and the waste of human life for nothing, pawns in a worthless game. A lot of the vocabulary for that song comes from the Falklands War, the Malvinas War, whatever you want to call it: ‘Tumbledown’ and ‘Skyhawks’, etcetera. It could be about any war, but that was a war I remembered from when I was a kid where people from my area were dying, as the media tried to maintain some ridiculous degree of jingoism Apart from using the vocabulary it’s generally a song about people’s misguided
belief in flags. All flags are tarnished; they were only invented so that people wouldn’t shoot their own side in the war. It’s a song in at least three parts. It starts off folk rock in feel, and builds up to a cosmic funk coda!
Venus And Serena
It’s about a child, who can’t communicate with his elders, growing up with two pet tortoises called Venus and Serena. But he feels that the reptiles understand. I suppose it’s similar to Liberty Belle in that sense, in that in this day and age the turtle seems to take on an image of wisdom compared to the people elected to governors. It uses tennis vocabulary to make the point. Venus and Serena have beautiful names and they seem to have exemplary powers. I think it’s about making pictures in people’s minds.I’m trying to get into balladeering and narrative in songs, but I don’t think I’ve perfected it by any means.
You can put this one down to my struggle with narrative! After a song like Piccolo Snare you need a bit of light to make sure that people don’t go out and jump off the nearest bridge. We feel we have some social responsibility
to uplift people.
Father Father #1 and #2These were in the DADDADtunings. I think it puts some breathing space in the album. They also help
to join songs together in mood, they help to bring the album down, or build
it up again and give it some kind of consistency. They were originally
the bookends of the song-cycle.
Bleed Forever is about the
radiation that descended all over North Wales after Chernobyl, and the
general proliferation of nuclear power stations in the area. There was
a huge increase in leukaemia in children and some livestock are still not
allowed to be sold on the market. There’s even a Geiger counter feel to
Cian’s synth on this song! This was recorded pretty much live. Often during
a live take I sing the wrong lyric, so the line about the skin care consultant
ended up staying in. I suppose we didn’t care necessarily if it was in
tune or not just as long as it sounded human. I suppose it’s about how
you don’t see radiation and how you don’t really know if it’s affecting
you or not. And how it could wipe whole cultures out. Another invisible,
or ‘phantom’, power source.
Out Of Control
It’s our most Iron Maiden
song. I think Golden Retriever is pretty heavy rock as well. I think it’s
pre-metal, if you want to get technical. ‘Ninja Jihad’ sounds like a ridiculous
cartoon character. They’re very flippant lyrics, they just regurgitate
what we see: everything seems out of control. It’s like an over-dramatic
theme to a current affairs programme! Again it’s in DADDAD. It balances
out the album musically it wakes it up when it could fall asleep.
When we went to Colombia
in 1997 we got invited to this Marxist village, they were having this five
day fiesta to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the murder of the local
landowner. It’s a song inspired by that, but moved to a Russian pre-Revolutionary
setting! We have such a derivative chorus at the end to counterbalance
lines like “she came in smelling of cabbages”.
The album builds up to an
uplifting ending, into an euphoric climax. I think Valet Parking lifts
it up a gear. It’s a song I actually wrote while driving, which I wouldn’t
recommend to anyone if they want to keep their license. We tried to recreate
a traffic jam in rural Monmouthshire we mic’d up four of our cars, and
revved them in time to the track. It’s about a road trip from Cardiff to
Vilnius. It’s a love song to the process, to the road. Apart from Autobahn
by Kraftwerk not enough songs have been written about the glories of pan-European
travel. The title is also a reference to the Brazilian songwriter Marcos
Valle, who this song is dedicated to.
It’s about underdogs, and
over-dogs. It’s a real simple lyric. “Noise pollution solution”… It’s
a pop song with biblical references, and no specific issue or event in
mind, although I probably wrote it when the Welsh football team were going
through their worse period of results in their history. It just shows how
your fantasies can come true, and now the song, apart from the title, doesn’t
fit at all. It’s about, even at your lowest, seeing a ray of light.
It’s the most epic song
on the album it was either going to start it or finish it because it dwarfs
all the other songs. It starts off with an electro cop show style intro,
which we jammed on top of and Sean O’Hagan did some amazing strings the
lyrics are just regurgitating what we hear on the news, recycled, vomiting
them all back. I like the idea that even the mountains have memories and
that people don’t forget things easily.
“Speakers and microphones work on phantom power, there’s no batteries and they’re not connected to the mains, and yet they work. Similarly, as a band our make up is the same as anybody else and yet we write songs and play music to people, and we have no idea why. It’s a mysterious power source. I like the idea of it, a phantom power that nobody understands.
“‘Phantom Power’ also sounds like a sinister power source that controls the world from beyond people’s comprehension. And a lot of the things that go on today seem completely illogical and I think we watch the world go by with disbelief. We seem to be living in such a heavy time. We’re just absorbing all the words thrown at us from the TV and regurgitating them back.”I suppose it’s almost unavoidable that lyrics like that are coming out at this point when almost all our entertainment is based around war. Musically as a band we tend to regurgitate what we absorb from our record collections, and lyrically I suppose the same goes, the topics of conversations over the last couple of years have been based around violence more than usual. We’ve been put on high-paranoia alert by the media! There are a lot of songs on this record about broken relationships and war, and I think they go hand in hand. But always with a positive outlook to the future.”Phantom Power was recorded in our own studio late at night in an office block in Cardiff. We’d erect “We didn’t really feel any
tents in the corridors at nights to record acoustic guitars and we’d have to take them all down in the morning before other people our neighbours came to work.”There’s a dressmaker next door, an interior designers the other side, on the floor above is No.Brake,
the people who do our website and have been producing the DVD, so we could work on the visuals and the sound simultaneously. Our percussionist Kris Jenkins has a studio downstairs and he was working on our remixes and the
dressmaker was made some balloons for one of the films. I think the whole building was involved at some point.
pressure to show off, we just wanted to impress ourselves. The last record
was the first for our new label, and we wanted to make a completely over
the top ambitious album because it might have been the only chance we’d
get to make the sort of album where we could hire engineers and expensive
studios for a crazy length of time. We took full advantage of it – that
was our brief to ourselves. It was a similar approach to our first album
where we were used to recording in Gorwel Owen’s house. We saw Fuzzy Logic
as an opportunity to spend six weeks in a residential studio with a Jacuzzi
and three meals a day. I think we would have made a better sounding album
back in our Gorwel Owen’s house. And we did with Radiator.
“Similarly with this album
we didn’t feel any pressure to make a follow up to Rings Around The World
production-wise, we were able to follow our own noses and experiment with
engineering it ourselves. I think it’s warmer; we wanted to make a more
human record. The last one was made by scientists and a computer. To a
certain extent there’s less to talk about and more to listen to on this