Beautiful Chaos: An Interview with The Psychedelic Furs’ Bassist, Tim Butler

Post-punk/new wave staple The Psychedelic Furs have given so much to music. With a career dating back to the ’70s, their one-of-a-kind sound manages to transcend both trends in music and the spectrum of fans that follow them. In anticipation of their engagement at the War Memorial Auditorium on Aug. 1, the Pulse had a chat with Furs’ bassist Tim Butler.

Tim Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, photo by Josh Kincaid

Tim Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, photo by Josh Kincaid

MP: Mr. Butler, thank you for talking with us. We read that you live in Kentucky, is that correct?
Butler: I do, I’ve been down there for about six years.

MP: We won’t hold it against you (laughs). We kid, Kentucky is a lovely place.
Butler: (Laughs) That’s what I was gonna say to you.

MP: As someone originally from the United Kingdom who now resides in America, what are your thoughts of the South?
I love it. I moved to Kentucky from south New Jersey, where things are really unfriendly and cold. And I moved down to the South, and everyone’s just so friendly that even a total stranger would drive past, and wave. Or if you’re walking, they’ll say “Hi, how you doing?”

MP: So, that myth about the friendliness holds true. Interesting. I mean, just going from state to state people can observe an almost “day and night” difference.
Butler: Oh yeah, there’s huge differences from state to state on how different people are. But down South, they’re mostly really friendly.

MP: Oh, definitely, and some great food too. Local reader Cody Moffitt wanted to know if you had any favorite Southern foods?
Butler: Umm, chicken fried steak.

MP: You’re a chicken fried steak man? Get out.
Butler: Oh, yeah yeah yeah . . . even before I moved down there I loved it.

MP: Moving on to some serious journalism, we wanted to talk about the mark you’ve left on the music industry. Having been around since the late 1970s, how have The Psychedelic Furs seen their influence exercised on other bands?
Butler: Well, I think it’s more obvious now that we’ve had a lot of bands say that we’re the influence on them, which makes all of our careers worthwhile when you’re told that you’ve influenced certain bands. I think we helped start alternative music as we came around the end of punk. We sort of took the essence of punk and added a more “melodic” sound to it, which was influenced by bands such as The Velvet Underground. At the time punk was really good because it kicked the music business up the ass. But then it got a bit wearing when, you know, they’d have three-chord songs and they’d sing about how bad things were, and they wouldn’t really put anything in it’s place. It was  just so nihilistic. I think we came along and we had a certain influence for a more melodic kind of music, but with the energy that punk music had. And I think that’s pretty much what started alternative music.

MP: The Psychedelic Furs progenated seven studio albums, and a career that’s lasted more than three decades. What do you think has contributed to the success the band has enjoyed?
Butler: Once again, I think just writing more melodic, musical songs. I don’t think the songs age. I think that certain bands you hear, and you go “Well, that’s early ’80s synth-pop, or that’s mid-’70s punk or pop-rock”. But we never went for the sound of the moment. We definitely stayed within our own sound and progressed as we wanted to, without any pressure from record companies or anything. I think we just put out memorable, well-written songs.

MP: Speaking of writing,  we wanted to ask you briefly about your brother’s lyrics. What is it about his lyrics that captivate you?
Butler:  I think that they can be taken in more than one way. I don’t think that he comes out with an obvious lyric, an obvious love song. I think that he writes lyrics that can be interpreted as the listener wants.

MP: So there is more of an opening to interpretation to what Richard Butler writes that offers the listener multiple meanings, so long as they’re looking for it?
Butler: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s what people like about it. They can personalize certain songs to mean certain things to them.

Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink

Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink

MP: Touching on the theme of personalization, and we know you’re probably sick of discussing this, but you’re known for having contributed music to one of the more popular movies in the last 30 years. We are, of course, talking about The Silence of the Lambs.
Butler: (Laughs) Of course.

MP: Kidding, we’re talking about Pretty in Pink. What was your experience with that film? And did the experience give you interest in writing music for other motion pictures?
Butler: We haven’t really been asked, and I don’t know if it’s something that’s because our music is too, sort of different, and not “catchy” enough, or not obvious enough. But the whole thing with Pretty in Pink came about because Molly Ringwald was a fan of the band. She asked John Hughes to write a movie vehicle for her, based on that song. And when it came out it really didn’t go to dinner with the lyrics. But it gave us a nice way. . .  into Top 40. Which sort of had its downside. Young girls in pink T-shirts and stuff like that throws off a lot of our older fans, you know. Some had thought we had become uncool. So it had its pluses and minuses. But we’re open to movie soundtracks, we’ve had songs in other movies before, but you know, not written specifically for that movie.

MP: Are there any movies out now, or that have come out in recent months, that make you stop and think “Gee, I really wish I would have been involved in that movie’s creative process?” 
Butler: Yeah, the top-grossing movie (laughs). That’s the one.

MP:(Laughs) Whoever’s got the biggest check to write?
Butler: That’s the one.

Beautiful Chaos web

MP: Let’s talk about The Psychedelic Furs’ live album Beautiful Chaos: Greatest Hits Live. From a creative standpoint, how would you describe it?

Butler: “Beautiful chaos” was coined when we started up as five musicians not really knowing how to play or how to write a song you know. It went way back, with that stuff. We all wanted to be heard, and make an impression. It was like five people “soloing” or something, which was chaos. And we imported “beautiful chaos.” We learned really quickly by [the Furs’ 1981 album] Talk, Talk, Talk, I think we had learned when to lay back and let something else take the line, right (laughs). With the first album, we used to go on stage, used to jam around ideas, we would be on stage for ten to fifteen minutes, and we’d be jamming around, and it’s like another song idea would come out of that jam, so we would go to the studio and work it into a song.

MP: So it was sort of a “structured insanity”?
Butler: Yeah, if we had come up with that, that would be even better. “Structured insanity.” Beautiful chaos. That’s about right (laughs).

MP: Your band is one of the witnesses to the rise of MTV, having provided content that contributed to its success. What are your thoughts with the way MTV is now?
Butler: I think they should get back to playing more music, and not putting out these crappy shows they put out. Now, personally, I think VH1 has more music. But when they started out, it really helped new bands get into markets that they would never really think of touring. And they could be seen there, and a promoter could get in contact with one of them, and promote them in that town. It was a huge way of promoting an album without having the tour industry. When we first came over here, I think we toured for six or seven weeks . . .  in the back of a nine-seat mini bus. And there was only about five cities that had MTV. Now, if MTV had been around in every city, that wouldn’t have been necessary.

MP: What would you say caused the change in MTV, going from a great outlet for music promotions to a channel that plays these shows today?
I think they’re just trying to grab that teen audience, and they’ll put anything on there that will grab that audience. Now you’ve got . . .  kids on YouTube. And that was such a great idea, but now you’ve got kids trying to get as many hits as they can for doing totally stupid things.

MP: Like cat videos?
Butler: (Laughs) Yeah, and MTV, and it should be [music-driven], but it wants to make money off kids nowadays. It’s a shame that they’re doing it by not playing music. And there’s got to be a reason for that, maybe that music isn’t as. . . important as it was mainly in the past decade.

MP: Music will always be important to your fans, especially those in Music City. So, what should Nashville fans expect?
Butler: What I’m really excited about is that we’re playing songs from our very first album, around that period, that we haven’t played since the album came out. We’ve even got one song from the album that we’ve never played live, not even on the first album’s tour. So, I think that people are excited by that. We do a set with the hits, and the almost-hits, but we also have some pretty off-the-wall album tracks that we’re playing and a couple of new songs. We have everything.

MP: You mention new songs. We’ve been hearing rumors of a new album.
Butler: That album will be The Furs 2013, 2014, whenever it comes out. It will definitely sound like us. And of course you absorb music from around you, so it will be an updated version. But there’s no way you can disguise Richie’s voice (laughs). He has one of the most distinctive voices in the last 30 years.

MP: So, you’re staying true to the sound of The Psychedelic Furs, with a progression that reflects the band. It seems that music in general is always evolving. Where do you think the music industry is currently?
It’s trying to find out new and different ways to put out music. The idea of going to the record store and just buying a record, that is a dead idea. Kids are on the Internet, they don’t even have to download the whole album, they’ll download their favorite songs. The music business has to find other ways to get their music out there. It’s in a dodgy position, with the conditional mega-record company label. But I’m sure it’ll find something.

MP: Would it be fair to say it’s in a weird period of fluctuation?
Butler: Yeah, I think that they’re desperately trying to find what’s next to get music out there.

TimButler 2

MP: What are your thoughts on services like Spotify, that provide digital libraries to music lovers as a service? Do you stay current with those services?
Butler: I don’t really know on that Spotify. I’m a bit of an Internet luddite (laughs).

MP: Oh, really?
Butler: It takes up too much time. You’ll be doing like, reading, or you know, be out and about doing stuff. I think it’s really irritating when you have so much texting. People aren’t talking to each other. Or they’re talking to each other and they aren’t using their voice. They’re busy typing stuff into cellphones. It’s making for a very impersonal society.

MP: In the digital age, we have so many ways of communicating, but seem to have so little to say.
Butler: Yeah, people are going to evolve without mouths. No mouths, and have huge eyes looking at computer screens or cellphone screens.

MP: (Laughs) That’s something we’re going to look forward to in the future. Is there anything you would like to share with Nashville fans?
Butler: We’d like to share a great concert. I can guarantee a great concert when we’re there. Especially coming into Nashville, as you’ve said is so near home.

MP: You’ll have fans from all over the state, we’re sure.
Butler: What is this with Kentucky and Nashville, always at each others backs?

MP: Oh, we were just being silly . . .
Butler: No, but it’s true. I’ve heard it before. Kentuckians will put people from Tennessee down, and Tennesseans will put down people from Kentucky. I’m just trying to figure out where it all comes from.

MP: Some old, Hatfield-McCoy bad blood . . .
Butler: Probably, yeah.

For more on the Psychedelic Furs, visit thepsychedelicfurs.com. For tickets to the Nashville engagement, visit wmarocks.com.


About the Author

I’m a contributing writer for the Murfreesboro Pulse. I’m also a filmmaker and a founding member of the MTSU Film Guild. My interests include screenwriting, producing, coffee, beer and philosophy. I’m a huge fan of films, particularly horror, action, science fiction and crime.

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