Interview: Cian Ciaran (Super Furry Animals, Acid Casuals) – part one
Published on June 8th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Each year, Rocksucker marks the apparent start of summer by going out in the sun and listening to Super Furry Animals’ 1999 album Guerrilla. Every SFA LP is astonishing in its own way, but Guerrilla is the one which brings you most intimately into the innermost mechanics of the universe, sounding as it does like the merry working songs of energy particles, a brain-frazzling encapsulation of all that is euphoric, loved-up and downright crazy like nothing else since Revolver, and every bit as bold a leap into the unknown as The Flaming Lips’ fellow millennium-spooning classic The Soft Bulletin.
Fundamental to Guerrilla‘s achievement of still sounding like the future over ten years since its release are the berserk, beautiful and frankly alien-sounding electronics of Cian Ciaran, whose playful loops and squiggles coursed more sci-fi-esquely through the veins of preceding masterpiece Radiator, exploded into celestial splendour on 2001’s Rings Around the World and proceeded to infuse itself back into all corners of the Furries’ technicolour sound on subsequent, more subtly constructed records.
Ciaran’s ability to conjure swoonsome melody as well as exhilarating space-noise first became glaringly apparent on Radiator opener “Furryvision” and later blossomed into such shows of elegant magnificence as “Cabin Fever”, “Carbon Dating”, “Walk You Home” and 2006’s Omni album as Acid Casuals. If like us you love all of the aforementioned then chances are you’ll be very excited upon listening to the handful of presently available songs from his forthcoming solo album, out 30th July as a split release on Dell’Orso Records and Strangetown Records, and his first full release under his own name.
Having just had the honour of getting to interview SFA bassist Guto Pryce about his also-splendid new project Gulp, Rocksucker was thrilled to complete a Super Furry double by enjoying a hearty natter with Ciaran over his “temperamental” phone – a noteworthy quirk, you may or may not agree, for such an apparent technology whizz. First, though, check out this choice cut from Outside In, an album that shows every sign of being right up there amongst 2012’s very finest…
There’s kind of a John Lennon/Dennis Wilson feel about the songs from Outside In that I’ve heard so far. Do you embrace those comparisons?
Yeah, I’ll take that any day! I’ve listened to The Beatles since a young age. My father was into them when he was a kid so I listened to the records when I was growing up. I got into John Lennon after that naturally. I didn’t own Dennis Wilson’s album until recently, although I’d heard friends playing it. I’m a massive fan of The Beach Boys.
Who is Martina Franca?
It’s a big village, or a small town, in Italy. I went to this restaurant and they had a pasta dish called Martina Franca, so it’s a song about my love of the dish.
What was in it?
I asked the waitress over and tried to figure out what was in it through a conversation of broken Italian and English, and she said it was a home-made ricotta tortellini with radicchio, sage, and I reckon they had some kind of white bean in there as well, even though she said there weren’t any beans in it. It had a wine and porcini mushroom sauce.
(Laughs) It was fucking amazing! I can taste it now. I’ve tried to recreate it at home without much success.
There are shades of the Beach Boys classic “Heroes and Villains” about the verse of the song, I hope you don’t mind me saying…
I know! I had to double-check when I wrote it as it kind of reminded me of something, and after pre-recording it it popped into my head so I had a mild panic and compared them to check that I couldn’t get done for plagiarism or anything. It’s very similar but not note for note. Marc Riley played it on his radio show and he played “Heroes and Villains” just before it, so I guess it’s obvious but there you go!
You should be okay – in fact you’re in very good company, as to my ears “Across the Border” by ELO comes closer to mimicking “Heroes and Villains” than “Martina Franca” does.
I’m not sure I know that one. I’ll have to check it out. Because it was the verse, and I’ve got a chorus that’s nothing like “Heroes and Villains”, I thought, “Ah, fuck it.” I doubt there’s any piece of music out there that doesn’t reference something somewhere down the line. You’ve got centuries’ worth of music and it all comes from somewhere.
Have you had that before, where you’ve written something that suddenly strikes you as sounding like something else?
Yeah, with the Furries we wrote some stuff, some lyric line or something, and it was too close so we had to change the lyric and rerecord it.
Which song was that?
I’m not saying! But one word of the lyric was the same and the vocal line was almost identical. We didn’t notice until the record label came in and said, “Are you taking the piss?” – “What are you on about?” – “It sounds exactly like (garbled censorship)” – “Ah, fuck.” So we had to rerecord it.
A BBC Wales radio presenter said that he wasn’t allowed to play his favourite song from Outside In as it features an awful, ghastly expletive. Which one would that be?
That’s the opening track on the album – the opening line is “whatever happened to all the people who gave a fuck”. Then it says “shit” and “bullshit”, which they probably can’t play either.
Oh, “You & Me”! I’ve listened to that several times this morning already but I must be so used to hearing “fuck” in songs (not least on this erstwhile Guinness Book of Records entrant) that it didn’t really register. I was expecting a ‘C-bomb’ or some such.
(Laughs) No, no.
Was “Pric”, your closing song from Dark Days/Light Years, a broadside aimed at anyone in particular?
No, there wasn’t any one particular pric. Maybe it was road rage, aimed at the driver in front of me: “…prick.” I wrote it in the car at a red light. It’s just the same riff round and round again, so you can sing it while you’re waiting at a red light. I can’t remember – it was over three years ago now – but I don’t think there was one particular prick with a name. I’m just trying to remember the lyric…(ponders)…”I’m a wanker, I’m a wanker, I’m a wanker, but I’d rather be a wanker than a fucking…” – it’s like one of those football chants…
You guys haven’t quite managed to spawn a football chant yet, which I suppose is a blessing.
No, I wish we had!
Are there any that you think would be particularly suitable?
I don’t know, it’s up to the fans, isn’t it? Once they’ve embraced it, it takes on a life of its own.
I’ll have a little think after the interview.
(I hold myself to my word, and come up with “Oh, Niko Kranjcar” to the tune of “Martina Franca” – one for the Dynamo Kyiv fans amongst you, that – as well as “If You Don’t Want Me Johan Djourou”, “Don’t Be a Fool, Bilyaletdinov”, “The International Language of Greening”, “Play It Krul”, “Frings Around the World”, “Juxtaposed With Euell”, “Run! Cristiano, Run!”, “Holden Retriever” (for when Bolton midfielder Stuart wins the ball back) and “The Citizens Band” for Cian’s fellow supporters of Manchester City, aka The Citizens – click here to read Cian talking to Football Burp about his love of the Premier League champions).
Are all the harmonies on the new songs your own?
Yeah, I pretty much wrote everything in demo form, sang it all, arranged the strings and that, then got [SFA band mates] Daf and Guto in to play drums and bass. Then some of the guitar work that I couldn’t do myself, because I’m not that good, I got a good friend called Meilir Gwynedd in to play, and his brother Osian played some of the piano parts for me as well.
I didn’t want to play all of the instruments on the album so it was nice to sort of sit back and direct a bit – hearing other people playing the songs allowed me to be more objective, and they could play them better than me as well, which helps! Some of the songs were written over a period of years so I had to rerecord some of the piano parts to give them some continuity, just to make it sound more cohesive.
Omni was largely instrumental – has it been a case of you becoming more confident as a lead singer since then, or were you just doing what felt right at the time?
Well, I wrote Omni really quickly. They were ideas from over a period of years that for one reason or another didn’t make it onto a Furry album – they didn’t fit in, or we didn’t know how to finish them – but a friend of mine got involved and sort of cracked a whip to make me get them into shape.
They were all supposed to be songs with lyrics and vocal lines but I wasn’t that way inclined at the time, I guess – it was more a matter of if it hadn’t have come out when it did then it would never have done, so I thought, “I should put it out, then.”
My iTunes collection currently stands at 17,863 items long, and Omni is the first full album that comes up on it when it’s listed alphabetically based on artists. Congratulations!
Would you like to recommend any anyone who would topple you from your perch? Come to think of it, I really should get some Abba on there.
There probably is but I can’t think off the top of my head. Something with ‘aardvark’ in it? Or someone called Aaron.
Do you plan to tour Outside In?
Well, I’m currently working on the follow-up – I went up to Scotland in March to start recording that, because I was in California for three months at the end of last year, wrote an album out there and started recording it back here. I’m hoping to get that out in January next year and then perform the two, because I didn’t fancy…not that I’m presumptuous thinking that people would want to come see it live, but if they did I would rather put on a show where I’ve got two albums’ worth of material to choose from. It would make for a better show in my book.
The new album’s all written on guitar, as opposed to this one which was written on the piano, so it’s a little bit more noisy and not necessarily upbeat but there’s more upbeat than downbeat on it, which helps for the live show. It’ll be a nice contrast to this one because this one’s a kind of mellow, sweet, sedated album, and the new one’s unconsciously kind of…I didn’t write it to be a reaction to Outside In but it ended up being different, so I thought it would be nice to put it out straight away. Hopefully I should have it finished by the end of the summer, which would give me enough time to prepare for getting it out late January or thereabouts.
Will Daf and Guto be playing on that one as well?
No. Daf’s done his neck and shoulder in so he couldn’t play drums for the past four or five months, so I went into this rehearsal space and taught myself to play drums again. I used to play drums when I was growing up so I started rehearsing with myself (laughs), playing along to the demos. I went up to Scotland to record the drums and a few of the guitar sounds and that. I’m currently editing and structuring what I’ve got recorded, and then I’ll take it from there. I’ve got the bass, guitars and rough vocal guides down, so…whatever it takes to make the track work – if it works as is then I’ll just leave it as is, but if it needs to be improved then hopefully the others will be willing to contribute.
What do you think of Gulp?
I love it. Guto recorded most of that at home and then he rang me up asking if I could mix it, so we spent a week in the studio mixing them, chopping and trying out a few sounds they were after. I really got into it over the course of the week. For whatever reason I didn’t know what to expect when he called me, so it was a nice surprise.
Is Bunf lining up an album proper, or just the soundscapes work, or both?
It’s kind of an album proper, in Bunf world! He’s currently in London working on a course about soundtracking and arranging – I think he’s working on a chamber music piece that he has to write and conduct – but in the meantime he’s been writing this album over the last eighteen months, and when he’s had time he’s come back for long weekends in Cardiff. He’s got shitloads of ideas, he just needs to whittle them down into an album. If he’s got the time, he should have something out by next year. The way he writes is unique, he’s great.
Guto mentioned that Daf’s got a new project…
He’s got a few, yeah. He’s got the album out that he co-wrote and co-produced with a singer from the Cardiff docks called Wibidi, and he’s also started a writing partnership with Mark [Roberts] from Catatonia and a girl called Dionne [Bennett] who’s singing and who also sang with The Peth and Shubeen. They’ve written an album and are looking to do a recording and finish it off as soon as possible.