Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Tim Butler of The Psychedelic Furs

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: the Psychedelic Furs' Tim Butler

Which 2017 coming-of-age film makes heavy use of the Psychedelic Furs single ‘Love My Way’?

Call Me by Your Name.”


“I went to see it at the cinema and I was surprised how much the song was used. I also liked how when the teenagers are talking about how they went to see us live and how [his brother and frontman] Richard Butler was great. It felt like a big advert for the band!”


Which icon did you once drunkenly tell that he couldn’t act?

“Oh my God – that would be David Bowie.”


“It happened at an after-show party for the tour he did with Iggy Pop in the late ‘80s. I walked up to him, took the drink out of his hand, took a swig of it and said: ‘You can’t fucking act, can you?’. He said: ‘Well, I didn’t ask your advice’. And I said: ‘I didn’t give you any!’. Then he replied: ‘That’s the reason!’. Which I thought was a great comeback, and I skulked off with my head hung down. He had been a hero for years but I was drunk and wanted to be a smart-arse young punk and he put me in my place. He came to see us a few times after that so he didn’t hold any grudges.”

Bowie was a big fan of the Furs and your management tried to match you up for him to produce your 1982 album ‘Forever Now’…

“Yeah. It always seemed he was busy touring or working on his own albums, but [frontman and brother] Richard and Bowie were always compared to each other, so I think it would have been a bad idea for him to produce us. There’s a rumour that Bowie covered [Psychedelic Furs song] ‘Pretty In Pink’ and that it’s sitting in the vaults somewhere.”

At the premiere for 1986 movie Pretty In Pink, which band allegedly shocked The Psychedelic Furs by having a punch-up over a vol-au-vent?

“I don’t remember anything about that! You got me there!”

WRONG. It was New Order. According to their former bassist Peter Hook, when producer John Robie shoved a mushroom vol-au-vent in his face, they had a dust-up, causing the Psychedelic Furs to – in Hooky’s words – “leg it”.

“(Laughs) That’s the first I’ve heard of that, Hooky! Although I can’t remember much about that premiere night – only meeting the actors Michael J Fox and James Spader and the rest is blank. When we heard that director John Hughes wanted to use our song ‘Pretty In Pink’ in the movie, we thought it was cool. He wanted someone else to re-record it because he thought the guitars were out of tune with each other. We said bollocks to that and re-did it ourselves. It helped us gain a bigger audience, but also drove away a lot of our older fans who thought we’d sold out, because they’d go to gigs and the first few rows would be screaming girls in pink T-shirts.

“We became overblown and went slightly off the tracks. I had a bright red mullet and leather trousers and motorcycle boots, and we had the ego ramp round the back of the stage and all that excessive production. Halfway through that ‘Pretty In Pink’ tour, Richard was getting heart palpitations through anxiety about the whole thing and it nearly broke us up. We started out in punk, which had been against the old school – and we were turning into a new version of the old-school, which depressed us.”



In 1981, ‘Pretty In Pink’ reached Number 46 on NME’s Tracks of the Year. What was Number One?

“Was it the Sisters Of Mercy doing something?”

WRONG. It was ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials.


Which track by The Strokes samples the Psychedelic Furs song ‘The Ghost in You’?

“That’s a good track and we got a writing credit on it, but I’ve forgotten its name! Has it got a month of the year in its title?”

WRONG. You’re in the ballpark – it’s ‘Eternal Summer’.

“Shit – that’s it!  When I first heard about it, because I’m not a huge fan of The Strokes, I was a bit wary of it, but I ended up really liking it. We met the singer [Julian Casablancas] years ago when we played The Viper Room and he came to see us and he seemed like a nice guy.”


Which Bob Dylan song did you reject when he sent it to you for inclusion on the Psychedelic Furs 1984 album ‘Mirror Moves’?

“Clean Cut Kid.”


“It had about 15 verses – it was a long song! (Laughs) He sent it to us because his son Jakob was a fan back then and said: ‘Hey, Dad, these guys are cool’. Richard still has the cassette of it, and it was a huge deal because our father was a big Bob Dylan fan and would buy his records on the day they came out and we’d all sit round and listen to them. He was a massive influence on Richard and I, so to have a song that was written by him sent to us was a great pat on the back.”


Your brother Richard appeared in the video to Brandon Flowers’ 2015 single ‘Can’t Deny My Love’ opposite which actress?

“Shit! I only saw that video once.”

WRONG. It’s Evan Rachel Wood.

“I know The Killers said they were influenced by us, and we played two shows with them. They asked us to open for them at Benicassim in Spain and then again a couple of years later at the Hollywood Bowl. Every time we’re touring in America and playing near their home-base, Brandon and Ronnie [Vannucci Jr] will come down. They’re our friends.”

Who’s been the most unexpected person who’s said they like your music?

“When we played Dublin a few tours ago, Joe Elliott from Def Leppard came backstage and said he’s a big fan and his favourite song is ‘President Gas’. I told him next time we’re in Dublin, he should get up onstage and sing it with us. I always find it weird and flattering when heavy metal people are fans of ours, like Korn doing a cover of ‘Love My Way’.”



The Psychedelic Furs headlined Glastonbury in 1986. Who were the other two headliners that weekend?

The Cure and… Oh! Level 42?”


“It was amazing. We drove to a town close to Glastonbury the night before and watching the news with updates about the traffic jams to get into the site. We just thought about how we’d started out playing in the Duke of Lancaster in Barnet, and now we were headlining the biggest festival at the time.”

Robert Smith was a fan of the Furs. Did your paths cross much?

“We never actually met him until we played a festival in LA and he was standing at the side of the stage behind the monitor desk watching us. He walked up to Richard after the performance and said ‘You’re the best thing here’. I like to think he was including The Cure in that! (Laughs)”

For a bonus half-point, how much did a three-day ticket cost for Glasto then?

“I’d say £20?”

WRONG. But close – it’s £17. Bargain!

“How things have changed. The price of concert tickets disgusts me now. If you go to see Madonna or the Eagles now, you have to take out a second mortgage on your house.”


What is the run-time in minutes of the Psychedelic Furs’ new album ‘Made of Rain’?

“50 minutes?”

CORRECT. Close enough – it’s 51 minutes, 40 seconds. It’s your first studio album in nearly three decades. Why so long? 

“When we got back together in 2000, we planned on doing an album but were gun-shy about whether we could still record something that would stand up with your best work from the ‘80s. After a few years of doing demos, we finally decided upon some we thought could be great songs. Most of the best ones came only seven months before we started recording, and now we’re just looking forward to doing another album – we’ve already started demos for it – and not leaving it another 30 years. The positive reviews of this album has helped. One of our worries, and why we took so long, was that we’d get pulled apart in the press.”


Which band covered ‘Sister Europe’ for a B-side to a single they released in 2002?

Foo Fighters.”

CORRECT. As the B-side to ‘All My Life‘. 

“I thought it was cool because I like the Foo Fighters and they’re a huge band, so it got the song heard by a lot of people who’d maybe never heard of the Furs. It helps you get a younger audience, like when they used ‘Ghost Of You’ in Stranger Things. Now our audience ranges from 16 to 60.”

Foo Fighter Dave Grohl obviously used to be in Nirvana. What was it like for you when grunge came along?

“It was one of the reasons why after we put out ‘World Outside’ we took a break – which turned into a really long break [from 1991 to 2001]! But I realised we were the old school. Grunge was in and our sound was no longer hip and we needed to take a break, rethink and recharge our batteries. So when we got back together we were once again excited and happy to be the Psychedelic Furs and play those songs.”

The verdict: 6/10 

“That’s not too bad! I’ll have to go and check out that Killers video with Richard. I’m usually the one in the band who remembers the most. I’m the historian in the band – Richard will always say: ‘Where is it we played in 1982…?’ and I’ll remember.”

– The Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Made of Rain’ is out now