Acid house, Black Uhuru and Spinal Tap… Super Furry Animals’ Cian Ciaran marks the 20th anniversary of their epic ‘Ice Hockey Hair EP’
“It’s a bit hazy, but from what I remember ‘Ice Hockey Hair’ was a bastard of a song to get right. I think we went to four different studios to get it done. We had different engineers and tried a number of different approaches – the vocoder wasn’t on the original demo – and it got resurrected a couple of times. We played it live to see how it went down before recording it, which we didn’t have the luxury of doing before. It was a case of wanting to get it just right and making it into something we were really happy with, you know… I can’t remember the ins and outs of the production too well, but it was a long-winded affair.
“It never made it onto [SFA’s 1997 album] ‘Radiator’, but we didn’t want to let it go. You kind of know when something isn’t ready or when you’re happy for it to go out into the big, bad world. You don’t want to give something that you’re not fully behind and have put your heart and soul into. But there is a line that has to be drawn because the production could go on forever!
“At that time, we were still finding our feet and we could still go to these studios with [trusty long-time producer] Gorwel Owen and have these experiences and explore stuff. If it had been three years earlier, we would have gone in, recorded it and then, ‘Tough, deal with it, live with it’. But when ‘Radiator’ came around it was a case of we can live with it for a bit and maybe stand back and be that bit more objective with it…
“I first went to Gorwel’s studio when I was 14 and he was like a mentor – he really influenced us as a band with his ethos and his attitude. But foremost he was a friend and he had the same loves and is, what’s the word, inquisitive? Gorwel’s always been open to technology and that was a big part of our thing, for me anyway. It was like with acid house, I was loving it and wanted to know how they produced those sounds.
Well, Gorwel was already doing it so we were on the same wavelength.
We wanted to embrace the technology and not worry about being purist – we didn’t want to be a rock ‘n’ roll band who wouldn’t look at a sampler or whatever. That’s cutting your nose off to spite your face, it’s removing yourself from a whole palette of exploration.
“I’m trying to remember what the sample on ‘Smokin’’ was… Black Uhuru! It was ‘I Love King Selassie’. We started looping it and it just got jammed out. We had a Sherman Filterbank and everything would go through that to see what would happen. And I mean literally everything. We were in Colombia or somewhere, and I recall listening to the master versions while we were out there They sounded a bit different and the band were just buzzing about it.
“I don’t think the idea for ‘Mu-Tron’ came from anything specific, but it was possibly me finding my feet. It was just another song and I was a bit, “Let’s just see where it goes”. Obviously, it’s not a case of verse/chorus, it was more of an instrumental mood, an atmospheric thing. We weren’t thinking about the commercial appeal – the whole Furries project has been liberating in that sense, being on Creation allowed us to do that. They didn’t tell us what to do, they gave us the artistic freedom and it probably shows across our body of work.
“The two-year gap between ‘Radiator’ and ‘Guerrilla’ wasn’t a conscious thing, we were just having a laugh. It was part of the natural progression. In the case of ‘Ice Hockey Hair’, which came out between those two albums, it was like unfinished business, tying up loose ends before moving on to the next thing… which turned out to be ‘Guerrilla’. After ‘Ice Hockey Hair’, we felt like a bit of a juggernaut, there were loads of ideas floating around. Gruff, granted, was at the fore with the lyrics, but as a band we felt there was always something else to be done, always something new. We were forever trying to get through a bit of a backlog, we often had a squad of 25 tracks to put on an album, how the fuck do we fit them all in?
“To be honest, ‘Guerrilla’ was a bit different to what we’d done with ‘Radiator’ or ‘Ice Hockey Hair’ in the sense that we were in the studio for something like nine weeks just recording, which we hadn’t done before or since, weren’t allowed to, probably – cost too much. We were so creative, occupying every corner of the studio – even the stairwells had microphones set up in them. Our secret tracks were about cramming it all in so we didn’t have to put them on the next album or have five B-sides, you know? Get it all out, cleanse it, get it off your chest and onto the album.
“’Ice Hockey Hair’ is not something I’ve listened to much, but I did do a couple of years ago as we were doing some live shows and we needed to listen to the back catalogue just to remind us of what we’d done. Half the time it was like, ‘Well, who the fuck did this bit? I don’t remember fucking playing it’. It was all a bit Spinal Tap and then you’d eventually go, ‘Oh yeah, I remember now! I remember singing the backing vocals on the outro and thinking, “This feels good”,’.
“When you’re a kid, all you want to do is have a laugh and explore the studio. I can say that now I’m 42, but that’s all I want to do now…”
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