Super Furry Animals are one of those bands that seem to have been standing on the brink of stardom for the last 10 years. The Welsh five-piece has released seven records, all to critical praise. They tour and record non-stop. College radio stations spin them and hip Brit-poppers dig them. Yet, despite having released some of the most interesting and pretty pop albums of the last decade, the band remains relatively obscure. The Furries have a group of devoted fans and can pack mid-size venues, but don't look for their faces next to Ashlee Simpson on MTV any time soon.
"Oh, we'd love to sell shitloads of records," laughs drummer Dafydd "Daf" Ieuan. "We're making a living and doing well, and we're not in a tiny van anymore, which is nice. A tour bus is definitely preferable."
At one point, it looked like Super Furry Animals might hit the big time: Spin magazine proclaimed Wales "the next Seattle." While the band got a little bounce from the press, in the end, the hype added up to nothing.
"Cardiff [the capitol of Wales and its largest city] is too small to sustain a real scene," Ieuan says in his thick accent. "Bands like Catatonia just imploded. The Manic Street Preachers are still chugging along but really aren't known in the States. In the end, people were just thinking too big."
The Furries are certainly guilty of thinking big on their latest record, the marvelous Love Kraft. It's a departure from their darker and more political records, and when asked for possible reasons behind the band's newfound joy, Ieuan replies, "We went to Spain, and saw blue sky every day! In Cardiff it's always pissing rain, and in Spain it was beautiful. We recorded there for three weeks and then went to Rio for a month to mix the record. Things change when you get out and see a sunnier world."
The album also represents a departure in that lead singer Gruff Ryhs is no longer handling all the vocals. On past records, the band shared songwriting duties, but Rhys sang all the vocal parts. For Love Kraft, the band instituted a "you wrote it, you sing it" policy.
"It was interesting to do lead vocals," Ieuan says. "I've done harmonies, and I just had to think of my singing as being like doing harmonies with the monitors turned up."
Live, the band tends to keep the monitors turned up and incorporate performance elements into the show.
"We've dressed in furry suits in the past, and on this tour we have special Italian suits that glow in the dark," he says. "We had a golf cart at one show, and that was fun. We might try to do that again."
The band is certainly not afraid of hitting the open road; Ieuan estimates they've toured the States between eight and 10 times. So far on the current tour, they've covered the U.K. and Japan, and plan to zig-zag across the U.S. and Canada. They'll "take a little break for the holidays," and then it's off to tour mainland Europe.
In addition to non-stop traveling and recording, Ryhs also found time to put together and release a compilation of his favorite Welsh rock songs from the '60s and '70s, called Welsh Rare Bits.
"I wasn't part of the team that produced the album," Ieuan says, "but I was there while we listened to all the old records and it was amazing to hear these songs I hadn't heard in 20 years."
If there is any justice, it won't take 20 more years for the listening public to hear Super Furry Animals.Super Furry Animals play with Caribou at House of Blues on Dec. 1. Doors open at 9 p.m. $15-$17. 619-299-BLUE.