Published Sep 14, 2016A couple weeks before the release of Grumbling Fur's fourth LP, Furfour (out now on Thrill Jockey), Daniel O'Sullivan, one half of the London-based electronic psych-pop duo, was going shopping to buy fake furs in which to drape the band's new drummer.
Alexander Tucker, the duo's other member, tells Exclaim! "We need to make him into a furry being. It's very serious indeed."
Grumbling Fur, which O'Sullivan says is "very much based on our friendship, and the fact we've known each other for so many years," is a project rooted in humour, and an embrace of what Tucker calls "folly."
"We're both big fans of [artists] like Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, people who blend the idea of the absurd with the sacred," says O'Sullivan.
On Furfour, this penchant for the irrational is evident in the duo's use of spoken word interludes. "We recorded things into Dictaphone," describes O'Sullivan. "Things we found on new age nut job UFO sites. An element of humour comes in. But really they're just great stories, great imagery."
"It's meant to create a parallel narrative to the music. You start to ask more questions of the music. You hear these gnostic biblical recitations by some sort of robot girl, and you ask how that changes your view of the song that preceded it."
Despite this playfulness, the songs on Furfour are anything but silly. A set of vocal-driven pop vignettes, they sparkle with gorgeous melodies and harmonies, supported by a supple use of electronics and string instrumentation. The result is a record that is aurally adventurous but also undeniably catchy.
The songs on Furfour were years in the making. In fact, many of them were written before those that featured on Grumbling Fur's 2014 effort Preternaturals.
"We'd already started writing Furfour when the guys from the Quietus asked us if we would record something for their imprint," says O'Sullivan. "So we spent six or seven months writing Preternaturals and then went back to Furfour. In the interim we were playing the songs live, and changing the arrangements."
"It gave the songs time to gestate and ferment," adds Tucker. "That's the nice thing about music, you can come back to it after some time and then apply what you've learned along the way."
In their decades-long careers exploring the experimental fringes of genres like drone metal, cosmic jazz, psychedelic, and electronic pop (not to mention Tucker's work as a comic artist, and the duo's own collaborations in visual art) one of the things Grumbling Fur has "learned along the way" is how to channel creativity from myriad sources, and how to remove the barriers to that creativity's flow.
"It's about trying to get yourself out of the way sometimes, trying to get your ego to stop talking for five minutes and just let something unfold that is outside of your control to a certain degree," says Tucker, prompting O'Sullivan to respond, "Yeah, it's about handing the control of music back to music itself."
By using techniques like double-tracking voices, layering organic with synthesized sounds, and exploiting phasing, the duo seeks to produce unexpected sonic effects. It's what gives their music a psychedelic tinge, an undercurrent made up of extraneous noises and ambiguous sound sources.
O'Sullivan describes Grumbling Fur as deep sea fishers, divining their music from a source they don't know the location of. The result, they hope, is music that the listener can engage with creatively, finding room to develop their own interpretations.
A conversation with Grumbling Fur can feel like a heady affair. Devotees of esoteric knowledge and prophesy, they situate their music in a cosmic interplay of energy and vibration, inspired by ESP experiences and lucid dreaming.
But all this belies the immediate accessibility of their songwriting. For whatever reason, though likely in part because of their comradery, they're compelled to make pop music together, something they have the courage to embrace.
"It's about freedom, the freedom to be pop," says Tucker.
"We like the tension of using ideas understood by very few people but applying them to a living language like pop music," adds O'Sullivan. "We're pursuing pop because of its warmth and accessibility."