By Tom Pinnock
Frontman Gruff Rhys on the Welsh band's 'cosmic' new album and how one of Franz Ferdinand got roped in as a German tram conductor.
Super Furry Animals release Dark Days/Light Years on 13 April
You'd be forgiven for thinking Super Furry Animals, Wales' finest purveyors of psychedelic pop, had settled into middle age this decade.
While still packed full of playfully inventive pop songs, albums like Love Kraft, Hey Venus! and Phantom Power lacked the eclectic techno workouts and sub-bass insanity of SFA's 90s work, like the psychedelic Radiator or the genre-busting Guerrilla.
However, with epic new album Dark Days/Light Years the band are more dangerous than ever - literally.
"I suppose the sound's on a biblical scale," says frontman Gruff Rhys, "which is why we're not playing indoors this year.
"I think it would be pretty dangerous to play indoors because you'd get structural problems with your building, you know, because the bass frequencies are so low you'd probably get falling masonry causing various head injuries."
The new album - released physically on 13 April, was recorded in prompt fashion.
Gruff Rhys says the band will only perform outdoors this year
"We did it in 40 days, recorded and mixed it in 40 days non-stop, which is incredible.
"But it meant we didn't dwell on the songs, we committed to how they sounded straight away and just went with it. It was a really exciting rush of recording.
"We collected loads of demos we'd made on various computers over the years and pieced them all together."
'Cheap surround sound'
The five-piece are serious about only playing outdoors this year, and even reckon the weather will help their performance.
"There's something beautiful about the wind blowing your sound around," Rhys says, "like cheap surround sound."
One of Dark Days/Light Years' highlights is the playfully mad Kraftwerk-influenced Inaugural Trams, which features an impressive turn from Franz Ferdinand's Nick McCarthy - playing the part of a German tram conductor.
"I was always a big fan of the Germanic elements of the Franz Ferdinand sound," explains Rhys, "[and] the song was crying out for a German spoken word section.
"We contacted Nick McCarthy through a mutual friend and he recorded it for us on the 32nd floor of his Tokyo hotel and emailed it back to us and it was perfect, exactly how we'd imagined it in our wildest dreams.
"He sings the part of a conductor on a tram and he's announcing the next stop and he gives various observations of what's on the street outside when he's in the tram. And it's perfect, it's perfect."
The weirdness doesn't end there - swooning string-laden pop track Helium Hearts takes the prize for most eccentric subject matter.
"The song concerns the fact that most bodily parts seem to have a function," says Rhys.
"For example, the hand has obviously got that holding thing, you know, the teeth are there so you can chew, the eyes are there so you can see. that song concerns, 'What exactly is the purpose of the chin?'
"The conclusion is that it's built to hold a smile. The song deals with our journey into investigating what the chin is for."
'Wall of sound'
Rhys is equally pleased with Cardiff In The Sun, an eight-minute chill out techno-drone epic, describing a surreal trip around the Welsh capital.
"That's probably the biggest sound we've ever made as a band, it's quite an achievement for us sonically, we're really happy with it.
Super Furry Animals often perform with a number of stage props
"It's layers of feedback building up to a wall of sound. It's a sound we're particularly happy with."
In the past, they've brought tanks to festivals, dressed up as yetis and Power Rangers, and dabbled with quadraphonic sound systems. But what's up the SFA sleeve for this year's gigs?
"I suppose the best plans are the ones you don't tell anyone about," says Gruff coyly.
"Always our main concern is the music and getting it sounding good. Anything else [are] ideas we have off the cuff that we try out. By summer time anything could have happened."