The Furys | Interview | Punk Legends The Furys Return With New Album
Punk legends The Furys are back with a new album ‘The Furys Again’ which was released in all formats on October 8, 2021.
The Furys are one of Southern California’s first new wave/punk/power pop bands! The group’s first single was released in 1977 (‘Hey Ma’ b/w ‘Jim Stark Dark’), and 1978’s ‘Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep’ was an international success, garnering extensive airplay, press, and live performances. According to founding member and lead vocalist Jeff Wolfe, “The Furys formed in 1977 as a reaction to the dreadful noise that was on the radio at that time.” 1979 saw the release of the ‘Moving Target’ / ‘We Talk We Dance’ single which elicited substantial critical response. The Furys released a five-song mini album entitled ‘Indoor/Outdoor’ in 1987. Recorded at EMI/America studio in Hollywood, ‘Indoor/Outdoor’ had an excellent sales run, huge radio response and heavy press coverage. The band is entering their fifth decade of performing and recording; their latest album, ‘The Furys Again’ keeps the original tradition alive whilst acknowledging contemporary influences.
“We were offered a deal with Mercury Records by the notorious Kim Fowley”
It’s really fantastic to have you. Are you excited about the new singles compilation ‘New Wave Hit Parade’?
Jeff Wolfe: Thanks for asking. Yes, it’s a great thing to have all of The Furys vinyl releases finally available digitally. It’s been a long time coming.
Would love it if you could tell us a bit about your background, where you grew up and how you first got involved with music?
I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, right on Lake Michigan. In 1965, we moved to Orange County, California. My folks both loved music. My mom was an amateur folk singer and my dad was a huge jazz fan. I was fortunate to hear all kinds of music growing up from 19th century folk songs to Miles Davis, to Frank Sinatra. This upbringing inspired me to be a singer, especially once Elvis Presley, The Beatles and the mighty Rolling Stones came along.
Were you or any member of Furys in any other band before that?
I formed The Furys without any previous experience in bands. The only time I had sung publicly was in the church choir when I was a youngster.
Can you elaborate the formation of The Furys?
I had a high school friend named Gregg Embrey who played piano and bass. We decided to start The Furys as a reaction to the absolute drivel that was popular music in 1976. We both knew what we wanted to do and, with the help of my pal ML Compton who agreed to manage us, we set out on our path. Gregg’s brother Gary Embrey was an incredible drummer so that was an easy fit. Chaz Maley was a long-time friend and colleague of Gregg’s, so he signed on after playing on the B-side of our first single, ‘Jim Stark Dark’. Doug Martin was a pal who handled bass as Gregg was on electric piano in the early days.
Tell us about the singles you released back in those days.
‘Hey Ma’ / ‘Jim Stark Dark’
Both songs are reflections of alienation in a world gone mad.
Gregg and I recorded this single before we had an actual band, doing it bass backwards. We tracked ‘Hey Ma’ at a studio in Santa Monica with Gary on drums and a couple of fellas that agreed to play on the recording. It was my first time in a recording studio. Reviewers likened this song to a ‘Quadrophenia’ outtake; I cannot disagree. ‘Jim Stark Dark’ (the song is homage to the ultimate alienated American kid, James Dean) was recorded at a home studio in Santa Ana, CA. I had been writing poetry and melodies most of my life; with Gregg’s music, this was the first song of mine I ever recorded.
‘Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep’ / ‘Suburbia Suburbia’
After our first single surprisingly sold out, we knew we were on to something. We had played a few gigs by late ’77, the band was tight, thus, the next step was another record. Gregg had the music for ‘Black Sheep’ already; l coincidentally had the lyrics and melody that I had arrived at independently. When he first showed it to the band, I knew what I had would fit. We did a second pass, I sang it, it worked immediately. The song went on to be an international sensation that is still garnering radio play decades later. I consider ‘Suburbia Suburbia’ a minor throwaway but we needed a B-side.
The single was released in February 1978. We played The Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood USA just a month later for the first time.
‘Moving Target’ / ‘We Talk, We Dance’
By 1979, we had played many high-profile jobs and both of our singles had done well in the underground market (which is now referred to as “indie”). Steve Zepeda-who ran the Nugget a Go-Go on the Cal State Long Beach campus which was a great venue for The Furys-had formed Beat Records and wanted to sign us for our third single. ‘Moving Target’ was written by Chaz and was quite catchy although a bit more conventional than our previous records. The B-side, ‘We Talk We Dance’ was more in the original Furys mode. It’s one of my favorite Furys numbers.
“British bands were always a huge influence on The Furys”
You always had a very British like sound, would you say that’s because you were more influenced by British bands?
British bands were always a huge influence on The Furys, still are in fact. My longest serving member in the band, Dave Lewty, is indeed, English, coming from the Manchester era; thus, the British influence abides.
I loved the initial British Invasion acts from the beginning: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Who, The Hollies. As time went on, other great English performers emerged which we adored also: Roxy Music, Bowie, Slade, The Sweet, and T. Rex.
How many copies were distributed back then? Did you get any radio play?
We moved 1500 of ‘Hey Ma’ with two editions, the first with a crappy xeroxed picture sleeve, the second pressing had a slicker “professional” looking sleeve. We received a small of amount of college airplay, but it primarily sold by word-of-mouth
With ‘Black Sheep,’ well over 10,000 were distributed, unheard of during that era. We were mainstays on KROQ and many college stations.
I was never privy to the sales of ‘Moving Target’ so who knows? I do know I made no money from that release, unlike the first two.
Was there any opportunity to record an album back in those days?
We never recorded a full album. We were offered a deal with Mercury Records by the notorious Kim Fowley but he wanted a ridiculously large chunk of the publishing rights, so I turned it down. We were also offered a tour with The Pretenders and a deal with Sire Records from Mary Ann Campagna in late 1979, but the other members foolishly decided to break up instead. Our last job with the original lineup was in early ’80 at The Starwood in Hollywood.
The band was active for about two years. What happened next for you?
I formed a short-lived group called Factor Four in the early 80s but it wasn’t happening. I got back with Gregg Embrey around ’83 and reformed the group with other players. We tracked a mini-album called ‘Indoor/Outdoor’ at EMI/America Studio in Hollywood in ‘86. The record garnered substantial airplay on college radio and sold reasonably well. Today, it sounds too 80s – driven to my liking but the songs are great.
By the end of the 80s, I was ready for a change. Inspired by my Mom’s love of folk music and my interest in vintage country and western music, I formed The Horse Soldiers, which I ran for 20 years playing hundreds of gigs all over the Southwest. The Horse Soldiers released a CD entitled ‘Singing in the Valley’ which we sold exclusively off the bandstand; it performed remarkably well.
Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?
My fave rave Furys songs would be ‘Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep’ (which we still perform to this day). ‘The Girl is Not at Home’ from the ‘Indoor/Outdoor’ mini album (another one we still play), ‘We Talk We Dance’. ‘Anna Come Home’ (from ‘The Furys Again’ CD from 2021), and two that haven’t been released yet (but will be The Furys next single, scheduled for release late autumn 2023) ‘Everybody’s New’ and ‘Home, Come In’.
There’s hundreds of gigs that the band has done so it’s difficult to pick any one in particular, although The Furys did play a three night stand at The Whisky with The Weirdos in 1978 which was quite memorable. Incidentally, Weirdos mastermind Cliff Roman is playing guitar in The Furys these days.
The Nugget a Go Go stands out too. The band played there many, many times, always a blast. One night stands out as we had members of X, The Plimsouls, The Go Gos, and The Last in the audience. If memory serves, The Textones were on the bill too.
The Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa was our Orange County go-to venue. The Furys played there dozens of times, primarily with pals like The Zippers and The Plimsouls. We shared the stage with a number of English acts there including 999, Magazine, and Ultravox. David Johansen was a hoot; we did a two night stand there with him.
You recently reformed! That must have been a lot of fun. What are some future plans for the band?
‘The Furys Again’ CD/download was released in 2021. Recorded during the pandemic at Dave Lewty’s home studio, it’s primarily Dave and I on the numbers. We received a large international radio response, making number one on a number of indie charts. Dave is a phenomenal musician and a great friend. He’s also the best bass player I’ve ever worked with.
As is Furys tradition, Dave and I formed a band after we released the album. We’ve got Jeff Jourad from the Motels on guitar, as I previously mentioned Cliff Roman (Weirdos) playing guitar and singing and Ray Herron (Sloths) on drums and vocals. It’s a massive sound.
As I mentioned above. We have a new single scheduled for late autumn. After that, we’ll be heading to The Foo Fighters studio to record a full album with the band.
Is there any unreleased material by the band or any related projects?
There’s several tracks from the early 80s that have never been released as I dubbed them substandard. There’s only one studio outtake from the 70s, ‘Wicked White’ from the Beat Records sessions; it was never finished. I do have a fairly large archive of live material, including a complete Furys show from the Nugget in 1979 that is fantastic.
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
Thanks for having me. I advise anyone who may read this that wants to become involved in band life to practice diligently, always work with people you respect and who respect you. When you start out, play any gig available to get some stage cred. And, most importantly, protect your publishing rights at all costs.
Love and Mercy to all!