Tim Butler is still playing in his first band. More than 36 years ago, his older brother conscripted him into a fledgling rock group eventually called the Psychedelic Furs.
"He had this idea that we could be a band, and he asked me what I wanted to play. We were just teenagers, and I thought 'Why not?'" said Butler, the band's bassist.
Butler's brother is singer Richard Butler, and they are the two remaining original members of the influential post-punk/new wave band, which will perform Thursday, June 6, at the Rialto Theatre. Also on the bill is the Austin, Texas-based group My Jerusalem.
The Butler brothers grew up in Surrey, England, and inspiring music often was heard around the house, Tim Butler said.
"My father was a huge fan of Bob Dylan, and he would bring home records by Dylan, Edith Piaf, Hank Williams. He really instilled in us a healthy appreciation for music."
But Butler, now 54, never dreamed of a career in music until his brother suggested it. "I was never one of those kids who played guitar on a tennis racket. I was thinking of becoming a vet at one time. But after we started the band, it was sort of decided for me. I never went to college or anything."
The Psychedelic Furs began rehearsing in the Butlers' front room. "But soon my mother moved us out of there because we got too loud," Butler said. "That was OK, because we already were getting gigs every month or so in London, and it began to grow. Pretty soon, we were playing the Music Machine and drawing 1,000 people or so, and we weren't even signed."
In the early days of the Psychedelic Furs, circa the late 1970s, the band played long and dark art-rock songs, heavily under the influence of the Doors, the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Roxy Music and the sax skronks of free jazz. Such was the material heard on their now-immortal 1980 debut album, The Psychedelic Furs.
But that sound was born of necessity and circumstance, Butler said.
"We were a weird band, with the energy of punk, but we wanted to take it in more trippy directions. We were known to have a 'wall of sound,' but that came out of the fact that none of us really knew how to play our instruments and we were all striving to be heard.
"I think people may have latched on to us at the time because they were bored with the three-minute format of punk, and they could get lost in long songs like 'Imitation of Christ' or 'India,' you know?"
With the band's second album, the also great Talk Talk Talk (1981), the members began to hone their songwriting chops and learned to play their instruments more concisely. "By that second album, we learned how to do it right," Butler said.
Talk Talk Talk showed the band transitioning from post-punk to a more focused near-pop sound. The Furs produced songs such as "Dumb Waiters" and the landmark single, "Pretty in Pink," which inspired the John Hughes film of the same name starring Molly Ringwald.
Subsequent albums such as Forever Now (1982) and Mirror Moves (1984) brought more top 40 hits and greater fame. During this period, the hits didn't seem to stop: "Love My Way," "President Gas," "The Ghost in You," "Heaven" and a bunch of others. Many of these were written by the Butler brothers, with guitarist John Ashton.
As the 1980s progressed, so did the Psychedelic Furs' career.
"When we first came over here (to the United States), there were four or five us in the back of a nine-seat minibus. Alternative music was not really big over here. We played in places where there were only 10 people in the audience sometimes."
Butler said the band's success was "a natural sort of progression. There was no Svengali behind the scenes pulling our strings or telling us what to do. We just kept moving forward with each album, and it got bigger and bigger around us."
In the mid-1980s, though, Butler and the rest of the band noticed a change in the demographics of their audience. "It came after 'Pretty in Pink' and the movie. At our shows there were all these crazy teenaged girls dressed in pink. I think it put off some of our older fans to see these thousands of teenagers flocking to gigs. I think some people saw that sort of crowd as lacking in substance, with all the screaming and stuff."
Now, many of those older fans are coming out to see the Psychedelic Furs in concert again, Butler said.
"They tell us, 'We really liked your first two records, and were sort of interested in the next few, but we grew away from the band.' Now they are coming back to us."
Band personnel changed incrementally with each album, and they recorded through the 1980s. In the early '90s, the group disbanded, and the Butler brothers started a new band, Love Spit Love, which recorded two albums.
The Butlers and Ashton began playing again together in 2000, and the Psychedelic Furs released a well-received live album, Beautiful Chaos: Greatest Hits Live, a year later. Richard Butler also released a solo album, titled simply Richard Butler, in 2006.
The group has been playing together regularly since. These days, in addition to the Butlers, the band features saxophonist Mars Williams (formerly of the Waitresses), keyboards player Amanda Kramer (Information Society), Rich Good on guitar and drummer Paul Garisto.
In the 21st century, the Psychedelic Furs have recorded a few songs here and there, but not yet a complete album. Butler allowed, though, that the band is in the process of making a new full-length recording that could come out as soon as next year, if things go right.
"We're working a few new songs into the set, too. Of course, we have to do a certain number of hits that if you didn't play them, the audience would kill you. But we're also pulling out some obscure numbers. You have to keep challenging yourself, and if the obscure ones are working we keep them in the set."