Primal Scream: ‘Our music is our resistance'
Primal Scream may have a reputation as a political band, but frontman Bobby Gillespie insists their songs go deeper than that. Ahead of their UK tour, he talks personal issues, making progress and philosophy with Andy Welch
ASK Bobby Gillespie how he's feeling, having just released his 11th album with Primal Scream, and he gives a one-word answer.
Ask if releasing Chaosmosis feels different to the previous 10, and he says he's not sure how to answer, while asking him to explain how the record might differ from its predecessor, 2013's More Light, and, "They're all completely different", is his short response.
He is, in fairness, tucked up in bed, full of cold.
"It's the warmest place in the house," he reasons.
Thankfully, he eventually begins to open up. A little bit.
"We started to make a Primal Scream record, it's as simple as that," says Gillespie, explaining how he and right-hand man Andrew Innes began work on Chaosmosis. "We have our own sound now. That happens with good bands when they're 11 records in. And not many get to 11, baby."
He says Primal Scream, who released their debut Sonic Flower Groove in 1987, are in it for the long haul. "Lifers," he adds. "So many bands released two albums, split up and reformed 20 years later. But not us."
He's equally dismissive of bands who never changed their style of music.
"Andrew and me are born not to repeat ourselves," he continues, now on something of a roll. "We just can't do something again and again. We know who the bands are that do it, but I won't name them.
"I heard one band on the radio last week who have reformed – they were around in the 90s – and I thought it sounded like the 90s but I must've missed it first time around. Turns out it was their new single.
"I don't know how they do it. No idea, no imagination," he spits. "And the lyrics were probably about the same old sh*t they were singing about in the 90s. They haven't progressed as artists.
"I don't want to talk about other people, but that baffles me. I just want to make contemporary relevant art, that exists now and reflects the way we feel and what's around us."
His restless spirit is perhaps why the band have stayed together, through the highs and lows of hit records, changing line-ups and drug addiction.
From one record to the next, Primal Scream have always done things differently. True, there are styles they've returned to, such as a Rolling Stones-y barroom rock of Give Out But Don't Give Up and Riot City Blues – but they were released 12 years apart, with the hugely adventurous trilogy of Vanishing Point, Xtrmntr and Evil Heat in between.
Indeed, their genuine masterpiece, 1991's Screamadelica, followed their insipid debut and patchy, self-titled second album of hard garage rock. Screamadelica was unexpected, but for many, defined a generation.
"The change between records is always natural," Gillespie (53) continues. "It's always about three months in when I know we're onto something.
"I remember it dawning on me this time around. We went to the studio in Stockholm one day [they worked on Chaosmosis with producer Bjorn Yttling]. We had about eight tracks, we felt good, the songs were good...
"As soon as we get about six songs that sound like they could be on the same album, and that album sounds significantly different from the last, that's when I know."
While the band are heading toward their 30th year, Glasgow-born Gillespie maintains that he and the rest of the band, Martin Duffy and Darrin Mooney, feel like a new outfit.
"It's because this record sounds so fresh, and when we've played the songs live, it's felt like we were starting anew.
"Obviously we're not a new band, because we're really good – and when we started, we weren't. We had the confidence of ignorance and youth, but not the technique. Now we have the confidence of experience and technique, and of being good at writing songs and playing them. We should be after all this time."
Chaosmosis features a number of guests vocalists, most notably the HAIM sisters, Rachel Zeffira of Cat's Eyes and Sky Ferreira, who sings on lead single Where The Light Gets In.
Gillespie is a long-time fan of the American singer, and their creative relationship goes back to 2013, when, as mutual fans, they arranged to write some songs for a new album of Ferreira's. Started but not finished, they're yet to see the light of day, but it did lead to Ferreira agreeing to sing on some of Primal Scream's tracks.
Lyrically, Gillespie has previously talked about how Chaosmosis is a personal collection, which suggests other Primal Scream songs aren't.
"Ah, that's just stuff I say in interviews," he says now, dismissively. "Listen to Xtrmntr. The song Swastika Eyes is kind of political, anti-military, but the rest of it is very internal. Shoot Speed Kill Light, what else is there to say? That whole album was me writing about the effects of the drug culture of the 90s on me and my friends, and how it basically neutralised us. We took ourselves out of the game with addiction.
"It can't get any more personal than that, but because of the title, no-one is listening to the lyrics and they think it's just me going on against the government."
He says he's merely continuing those themes or similar on the new album, but with better articulation.
"I guess it's just a wound, and I am trying to figure out what's wrong with me," he says. "You know, why do I feel like this? It's internal, personal stuff. Just like songs on Vanishing Point, just like songs on Screamdelica, just like songs on Evil Heat. But people are lazy and it's easy to say we're only political."
The biggest idea on Chaosmosis, then, is based on Felix Guattari's philosophy, referenced in a book Gillespie was reading (Franco Berardi's Heroes).
"The way it was explained really resonated with me, because it was a great description of the creative process. Essentially, we're bombarded with information and media, 24 hours a day, then add into that the existential reality of everyday life, and there's no shut-off.
"It's impossible to decode this amount of information, and a lot of it isn't good information, it's dark and violent. If you're a sensitive person, there's no way to deal with all that. The way I deal with it is to make an artwork. Make your own chaos.
"Guattari predicted all this years ago, that life would be a fog. He's talking about the effects of neo-liberalism and capitalism, and putting up a resistance," Gillespie adds.
"Our music is that resistance."
:: Primal Scream play the Sea Sessions festival, Bundoran, Co Donegal, June 23-26 (Tickets and info at ticketmaster.ie and primalscream.net). Chaosmosis is out now.