Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie: David Cameron “untouched” by acid house
The British government is fucking insane. Punk was a generational pose for a lot of people. Israel is an occupation. David Cameron could’ve been touched by acid house. Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie gets his rocks off with MICHAEL HARTT.
For more than 30 years Bobby Gillespie has been one of the central figures in the story of British independent music. From pressing sleeves for early Creation Records releases while working at a printing press, to drumming on The Jesus & Mary Chain’s early work (including Psychocandy) to being one of the alchemists behind nine genre-melding studio albums with Primal Scream – Gillespie has trodden a path wholly his own.
The last two years has seen Primal Scream concurrently working on two projects; a new album (their 10th) and a year-long tour that saw them playing their 1991 album Screamadelica in full. FL spoke to Bobby Gillespie from his home in London ahead of Primal Scream’s Australian tour, which includes a headline set at the Meredith Music Festival and found an artist who’s still steadfast in his convictions, whether it’s in relation to music or politics.
How’s the album coming along? Is it finished?
The album’s finished. The album’s recorded and mixed and we’re just talking about mastering it. So it’s going to be mastered pretty soon. We’re just finalising a record deal with a company and it’ll be released in [northern hemisphere] spring or early summer.
Has the four year gap between albums felt creatively stifling?
No, no, it’s actually done the opposite. The last album was done in 2008. We started the Screamadelica tour in late 2010 and that went all the way to the end of last year. So we were working on two projects; we were writing and partly recording this album and we were also touring Screamadelica. It gave us time. Everything just worked out really well. We made a lot of records in the first 10 years of this century. We did Evil Heat, we did Beautiful Future, we did Riot City Blues. We made three albums in eight years. That’s almost an album every two years which, these days, is quite a lot. Nobody really does that anymore.
This record’s quite a big departure from the last one. We’re really proud of it. We think it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done. It’s gonna be about 80 minutes long. There’s a lot of music on there. It’s a very intense album. It is rock ‘n’ roll but it’s psychedelic, there’s a lot of free rock on there. There are very well-crafted songs but there’s a lot of experimental stuff on there [as well]. It’s very much a rock record. It’s not like a dance record.
It’s a fucking great rock record. Andrew Innes and myself started to write songs right after the Beautiful Future tour ended, we just started to write songs again, slowly. Working with David Holmes and doing exploratory field trips to his studio in Belfast. Then we began a relationship with him as a producer and then here we are today. We did four writing trips – two to LA, two to Belfast. Then we did everything else at our studio up in Chalk Farm in London. We took everything back there and we worked on it ourselves.
You were quoted as comparing to XTRMNTR…
D’you know what? That was Mojo magazine. I don’t know where that came from. I can’t remember how that came about but it sounds nothing like XTRMNTR. Fucking British music press! That’s the way they work. It’s very much its own thing.
So is it fair to say that it’s not as sonically aggressive as XTRMNTR?
Yeah, it’s got aggressive moments on it. But you’ll hear it when you hear it. It’s pretty beautiful and it’s intense. It’s just different from XTRMNTR. This is a different time that we’re living in, we’re different people and we’re a bit older and I think we’re expressing ourselves very well on this record. It’s actually quite confrontational in terms of the lyrical subject matter. I’m really pleased with the words; getting to talk about a lot of stuff that I feel that I want to talk about. It’s hard to explain. When you hear the record, you’ll know what I mean. It’s pretty fucking out there.
This is the first Primal Scream album since the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition to govern the UK. Has that informed some of the lyrics?
Not directly, no because we’re always going to be opposed to those bastards. It’s an art record, you know? It’s hard to explain it. I don’t want to be too didactic or anything but I’m more influenced by what’s going on in the culture and I always have been. There’s a lot of internalised stuff on this record as well, a lot of psychic stuff, a lot of external stuff, [about] how that affects you. It’s hard to talk about a record you haven’t heard. I don’t want to give too much away because I’m really excited about the record. We did that Mojo thing and I kind of look back on it and in a way I don’t know what the point of it was. My manager and my press officer said “you’ve got to do this thing” and I did it. It’s really hard because you don’t want to give too much away so they just make stuff up and say “oh, it sounds like XTRMNTR” and it doesn’t. We’re not that kind of band. We don’t repeat ourselves. We’re forward thinking artists.
“This is supposedly a rational, progressive country and we’re dealing with fucking insane people.”
Obviously I hate the fucking coalition. Obviously I hate what they stand for – they’re reactionary, neo-liberal, quasi-fascists. The health secretary wants to limit abortions to 13 weeks. This is the kind of mad people you’re dealing with. This is supposedly a rational, progressive country [and] we’re dealing with fucking insane people. I’m always going to be opposed to those head cases but it’s a wider world, it’s wider than Britain. It’s a worldwide thing. There’s been a worldwide shift to the right and there has been since the late ‘70s – Thatcher and Reagan in Britain and America. That neo-liberal thing, I guess they started it in ‘73 in Chile with the overthrow of a government and putting their Chicago School Of Economics principles into action using military junta. The way they do it here is de-industrialisation, which has been going on since the ‘70s. It’s part of a larger thing: There’s no jobs in our country because the jobs have been farmed out to India or China or the Philippines. They’re creating a post-industrial society. It’s a worldwide thing, it’s not just in Britain, this austerity thing. You’ve just got to try and see through it. We’re on the left, basically: Pro-people. All for the liberation of humanity, against the forces of reaction [laughs] … and you find a lot of reactionaries in the music business. We try to put things in poetic terms.
So there’s some ambiguity to it instead of just direct attacks?
Yeah, it lasts longer as a piece of art. It’s not didactic. There is, maybe, some didactic statements but we say what we think, you know?
We even discuss the modern generation and the way it’s turned. When punk happened, as a teenager, I honestly thought it was going to create a new breed of people. I thought maybe people were going to be different from those that were older and they were going to be more tolerant and rational and enlightened but a lot of people seemed to turn out just like their parents. It was reactionary. It was just like a pose, a generational pose for a lot of people. For me, punk rock meant liberation and to find I could be a creative person. If it hadn’t have been for punk rock, I would have never have found out that I could be a creative person. Sorry, I’m losing track of the interview [laughs].
“When punk happened, I honestly thought it was going to create a new breed of people.”
The people in charge of the world just now, people like David Cameron and Obama, they’re in their mid-40s. Punk rock never affected those people. What I mean is, you have these social revolutions in the ‘60s and in the ‘70s. You had the hippie thing and you had the punk thing and both of them really were actually idealistically, romantically hoping for a better world; a more tolerant, open, freer society, right? And that’s what the punk and the hippie thing had. You kind of had years and years of the beats, counterculture, trade unionism, anarchism; a lot of different movements co-existing in the ‘60s and in the ‘70s. It’s just interesting that the guys who were at uni at that time, who were eventually, 30 years later, running the countries, were untouched by the youth culture of the time. Cameron and those guys are about 43, 44 – they could have been touched by acid house. Acid house was the same kind of thing; it was a really positive, creative, uplifting time. Because of the ecstasy it was really all about communications, making connections with people. Guys like Cameron, they’re untouched by it, from day one, they always wanted to be part of an establishment.
Cameron comes from a merchant banking dynasty, he’s third generation or fourth generation family of bankers in the city Of London. He’s not from the old establishment – the landed gentry, the aristocracy – he’s from the new establishment. Youth culture doesn’t touch these guys. They’ve maybe had a couple of lines of coke or something during uni but that’s not youth culture. They’re the dark side. As much as we see these things as revolutionary, they’re limited. Guys who are running corporations weren’t punks. They weren’t going to see The Clash or the Pistols or The Saints of The Banshees. The kids like me, who were, I think we’re doing something good. Basically what I’m trying to say is we’re switched on. We’re not asleep. We’re switched on and we want to switch other people on.
It’s like, if I said Israel’s an occupation, it’s not a country. I saw that this morning. I woke up and I was reading about the bombers in the Gaza strip. Then there was quotes from Israeli civilians saying they wanted a ground war and I just thought, “I can show you a map of Israel in 1947 and I can show you the borders between Israel and what was left of Palestine and I’ll email you the map from 2012 and you’ll see how much land is gone”. It’s an occupation, it’s not a country. Things like that – if you get that into the world and people start thinking about that. Nobody wants to be hearing me go on stage and saying that. I wouldn’t like to hear someone saying that but if I read it in an interview, I’d think “that guy’s talking sense”.
“Acid house was a really positive, creative, uplifting time – guys like David Cameron, they’re untouched by it”
Obviously you don’t want to give much away about the album but can you tell us a little bit about having Robert Plant record with you?
Me and Robert sang together on a song called ‘Elimination Blues’. It doesn’t sound like a blues song like Robert Johnson, it’s like our version of the blues. It’s modern but it’s like a swampy, kind of, psychedelic groove. We needed a really high voice for the choruses so Robert came in and he same with us and it sounds fantastic.
Having just watched [Led Zeppelin documentary] Celebration Day, it strikes me how strong his voice still is.
His voice is outrageous. I was at the gig and then I saw the film. They had the film a few weeks ago at the Hammersmith Apollo and they showed the film in the venue with the music through huge loudspeakers. It was amazing. Robert’s voice was incredible and he told me afterwards that he didn’t re-sing a single line. He said there was no overdubs. He really is an incredible singer, an incredible frontman. He really is something else. And they’re just a great fucking band. I love them.
In terms of new songs, you’ve already been playing one – ‘2012’ – will you be playing any others on this tour
We’re going to play three new songs on the tour.
Any chance you’ll play a track from Sonic Flower Groove?
Nah, I don’t think so, no. I don’t know, ‘Gentle Tuesday’ might be quite good but I’m just more interested in what we’re doing now. Our guitarist Barrie always wants us to play ‘Ivy Ivy Ivy’ from the [self-titled] second album because his big sister was a Primal Scream fan. She had the album so he knows how to play it [laughs]. We might do that someday.
In the live set you did recently for BBC 6 Music, you did a version of ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ that morphed into ‘Loaded’. Is that something you might do again or was it a one-off?
That’s in the set. That’s one of the highlights of the set. We’ve been rehearsing that and we’re going to bring out to Australia. It really is amazing.
Any music other than your own that you’ve enjoyed this year?
Beachwood Sparks. That album’s great, that’s my favourite so far. I saw them play live about 10 years ago when they had the album out that J Mascis played on Once We Were Trees, which I’d love to get. I saw them live at The Garage in Islington with Douglas Hart from [Jesus and] Mary Chain and they were great. There was no one at the fucking gig. It was a shame. But I love that album. It’s my favourite of this year. I told Johnny Marr about it recently. I said to him he should check it out because I think he would be very much into them. This album is better than I remember them. I need to buy their other albums.
You’re here at the same time as Spiritualized and you’re both doing Meredith. You have quite a lot of shared history with them.
That’ll be great. Jason’s a great friend of ours. I actually saw Spiritualized play two weeks ago here in London and they were brilliant. It was actually one of the best Spiritualized shows I’ve ever seen. They played most of the new album and it was much better live than it is on the record. Hopefully we’ll see them at the festival.
FL presents Primal Scream
Monday 3rd December – The Tivoli , Brisbane
Wednesday 5th December – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Friday 7th December – The Palace Theatre, Melbourne
Tuesday 11th December – Astor Theatre, Perth