Primal Scream: Bobby Gillespie talks 'More Light,' Kevin Shields, Andy Weatherall and touring while sober
On the heels of releasing the critically-acclaimed "More Light," their first studio album in five years, Primal Scream is poised to take over the west coast with a string of U.S. tour dates.
But first, the band's frontman, Bobby Gillespie, took some time out from eating a delicious curry to chat with Zap2it from his home base in London.
Zap2it: How do you think this new album separates itself from others that you've released in the past?
Bobby Gillespie: I think it separates itself from the last two records because I think it's a very varied album. It's a double album, it's like 69 minutes long, it's got a lot of different styles of music on there. And it's pop, and it's rock and roll, and psychedelic, but it's also kind of experimental too. We stretched the song structures, but still it's a rock record, you know? It's a f***ing rock record. ... We're really proud of it. We were just trying to make the most beautiful, "out there," kind of psychedelic rock record that we could.
And I think that it's got the best of everything that Primal Scream has ever done. It's kind of the best of Primal Scream, that's what I mean. It's different from our last two records because it's more experimental and the songs are more stretched, and just more "out there." The last two albums were kind of concise, kind of rock-pop songs, and very traditionally structured. This is a bit more worked. I think we put more into it. I think there's more interest, actually. I think it's an art record, you know? It's got a good mix of rock and roll and art.
Would you say "More Light" is in any way a throwback to 1991 and "Screamadelica?"
No, not at all. It's a lot harder. And I think we've honed our songwriting craft and our music-making craft. I think we've gotten really sharp; we've gotten really good at it. And I don't think it's like anything from 1991. It's very much of its time, this record. It's a hard record, you know? 1991 was a different time. Things seemed a bit more hopeful. This seems a bit more -- it's just harder. I think it reflects its time, just like "Screamadelica" reflected 1991. They're kind of zeitgeist records, I guess, for want of a better term.
Speaking of which, the first song on the album is called "2013," and you feature Kevin Shields playing guitar on that song. What would you say he brings to the table as a musical collaborator?
There's two guitarists on "2013" -- Andrew Innes, who is a core songwriter with me, and Kevin. And we knew when we were recording that song -- we knew it needed this extra thing. It needed Kevin Shields. Because he does this thing with a guitar that no one else can do. What he does doesn't sound like a guitar. We knew he would do some far out, psychedelic, warped f***ing death ray guitar stuff that just doesn't sound like guitar.
So, you wouldn't know what Kev was playing on that track because it doesn't sound like a guitar. I could sit and point it out to you and say, 'That's what he played.' And you'd go like, 'Whoa, I don't know what that sound was.' You don't know what the sound was, but it's Kev. So, he brings something that nobody else in the world can bring. He plays guitar the way that nobody else in the world plays guitar. That's why we've got him on the track. And also, he was a lite member of Primal Scream for like eight years. So he's one of the guys, you know. He doesn't play live with us anymore because he's doing My Bloody Valentine. But he's part of the family, very much so.
Any chance you'll have Shields join you on any upcoming tour dates?
[Laughs] That would be good. You know, there's always room for Kevin Shields -- always. Sometimes he gets up with us and plays a few songs. He did it at Hammersmith Apollo four years ago. He got up for the last five songs. It was great. ... You never know man.
Primal Scream brought a lot to the music culture of the 90s -- that early 90s, ecstasy, party culture. What kind of elevated insight do you have, looking back on those years, a little older, and now wiser?
I think when you look back at the early 90s, there was a lot of really great experimental pop-rock records that were actually very commercial. They were getting on the charts. Like Stone Roses' "Fool's Gold" was nine minutes. Massive Attack had incredible seven minute tracks like "Safe From Harm." And Happy Mondays had these amazing dance remixes by Paul Oakenfold for "Wrote for Luck" and "Hallelujah" and stuff. And you know Primal Scream had tracks like "Loaded," "Come Together," and "Higher Than the Sun." It was like a really experimental time, so there were real breakthroughs made.
And I think, in the mid-90s you had the Britpop thing which was kind of reactionary, musically. There were some good records made in that time as well. But there was not much experimental stuff happening. So it was a wee bit like a throwback to an earlier time. And I think -- I don't really ever look back.
I read that you got sober recently. Is it difficult to stay clean while touring?
It's easy. No, it's not hard. That's not hard because I've done a lot of work in that field, and I've made up my mind: I'm never gonna take drugs or drink again, and I'm having a really nice life now. I'm making good work, and I'm a really happy guy. And I've got a great, young family and a beautiful wife. And my band is great; I've just made a great album -- you know, and this has all come from being clean. And believe me, I'm a lot happier now than I was.
So, it's not hard to go on tour and stay straight. Because I've done the work and I can tell you, doing the work is like -- I've made a decision that that's what I'm gonna do in my life, and it's not a big deal. I just don't party when other people party. You know, I was at a party last night until 2:30 in the morning and people were ... you know ... "partying." But it didn't bother me because I'm just not in that world anymore. As in, like, I don't take part in that stuff. I'm happy for everybody else to do that stuff, but I just don't want to do it.
It's not hard because I've done the work.
The first song on "More Light" was also remixed by the fantastic Andrew Weatherall, who did the classic mix of "I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have," which became "Loaded." What is your favorite part about the tracks that he mixes?
If you mean what's my favorite Andy Weatherall remix, I think "Soon," the My Bloody Valentine one is great. That's amazing. And I think "Don't Fight It, Feel It" might be Weatherall's masterpiece. That's a track that was on "Screamadelica," but we released it as a single. That's a great one. I think that's a real masterpiece.
What do you think are some of the elements of a song that Weatherall brings to life, more so than in the original mix?
Well, it's funny because back then, he wouldn't keep the vocals. And now when he does a remix, he throws everything else away except the vocal. [Laughs] Back then, he'd throw quite a lot of stuff away, but he'd always throw away the vocal, so ... I think his style has changed. It just kind of developed into something else.
I think when he started out, during the "Screamadelica" era, he was fresh to being in the studios and remixing and making music. So, he was just kind of, it was on you. And then he's been doing it now for 23 years, so he's obviously -- he's made a lot of solo records, he's made a lot of records for Two Lone Swordsmen, Sabres of Paradise. That cat got lot of rock under his belt, so he's obviously gonna develop in other ways.
I heard a mix the other week, and I thought, 'This is really good.' And I kept listening, and I kept listening and thought, 'This is really good.' And at the end, they said, "That was the Andy Weatherall remix of Jaguar Ma." And it was great. It's really good. I don't know what the song was, but it's a really cool mix. [Editor's note: The track is "Come Save Me."] So, he's still doing good stuff, you know?
Talk about touring the U.S. almost a decade after you were here last.
We haven't been in the U.S. yet. We're gonna do a west coast tour, and then hopefully next year we're gonna go east coast. We're playing San Francisco, and then LA, Pomona and San Diego, Calif. ... I hope you don't mind, I'm eating a curry here. In London it's almost 7:00, so I'm eating some food if you don't mind. Don't worry, I won't chomp too much.
With the new songs, do you think much of your fan base has carried over from two decades ago? Or do you see more of a younger crowd of fans nowadays?
We get a lot of young people at the shows. Yeah, yeah, yeah ... some bands that have been gone as long as us, they only get people their age at shows, or people who bought the record 20 years ago. We get a mix of people, but we get a lot of young people. We did a gig in London two weeks ago and the audience was really young, man -- it was incredible. We get all ages, but we get a lot of young people. I think that's a good sign. I think it means that you've got a young energy or something, you know.
What advice do you have for young people playing music today?
I guess the only advice I can give is you have to just try and have fun. Be sincere; love what you do. You know, take your art seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously. And just listen to as much music as possible. There are such wonderful, beautiful records that have been made, and music that's been made over time that -- you know, don't be closed mixed. Just listen to everything. Because you'll find you can be influenced by all sorts of different kind of stuff. It can go in your being, and it can come back out in your music.
I just think if you're an open-minded person, read as much as you can, watch a lot of good movies, just thirst for knowledge. Hunger for new things -- old stuff, new stuff. Just try and take in as much as you can. The main thing is that you've got to have something to say, I think. So, I don't really know if that's good advice. But it's got to be fun. If it's not fun, it's not worthwhile doing.
It's hard work. It's bloody hard work, and you've got to work hard, and take it seriously. But if you can't have a lot of fun with the people in your band, then it's not worth doing.
From your own years of listening to as much as you can, what would you say your dream collaboration would be -- past or present?
Imagine you were in the studio with Miles Davis, Sly Stone and Lee Perry. Oh man, that would be pretty cool, right? With George Clinton doing that little funk-psychedelic backing vocal. We could have a whole lot of fun with that set, you know. Space funk, baby. Psychedelic space funk. Psychic astronauts, cosmonauts of outer space.
Check out Primal Scream's official website for U.S. tour dates. "More Light" is available in stores and on iTunes now.
Photo/Video credit: Getty Images, Sony Music
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