Yesterday we had the opportunity to talk to Primal Scream front man Bobby Gillespie. The singer is known for his forthright and interesting opinions and he didn’t let us down. In a wide ranging interview, Gillespie talks about the process of making their new album 'More Light' and what it was like to work with Belfast producer David Holmes. He also, somewhat reluctantly, (note to self: don't ask food deprived rock stars questions they've heard hundreds of times before) told us about how former Led Zep frontman Robert Plant came to guest on the album. The Glaswegian then vented about the world we are living in today, saying, ' If you don't stand up for yourself, you're going to be a slave.' He finished the interview by giving his opinion of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, his favourite gig in Ireland and what he thought of Breaking Bad.
Where did the inspiration for this new album come from?
The inspiration was everywhere. We had this desire to make some new, challenging Primal Scream music. As soon as we finished touring the album 'Beautiful Future' in 2009 we had an urge to create and do something new and exciting. Around 2010 we started the process of rehearsing and arranging for the Screamadelica tour. We worked on that a few days a week and then set aside another couple of days to work on the 'More Light' stuff. We did some exploratory trips to David Holmes' studio in Belfast to work on some ideas we had for songs.
What was it like to work with David and what did he specifically bring to the album?
Dave was great. He's got a really good over view of things which was cool. Andrew (Innes) and myself can get a bit too engrossed in things and sometimes our little hermetic world is too sealed off and we can't see the wood from the trees, to use a well-worn cliché. So we'd work on stuff and send it to Dave and he'd say whether he thought it was right or wrong and whether we were headed in the right direction. He had a distance from the music which was really helpful and he had a lot of really good ideas that provoked us into writing songs. He's got a great record collection and he play's really cool stuff and before you'd know it we'd have an idea for a song.
David Holmes wasn't your only famous collaborator on this album of course as you had Robert Plant provide guest vocals on 'Elimination Blues,' how did that come about?
Robert's a friend of ours. He played harmonica on an album of ours called 'Evil Heat' back in 2001, and we're friends, and em, he em,….Oh God, this story.
Have you had to tell this story a million times?
Ya, I'm just really shattered today to be honest. I have to get some food. Low blood sugar ya know. I really can't miss meals. Anyway, I was sitting in a cafe near our studio and Robert happened to walk past with his girlfriend so I banged on the window and ran out. We had a chat and he was cool and asked how the band were doing. He said he was only in London till Thursday and if I needed him for anything to get in touch. So when I went to the studio later I spoke to Andrew and we looked at each other and had a 'light bulb' moment and thought 'Elimination Blues.' We had recorded this track and there was something missing in the production, we needed something to finish it off and that something was Robert Plant! (laughs)
It's nice to be friends with one of the greatest singers of all time I guess?
Ya, we needed a high vocal and we had a girl do it but it didn't really work. I think my voice and Robert's fit really well together actually.
Ya it's a great track. It seems like such a brave choice in this day and age to begin an album with a 9 minute song and then a 7 minute song?
Well the great thing about Holmes was that he had a very strong opinion about how the record was sequenced and he came up with the sequence for the record and I agreed with him, I thought it was great. Andrew Innes had a different one which I didn’t think worked and Holmes' one just worked right off the bat. He's a DJ ya know? He just knows about this stuff.
The first song '2013' begins with the line '21st century slaves' and finishes with you repeating the line 'truth & lies.' What provoked you to write such powerful lyrics?
Well if you look at the situation that we're in and the so called Democratic f*cking West, they want to create a precariat, which is a class of people who live a precarious existence. There's no job security, no contract, zero hours, that's what they want, that's the perfect conditions for capitalism. That's where we're headed. If you don't stand up for yourself, they're just gonna f*cking steam roll ya and that's what's happening to people. They don't want workers, or anybody, to have any rights and so that line is saying, 'If you don't stand up for yourself, you're going to be a slave'
Ya, when you talk about standing up for yourself I'm reminded of what Thom Yorke said recently about Spotify and how it's not a positive force for artists. How do you view something like Spotify and the fact that you can listen to your albums for free?
It's a weird one. I don't really think about it too much. When it first came out I used it a little bit but I'm old fashioned. I like to go to record stores, talk to the people, build up a relationship, ask them if there's anything they can recommend. I like to buy stuff, buy a record or a cd. Duffy, our keyboard player, is on Spotify all the time and he's stopped buying music. I saw what Thom Yorke said, but I actually don't f*cking know. I don't know what anything means anymore. I don't know what bands mean. I don't know what albums mean. Spotify is just part of the whole meaninglessness of the music business (laughs). It means something to me as an artist, I love playing gigs and I love writing music and the whole process of writing and arranging the songs, and the album artwork and I love doing interviews, it's what I've been doing my entire life. But it doesn't mean what it meant 10 or 15 years ago. It just a meaningless debate I think. We've just made an amazing record and it doesn’t really get any radio play. There's no place for this kind of music to be played. You need big radio hits to get high places at festivals and all the rest of it. I wish there was a huge underground scene, I don't know if we're underground 'cause we've had hits but we do make underground music.
I almost feel like I know the answer to this question now, but what do you think of the current state of music, with the huge popularity of people like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber?
That's not music. I'm more interested in bands like Deerhunter and the Allah-Las and I think Laura Marling's new album is fantastic. There's a lot of great American underground music that I love. I never liked that mainstream shite. I'm not a mainstream person. I'm from the underground, I'm from post-punk. I love hit records from bands like T-Rex or The Stones, or Bowie, when weird people were getting hits. Weird people don’t get mainstream hits anymore.
People who make sex tapes get mainstream hits.
Exactly, that's exactly what it is.
So do you ever worry about who your record will appeal to?
No. We just made the record that we wanted to make. We tried to make an art record and write about stuff that was bothering us.
I suppose you've been around for so long that you're past the point of worrying about who is going to listen to it?
Well you don’t worry about it but you hope there's going to be an audience for it. You hope there's a big enough audience to earn a living from it. You've just got to follow your instincts and do what you feel is the right thing. You can't think 'oh let's try and make Screamadelica 2' and I wouldn’t want to do that anyway. Records are a product of their time. Srcreamadelica was a zeitgeist record. It’s got the energy of the time it was made in. There's a good energy to it 'cause it was a good time. There's an innocence to it and a charm that people respond to and pick up on. I don’t know. I don’t know why people like f*cking records. You've just got to make a record that reflects the time, I just want to write about my time.
You're due to play in Ireland in a few weeks time. What are your past experiences of playing over here?
I love it.
Any venue in particular that you prefer?
I just like Ireland. I like the people. The O2 in Dublin was amazing when we did the Screamadelica gig. That was maybe the best gig we've ever played in Ireland.
Do you think the O2 was a big upgrade on The Point?
(laughs) It's better than The Point. The Point was a bit weird.
You choose to end the album with a song entitled 'It's Alright, It's Ok' which seems like quite a positive message?
The lyrics are not. The lyrics are the opposite of that. It's kind of sarcastic really. But it's kind of not sarcastic either. It's ambiguous. It's about a situation that's not alright. It's like a sad angry love song.
I noticed you have the lyrics printed on the inlay card of your cd, you don't see that much anymore?
Ya, we've never put lyrics on the records ever. On the XTRMNTR album we printed the lyrics to the song 'Exterminator' and only that song 'cause I thought they were really great lyrics and I was proud of them. I really like the lyrics on this record and I worked hard on them so I felt they should be out there.
Also the photo of you on the front of the cover is interesting. Are you impersonating a bull of some sort?
(laughs) I don't know if it was a bull, I think it was some kind of devil. I don’t know. We were rehearsing and Niall O'Brien, who's from Dublin actually, was doing a photographic record of our band and he was standing in the corner and I just got carried away and ran up and I did that pose into the camera. So when we did that album sleeve I sent a bunch of photographs to the artist and he picked that one. I think it's quite good.
You seem to have flowers on your shirt that match the flowers that surround you as well?
I never noticed that before actually. Oh well done, you've just pointed something out to me there!
Probably the perfect place to end the interview then. One question before you go, completely off topic, have you watched Breaking Bad?
Ya I have.
Have you seen the final episode from last night?
No I was watching a Lee Perry documentary last night. My wife's more into than I am. I got bored with it to be honest.
That's a pretty controversial statement.
F*cking right. Anyway I've done crystal meth so I know what it's all about.
That's a whole other interview right there, I'm sure you don’t want to get into that.
Ya I don’t want to talk about that. We used to get it from Kurt Cobain's baby sitter and I'm not gonna tell you anymore.
And with that tantalising statement we finished up the interview. Maybe someday we'll revisit the Kurt Cobain baby sitter angle and get the full story of how and why a baby sitter was selling crystal meth to a Scottish rock star.
Primal Scream's album 'More Light' is out now and they play the following dates in Ireland with support from 'Le Galaxie'
Limelight Belfast - Thursday 24th October
Leisureland Galway - Saturday 26th October
Olympia Dublin - Sunday 27th October
Opera House Cork - Monday 28th October