BN1 chats with… Primal Scream

It’s no secret that drugs and a general disdain for the state of modern society have, for a large part, fuelled Glaswegian rockers Primal Scream throughout their 34-year career. After all, for a lengthy period, their name had become almost synonymous with the excesses of rock ‘n’ roll and acid house experimentation. And yet, on the brink of releasing their 11th studio album (and third album sober, since 2008’s ‘Beautiful Future’) the foursome is set to return with their freshest album to date. With ‘Chaosmosis’ dropping on Fri 18 March, we sat down to chat with frontman Bobby Gillespie about the album’s surprising direction, his ‘Screamadelica’ days in Brighton, their upcoming headline appearance at Secret Garden Party, and to shout down anyone afraid that they’d lost their edge…

If you’ve heard the album’s first single ‘Where the Light Gets In’, featuring American singer-songwriter Sky Ferreira, you may already have noticed the difference in the band’s startling direction for ‘Chaosmosis’. While there are certainly still those elements there that make it a quintessential Primal Scream album (which, by Gillespie’s admission, is “definitely a pop record but with a darker twist”), there’s so much more that we haven’t heard from the band before – including catchier synth-led hooks, backing vocals from California pop-rock trio Haim, and a generally more electronically-influenced sound than ever before.

“It has a real clean, high-energy sound to it,” agrees Gillespie, on the album that has been described as a wild mixture of angry and euphoric. He’s quick to dismiss the sense that the album may stray too much from previous efforts though, revealing its themes don’t deviate from the band’s (and Gillespie’s) renowned personal and political influences. “We were inspired by the idea of facing a depressive realism; the whole idea was about making a record just full of existential truths. The lyrics are pretty direct, so I don’t think people will have a difficult time working out what they’re about.”

Gillespie has always been quick to draw on his existence in the song writing process, and ‘Chaosmosis’ is certainly no exception. From the anthemic ‘100% or Nothing’ to ‘Private Wars’ (“make your life an open book / the choice is yours to make”), each word appears like a reflection of his own psyche. According to the frontman, even the title has a profound meaning: “[‘Chaosmosis’] is a really cool way of describing the creative process. If you’re an artist, and a very sensitive person, you can’t help but absorb images, sounds, events (good and bad), into your consciousness. This stuff is all overwhelming; you can’t decode it.

“It might make you feel bad, or angry, or depressed, about the state of things, about the state of the world, about the state of your relationships; your own psychic state, your own spiritual state. The process of pooling all of that emotional stuff into an artwork… That will strengthen you against the whole every day fucking chaos of your world.”

This sensitivity explains their collaborations with Haim and Sky Ferreira, whose lyrics can be equally as candid and reflective. But it was a collaboration that very nearly didn’t happen; scheduling conflicts meant every second spent recording was based purely on luck. However, the band was undeterred, and what’s resulted is an album where each member of Primal Scream really has given 100%. Gillespie adds, “Everything’s come together pretty magically. It was totally full-on, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

It’s an ethic which has followed the band through their career. Spanning four decades, it’s much longer than most bands can accomplish, something Gillespie attributes to the work-hard, play-hard principles of the earlier stages of their career: “Andrew [Innes, guitarist] and I are always trying to make music – we go in the studio five days a week when we’re not on tour. Being an artist, it’s the only way you can validate yourself, by making new work that’s relevant to yourself today. I couldn’t be one of those artists that that doesn’t do anything new for five years, or ten years, or 20 years. To me, that’s not being an artist. You’ve got to keep working.”

Gillespie seems like the kind of man who doesn’t make a habit of dwelling in the past, yet at the same time revels in the memorable moments of the band’s career. He’s quick to gloss over the band’s well-documented drug use (“it’s an old story; there’s no point in talking about it”), but is all too excitable when I tell him about Brighton’s The Zap club-based urban myth involving him: “a vending machine full of ecstasy? Well yeah, that sounds fun!” Despite a long day of interviews (we’re breaking 3pm by this point), he’s incredibly chatty about our fair city, and waxes lyrical about the time he spent here in Brighton – both during the early 90s, and again during the ‘Screamadelica’ tour in 2011.

“I was around Brighton for a while during the time of acid house – it was great. I used to DJ in The Zap club with a girl called Laney, who was amazing, back in the summer of 1990. If there was a vending machine full of ecstasy, I’d never seen it. But then, even if I did see it I wouldn’t say. It’s a great story though, whoever made that up.

“Last time I was down, when we did the recent ‘Screamadelica’ dates… I remember walking along the seafront, up to Regency Square past the basement I lived in there, up Preston Street… And I felt a real kind of glow. I guess because it was the 2011 ‘Screamadelica’ tour, and those songs were written when I lived in Brighton [the first time]. It brought back a lot of really good memories. I loved living in Brighton – it’s amazing, a fantastic city.”

While the band sadly won’t be returning to Brighton this year, they’re set to headline Cambridgeshire’s Secret Garden Party this summer – something Gillespie is all too excited about. “We can’t wait to play there. I haven’t been before, but Andrew and Simone [Butler, bassist] have DJed there. I’m just going to go and rock it – I could do with some fun. There’s not a lot of pressure this year, as we’ve got such a great record – I think it’ll be great.”

Primal Scream release ‘Chaosmosis’ on Fri 18 March. They also headline Secret Garden Party Thurs 21 – Sun 24 July, 2016.

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