Primal Scream – Psychedelic Philosophers
Written by Marc Zanotti on 28th November, 2012
Primal Scream have been a fixture in alternative music for 30 years. Whereas many of their contemporaries have broken up, they have allowed their legacy to ferment in fondness, and then cashed in on the reunion. Primal Scream have continued to risk their reputation for the opportunity to speak their mind and incite a party.
Having spent last year revelling in the 20th anniversary of their 1991 breakthrough album Screamadelica, Primal Scream are now focused on recording what will be their 10th studio LP. Although the currently untitled record isn’t expected until autumn, Australian fans can expect Primal Scream this December for Meredith Music Festival and a national headlining tour.
Ahead of their Australian expedition, Primal Scream’s founder and frontman Bobby Gillespie took the time to talk about new band members, guest vocalists, imprisoned punk bands, and fighting the good fight at age 50.
After losing the services of bassist Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield to the re-forming Stone Roses, Primal Scream temporarily enlisted Debbie Googe from My Bloody Valentine as a touring member until a permanent replacement could be found.
In October news broke that Simone Butler was the band’s bassist of choice and the newest member of Primal Scream. Seemingly plucked from obscurity, little is known about Butler’s background.
Happy to give a little detail, Gillespie reveals that Butler’s connection with the band traces back to London’s Denmark Street and Primal Scream’s guitarist Barrie Cadogan.
“Our guitar player Barrie, we met … when he worked in Denmark Street, which is know as Tin Pan Alley … that place is quite famous in London, in the West End. In the 50s and 60s it’s where all the songwriters and where all the publishing companies were,” Gillespie reflects.
“Anyway Barrie … was working at a guitar store called Vintage and Rare, and that’s how we got Little Barrie. But Simone also worked in Vintage and Rare and we met her a couple of times in there. And we thought she’s a really cool girl and she was really friendly.”
“And [when we were] looking for a new bass player … we found out Simone could play bass. So we just gave her an audition and she was great. So that’s that, it’s that simple really.”
While the upcoming Primal Scream record will be the first to feature Butler, it also marks the return of a familiar face. Robert Plant, who previously played harmonica on Primal Scream’s 2002's The Lord Is My Shotgun, has laid down vocals for the currently untitled record.
Gillespie reveals it was a chance encounter with the Led Zeppelin singer that reunited the longtime friends and led to the new collaboration.
“One of the songs on the new album … Reality Blues … we needed a high vocal on the chorus to go with my vocal, just to give the song a lift,” explains Gillespie.
“At the start of the year I bumped into Robert in the street and he happened to be back in England for like a week … So I went to the studio … and I spoke to Andrew (Innes) and I said, ‘I’ve just seen Robert and he said if there’s anything we need him for he’s available.’”
“I think he [Plant] thought we wanted him to play harmonica coz we got him to play harmonica a few years ago on a song called The Lord Is My Shotgun … I said, ‘No, we need you to sing high. We need you to sing really high.’”
“So he came down a day later and … he nailed it. He was great and it sounds amazing on the album; it just sounds absolutely amazing. And we’re both singing together, and the voices … they go really well together. It’s hard to explain, our voices blend really beautifully I think. It’s great and he loves the track, he really digs the track.”
“He thinks he sounds like Dean Martin on acid!” (Laughter)
In August of this year Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova from the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot received a two-year sentence after being found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
Since that time Samutsevich (aged 29) has been released from prison on a two-year suspended sentence. However, Alyokhina’s (aged 24) and Tolokonnikova’s (aged 22) conviction has been upheld and the two young women will serve the remainder of their time in remote prison camps Perm and Mordovia.
The plight of Pussy Riot has gathered international attention while the likes of Madonna, Julian Assange and South Park have all shown their support for the imprisoned members of the activist group.
Primal Scream are also on the side of Pussy Riot, with Gillespie being a great admirer of the punk’s collectives’ politics and bravery.
“Anybody who challenges their system over there, they know before they challenge the system that something bad is going to happen to them,” Gillespie notes.
“It’s a heavy, heavy country and I think those girls are… they’re obviously really incredibly [intelligent] girls. They’re very well-read, they’re very cultured, you know, they’re clever and they’ve obviously got an indomitable spirit.”
“It’s like going to f**king Gulag, man, you know what I mean? It’s going to be f**king hell for them. They’re both young women in their twenties and they both have young kids and they’ve got families.”
“And all they did is nothing … in the scheme of things in Britain and Australia, you wouldn’t go to jail for that. But the full f**king weight the Russian f**king establishment came down hard on them.”
“So anybody anywhere in the world that stands up against oppression, we’re obviously going to admire. I think they’re incredibly brave, courageous girls.”
Gillespie and Primal Scream have long been known for their political and social conscious. Their identity was forged as a working class band who liked to party, but at the same time displayed a willingness to take a stance on divisive issues.
Though most bands start out with an agenda to change the world, the cushion of money and the passing of time softens both bodies and resolve. Once a band of underdogs, the prosperity of Primal Scream has transcended its members beyond the blue collar.
Despite leading a life more comfortable then when the band first began, Gillespie is adamant that Primal Scream’s convictions have not been diminished by its success.
“It’s not like we’ve made a lot of money and suddenly we want to start giving money to the conservative party … our politics are even probably more to the left,” Gillespie maintains.
“Our own government is waging extreme class war on poor people, single mothers, old-age pensioners, basically the poor, right? And although my band has done well … we’re still, we’re with the under class or the underdog.”
“I don’t have class hatred or anything like that. I don’t hate people because they’re middle class … I don’t want people to get the wrong idea.”
“[But] If you don’t think that class war is being waged then you’re a f**king idiot and you’re asleep and you’re stupid. That is what’s happening. OK, it doesn’t affect me so much, but it does affect me because I live in a country where the gap between rich and poor is becoming… it’s so extreme.”
“[If] we lived in an egalitarian society, it makes sense people would be nicer and kinder and it’d just be better for everyone. It’s just f**ked, man, you know? I mean I’m a rock and roll musician, I’m not a politician but … I’m a progressive rationalist. More for the people, more for the people having a good life.”
“We’d like to see changes in the country or the way the world is run. We don’t think what’s happening is right. We hate free market capitalism; we hate the way it crushes people by its very nature. That’s what it’s going to do, it’s going to crush people.”
“It’s going to make … f**king peasants of people…. I want to say we’re for human liberation basically … it’s going to look ridiculous in print but anyway, there you go.”
Preaching The Party…
Although the matters may be weighty, the music of Primal Scream is often of a more carefree nature. Striking a balance between preaching and partying, Gillespie attests that Primal Scream’s playful side is a natural outcome of the band’s collective character.
“It’s in us, it’s just basically that that’s part of our personalities and our characters. We want to make spiritual uplifting high-energy … orgasmic psychedelic rock and roll music.”
“That is our f**king mission, right, to basically lift people and inspire them. And that’s that; it’s pretty f**king simple … and we want to see the revolution happen, yeah.”
(Photo by Chrissie Francis)