From provocative and confrontational socio-political opener "2013" to inspirational lullaby-like closer "It's Alright, It's OK," Primal Scream's new album "More Light" takes listeners on a psychedelic pleasure trip across a range of subjects, emotions, and musical styles: garage rock, dream pop, and techno, just to name a few. Well written by vocalist Bobby Gillespie and guitarist Andrew Innes, the band's first album in five years, featuring guest appearances from Robert Plant and My Bloody Valentine mastermind Kevin Shields, is also their highest-charting in the U.S. thus far, cracking the Top 20.
Best known stateside for their tracks "Loaded," "Come Together," and "Movin' on Up" off the groundbreaking "Screamadelica" (1991) album and "Rocks" off "Give Out But Don't Give Up" (1994), as well as for their notorious drug excesses, Scottish alterna-band Primal Scream is back in the U.S. for the first time in four years, on a West Coast mini-tour. Download.com caught up with singer Bobby Gillespie between rehearsals to get the lowdown on the new album and tour, the band's craziest drug-addled escapade, and the singer's iPhone apps.
What can you tell us about the West Coast tour?
We're going to play songs from the last 23 years. From "Screamadelica," "XTRMNTR," and "Evil Heat," up until the new album. It's a big set list and the band sounds great. So we're going to pick songs from most of the records that we made and create a hi-NRG, psychedelic rock 'n' roll set list. We're playing better than ever and the band is on fire.
I read in the press notes that the new Primal Scream album, "More Light" is about coming out of a dark time. Would you elaborate on that?
That came from an interview I did with a friend of mine who was writing a press release that was a paraphrase of something I said; I don't know if I said it exactly as he said it, but it was quoted. Not really, though. I don't know how to answer that. I think he made more of it than he should have.
The track "2013" is about a lot of the craziness going on in the world right now and how we're very distracted by consumerism and media. I'm curious; do you feel like people are too focused on their apps and iPhones right now to take in the bigger picture?
Lately people just seem disconnected from each other, in general. I'm as bad as anyone else when it comes to buying clothes and records and books and DVDs. I'm kind of guilty of that stuff, but it seems like there's people who don't look beyond the image or the illusion or the screen. It seems like we're living in right-wing revolutionary times, but they're blind to that.
And I may be wrong, but it seems to me like there's less culture. There was more dissent in the past; when you hear punk records or post-punk records, there was a huge critique of society, whether it was a feminist critique or a left-wing Marxist critique. There was some kind of anger there and a critique of what was going on in the world. It seems to not be in music anymore. That's what I was commenting on.
Media has gone insane with iPhones and computer screens and tablets and you're bombarded with these images of all sorts of stuff and advertisers understand the power of an image to suggest, distract, and alter the way people think. It seems people are just equalized now. Where are the freaks in rock 'n' roll? Everyone seems very smug and self-satisfied -- like there's no edge to anything anymore. Where are the confrontational artists in music? The last one was probably Kurt Cobain.
Speaking of culture, I read that the track "Culturecide," was conceived on a train ride through Harlem. I'm curious; what was it about that experience that inspired that song?
You know it's the same as if you get a train in London and go through the housing estates and you can see into people's houses, and from the safety of the train, see the area and see the desolation. So it was really just commenting on that. But most people don't notice, because they're just riding from home to work or work to home, on their iPhones or tablets -- and I'm sure it's the same in America if you drive around. I'm just trying to create an image.
Do you have an iPhone or iPad?
Which apps are on your iPhone?
Well, you know what? I don't really use them, but I'll have a look and see [looks at iPhone]. People keep telling me about the drum machine app, FunkBox, so I downloaded it, but I've never used it. I've got Shazam, but I've only used it three times. I've got Camera+ and I've used that and my kid uses FunkBox.
I don't really use them. I mostly use the telephone to send texts or calls, e-mails, and that's it. It's quite simple. And then I photograph a lot of things on this phone and the photos are really good.
Let's switch gears. Primal Scream has had a lot of ups and downs over the years.
Yeah, mostly ups [laughs]. I mean, creatively...
Check out a recent live performance of "Rocks"!
There were always so many crazy reports about Primal Scream's in-fighting and drug use. If you had to narrow it down to one, what was the band's biggest interpersonal drama of all time?
It's been mostly pretty good. In the 80's there was some crazy stuff, where myself and Andrew, the guitar player, were in Memphis, recording at a studio. One of the old guitar players Robert Young and the keyboard player Martin Duffy had went back to England, and I think Robert had a heroin problem and that's why he went back to England. He got involved in some bad stuff.
And they were going to come back to Memphis via New York. So they were in New York and he and Martin Duffy were sitting in a bar and had been up for two days and a manager had told Robert, "Your buddy's over there's bleeding...that little guy's bleeding." So they took him to the toilet and he dropped his trousers and he had a huge, fu#king wound in his backside, between his back and his ass. But they were all so fu#ked up they called him a cab, and on the way to hospital they got out of the cab so they could score more drugs. And then when they got him to hospital, the three were in such a state that they had to call the police because he didn't know what happened to him or where he had been. They thought it was a serious assault, so the police were called and then the guitar player and manager were arguing with the hospital staff so they were thrown off hospital premises.
So long story, they were so out of it, they tried to get Martin out of the hospital in some kind of dressing gown-type thing; and they were trying to make it back to Memphis, but they wouldn't allow them on the plane, because it was a bleeding guy, who was wasted with other guys completely wasted.
So they called us in Memphis and I picked up and Robert was screaming, "We're in New York and Duffy's been shot in the ass." I started laughing and then Robert started screaming at me, because he basically snapped at that point. And then I said to the rest of the guys, "Duffy's been shot in the ass" and they started laughing, as well. Robert heard the laughter and freaked out, so he never made it to Memphis [laughs]. So they had to send him back to England. Apparently they found [drugs] on him and he had to go back to England and see a specialist. But I don't think that story was dramatic or traumatic. I think it was funny.
So what's the band's stance on drugs today?
My stance is I don't take them. I've been clean for five years, but I'm happy for everyone else in the world to take drugs and drink if they want. It's none of my business. I just can't do it anymore. There's no real stance. Other guys in the band still like a little drink at a party, but not in the way that they used to. There's no stance. It's just my personal choice. But onstage everyone's completely straight. So we do good shows and no one's messed up or fu#ked up. After the shows, a couple of the guys might have a couple beers, but no freebasing like in the old days.
Check out Primal Scream's latest video for "It's Alright, It's OK":
Primal Scream Fall Tour Dates
10/11/13 -- Regency Ballroom -- San Francisco, CA
10/13/13 -- Fonda -- Los Angeles, CA
10/14/13 -- Glass House -- Pomona, CA
10/15/13 -- Belly Up -- San Diego, CA