Primal Scream: The Greatest Rock ’N’ Roll Band On The Planet Speaks

We caught up with Bobby Gillepsie, a.k.a. the feistiest 50-year-old you'll ever know.

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Jun 19 2013, 6:10pm

Bobby Gillespie may be 50-years-old, but he has every bit of the vitality that his 20-year-old self had when he formed Primal Scream in 1982. Aside from some age lines on the face, he also looks virtually the same as that kid. Through all of the years of sex, (lots of) drugs (and booze), and rock ’n’ roll, Bobby G. has never lost his ravenous appetite for making music. Primal Scream is a rock ’n’ roll band on paper, sure, but despite archetypal rocker-look, they are innovators.

Primal Scream’s latest album, More Light, is probably their best in 13 years. Gillespie says they’re “just making music for the moment." Now free of the major label fuck-ups some may say prevented the band from dominating North America they way they do the UK, they have found new life on their own label, First International.

Bobby spoke to Noisey about being 50 years young, losing his bassist to Stone Roses, supporting Depeche Mode on the worst tour ever, and why he isn’t as controversial as the British press makes him out to be.

Noisey: How does it feel to be 50?
Bobby Gillespie: It feels good. We made a great album, one of the best of our career. We’re making better albums. We’ve got a great live band. We’re playing better than we’ve ever played. Age is not a problem. It’s only a problem if it’s in your mind, if you’re hung up about it. I’ve never been hung up about it. I just always have a good time. I’m always just trying to be a good artist and make good records, y’know?

Your peers My Bloody Valentine and Stone Roses recently reunited, seemingly for good. But Primal Scream never split. What is your secret to longevity? Why has Primal Scream lasted?
We’ve got a real love of music. We’ve always had a real need to express ourselves, and a real enjoyment of playing music, rock ‘n’ roll. We play sincerely. We play it really well. And it’s always been an exploratory, experimental thing for us. We like to play high-energy rock ‘n’ roll, but we also like to make experimental pop music as well. We love pop music, but we love when it gets weird and strange and a bit odd and psychedelic. The process for us has always been that way. We’re delighted to surprise ourselves.

The band’s lineup has always been quite fluid. How important is inviting new musicians into the fold in order to keep the band creative?
It’s kinda like Parliament/Funkadelic. George Clinton had a huge pool of musicians to draw upon. But whoever played in the band, it always sounded like Funkadelic. And that’s the way Primal Scream is. It always sounds like Primal Scream. We’ve got style and an attitude, and we just make it work with whoever we play with. The Fall were kind of the same.

I doubt the former members of Primal Scream feel the same animosity towards you as the former members of the Fall do towards Mark E. Smith though.
Well, yeah. What I’m trying to say though is that Kevin [Shields] was in the band from 1998 to 2006. That’s eight years. Mani was in the band from 1996 to 2011. Ian Brown said to me, “Mani was in the Scream longer than he was in the Roses!” This was about a few years ago. We’ve got a real stable lineup, we’re good with musicians. The way we make records in the studio and the live band are kind of two different things. We always approach it differently. The live thing is a performance and the studio is an art-based thing.

How much of a blow was it to lose Mani to Stone Roses?
I wouldn’t say I saw it coming, but I wouldn’t say I was surprised either. He always wanted it to happen. That’s what he was after. It was kinda like a dream that he had. It was unfinished business for him; he wanted them all to be friends again. And I’m happy for them all. They’re a great band and great guys. I love Mani, and I’m very close to him. It was sad when he left, but life goes on. We were always gonna make the album the way it turned out. It wasn’t gonna affect our songwriting or the creative process. We’ve got a new bass player, Simone Butler, so it’s cool. Everybody’s happy.

More Light sounds like the most comprehensive Scream album. It seems to have a bit of everything you guys have done over the years. What do you think?
I don’t know. We’re just making music for the moment. We’re not trying to re-tread any old ground. I think this is a very contemporary rock record. Obviously there are inflections and a style of writing songs, but that’s a Primal Scream style – we sound like us. So maybe that’s what you mean. But we’ve never made a song like “River of Pain” or “Tenement Kid” before.

Primal Scream records always sound like Primal Scream, but they never sound like one another. They always sound very different.
We’ve never wanted to make the same album twice. We always want to try new stuff because we get bored easily. As artists I wouldn’t feel like we were moving forward if we kept making the same record. It’s just something that we choose to do. The Beatles, Zeppelin, they always did something new with every record. They’re people we admire. We’re not trying to emulate them, but I think it’s unusual that some bands make the same record again and again and again and again. But I’m not gonna criticize anyone for doing that. We particularly like to do different stuff and take different approaches to songwriting because it’s exciting.

What did you get from doing the Screamadelica 20th anniversary gigs?
We got a lot of love from the audiences all over the world. We got a lot of work out of it. It was initially two gigs and then it became a world tour. It was incredible. It was really good for our confidence, to play to sold out shows all over the world. To play high up on festival bills. We had fun playing the record because we’d never played it in its entirety before. Back in ’91 and ’92, we only played half the album live. We never played any of the ballads, only the up-tempo stuff. So it was really cool to make those work in a live context. And we had a six-piece gospel choir, horn section, films and a light show.

Why didn’t that tour come to North America?
We really wanted to do it and we almost did it. Unfortunately it was a financial thing. It would have cost us a lot of money to bring over. We would have had to make the North American tour coincide with a South American tour and it would have made sense to do that. For some reason they couldn’t make it work, which was sad because I really wanted to come over. But we will with this album, hopefully, because we love touring the States. We love America. We love American music. And we have a lot of fans over there. It’s a big deal for me to play in the States because a lot of our musical heroes come from there.

I’m actually Canadian.
Oh fuck, sorry man! I’ve done so many of these interviews today. Shit, you did say you were from Toronto at the start! I’m really, really sorry. When you said North America… I’m really sorry about that. We like playing Toronto and Vancouver as well [Laughs]. I’m sorry man, that was a bad one. If we go to the States, we will come to Canada.

How does it feel being on your own label now, First International?
I love it. It’s great. It’s great. We’ve licensed our album to Ignition Records in England, which is Noel Gallagher’s management company. They’re incredible. A great bunch of people that love the band and really care about the record. We couldn’t have set this record up any better. Believe me, I’ve been doing this for a very long time. These guys are just fucking the best.

More of a cult band in North America.
Yeah. It’s because we never did the proper touring. We just never made it over to do the tour. In the ’90s we never really put it together. We came in ’92 after Screamadelica, and we came in ’94 and then not again until 2000. And in between we’d released another album, Vanishing Point. And then we hadn’t come back until 2008, Beautiful Future. Is that right? We did a couple of gigs in San Francisco and L.A. in 2003, Coachella maybe. You’ve got to keep coming back, do three tours and build up a fan base. We never did that for multiple reasons… which I don’t want to go into. But we might have got burnt out and not have made records as good as Vanishing Point and XTRMNTR. We did have a lot of problems in the ’90s.

I remember you came with Depeche Mode in 1994.
That was fucking terrible! It was awful. Awful. Well, Depeche were great and they treated us real well, but at that point the Primal Scream and Depeche Mode audiences weren’t made for each other. It wasn’t working, let me tell you. I knew it from the very first gig. Our record company and our management talked us into doing the tour, and two gigs in I was like, “This ain’t gonna work, man.” And we still had 11 more weeks of it. It just wasn’t gonna work. It wasn’t gonna work.

Listen man, I know how to work an audience and we got no reaction from the Depeche fans for the whole fucking tour. It was a waste of time. It would have been better if we had done our own tour, playing clubs. We were playing a 45-minute set to a half-fucking-filled auditorium, y’know? For the teenage goth girls. It was not happening, man.

You played Canada’s Wonderland here in Toronto, which is an amusement park.
Were you there?

My wife was.
Did she like it?

Um.
She fucking hated it! She thought we sucked.

Wikipedia has a Bobby Gillespie page with a section titled "Controversy."
It’s probably a load of shit! The thing is, I don’t look at Wikipedia, but I put my name into the internet because I wanted to see if there were some photographs of me and my wife at an event. And my name came up with a name like Bobby Allan Roger Gillespie—I don’t have any middle names! So if they’ve got that wrong probably the rest of it’s wrong too. Sorry, what else did you want to say?

Well, I’m just wondering how you feel about being depicted as a controversial figure?
Aww, jeez. I don’t think that. The only reason why people think I’m controversial is because I’ve got opinions about stuff. Nobody’s got opinions anymore. Everyone is so bland and conservative. So I don’t think I’m that controversial. But maybe in comparison to people who are making music at the moment, I may come across as such. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, man.

Finally, think we’ll ever get a career-spanning documentary on Primal Scream? Is there footage?
There is footage, but I think at some point it will happen. I definitely think it will happen. We’ll just see. I don’t know when, but it will happen.

It feels like you guys will be around forever.
I hope so.

Cam Lindsay loves to scream. He's on Twitter — @yasdnilmac