For three decades, Primal Scream have raved, rocked and ranted in equal measure, but their emotional new album finds frontman Bobby Gillespie looking inward while aiming to make “classic, blockbuster singles”, finds Sam Richards
“This band’s been one big long art experiment,” smiles Bobby Gillespie as he sits down to contemplate Primal Scream’s 11th album, the poppy yet unexpectedly soul-baring ‘Chaosmosis’. When he started the band in Glasgow in 1982, did he ever think he’d still be unveiling new material 34 years later? “I didn’t think I’d make it to 30,” he says immediately, alluding to a former penchant for hedonism that bordered on self-destruction. And yet here he is at 53, looking as lithe and impish as ever, enthusing about his new album full of “big choruses”.
“People don’t try to make classic, blockbuster singles any more,” Bobby laments. “In the indie scene we’re in, people make good, interesting albums and then tour them and make more good, interesting albums. It’s boring. It’s so f***ing safe. What we’re doing with this record is trying to make pop singles. And even if they don’t get in the charts, at least we tried to storm the f***ing citadel!”
With that aim in mind, Bobby set about reeling in some new collaborators. The cast list makes for quite a contrast with their last album, 2013’s ‘More Light’, which boasted cameos from veterans such as Robert Plant and The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart. This time, Bobby duets with LA sisters Haim, cult pop star Sky Ferreira and Rachel Zeffira of Cat’s Eyes. “It’s quite a feminised record, not macho at all,” Bobby says. “But that’s just where we are. We feel more confident and secure in what we do.”
Ferreira was earmarked for a key role when Bobby became obsessed with her 2012 single ‘Everything Is Embarrassing’. “I played it again and again and again,” says Bobby. “She was a pop star but she was trying to make records that sounded like a cross between [New York experimentalists] Suicide and The Jesus And Mary Chain, so I was f***ing intrigued. And there was a hurt in her voice. It was like a dream working with her: amazing girl, amazing singer, amazing presence.” The wounded electropop of lead single ‘Where The Light Gets In’ was the result, pushing Primal Scream into territory never visited before.
In the past, Primal Scream lyrics have often felt a bit second-hand, collages of emotions culled from other classic records. You always knew what Bobby liked, but rarely knew how he felt. ‘Chaosmosis’ is more revealing: on the eerie bossa nova of ‘I Can Change’, Bobby admits to feeling “alone in the night” regretting “all the pain that I caused”, while ‘100% Or Nothing’ talks about “emotional violence… anger, resentment, disease in our minds”.
“I thought it was interesting to write about living together [but] apart and the pain of that situation,” explains Bobby. “It was something we’d never really done before. A lot of the songs are uptempo but the melodies we were writing were really sad, so the words had to be sad. And I carry that s**t around with me anyway.” What kind of s**t? “Well, a lot of the songs deal with disconnection or inability to communicate. Everything in society is now fractured and precarious. Your job, my job, us as individuals. We’re supposedly connected through the internet but we’re not. We’re more isolated than ever. And our album picks up on some of those themes: how isolated a person feels, even in a relationship with somebody they love.” For a moment, the ever-confident frontman looks a tiny bit forlorn. “Every time I hear somebody on the radio singing a love song I feel a bit sick. Because people just don’t get on. In my experience.”
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‘Private Wars’ is the most striking song on the album, its dolorous, folksy mood at odds with the traditional image of Primal Scream as hedonistic ravers or rabid political sloganeers. “Angry still at everyone,” sings Bobby. “Time to let it go”. A note to self? “Yeah. And it’s a hard thing to let go, because I haven’t let go of it! But I’m trying. Fifteen years ago I was like, ‘Everybody’s playing f***ing roles! I don’t trust anybody, I don’t believe anybody!’ And it was [My Bloody Valentine frontman and erstwhile Scream guitarist] Kevin Shields who said to me: ‘Most people are OK; they’re just trying to get through the day.’ It was nice. Good wisdom from Mr Shields.”
Is this a new, zen Bobby we’re seeing? Not quite – he can’t make it through the interview without railing, entertainingly, against the “mass de-politicisation of culture” and “guys in skinny jeans who just want to be famous”. But his faith in the notion that great music can soothe your soul is stronger than ever. Primal Scream’s light shines on.