Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie says modern rock fails to make any meaningful impact
Interviewing Bobby Gillespie isn’t like interviewing most people. The 55-year-old Primal Scream frontman has a charming disregard for the atypical interview “game”. Or, he simply chooses to ignore its commonly-understood conventions.
Questions to Gillespie become superfluous because his answers are so tangential, often irrelevant and lengthy. But they are honest, open, unfiltered and entertaining ramblings, even amusingly admitting how much he’s enjoying this himself, as he rocks and rolls. His overarching theme of today, by the way, is that modern music is culturally irrelevant
“I just think it’s harder and harder for anyone who’s more extreme to break through into the mainstream anymore,” he rails. “There’s no danger, excitement or experimentation in mass-market music. I was listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival this morning for an hour before you called, and that guy, John Fogarty, really captured the spirit of the times. You can hear the paranoia, the dread, the excitement, the sensuality of dark, heavy f—ing times in America and the world. And that band was huge, they lived at the top of the charts. There’s no mass-market band today that’s capturing the fear, dread, paranoia and the violence in the world. Rock music is completely f—ing irrelevant because it doesn’t mirror what’s happening in the world.”
Gillespie, a legendary former hedonist who is a decade clean and sober now, grew up with power and danger in rock music – the Stooges, MC5, Bowie – so his disappointment is palpable.
His entertaining, near-uninterruptible interview-length manifesto covers off issues like why the best bands are constantly recording and touring (“Anyone can build up 10 songs that are pretty good if you write one f—king song a year”) provides a blow-by-blow overview of the stylistic swings of Primal Scream’s era of Screamadelica to XTRMNTR albums (a golden era, talk as long as you like, Bobby!) and opening up lyrically on latest album Chaosmosis (“I had previously shut myself down and also maybe had a fear of revealing myself … and I became a better songwriter”).
Primal Scream’s albums have veered deliriously from one style to the next – from the indie shoegaze of Sonic Flower Groove (1987), acid-house zeitgeist landmark Screamadelica (1991) and retro-rock Give Out But Don’t Give Up (1994), to the cinematic dub-of Vanishing Point (1997) and visceral punk-rave anger of XTRMNTR (2000) and Evil Heat (2002). And there’s still another four albums and 15 years that came after those.
It’s been two years since the Scream released their 11th LP, Chaosmosis, another of their “art experiments” – this time, in writing surprisingly concise pop songs.
That’s a big left turn from a band (remaining constants are Gillespie and guitarist Andrew Innes) who have spent 35 years sticking up a middle finger to any misguided notions that a record label will get a hit out of them. Playing that particular game wasn’t for Primal Scream, Gillespie says.
“In the ’90s, we toured a lot and we were on Sony (Music) and certain things were expected,” he recalls. “There was a certain route to big success – touring a certain way and you played the game and did all of the interviews and the meet-and-greets, but we just kind of thought that this isn’t really for us. So, we cut back, built a studio in London and spent time there trying to write songs using different compositional methods.”
He’s just starting to get going now, but unfortunately time’s up and Gillespie is reluctantly interrupted and informed we need to wrap up.
“Oh … oh … what? Oh shit … I’m so sorry,” Gillespie coos. “What a shite way to do an interview. You hardly got a word in! I’m really sorry.”
Don’t be sorry, Bobby. We could listen to this all day.
Primal Scream play Metropolis, Perth, on Thursday, February 15; HQ, Adelaide, on Friday, February 16; Forum Theatre, Melbourne on Sunday, February 18; Enmore Theatre, Sydney, on Tuesday, February 20; and The Tivoli, Brisbane, on Wednesday, February 21.