Genre-fluid Scottish band, Primal Scream, have contorted easily from psych-pop to Stonesy rock to electronica throughout their 35-year career, with guitarist Andrew Innes there alongside frontman Bobby Gillespie for almost all of that time.
The band’s forthcoming Australian tour is their first visit to our shores in two-albums-plus-five-and-a-bit years.
“Yeah, so they tell us,” Innes says affably about the time since their triumphant 2012 tour, before laughing, “I think last time we played some of the new stuff but it hadn’t been released yet so no-one knew what the hell it was! So it’ll be good to play them again and have some people know the songs.”
He’s referring to the 2013 record, More Light, which has since been followed by Chaosmosis in 2016, but it’s the nearly-30-years-old Screamadelica (1989) which is still held up as their most iconic release.
“We kind of knew it was good when we were making it,” Innes recalls. “Well, we knew it was something different. We thought it was good.”
There is a perception that drugs have been pivotal to Primal Scream’s creative process over the years, one which Innes corrects… a little, without totally dismissing it.
“Not pivotal,” he ponders, “… though undeniably Screamadelica was influenced by a scene. And ecstasy was very important to that scene. But we just thought we were doing something different – if anything it gave us the confidence to not adhere to the traditional songwriting structure of verse-chorus-verse, and do something different. Sometimes we just repeated a word or a phrase, and brought in influences like dub reggae.
“But we learnt very early on that you just can’t work under those conditions all the time,” he insists. “You can’t do it – because you don’t know whether what you’re doing is any good or not. Very early on we worked out that we needed to treat it like a job; set up our schedule where we go in for however many hours a day, six days a week, and have the discipline to do the work.”
Is there a gap between the romantic notion of the indulgent rock star, and the reality of actually trying to live that lifestyle?
“Oh Christ… that’s a… geez how long have you got – there’s no simple answer to that one!” he splutters, half laughing, before embarking on a disjointed exploration of the lifestyle of a rock’n’roll musician.
“I was talking to someone a while back,” he says at a pivotal moment, “and they reckoned that with anything – drugs, alcohol, whatever it is – you have 14 years. Fourteen years until it starts dragging you down, and it’s all over. You have to stop or you won’t make it.”
Screamadelica remains pivotal, influential and iconic – arguably more than Primal Scream’s other records – but don’t expect Innes to declare it their best album.
“Well… I know it was very much of a special time, and very close to people’s hearts because of that,” he starts. “For me though, it’s like choosing favourites amongst your children. I think with every record we’ve tried to do something different – sometimes it’s worked more than others.
“I listened to Vanishing Point recently,” he says, referring to their 1997 album which they created as a kind of alternate soundtrack to the ‘70s speedfreak road movie of the same name, “and I am not one to listen to Primal Scream records – but I was listening to Vanishing Point and I remember thinking, that was such an interesting, creative album. We really did a lot of good things on that one.”
“Yeah, Vanishing Point and XTRMNTR (2000) and Evil Heat (2002), I think of them as kind of a trilogy, if you like,” he says, agreeing with the assessment of them as vitriolic, anarchic and very punk records. “They were really good records.”
In between Screamadelica and those three was 1994’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up, an album as far removed from the MDMA dance-up of the former as they could go. Grounded in Rolling Stones riffs and funky grooves, the album saw a collaboration with Parliament Funkadelic master blaster, George Clinton.
“Well we never really worked directly with him on that record,” clarifies Innes. “We sent stuff to him, he sent it back. It was great, but it wasn’t until we were on tour in America a few years later and he got in touch and he said, ‘come down to the studio’. So we worked on two songs with him then and that was just incredible.
“He’d sing how he wanted the guitars to go, and we’d try them out until we got them how he wanted them, then he’d record them. There I was, a white guy from Scotland, and George Clinton is nodding, going, ‘yeah, you got the funk’. I could have died – it doesn’t get better than that!”
From George Clinton providing a quote good enough to adorn his gravestone, to Chaosmosis, made under stressful conditions when their long-term studio was scheduled for demolition – perhaps the very definition of the punk concept of turning chaos into art – it’s never been a dull ride for the Glaswegians.
“That’s right, we loved that place, it was such a shame,” he says, sadly. “But that’s big business for you – they have no consideration for small businesses at all. They don’t see the point in the vibrancy they foster. There were a whole lot of businesses in that building as well as ours, and we all got evicted. We were given six months’ notice, and it really spurred us on to work faster than usual, and make that record. We did seven or so songs in there, then went to Sweden and did a couple more, but it was a great experience to use the place that one last time.
“And now, in its place, are all these luxury apartments standing empty – no-one in them. They can’t sell them – I don’t even know if they’ve advertised them. It’s sad.”
Primal Scream perform at Metropolis Fremantle on Thursday, February 15, with support from SSHH. Tickets via https://tickets.oztix.com.au/Default.aspx?Event=80290