Interview: Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie talks Oz tour

Indie fans take note: Acid house favourites Primal Scream are heading down under in February of 2018 for their Screamadelica tour. Promising a comprehensive greatest hits set comprising tracks from 1991’s powerhouse album of the same name, this will be one of the unmissable tours of the summer. Consummate rock star and all-round nice guy Bobby Gillespie recently chatted to us about, among other things, his career highlights, musical background, and penchant for vintage typewriters. Enjoy!

SR:    What’s 2017 been like for you so far, Bobby?

BG:   It’s been okay, you know. I’ve been kinda trying to find a way into the future, creatively. That’s always an interesting and sometimes a frustrating thing to attempt. But I think we’ve got some direction for new music. And we did concerts all summer. So far it’s been okay. It’s a good question. It makes you think.

SR:   If you had to pick one word to characterise it, what would you choose?

BG: I almost said ‘slight imbalance’, but that’s not it. ‘Realisation.’ See, that could be good or bad—it’s open to interpretation. Sorry to be vague (laughs).

SR:   Open-ended. I like that. Well, you released Chaosmosis last year which is a great album. When do expect to start work on new material? 

BG:   We started writing this year. We’ve got a bunch of songs. We’ve got 10 or 11 songs written.

SR: What’s been inspiring you?

BG: Oh, they’re quite emotional songs, I think. They’re not political or angry or anything. They’re more internalised, maybe. I’m still  back on ‘realisation’.

(Both laugh).

But it’s a good question. I think the material and our worldview were both kind of hardcore in terms of trying to state the facts. It’s good. There were no flights of fancy. We were trying to record things as they are, I guess. I think just generally, with words, the idea is to make things clearer and more direct–just lay it out, you know? I must say that with lyrics, and especially the lyrics of soul songs, blues songs, and country and western songs, they’re direct, emotional, and honest. There’s no fucking about. There’s no meat on the bones. It’s hard to be that simple and that direct. At the same time, it can be poetic and it can also really hit people emotionally. But it’s hard to write like that. It’s not just because you’re revealing yourself. I’ts also because you’re playing with language. I guess if you’re not using metaphors and imagery, it’s hard to get the balance sometimes when you’re writing. And I mean, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll song and you can say anything you want. That’s the freedom. Sometimes it works and sometimes, you know, it doesn’t. I guess sometimes things are so personal and so raw that you write in code. You write in a way where you express the situation and your feelings, but in a way, you protect yourself.

SR:   When you’re not writing specifically for an album, are you the sort of person who puts their thoughts down in poetry or in a journal, for instance?

BG:   Yeah. I kind of just write everything down on bits of paper or Post-It pads.. Or rip off a bit of newspaper… I’ll be in a restaurant and a couple of lines will come into my head and I’ll put the image down on a receipt or something. Or when the waiter takes the order, I’ll ask them for a bit of paper. Then I write it down and put it away in a drawer (laughs).

SR: Oh, so you have all these fragments? Do you keep them all?

BG:   Yeah, yeah. I’ve got a folder now. I used to just throw them in my drawer. But about two weeks ago, my wife said, ‘Look, you’ve got to clear up these two drawers.’ You couldn’t open the drawers they were just so full of stuff. So I sat down and cleared the drawers out. I bought these folders from the stationers to put the bits of paper in. What I found were lyrics for the last album (laughs). They were all on different bits and pieces. I kept them because they were the beginnings of songs. So then I go from there to the typewriter when I get an idea. I just start typing it all out.

SR: Which model?

BG: Oh, I’ll tell you exactly which model. Actually, I’ve got three. I’ve got a Smith Corona in the studio, which is good. And then I’ve got a Silver Reed. I think I’ve got two Silver Reeds. I’ve got a seventies one and a nineties one. The nineties one’s buggered. The nineties one’s fantastic but I went to use it one day and it was stuck. The other one was recently acquired but it’s a bit fucked as well. (Looks at the machine and confirms it’s a seventies Silver Reed). It’s hard to get someone who can fix them as well. There’s a guy up the street who’s got a sort of second-hand store. Maybe he fixes them. The guy I bought the Smith Corona from, right? He has a really nice shop and I brought it in and he has lots of vintage typewriters and they’re all in beautiful condition. But I went to see him recently and he was gone, so that’s a bummer because he could fix up these two Silver Reeds that are a bit fucked up.

SR:  What was the motivation behind buying them, Bobby? Were they models that favourite authors used or anything like that?

BG: Well, not really. When I was younger I always had typewriters. I had my mother’s typewriter. She was a secretary and had a typewriter at home so I used to use it when I was a teenager, writing poetry and stuff (laughs). I had one in the nineties but I don’t know what happened to that. Then these…the nineties Silver Reed that I found… I just found that in a shop in the West End of London—in Mayfair, I think. I bought that and it got knackered and then I’d seen the Smith Corona. I think I bought the Smith Corona because I heard Warren Zevon singing the song Carmelita and he says ‘I pawned my Smith Corona and I went down to meet my man, He hangs out down on Alvarado Street by the Pioneer chicken stand.’ But there’s also a version of the song that goes ‘I pawned my Smith and Wesson’ (laughs). Which do you think was the original lyric? So, I thought, ‘I’m going to get a Smith Corona.’ And they’re good. They’re hard to get. You go on eBay and look for typewriters. Not a lot of people are using them.

SR: I like how old school you are.

BG: Yeah, I like the physicality of it and I like the way it looks. I like hitting the keys, making mistakes, and getting the Tipp-Ex out (laughs). When I write lyrics for songs, I put them in a plastic sheet and they sit on the shelf. And there are all these new words and ideas. I bought  those folders recently, so there’s some semblance of order. I mean, I don’t know if the lyrics are any good, but I’m trying (laughs).

SR: Based on your track record, I’m quite confident they will be.

BG: It’s more about stealing, the overall feeling, you know?

SR: Which of your own lines are you proudest of?

BG: Oh God. I’m not sure, really. I can’t remember (laughs). I couldn’t remember some lines I’d written the other day and I just thought, ‘Oh God, your brain is just damaged.’ I think there was too much speed in the eighties and nineties. Apparently with heroin addicts it doesn’t affect them, you know. Their memories are alright. On speed, you burn out your brain.

Oh, and I had a guy who lived next door who was a poet. Sometimes I used to go down to the coast to Dorset and there was a guy who lived close by. His teacher at university was Seamus Heaney.

SR: Oh, you’re kidding?

BG: Yeah! And this guy would bring people to the Oxford Union to speak. I think he brought Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness once. Anyway, he was really into poetry and he really liked this lyric I had from a song called Walking with the Beast. The lyric goes:

There goes another man
His future in his hands
Doesn’t know he’s going down
He’s still laughing as he drowns
His pain is his disease
Hurts him every time he breathes
Hates himself and everyone
He’s sucking on a loaded gun.

SR: Very powerful. I read that your father ran a folk club and that you were immersed in music from the get-go.

BG: Well it’s funny. Someone else mentioned that to me the other day and I don’t have any memory of that. I just have a memory of a reel tape recorder and the flat—he would play music on it. I think people would loan him records and he’d tape the records, or people would give him tapes of folk records and blues records. He had a nice library of books. He had a big book I used to look at when I was really young: The Book of American Folk Songs. It had Jesse James and stuff in it. I really wish I still had that book. That would be an interesting thing to see. I looked at it all the time, and I’m talking about before the age of 10.

SR: What do you think it was about it that caught your imagination?

BG: That’s the thing. I used to read the words. (Sings): Jesse James was a man. It must be quite a famous book. So I don’t know how long his folk club ran for but he knew guys like Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly. Billy Connolly was in a folk band called The Humblebums. These guys were on that scene. My mum and dad knew a lot of musicians. I think in those days he was in a thing called The Young Socialists and there was a thing with the left wing and folk music—a kind of link. And I guess because a lot of the songs were about working people, there was a cultural link between the left and folk music. I think if you ask my mum and dad about the fifties, way before I was born, they’d have been going to dance halls and dancing to Gene Vincent or Eddie Cochran or whatever was the big pop hit of the day. They’d have liked the dance bands and rock ‘n’ roll and whatever was on the charts. And Dad said somebody gave him a real tape of Muddy Waters. He liked that and Hank Williams. My dad liked Ray Charles, too. I think that’s the reason I’ve got the blues in me—those voices ache, you know? They never had The Beatles on in our house—no Beatles.

SR: When you were starting out, which frontmen inspired you?

BG: Oh Johnny Rotten.

SR: Really?

BG: Oh fuck yeah—he was the man, you know? He was like a god to us. He was our guy. We loved him. We loved that when he left the Pistols, he formed Public Image which was different and new and kind of like an art thing. And it really described and felt like Britain to a young person growing up in the seventies and early eighties. We loved him. He was a working-class guy and he was intelligent and poetic. He was just like a role model, really. We loved his clothes and his look and his attitude.

SR: What have your career highlights been to date?

BG: We had a lot of career highlights because we managed to work with and learn from real masters. We worked with people like George Clinton, Tom Dowd, The Memphis Horns, Augustus Pablo… We worked with Jaki Liebezeit from Can. These were all the guys we looked up to and respected and loved. They’d inspired us. We managed to play with these guys and also learn a lot from them. For me, that was a big deal because they kind of pass something on. They also helped give me self-respect and self-confidence. When I was younger and did Screamadelica I knew it was good, but it wasn’t enough. I thought ‘We’ve got to keep proving ourselves.’ When we played with these guys, they believed in us. They helped us and they made us better. They made us raise our game. If you’re playing with the best in the world, you’ve just got to do it. It’s just something that you carry on. I’m not saying that we’re as good as these guys in any way, but we carry a little bit of each of these guys in us. You learn something about yourself as well, you know? And just the thrill of being in a band with your friends…and hearing the final mix of Movin’ on Up or Higher than the Sun or Rocks… It was like, ‘Whoa! We’ve made a real record!’ (Laughs)

SR: What are your top 5 desert island discs?

BG: I don’t really have them. But at the moment, I’m just sitting in front of some records. The song I’m playing the most at the moment—and you’re going to think I’m cheesy—is the very first song on the Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile album. It’s called Over Everything. I play that every day. What else have we got here? I’ve been playing Marc Almond a lot. This new album that he’s got is called Shadows and Reflections. I like All Thoughts of Time. I don’t know who did the original but it’s a real torch song. I like a torch song. I’m a romantic you see. Oh yeah, I’ve been playing this great album I got last week by King Tubby. I’d never heard it before. It’s called King at the Controls. It’s just incredible. I need a bit of dub. What else. I’ve got a lot of reggae. Oh, I could put on Rich Girl by Hall and Oates.

SR: Oh, you like them?

BG: It’s the only song of those I know. I liked it as a kid. I always thought it was a great record and I like blue-eyed soul. Oh, I like Oh Girl by the Chi-Lites. (Sings: Oh girl…Tell me what I’m gonna do…Lookin’ for love and I don’t know what to do). It’s just so good. Oh there’s The Misunderstood’s I Can Take You to the Sun, which is a psychedelic masterpiece.

SR: What’s your favourite song of all time?

BG: The Dark End of the Street, written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman and first made famous by James Carr. I listen to a lot of soul and reggae. Oh, I was playing a lot of Tom Petty in the last year, way before he died.

SR: What a bummer. He was amazing.

BG: Oh, I know. I saw him play. I bought his first album when I was a teenager… You know, Luna, American Girl, Breakdown, Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll… I loved that album when I was 15. And in the last year, I was listening to him getting ready to go to the show. I was listening to Don’t Do Me Like That, I Need to Know, Refugee, I Won’t Back Down you know? He had so many great songs. I managed to get to see Tom at Hyde Park in London in July this year.

SR: Wow—you’re so lucky. And what have you got lined up for the Aussie Screamadelica tour in February?

BG: I guess it’ll be a high energy rock and roll set. We always play loads of singles because we like to keep it high energy. So it’s a good question. We’ve got to think about that.



***Tickets go on sale Thursday 26 October, 9am local time***



Thursday 15 February: Metropolis, Fremantle – 18+

Friday 16 February: HQ, Adelaide – 18+

Sunday 18 February: Forum Theatre, Melbourne – 18+

Tuesday 20 February: Enmore Theatre, Sydney – 18+

Wednesday 21 February: The Tivoli, Brisbane – 18+

Get your tix here: