Primal Scream: “It makes you cool with the children, when you're on X Factor"
Andrew Innes talks to The Skinny about Hogmanay in Edinburgh, tension in the studio, and gives a blow by blow account of their forthcoming LP (warning, the last one's a lie)
Primal Scream’s Andrew Innes is in noticeably jovial form when The Skinny comes a-callin’, so it seems pertinent to ask (because we’re always suspicious in these circumstances) if there’s a specific reason for this levity. “Actually, it’s just because we’ve been working quite hard,” the guitarist admits. “We’re working on new music, so everything is quite exciting right now.”
This is potentially very exciting news, but The Scream’s renowned frontman Bobby Gillespie has been talking about a follow-up to their last album, 2008’s Beautiful Future for almost two years now. Does this revelation, that they’re actually working on it in the studio, mean a release date might be in sight? “I don't know, you'll need to ask the Powers That Be about that. We're just the mere workforce.” Of course, we’d love to know what it’s going to sound like, or if there are any radical new departures in store, but Innes isn’t for divulging even the tiniest of clues, is he? “No!”
Which is fair enough. He does, however, reveal his enthusiasm for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party, which is unsurprising given he and his bandmates are this year’s headliners, but it’s a suitably Scottish form of enthusiasm; “Well, it’s going to be great, obviously, as long as it’s not too cold, which is always a possibility.” Or a likelihood. The gig will encompass a run through of the band’s hefty back catalogue, with the centrepiece being 1991’s seminal Screamadelica, which the band have been touring for most of 2011. It may not be the last of the Screamadelica paeans (“So far, yes, but you never know”), but the New Year’s gig does mark the Primal Scream swansong for bassist Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield, who, having been a band member since 1996, leaves to focus on another reunion you may have heard of, with his original Stone Roses cohorts. Is this upheaval trying in any way? “I guess it’s a little strange. Of course he [Mani] is really happy to be going back to the Roses, but sad to be leaving us. It's a bit of a bundle of emotions. He'll be happy when he gets his cheque in,” laughs Innes. From whom, you guys or the Stone Roses? “Definitely them. We’ll all be queueing up to borrow money from him when that comes in.”
Primal Scream are the latest in a long line of indie powerhouses to embark on tours of self-celebration in the past few years. Innes admits he’s uncomfortable enough with that notion, but that after twenty years, it was perhaps time to look back with satisfaction at a job well done. “For a long time at gigs, there'd be people going 'Screamadelica, Screamadelica' and we'd go, 'Well we're making new music'. You never want to look back. But after twenty years things become funny. As they say, comedy is tragedy plus time and, it's the same with that. You can look back fondly because you've done other things, been other places. You can be proud of things. I hadn't listened to some of [Screamadelica] for twenty years and you realise 'Actually, that's quite good'. We'd never played half of it live at all; stuff like I'm Coming Down, or Shine Like Stars, live, so that made it more interesting.”
So what does he feel it is in particular about an album which captured the imagination and has remained in the consciousness since? “I guess it just caught the feeling at the time. People were sick of ten-fifteen years of Tory government. There was The Roses LP, The Mondays LP, our LP; they all just caught that feeling. A rebellion in the club scene; a communal spirit – with the ecstasy and all – against all the grey of 80s Thatcherism.” They’re still not fans of the Tories, as a recent fracas showed where it was thought the Home Secretary Theresa May had used the 1994 single Rocks to leave the stage at the Conservative party conference. Although the track in question was actually The Dandy Warhols' Bohemian Like You, both bands battered in, with the Primals calling the governing party "Sick” and Courtney Taylor threatening to “tear their fuggin’ heads off.”
Innes, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, is somewhat more sanguine about the fact that Rocks also turned up recently on X-Factor, ‘performed’ by wannabe reprobate Frankie Cocozza. “It makes you cool with the children, when you're on X Factor.” So you didn't really mind? “I don't think you can mind anyone doing your song. Once you've done it it's out there in the public domain to a certain extent. So people can do what they want with it as long as it's not advertising a certain political party.”
Screamadelica marks, in Innes' own words, the point where Primal Scream “went from black and white to technicolour. We started using samplers, which had come down a lot in price and were more affordable, and it changed the way we could make records. Suddenly we could have flutes, tablas, whatever we wanted." Is Screamadelica your favourite album, or if not, which one is? “Y'know what, I don't listen to any of them. None of them were fun to make, they were more like pulling teeth. Actually, you'd rather be down at the dentist without anaesthetic.” So, what exactly is so terrible about it? “It's very emotional. You're just drained and glad to see the back of it when it's finished. It sounds like I'm moaning, but I'm not really. That's just the way it is. As soon as it's finished you never want to hear the thing again. Then maybe you'll catch a listen in ten years time and go 'That's quite good', but not before then."
Innes pauses for a minute before offering a brief anecdote when asked if there are any particular tracks from 'back then' that have had that effect. "I was out with a friend the other day and I heard the track from XTRMNTR called Shoot Speed / Kill Light and I didn't recognise it, even asking my pal 'Who's this?' He went, 'It's you ya effing idiot.' 'Oh right, so this is what it sounds like on the record.' They normally sound completely different live, and that's the only way I've been listening to the song for the past decade. So I heard that, and thought it was incredible, if I do say so myself. We were on form for that one I think.”
It's put to Innes that perhaps one of the reasons for Primal Scream's success, particularly on albums like Screamadelica and XTRMNTR is the calibre of collaborator they've been able to attract, whether to play on the record or to engineer some studio magic. DJ Andrew Weatherall and The Orb having met the band through their association with Creation Records founder Alan McGee; George Clinton did some mixing on Give Out But Don't Give Up; Kevin Shields pretty much joined the band for a while in 1998; Robert Plant and, eh, Kate Moss provided guest vocals on Evil Heat... the list does go on.
Innes whispers his assent, almost in reverence. "Aye. It's an impressive list alright. Sometimes people just come to mind. You're making a track, thinking 'Oh I'd really like to hear such and such a person play guitar on this'. With Shoot Speed, for example, we just wanted to hear that Joy Division guitar from Bernard Sumner, so we liaised with him. He wrote another bit and added it to the track and then came down and played on the record. He was a hero of ours and we wanted that sound on it. So you identify what sort of song you'd like to hear, who makes that sound, and if they're still alive you track them down and see if they're up for it. We've been lucky that most people we've tracked down have wanted to play with us. A lot of great people appear on our records." So, anyone particular in mind for that next album? As ever, Innes keeps his cards close to his chest. "I can't say, they might sue us."