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Primal Scream

Article from One Two Testing, July/August 1986

Mary Chain man in melody shock

What's this? A Glasgow band that doesn't sound like a cross between Simple Minds and The Commotions? Can't be. Or can it? Could Bobby Gillespie be the perfect pop star?

Bobby Gillespie is the singer with Primal Scream. He knows what he wants but he don't know how to get it. What he wants is the perfect pop song. What he needs is a producer.

"We've never ever been in the studio with a producer, a proper producer. I think if we can go in with a producer who is totally compatible to us then I think we're going to really enjoy going in the studio, working on a lot of different things."

Sitting in the offices of Creation Records on a day that had Arabs casting off their robes, Bobby, wrapped in leg-hugging jeans ("anything wider than this and I don't feel comfortable"), a purple shirt and pointy boots, took a couple of sips from a can of Coke, chomped on a sandwich, gazed out from under his fringe and wrestled with his definition of the perfect pop song.

"Quite sexy one way or another. Melody. Drive even. I mean like The Stooges' I Wanna Be Your Dog, that was total drive but it was a brilliant pop song. The Doors' Light My Fire, that was sexy but also had a brilliant melody and great dynamics and that. I don't know, it's truely hard to explain. Even an atmosphere as well, certain songs have just got this brilliant atmosphere."

"When we've produced ourselves the sound has been really flat, there's been no dynamics, so we've learnt recently that bringing things in and out of the mix helps you get that sort of thing."

"We're learning now about texture. We were listening to things like Prince records and you knew there was something there that was making it sound quite full, but you could never work it out. We thought maybe it was a keyboard so we discovered that if we get a bass keyboard sound it fills the sound out; just play simple bass notes. It makes everything sound larger, even things like piano in certain bits as well."

The plan now is for them to record a third single and then an LP but they still can't decide on a prodcer. Ian Brodie who produced Echo And The Bunnymen is a candidate but they reckon he'll be too expensive. Joe Boyd, producer of REM's last LP is also a possibility and then there's the great pop star himself, Prince, who would surely be too expensive. Should they find a compatible producer, however, and should they succeed in producing the perfect pop song, will it go down well with the populace, the discerning masses who put Falco in the top ten?

"I don't see any reason why it can't sell well because I think the tunes we've got are brilliant, they're really catchy. All the songs are full of hooks. They're quite concise — there's no wastage in them, quite direct I think, exciting as well. There's no reason why, if we were pushed like a lot of groups are pushed, we couldn't get hits. I don't see any reason why not because I think the song writing's of an extremely high standard.

Coincidentally, the lyrics and the tunes are written by Bobby although the rest of the band write their own parts and sort out their own sound.

"Generally we write the basic song — the guitar chords and the melody — and then after that we think about what sort of drum beat and what sort of rhythm to use. Jim plays 12 string lead/rhythm guitar all through the songs."

"The thing that inspires us really is the melody, like you're playing about with a couple of chords and you get this vocal melody. There's a warmth that you feel if it's right, you just know that it's going to be a good song and you play it and the guitar chords and everything just fit and you think, 'I've got to make a song out of this tune.' The lyrics always come afterwards."

Do you take a lot of time over the arrangement?

"It depends really, some songs may take a while and some songs you know immediately how they've got to be arranged. We'd like to use strings on some of the songs — we've got some ideas — and also actually bring in a string arranger to help us. I'd like to use real strings because the actual sound of the bow on the strings and the cat-gut strings, I don't know, there's something real about it. But we're talking about quite subtle string arrangements, not great orchestrations."

The way he's speaking, it may come as a surprise that Bobby's first musical hero, the man who inspired him was Johnny Rotten but then again, Rotten does seem to be the inspiration behind so many modern day musical ventures.

"I loved the Sex Pistols. I loved Johny Rotten's way he looked. I loved the things he said, like you'd read interviews and you could totally relate to them. Before you could never relate to anything in music. I wasn't interested in music until punk came along. I never bought records, I just heard records. Obviously things like T-Rex and Gary Glitter, you hear them with catchy tunes and the odd David Bowie record had a catchy tune but I never actually bought records. My parents always played The Rolling Stones in the house and that's carried through to today because I love Rolling Stones' records as well.

"That's really what sprung me into wanting to play music. It wasn't as soon as punk happened I wanted to play music, it just happened to be the first time I bought records and listened to the music and I loved it.

"Then around 1981 (aged 19) I bought a guitar and tried to learn to play the guitar.

Are you any good?

"No, I never practice.

"I've got a Vox Phantom. Jim plays a 12 string Rickebacker. Stuart, the rhythm guitarist has got a Telecaster but he's looking now for a Fender Jaguar (which he later acquired) and I think he wants to get a Gretsch too. The bass player, Robert, he's going to get a Fender Precision (also now acquired) and then he also wants to get a Gibson black semi acoustic as well just for show. I don't know what sort of drums Thomas is going to get, we haven't got a drum kit at the moment. (Thomas has now got a Pearl kit but we can't confirm which one). The tambourinist, John, plays custom-built tambourines.

One of the problems that they've found in the studio is that they can get the guitar sounds they want from their amps but when they plug in to the console the sound changes so they've yet to achieve the sound they want on record. Taking this to it's obvious concluson, would we be right in assuming that their live sound is the pure pefect pop they strive for?

"Mmm," he nods."As near perfect as we can get it anyway."

Does it pull in the crowds?

"In some places. It's building really. We're still quite a small band.

"We started writing songs in June '84 and then we started getting musicians in. It was Jim and myself that started and up until then we never considered being in a group or anything, we just used to make noise because we really liked Public Image. Jim had this recording thing we used to play around on. We used to make bass lines and then put noise on top. It was just for fun, you know, nothing serious. Then we started listening to lots of, like, groove music — song-orientated music, the Rolling Stones, Julien Cope and the Teardrops and we tried to write songs and it seemed much more appealing because what we were doing was monotonous and it was boring. When we discovered we could actually write pop songs we thought lets get a group together so we did.

"We played our first gig in October '84 and even then it was still a bit ramshackle. It took us a while to get on our feet actually."

Bobby also did a stint on the drums with the Jesus And Mary Chain but, although he loved the experience he never had any ambition to be a drummer and only filled in because somebody told the drummerless JAMC that he could keep time.

Having explained this Bobby asked me for my opinion on the singles, Crystal Crescent and All Fall Down. Not bad, I told him, but there's an edge missing and if you want to make the perfect pop song maybe the drums should be a bit more prominent. Apparently I was wrong.

"Nah, because on all my favourite records, the drums are nowhere on the mix. Things like the the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Doors, the dums are always low on the mix. What's high is the guitars and the vocals. Like, say, a classic worldwide hit single like Monday Monday or Calfornia Dreaming by the Mamas and the Papas; it's all vocals and guitar and the drums are dead soft. It's the melody that gets people going and you can dance to the melody. Bringing drums to the forefront is a really 80s thing to do. You can get a group like Sly and the Family Stone, you know Running Away? The drums aren't too high on the forefront of that, they're a really nice level and that's a brilliant dance record but it's also a fantastic pop record. I hate these records where all you hear is this thump thump thump thump and it's as loud as the voice if not louder. I think a lot of the time it's because people can't really write songs."

He certainly knows what he doesn't want and this, he feels has helped him to set his own standards.

"I think the groups that you hate influence you as much as the groups that you love because the groups that you love inspire you to make music like them and the groups that you hate inspire you to make music as much unlike them as possible so that's an influence as well."

"We make songs for our own enjoyment and if other people like them then that's great. It's ultimately what you like otherwise you wouldn't release records. You release records because you want people to share what you're creating."

What is your idea of a really entertaining live show?

"There's two types of things. There's groups like us who generally go on stage and just play the songs as best they can and try to get songs across to people and then the other thing which I think is great as well, the Iggy school of thought where, like, you would go to the Stooges and there was these three derelicts backing up this psychotic guy wo was pulling his shirt off and ripping his chest up with a broken bottle and jumping off the stage and blacking out and he was totally drugged out of his head. It was like an atrocity exhibition where everybody goes to see Iggy top himself. You know, that's entertainment."

Given that he reckons his group are near perfect live and that they're still struggling in the studio, we could be forgiven for thinking that Primal Scream are primarily a live band and the recording is just an attempt to capture something near their live sound for posterity. But this is apparently not so.

"No, definitely not. We write these songs, right. We want them to be recorded for history. We want them to be recorded as well as possible. We want to be happy with what we're doing. We want to be proud of what we're doing. We want to be all encompassing."

Do you want to be famous and loved?

"Yeah, because I think what we're doing deserves to be loved. I think we're the sort of group that people could love, we're the sort of group people could care about."

If you got this perfect pop sound on record, the sound that you really want, and it didn't sell would it bother you?

"It would. If we made a record that was an absolute classic and we thought, 'this has got to be hit' and it came out and it was a total flop you would be upset because you've put so much of your life into it but at the same time, if it was a brilliant record you could be consoled with the fact that you've made a good record. But I want us to sell lots and lots of records, be really huge band."

He's got the theory all worked out but music is all about putting big ideas into practice. It will be interesting to see if the prospected single and album bear the fruits of professional production and make Primal Scream the megastars Bobby Gillespie feels they ought to be.

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Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Jul/Aug 1986


Primal Scream



Interview by Tim Glynne-Jones

Previous article in this issue:

> Celtic Soul Brothers

Next article in this issue:

> BMF Preview

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