Primal Scream have always worn their hearts on their album sleeves. Screamadelica signalled their happy-drugs-phase album; XTRMNTR their paranoid drugs phase album; and Evil Heat was, as Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine once put it to Bobby Gillespie, their post-kids phase album. "I was like, 'What do you mean?'" he recalls, laughing with mock indignation. "Then I thought, 'Shit, maybe he's right. But . . . that's okay.' "
If you ask the Primal Scream frontman what their 11th album, Chaosmosis, says about him at age 53, that's another story. "It's a very good question," he says, pausing to mull it over. "Well . . . I think you could say a committed artist, but I don't really know what that means. I dunno. I'm stumped, for once." He stops again, before bursting into a cackle. "You could just say, 'He's still trying. He's not quite there yet, but he's a trier.' "
Gillespie is a garrulous interviewee, who will fire a question back at you (he responds "I dunno, what do you think?" more than once) and who insists upon putting the phone down to go and rummage for a Nina Simone quote he wrote down the other day (it was "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times", FYI). After more than three decades in the business – first with the Jesus and Mary Chain, the band he left to pursue Primal Scream full time – he is well used to a good discussion.
The band's last album, 2013's More Light, signalled something of a change, he says. "It seemed like a break from what we'd done before, Riot City Blues and Beautiful Future. It felt like we were back on track, and we had some serious work. I felt like my lyrics were a lot clearer; I had more fun with them, but also I could express myself better. It just felt like the songwriting had improved [and that] we were going somewhere, that we'd improved on what we did in the past."
Although many of their albums have been very different beasts, Gillespie says that every Primal Scream record has been more about creating an atmosphere than it has been pursuing a particular sound. Chaosmosis is no different.
"When you get a song like When the Blackout Meets the Fallout or Golden Rope, they've got a dark energy and it's very aggressive and kind of demonic. Whereas when I heard the music for I Can Change, I felt it was very lonely, and Trippin' on Your Love sounds euphoric, so I wanted to write a euphoric song about falling in love. That's always kind of been how I write: I'm receptive to the energy and the feel and the atmosphere of music."
The title may suggest a degree of instability in his life, but the father of two is quick to counter. “My life’s pretty balanced. The chaos left my life when I stopped using drugs, but my life’s pretty ordinary; it’s very structured, and I like it like that. I’m very together. I think the title just summed up the record and it sums up the times. The thing about life is that you never know what’s around the corner, do you? You go to bed feeling great, and you wake up and everything’s changed.”
One thing that hasn't changed is the band's willingness to bring collaborators into the fold. On Chaosmosis, one of them was musician, model and actor Sky Ferreira, who sings on lead single When the Light Gets In after Gillespie and guitarist Andrew Innes did some studio work with her, initially on her own material. Haim also feature, after striking up a friendship and guesting with Primal Scream at Glastonbury in 2013.
"Basically, me and Andrew are producers, right, and we made a production choice – and that was that on the songs Trippin on Your Love and 100% of Nothing, that I didn't think I could carry the choruses on my own. I wanted a big, fuck-off, California Dreaming chorus: total pop," he says. "They're great singers, they're sexy singers. They've got real passion."
It is important, Gillespie says, to continue to bring new audiences on board, even after decades in the business. “It would be good, because you need to f***ing make money to basically finance the art,” he says, his grimace practically audible down the line. “Record companies don’t pay for the records any more, you’ve gotta do it yourself. But a lot of young people come, because you know what? We do something that nobody else can do. If you come and hear us play, it’s real rock’n’roll.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that they are precious about where they stand in today’s music scene – nor threatened by the younger generation of bands who might count Primal Scream as influences.
“Naww, naw,” he says, his Glasgow accent as thick as ever. “Listen, we’re not in competition with anybody. We know ourselves, we know who we are. We can walk tall and we do what we f***ing do, and we do it well. For a start, in terms of looks, you can’t compete with younger bands – because everybody looks beautiful when they’re 22, right? When you’re 22 you don’t think that, but when you get to my age, and you look at 22-year-olds – boys and girls – and I don’t mean this in a sleazy way, but they’re beautiful.
"But the one thing that we've got is that we've been playing for a long time, and we're f***ing good at it. It's like going to see Nick Cave, and he's f***ing great. So we've got experience on our side.
“I love playing festivals with young bands; it’s where we should be. I love young bands and I buy young music. I’m interested in what young people are doing.”
Is there anything he wishes he had done differently? After a hearty laugh, his tone turns sombre. “It’s kind of like . . . there’s always one person you wish you hadn’t gone out with, isn’t there? But I guess you do these things so you learn from them. It’s a lesson, isn’t it? Maybe I regret meeting some people and not being a very nice person at some points; maybe if I hadn’t been in the state I was in then, I might have been less selfish. Just that kind of stuff – nothing like ‘I wish I hadn’t made that album’, ’cos to me, the band is one long experiment, anyway.
“Sometimes you fail, but that’s okay. Creatively, you shouldn’t be afraid of failure, you should always try to do something cool. As far as your personal life? I’m sure there’s a lot of regrets, but you know, f*** it. Who cares? I know people that sit and go back over their lives and look at the past, but I’ve never done that. I think if you’re stuck in the past, you’re not happy with the present. I just keep moving.”
- Primal Scream play Sea Sessions, Bundoran, June 24th-26th. Chaosmosis is out on the band's First International label