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Bobby Gillespie

Primal Scream's singer on his staggering new album and our end of days

The first words exchanged with Bobby Gillespie for this Q + A are over the intricacies of maintaining stable blood sugar and caffeine levels. Bananas, dried fruit and coffee metered out in increments that allow for the perfect level of concentration.  This tells you all you need to know about where Gillespie is now in terms of wellbeing and focus. Having spent the past two years working on Primal Scream’s tenth record, ‘More Light’, he’s not about to let a mistimed espresso get in the way of being able to articulate his thoughts on it.  

Gillespie is overtly proud of ‘More Light’. The record’s skeleton was instigated into form by sounds thrown at him and co-writer Andrew Innes by producer David Holmes.  Atmospheres, rhythms and sketches conjured as reactions to fragments of Holmes’ record collection, use of his stash of vintage equipment and improvised loops.  The resultant album never belies its creators, but holds too much intrigue in the instrumentation alone to be written off quickly as another placeholder Primal Scream offering.  Then there are Gillespie’s lyrics, drawn from a murky pool of internal rage and fear for the nation’s future. These, along with cinematic undercurrents embedded by Holmes, attempt to breach the aching void in contemporary music where at least an attempt to address the current state of affairs in the UK should be.  That it falls to Primal Scream to do this, and that they achieve it without it being laughable, especially having not been within sniffing distance of the breadline for quite some time owes much to Gillespie’s Glasgow roots and his empathy with the new generation that has taken his place in the tenements. 

Dazed Digital: It sounds like the lyrical and musical themes on ‘More Light’ are something you were probably mulling over for many years.

Bobby Gillespie: Yeah, it’s been in there a long time. I was just trying to make sense of it. 

DD: One of the most obvious questions posed after listening to your record is why isn’t anyone writing protest, or even politicised songs?

Bobby Gillespie: I was listening to Nirvana unplugged last night. I fucking love Kurt Cobain. That anger, that pain that he had, it just pierces your heart. It’s really fucking raw and visceral. I’m jumping to Kurt Cobain, but the link is there’s a sincerity there which is missing in a lot of music today.  I don’t want to put any other band down, but it’s like people are asleep, or they just don’t see what’s going on. I don’t just even mean politically.  On this album we’re writing about real subjects, and whether it’s our experience, or empathy for someone else having a terrible time, it’s still a sense of being able to relate to it and a connection.

DD: You can feel that, on ‘Tenement Kid’ especially, and on ‘Relativity’.  That track gets really dark, pretty evil. 

Bobby Gillespie: It’s quite nasty, but I’ve got that side to my character. It just seems everybody’s kind of content. It’s all too nice. 

DD: It definitely feels too nice on the surface, but there has to be a swell of feeling beneath. The figures came out very recently that youth unemployment alone is now almost at a million.

Bobby Gillespie: Whoa. You know when I was growing up a million adult unemployment was like unforgivable for any government to allow. Then Thatcher made three million unemployment acceptable. 

DD: Did you read much of the recent press about her? 

Bobby Gillespie: I bought the Guardian on Saturday and the Observer on Sunday, and I threw them away, because I just thought that the so-called liberal press were almost apologising for her.

DD: Being too polite? 

Bobby Gillespie: Polite and there was a distinct lack of fucking anger.  The austerity measures that the current administration are bringing in are so extreme that even Thatcher couldn’t have got away with it.  There was more dissent in the culture then.  She couldn’t have done this, because the opposition was too strong, and in the last thirty years it’s been weakened.

DD: How do you feel about Boris Johnson trying to position himself to be in the running for Prime Minister? 

Bobby Gillespie: It doesn’t matter if it’s him or Cameron or Osborne or Gove.  They’re all unenlightened, nasty, backward, right wing people. Beneath the bumbling Boris, jokey exterior, he’s an extremist. Nobody really knows what he believes.  Classic, modern, science fiction politician.

DD: All façade. 

Bobby Gillespie: Exactly. People have been trained by mass media to think that all politicians are the same and that politics has got nothing to do with their lives.  Most people are apolitical. They think it’s not going to affect them, but I think the country’s going to get darker, more violent, more desperate, with more addiction and more people trapped in poverty. 

DD: Do you think more musicians will start addressing this as things get bleaker?

Bobby Gillespie: I don’t think so. I don’t hear a real need to communicate something.

DD: I hear a lot more actual emotion in electronic music these days than in guitar music. 

Bobby Gillespie: I had the same discussion last year. If you were a young kid, what kind of music would you be listening to?  It wouldn’t be guitars.  Maybe it’s not a verbal thing. I think songwriters can delude themselves that they’re poets, but people can pick up on the emotional subtext more than the words. 

DD: Does it still not seem very odd to have nothing coming out that deals with societal issues?

Bobby Gillespie: In our song, ‘2013’, we’re writing about lack of dissent in the entire culture. It’s not just music.  You look at our art; it’s not exciting and it’s not confrontational.  You get people like Tracey Emin taking OBE’s, palling up with the Conservative Party.  Artists are meant to be the antennae of the race, Ezra Pound said that.  They should stand outside of the power structure.  When you see artists cosying up to a right wing government, it’s a bad thing. Tracy Emin’s saying that the Conservatives are great for culture and being pally with Ed Vaisey, but they’re stopping subsidies to the arts, so she’s a fucking idiot.  

DD: Finally, the single, which is coming out now, ‘It’s Aright, It’s Okay’ seems to leave us with a faintly hopeful note for the future, was that intentional?

Bobby Gillespie: It was Dave Holmes’ idea to sequence the songs as they are. He wanted to start with ‘2013’, and then you’re right into the action with ‘Culturecide’ and ‘Hit Void’ with the crazy, free jazz break, then ‘It’s Alright, It’s Okay’ is the end credits, and you leave the cinema thinking you can beat the bastards.