“I never thought I’d make it past thirty, man.” It sounds astonishing, but Bobby Gillespie has fronted Primal Scream for the past thirty-one years. To suggest that he’s enjoyed, during that time, some of the traditional trappings of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle would be an outrageous understatement.
After emerging from Glasgow as one of the earliest members of Alan McGee’s Creation Records stable, Gillespie put an early dalliance with The Jesus and Mary Chain to bed to lead his band through, in order: their acid house heyday on Screamadelica, the infamous, heroin-hampered sessions for Give Out But Don’t Give Up, continued experimentation on Vanishing Point, the politically-fuelled aggression of XTRMNTR and Evil Heat and back-to-basics rock reformation with Riot City Blues and Beautiful Future. So diverse has Gillespie’s musical output been over the course of ten Primal Scream records, the only real constant has been his spectacularly-sharp appetite for hedonism. “I can’t really believe we’re still here.”
More Light is the band’s first album in five years, and is underscored by an adventurousness they’ve seldom displayed since the turn of the century. “I think if you look at any artist’s career, you’re going to see they’ve done all kinds of different stuff. Nobody – not Neil Young, not Miles Davis, nobody made every album great. The genuine artists are always going down different avenues, exploring different routes to try and make something worthwhile. That’s what we’ve been doing from the beginning.”
“We wanted to make a freer, more experimental, more psychedelic record than the last two [Riot City Blues and Beautiful Future], which were both about very straightforward, three-minute pop rock songs that were just verse-chorus-verse-chorus-guitar solo; they were all about traditional songwriting structures. It was fun doing that stuff as well; before that we’d done Evil Heat and XTRMNTR, which were pretty fucking out there, and you reach a point when you’re so far out of the ordinary that you want to do something normalised, something structured. I think the last two records were a reaction to what came before, and now the new one is too; we were ready to do something really free again, something creatively satisfying.”
There’s little timestamps on More Light that reveal it’s been a while in the making – a collaboration with Sun Ra Arkestra came about as far back as 2010, when the Icelandic ash cloud left them stranded in London – but Gillespie’s recollections of the process are already hazy. “I’m at an age now where my sense of time has gotten so stretched out that it’s pretty much non-existent,” he laughs. “But in this band, everything’s a constant process. You’re sort of absorbing by osmosis everything that might inspire you; you’re subconsciously stocking up ideas. We never really stop writing.”
What has ground to a halt, though, is the legendary propensity for debauchery for which Gillespie, and Primal Scream as a whole, were notorious; now six years married and with two young sons, his lifestyle is considerably more settled. The linear nature of those last two albums seemed understandable put into context, with their lack of adventurousness mirrored by Gillespie’s newly-sedate approach to other areas of his life, which makes you wonder how much harder it must be to write as experimentally as he has on More Light.
“It’s a lot fucking easier! The brain’s a lot more sensitive and receptive now; I feel more. I think if I was using I’d be desensitised, disconnected, emotionally cut off – I think that’s the reason you take drugs or drink, to disconnect yourself and cut yourself off from other people, but really all you’re doing is cutting yourself off from yourself, you know. As an artist, you need to feel everything. You can’t cut yourself off from your own creativity. Since I’ve been clean, those walls inside me have disappeared – I’ve got complete access to myself now, and complete access to the outside world. I’m more receptive to new stimuli, new ideas.”