Planned Chaos: A Conversation with Primal Scream

Primal Scream interview

On March 18, Primal Scream will release Chaosmosis, their full-length follow-up to 2013’s More Light. The album—the band’s 11th—pushes Primal Scream’s sound further into electropop territory than it’s ever ventured before. It’s sparkling, catchy and features appearances by Haim and Sky Ferreira.

Recently, Treble spoke with the band’s longtime guitarist, Andrew Innes, about the inspiration behind the album, as well as the band’s broader perceptions of music, art and culture.

Treble: What was the band’s approach for Chaosmosis?

Andrew Innes: We had this recording studio, which we’d been in since 1994, and we got an eviction notice because they were going to demolish it. There were a lot of little businesses in that space—there’d be a TV company, some dude making designer shoes—and of course they decided to knock it all down to make lofts and flats.

When you know you’re going to lose something, it suddenly becomes important to you. I guess being told “You have six months to leave,” inspired us, because [at the time] we didn’t really know what we were going to do for our next album. We thought, “Oh, we better use this place one last time.” So we got going and wrote songs pretty quickly. In a couple of months, we wrote most of the songs.

So that really kickstarted the whole thing, the threat of losing what’s been very dear to us and that we made a lot of our best music in. All of the great people we’ve had in there—we’ve had Marshall Allen [of Sun Ra Arkestra] in there, Josh Homme’s been in there—people come over, go into the little room where we make the music, and they all would go, “I like it in here.” It’s sort of dirty, and there was a really great vibe to it that the musicians liked.

Treble: Did that eviction deadline make the writing and recording process seem rushed?

Innes: For once, we got all of the songs in about two, two and a half months. I don’t think we were rushed. I think we were just inspired because it would be our last time in that studio. And it’s really sad now. We took a picture of it the other day, and they just smashed it, demolished it. There’s a lot of music that had been made in there and in the whole complex. It’s hard to explain it. The big businesses in London, they’re not interested in small businesses. It’s the same the world over. They just get swallowed up and smashed and kicked out.

Treble: This album incorporates more electronic elements than a lot of your recent work. What was the inspiration for that change in sound?

Innes: I bought a bunch of new plugins for my synthesizer, and that inspired me. They were really good. Some were made by a company called GForce, and some were made by Native Instruments. I got a lot of new software, and that was brilliant. Some of their recreations of old synthesizers are really pretty good now.

Treble: And musically, you had been moving away from the straightforward rock that defined your work in the mid-2000s.

Innes: Yes. There’s many ways you can write songs: using guitars, or using keyboards or sounds or samples. We’ve always mixed it up a bit. The last record, that was in a way an acoustic LP. There are a lot of normal instruments on it. So when we moved to more electronic music, it just seemed natural. It just sounded fresh. The new plugins sounded quite fresh and exciting.

Primal Scream interview

Treble: And yet, you also do visit that natural sound briefly on Chaosmosis with the track “Private War.” Could you talk a little about how that one fit into the album as a whole?

Innes: I picked up the acoustic guitar and started playing. We [wrote it] in about five minutes. And then we added the strings and the stuff. I think we recorded that in Sweden. We had a couple of writing trips to Sweden, because a friend who’s in the band called Peter Bjorn and John—when we were touring last time in Stockholm, he came to the gig and said he had a studio, so why don’t we come over and try to write some with them?

“(Feeling Like a) Demon Again” was also written and recorded in Sweden. And that song to me sounds quite icy. It was a cold February in Stockholm when we wrote that. I think it’s a great sound, but I think the environment definitely…when you go to California or Muscle Shoals, you tend to make happier sounding records because the sun’s shining. Whereas I think in Sweden it’s a little darker and colder.

Treble: That’s interesting, because Bobby [Gillespie, vocalist] has said in interviews that the problem with a lot of current music is that it’s not willing to explore darkness and pain. Do you think that was something that was on your mind while recording this record?

Innes: My father used to shout at me as I was listening to punk rock, “Turn that blank-blank noise off! That’s not music!” And I thought when I got to that age and had kids, I’d be shouting, “Turn that noise off, that’s not music.” But I tend to find I’m going, “That’s so boring.” Although my daughter’s into alternative music and plays better stuff, I just find [mainstream music] is dull.

Like Bob has said before, there’s not a lot going on lyrically. Because the nature of the world is getting more conservative, and so the nature of arts and entertainment has to be more conservative as well. They reflect society. Obviously during the ‘60s, there was this big explosion of hope in society, so you got an explosion in art and film and music, and it kind of lasted through the ‘70s as well. The ‘90s was a great explosion of great [music]. Stuff like Nirvana, that was mainstream in the end. Those were phenomenal records. But I think since that, mainstream music has definitely gotten more conservative. You can imagine George Bush would like mainstream music.

Treble: Do you see the pendulum possibly beginning to swing back the other way?

Innes: People need to protest, don’t they? People need to say what they feel. But I don’t know if it’ll ever be a mainstream thing again. There’s always Kanye, who’s completely bonkers, and they love him for being bonkers. He doesn’t let you down as a pop star. I haven’t heard the new album, but he at least doesn’t let you down.

Treble: I’d like to talk about some of the artists you’ve collaborated with on this album. Haim and Sky Ferreira are the two big guests on Chaosmosis. How did those collaborations happen?

Innes: We met Haim on Jools Holland a couple of years ago. They came over and just started talking to us. They’re great girls, really friendly. They came and sang with us when we played Glastonbury, because they were playing there on the same day. And we’d just been friends since then. On the song, “Trippin’ on Your Love,” we were thinking the Mamas and the Papas, having that Californian, mid-‘60s vision for it. We were thinking, “Well, we do know three girls who can sound like that.” They do sound like a ray of sunshine. They were on tour, and they just said, “Next week, we’re in London for a day, and we’ll come in and help you out.” And they ended up singing on two songs.

They don’t seem to be affected by the business yet, and I hope it stays that way. They’ve not got that jaded [attitude] that you get after so long in the music business. They still were excited, and they couldn’t wait to be there.

It’s quite interesting. It seems like a lot of younger American bands, they seem to like British independent music from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Of course, they knew who we are, because we’re part of that. Which is great, because we didn’t really sell that many records in America, so it was interesting that Sky knew who we were. Young American artists seem to like bands like us or My Bloody Valentine. There seems to be a resurgence going on.

Treble: Some of that might come from the fact that the scene is still pretty prolific. You’re still making music, Kevin Shields finally came back and made another My Bloody Valentine record

Innes: You don’t hold your breath waiting for Kevin to make a record. [Laughs] I saw him last week. He’s in good form. He’s talking about making another record.

Treble: Oh, he’s still talking about it? He said he was going to do it three years ago!

Innes: It’s Kevin, come on! [Laughs] Three years for him is about the same as a week for everybody else.

Treble: Primal Scream have worked pretty extensively with him in the past. Did he have any input on Chaosmosis?

Innes: No, because unfortunately he’s back in Ireland just now. We don’t really see him as much as we used to. But I just saw him the other day. He came round to say hello. I’d love to make another record with Kevin at some point, but you can’t go putting dates and times on him. [Laughs] Maybe in my next life.

Treble: So finally, what about the album’s title, Chaosmosis? What was the intention behind that?

Innes: Bob came up with it. It’s a good one, though. It sort of reflects us as a society. There’s a lot of chaos, but a lot of planned chaos, it seems. People are making a lot of money out of chaos. People are deliberately smashing up places so that they can sell it and make money. I don’t know, it just seemed to fit the times we’re in.

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