Towards the end of “2013”, the opening track on Primal Scream’s album More Light, frontman Bobby Gillespie makes an impassioned plea.
“Truth no lies, truth no lies, truth no lies” he growls over and over again as the music, a collision of electronica, rock ‘n’ roll and dub, reaches a thrilling climax.
“2013” is no ordinary song. Written about the present and the future as Gillespie sees it, it’s nine minutes long, musically adventurous, and one of the most exciting tracks the Primals have put out in years. In time, it will sit alongside some of their finest singles, an impressive feat given their already monumental discography.
The song is also emblematic of the album as a whole. More Light was rapturously received by critics upon its release in 2013, with words like “return to form” and “reinvigorated” bandied about. After the mixed response to 2008’s Beautiful Future, it’s no surprise that Gillespie is no less than thrilled with his band’s work on the album.
“Music is one of the places in life where I’m completely fearless. The joy of discovery and experimenting, it just comes really naturally to me.”
“I love the album,” he declares in his thick Glaswegian accent. “We wanted to make something freer, more psychedelic and more experimental. We wanted to stretch the songs out and not be governed by conventional song structures. We wanted everything to be more freed up, we thought that would make the songs better.
“Musically it’s fearless,” he adds. “Music is one of the places in life where I’m completely fearless. The joy of discovery and experimenting, it just comes really naturally to me. I love being creative and the process of making a record.
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“The only people who knew about it when we were making it were me, Andrew [Innes, guitarist and longtime collaborator] and [producer] David Holmes. Even some of the band, they’d heard bits of it and played on it, but they hadn’t heard the finished product until recently.”
According to Gillespie, touring their 1991 classic album Screamadelica throughout 2011 had an influence on their mindset as they constructed More Light. Playing Screamadelica’s diverse, sprawling songs encouraged the sense of space and general disregard for musical convention that eventually made its way onto tracks like “River of Pain” and “Relativity”.
The Screamadelica shows also gave the band the “confidence” they needed to make this record, Gillespie claims. Coming from someone with a back catalogue that includes classics likes Vanishing Point, Xtrmntr, and of course, Screamadelica, it’s an unexpected statement.
“When I say confidence I mean it was great to go out and travel the world,” he says of the tour. “To have all that love from all those audiences, you feel good about yourself.”
He continues: “We never really had a record deal for the last couple of years. We were on this label B-Unique for the previous album. It never worked well and we didn’t have a good relationship. They never really understood Primal Scream.
“We were independent until we signed with [Noel Gallagher’s label] Ignition. We were just going out playing gigs without any support with any record company, without support from anybody. It was pretty old school indie.”
While the Screamadelica shows gave Gillespie confidence, his current sense of creative focus can be attributed to something else – his sobriety.
“I’m sharper and more alert,” claims the frontman, who’s been off drink and drugs for five years now. “I’ve been reading more and I’m more sensitive. The drugs and the alcohol put distance between you and the world, and they also put distance between you and yourself. You cut yourself off and become completely desensitised. To be an artist you need to feel everything: pain, joy, sorrow, anger. Then you can put that into your work.”
“Drugs and the alcohol put distance between you and the world. To be an artist you need to feel everything: pain, joy, sorrow, anger. Then you can put that into your work.”
Gillespie does just that on More Light – it’s an unquestionably confrontational record. At one hour and 17 minutes, it’s a lengthy listen. Sonically, electronic barbs ripple through the songs, of which some are soul-inflected, rock ‘n’ roll and punk.
The album’s most confrontational element, however, is its lyrical content. Known for his strong socialist beliefs – his father was a trade unionist and he grew up in working class Glasgow – Gillespie’s lyrics embody the ideals of the punk music that first sparked his interest in music and art.
Like the Sex Pistols and The Clash, Gillespie takes aim at those in power on More Light, namely big business and the government. As you’d expect, his disdain for authority is as palpable in conversation as it is on record.
“I’m a rock ‘n’ roll musician but I’ve got my opinions,” Gillespie states. “In the last 30 years there’s been a complete right wing revolution. I look at this stuff and I study it. I read Noam Chomsky and people like that, I’m interested in it, you know. But I don’t think most people are. Most people are just trying hard, trying their best to get by in life.”
He continues: “I think people have started to depoliticise music. Everything’s relative with culture and if a culture has been depoliticised then music is gonna do the same. It’s going to be less political because kids grow up and they don’t have any strong political beliefs.”
It’s a point which is especially pertinent now because, as Gillespie argues, Britain is in a precarious state. The economy notwithstanding, the death of Margaret Thatcher has done much to divide the nation. But, anti-Thatcher though he is, Gillespie says he wasn’t particular fazed by her passing – he wasn’t out celebrating like many others did.
“I didn’t care, I mean, honestly, I didn’t,” he says. “Her ideology lives on, this current administration are like her children anyway.”
Meanwhile, Gillespie’s native Scotland would go on to vote on its independence in 2014. The frontman says not only is he against the idea, he’s puzzled by the nationalist rhetoric spouted by the current Scottish leader, Alex Salmond.
“I don’t really understand it to be honest with you,” laments Gillespie. “I’m not a nationalist, I’m an internationalist. I don’t really get the whole nationalism stuff. It leads to fascism, ultimately. Only stupid people fall for that stuff.”
But for all More Light‘s political gesturing, and indeed Gillespie’s, the frontman admits the album’s true purpose is simply to connect with its audience. And the real reward has not been critical acclaim, but instead knowing that the music has touched those who hear it, as he explains.
“A friend of mine came up to me and said that he really loved the song [More Light’s second track] “River of Pain”,” Gillespie explains. “He said when he heard it he felt less alone. That meant a lot. That was like, ‘Well it’s working’. That’s why you do it, to make that connection.”
Gillespie has been making a connection with music fans for over three decades. Remarkably, he remains one of Britain’s most forward thinking and adventurous artists. And if More Light is anything to go by, that looks likely to continue.
More Light is out now through First International. Read the Tone Deaf review here.