STACK’s Paul Jones spoke with Primal Scream guitarist Andrew Innes ahead of the band’s forthcoming Australian tour.
With such a long and successful career, do you ever take time out to reflect on your achievements?
I don’t know. It’s 32 years now, I think. If you told me 33 years ago that I would’ve been doing an Australian tour in 32 years time, I would’ve laughed at you. Especially making that first LP, we didn’t think we were going to make it to January 1987! It’s great, and we’ve been lucky; we’ve been blessed. We’re still getting away with it, as we say. You keep thinking there will be a knock at the door and somebody’s going to go: “You’re rubbish. You’re a fraud.”
Do you have a personal career highlight?
It’s all been great. I’d be worrying if there was one bit you thought, that’s it, it would never be as good as that again. There have been hundreds of them, to be honest. I guess that’s why we’re still going because it’s pretty good being in Primal Scream. It’s a pretty good band. Something daft always happens and you have a laugh. Otherwise we would’ve given it up a while ago. You hear about other people’s bands, or you go backstage at some people’s gigs and they’re miserable. That’s made the longevity of the band – it’s actually quite good fun.
The band’s ability to switch between musical styles is something many try to do but fail. What do you attribute that to?
It’s never something we’ve sat down and worked out; it’s never been a plan, it’s just been that’s the way – I guess it’s all our influences. Our influences come from such a wide range, that you do try and make a dub record, or you try and make a punk record. Sometimes you just pick up a guitar and it’s a punk song and then sometimes you pick up the guitar and it’s a slow country ballad.
We’ve got such a wide input from what we listen to that I guess that’s what comes out. Mark, the keyboard player, bought me this LP on the last tour and it’s an Ethiopian nun playing jazz piano from the ‘70s [laughs]. It’s a wonderful record. So that’s what he’s listening to, so he’s going to bring in something when he starts playing and you go, “Play a bit more like the Ethiopian nun” and he will [laughs]. I guess we are lucky that it doesn’t sound too forced when it comes out as a Primal Scream record; you can hear there’s an influence but it doesn’t sound maybe as forced as it could do. It sounds like it had come from us.
If I can I dip back to Screamadelica for a minute. I’m interested to hear how you became involved with Andy Weatherall? How did the relationship develop?
We made the second LP and nobody liked it. Even our own press office didn’t like it. The boss, McGee [Alan McGee, founder of Creation Records], didn’t like it very much. The only person that gave it a good review was in this hip magazine called Boy’s Own [an acid house fanzine], and it was Andy Weatherall who said he loved the ballads. It was Jeff Barratt, who ran Heavenly Records, and was a good press officer – even though he didn’t like our record at the time – who had an idea and said, “I’ll get Andy Weatherall to come and review you for Melody Maker because at least he likes you.”
So, he sent Andy Weatherall down to do a review of us and we just clicked. We were talking about stuff and he said, “I’ve got an autographed copy of Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak,” and we were thinking, this guy’s supposed to be into acid house. He said “I love Thin Lizzy,” and we go, “We love Thin Lizzy as well.” So, we sort of bonded over a mutual love of the Lizzy [laughs]. I think it was actually McGee’s idea, but we decided to get Weatherall to try and mix one of the records because nobody liked it anyway, so we had nothing to lose. We ended up with Loaded. It was brilliant.
Did he have any experience?
He’d never made a record before. I think he sat in on one of Paul Oakenfold’s early Happy Mondays mixes but he’d never made one. Ours was his first.
So how did it all come together then?
Well, it didn’t work the first time. The first time we did it, he liked our song so much he didn’t want to destroy it. I think it was on the third go, and I went in with him [and] an engineer and we were just going, “You’ve got to completely destroy this record. Don’t think of it as the song that you like.” And he did. Bless him. He made a great record. Especially considering he’d never made a record before.
I couldn’t remember the exact date that you released Screamadelica so I went on Wikipedia to check and this one line just jumped out at me. When I read it I could just imagine it being spoken with a Pathe News voice: “The album was a significant departure from the band’s early indie rock sound, drawing inspiration from the house music scene.” And then in brackets it says, “and associated drugs” [laughs].
[Laughs] There’s no denying that.
Following such a commercially successful album, was there a lot of pressure on the band with the next record?
There was. We basically toured Screamadelica up until September ’92 and then about October ’92 they were going, “So where’s the next record?” And it’s not like Screamadelica was our first album either because when you do your first album, you’ve normally got about 20 songs so half of your second album is already written because you’ve got what you didn’t put on your first album. But we had nothing.
Come October ’92, there was nothing, there were no ideas because we’d used them all – and you’ve got to do a follow up to Screamadelica! It was hard, very hard. I think we were also tired and burnt out from the tour and I think that’s why [follow-up album Give Out But Don’t Give Up] feels quite down, and there are loads of ballads on it.
And those associated drugs of course.
Well, yeah. At that point they certainly weren’t helping things; they weren’t helping the situation. Whereas before, it’s like anything – when you first start on something it’s great and it’s mind expanding, and you know what? You get ideas. Although we never tended to take drugs in the studio – we worked that one out pretty quickly. If you’re absolutely smashed in the studio, you don’t really get much done and you can’t tell if it’s any good or not.
I can remember reading an interview with Richard Ashcroft, who said, “If you do anything hard enough, you’ll eventually see the demons.”
Yes, that’s true. And you just lose all the positivity. It’s a dead end road and eventually you’re just heading for the wall at 60 miles an hour. It doesn’t help. It definitely doesn’t help the creativity.
How do you work as a band in the songwriting process? Do you all turn up at the studio with ideas, or do you all jam together and see what comes out of that?
Generally, Bob [vocalist Bobby Gillespie] and I sit in a room and write. It used to be me, Bob and Robert [Young, bassist/guitarist who left the band in 2006 and passed away in 2014], sat in a room.
We just try and write some songs first, then bring the band in. If you get too many people sitting about, it’s no use. If you’re sitting with six people in a room, nothing gets done. It’s the same when you’re mixing a record as well. If you’re mixing a record, it’s best just to be one or two people. You don’t want the drummer to turn up the snare drum. Everyone always says their bit should be louder.
That was actually a great thing we learned from working with Andy Weatherall, that maybe your bit wouldn’t even be on the record, but it made for a better record. When you’re mixing a record, you’ve got to try suspend your ego a bit and make what’s the best record, and it might involve your bit not being on it but, you know what, it’s all for the good of the record.”
Is it at that early stage of the songwriting process that you decide what sort of album, stylistically, it’s going to take?
You normally get about three songs in when you’re making an album and you kind of know where it’s going then. Once you get a couple under your belt, you realise, okay, it’s going in this direction. Let’s say, with the last LP, Chaosmosis, I bought a whole lot of software plugins. It was quite a synthy and the plugins shaped the way that went.
The Primal Scream album I go back to time and time again is XTRMNTR (2000). The aggression is palpable. It’s like a sonic blitzkrieg yet right in the middle of it you have a beautiful, tender track Keep Your Dreams. It’s a corker.
Oh, god yeah. I like it ‘cause that’s the punk in me. It’s punky and it’s brutal. And as you say, it’s got some beauty in there with Keep Your Dreams. It’s funky and it’s hard. It’s a sort of an antidote for Screamadelica. You know, the other side of the coin, and it’s brilliant. I’m glad we can do both things. It makes you proud when you go, “I tell you what, I’ve got two great records.” If you’re sitting around with people and you think, “What did I do?” I can always pull them two out the bag and go, “That’ll do!” I’m proud of those two. It’s like the eight track.
Mani’s [Gary “Mani” Mounfield, bassist] searing bassline on Shoot Speed/Kill Light is a stand-out, too.
Yeah, that’s a great track. It was good ‘cause we got to work with Bernard Sumner from New Order. He’s one of our heroes. He helped us with that one.
Do you still catch up with Mani? [The musician left Primal Scream in 2011 to rejoin The Stone Roses.]
I was on holiday with him in summer. We still see him but I think he’s too busy counting his money now.
There was talk of a new album from the Roses and they even teased a couple of songs.
I wouldn’t hold your breath for the record.
Are you currently working on new material for an album?
Yeah, we’re trying to get started. We’re at the stage where it’s a blank piece of paper. Once we get a couple of songs under our belt, like I said, we’ll know where we’re going. Can’t wait to get down and see you lot in Australia.
How do you find crowds in Australia?
They’re brilliant. It’s kind of like playing at home. Our crowds are generally good, mostly. Just come along to have a good jump around and have a good time. I’ll undoubtedly have a couple of hangovers. Hopefully that will be it. I’ll have a hangover after Melbourne and Sydney. Somebody in the crowd will drag me out somewhere against my better judgement.
How do you pull together songs for a tour like this when you’re not touring an album?
We’ve got a rehearsal next week. That’s when we’ll start thinking of stuff. We just rehearse a week before we go and then work out our set list and then by the second gig in, you’ve got it sorted.
Do you still enjoy touring?
I don’t think I could do any massive ones anymore, like month-long ones. If it’s about three/four weeks, which this one is because we’re going to Chile and Brazil and then Argentina… I think three-and-a-half weeks is perfect. I’m coming down there when it’s winter here – you can’t beat that.
Finally, can you give me three words to describe the music industry as you see it today?
Shit as always. I don’t think it’s any worse than it’s always been. You know the famous Hunter S. Thompson quote about it being a shallow money trench – thieves where good men die like dogs? [“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”] That was in the ‘70s. That’s the same now. It’s just the music business. It’s corrupt.
I think maybe ‘cause we’re old we think there was more character back then, but there was more record men back then. People like McGee who would mortgage a house to let absolute loser bands, like us, make a first album. After we didn’t sell any of the first two LPs, these guys still put the money up to let us make a third. I don’t know that that sort of person exists. I guess it was running away and joining the circus back then. Then you learn about the music business and then you realise it’s a one-sided circus and you’re not getting paid.
Australian Tour 2018
Thursday, 15th February
Friday, 16th February
Sunday, 18th February
Forum Theatre, Melbourne
Tuesday, 20th February
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Wednesday, 21st February
The Tivoli, Brisbane