A Chat with Andrew Innes of Primal Scream
With songs like “Loaded,” “Come Together,” and “Rocks,” Primal Scream were a staple on US college radio from the late ‘80s up until the mid-’90s. In their native land, however, they’re full-fledged pop chart regulars, having scored two dozen entries on the UK Top 100 since 1987, including this year’s #5 hit, “Country Girl.” It’s been four years since the Scream have released a new studio album (though they put out a best-of set in Britain in 2004), so when the opportunity to speak to the band’s guitarist, Andrew Innes, reared its head, Bullz-Eye was all about it. Now, mind you, the time it’s taken us to transcribe the interview should in no way be interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm on our part; Andrew’s a fine fellow, but his brogue requires no small amount of rewinding to make sure we’ve gotten every word just right. Join us now, then, for our chat with Mr. Innes, where he speaks of his least favorite Primal Scream album, the band’s latest work, his love of glam rock, and his reaction to discovering that one of the regulars in the pub near their studio was the frontman for one of the biggest rock and roll bands of all time.
Bullz-Eye: Hello, Andrew, how are you?
Andrew Innes: Hello, how’re ye doin’?
BE: Not bad.
BE: Had a busy day of press, have you?
AI: Eh, no, not really. I’ve been out and about. It’s quite sunny in London right now, so I’ve just been taking it easy.
BE: That answers my question, “Where are you today?”
AI: Yeah. London.
BE: Is that your current home base?
AI: Yeah. I live here, yeah. But we’re having a heat wave here. It’s not particularly noticeable in here, but it’s about 95 degrees.
BE: Ugh. I’m familiar. I’m in Norfolk, Virginia, and we get that killer humidity here.
AI: Yeah, God. Nobody’s used to it here, so people are just going nuts. We’re just used to the rain.
BE: Well, it seems like forever since ya’ll have had a new album. I guess the last studio album would’ve been (2002’s) Evil Heat?
AI: Yeah, I suppose it was, yeah.
BE: What took so long for a follow-up?
AI: Well, we put out sort of a greatest-hits thing here, and we toured that, and that just took…everything takes years now instead of the months it used to take. When ye finish an LP – and we finished this last November – and Sony says it’s not coming out ‘til July of next year, there’s nearly a whole year just waiting for the machine to get working.
BE: Now, I have not yet heard the entire album.
BE: Yeah, they haven’t gotten me a copy yet…but I have heard the last track, “Sometimes I Feel So Lonely.”
AI: Oh, right, yeah!
BE: But I’ve heard that, as a whole, the album’s kind of a return to form to (1994’s) Give Out But Don’t Give Up. Would agree with that assessment?
AI: See, I didn’t even like that LP!
AI: That’s my least favorite one. I think it’s more like a return to…it’s more basic rock ‘n’ roll, but I think it’s more upbeat. It’s quite fast and punky, where Give Out… was just…I don’t know. We weren’t going through a good time when we made that.
BE: I’ve heard people use both the words “bluesy” and “punky” to describe the new album.
AI: Yeah, that’s probably about right.
BE: It seems like ya’ll have kind flip-flopped between dance and rock. Do you flip a coin before you enter the studio, or is it just whatever you’ve been listening to right before you sit down to write new material?
AI: Yeah, I think ye’ve probably got it there. We’d just been listening to a lot of old blues records…a lot of Mississippi John Hurt, Howlin’ Wolf, and stuff. I suppose that because we’d made three sort of electronic LPs beforehand, ye get bored doing that. As ye get bored with making guitar records, ye get bored with making synth records. And the songs were written on guitars and pianos, mostly, which I guess makes for more traditional music.
BE: So “Country Girl,” I guess, that was the first single (in the UK)?
BE: Were you surprised when it leapt into the top 5 as it did? Pleasantly so?
AI: I was just happy, yeah, because most of our singles the last few years have had trouble leaping into the top forty, and then they disappear. But this one…it’s still hanging in there, I think. It’s still at #60 or something. So it’s a real hit record.
BE: And I understand Will Sergeant (guitarist for Echo and the Bunnymen) is on the record.
AI: Yeah, he plays on a song called “When the Bomb Drops,” and it’s sort of a…I guess ye’d call it a garage record. Like the 13th Floor Elevators, I suppose. So we thought he was the best guy to do it.
BE: How did you guys hook up with him? Had you been friends?
AI: Mani knows him, because Mani – our bass player (and former bassist for the Stone Roses) – lives in Manchester, and they all know Will from Liverpool, all that scene. They all know each other. He met him DJ’ing one night, asked him to come along, and he came down.
BE: On a side note, do you think Mani’s ever going to get called in for the Stone Roses reunion that the press is always threatening?
AI: I don’t seem to be...well, from what the singer was saying, I don’t think the singer would do it. I think the singer said something like he’d rather stick pins in his eyes.
BE: I heard something like that, too. I just didn’t know if it’d change his tune if they danced the right amount of dollar signs in front of him.
AI: Y’know, I think, because he’s doing quite well in his own stuff, that I don’t think he needs the dollars.
BE: That, and Mani’s got a good gig.
AI: And especially not the way the group broke up, as well. There was quite a lot of unfinished business there.
BE: So is Kevin Shields hiding out anywhere on this album?
AI: No, no, he’s not on it.
BE: I wouldn’t have thought…well, based on the sound of what I’ve heard, I’d think he wouldn’t necessarily have a place.
AI: Well, I don’t know. He didn’t really play on Evil Heat; he produced about four songs on Evil Heat. But he’s fine, Kevin. But he’s been producing Gemma Hayes; he’s been out in L.A. producing her and just getting on with that. He’s a very strange character.
BE: I kept waiting and waiting for another My Bloody Valentine album, but I’m tired, and I can’t wait no more.
AI: I know. I think ye’ll be waiting and waiting as well. I don’t think there’s one coming for a couple of years yet.
BE: What’s your profile like these days in the States? I’d think that name recognition alone could get you gigs in New York and L.A., the bigger markets…
AI: Yeah, we can play the sort of main cities, but I don’t think we could tour. I wouldn’t like to go see a gig in Kansas; I don’t think there’d be many people there. Or in Boise, Idaho.
BE: Well, at the very least, the few people who’d show up would be really, really enthusiastic.
AI: Oh, yeah, I think there’d be at least four nutcases there.
BE: As far as your profile, I remember finding Evil Heat in a record store, apparently not long after it had come out, thinking, “I didn’t even know that this had come out!”
AI: Oh, I know. I’ll tell ye what: when we went to promote it and played in New York, we knew we were in trouble because every record label we’d ever been on in America was there…except for the ones that were putting out Evil Heat. They couldn’t show up.
BE: Yeah, that’s not good.
AI: And then ye think, “I think they’re gonna stiff the record.” And it wasn’t in the Tower Records at 4th and Broadway, which is, like, the biggest New York store. It wasn’t in there, and we just thought, “Uh-oh, we’re in trouble here.”
BE: That’s not usually a good sign.
AI: No! (Laughs)
BE: I mentioned Will Sergeant a moment ago, but I guess you guys are used to having guest appearances on your albums.
AI: Aye, we’ve had a few.
BE: I know Kate Moss was on “Some Velvet Morning,” but is it really true that Robert Plant played some harmonica on Evil Heat?
"(Evil Heat) wasn't in the Tower Records at 4th and Broadway, which is, like, the biggest New York store. It wasn't in there, and we just thought, 'Uh-oh, we’re in trouble here.'"AI: Yeah, he played on...was it “The Lord is My Shotgun”? Yeah, yeah. ‘Cause we’ve got a studio in London, and he lives…well, one of his houses is in the same area, and ye’d just see him in the pub. And ye can’t believe it. Ye’re, like, “It’s the Hammer of the Gods, having a pint in the pub!” But he’s just a really nice guy. And he talks, once ye get him started. He loves ‘60s garage music. He loves Love and the 13th Floor Elevators, and once ye get him started on that, he’ll talk for hours. He’s brilliant. He’ll just talk away about Arthur Lee. He’s just a big music fan. That’s why ye love him.
BE: So, now, what’s your musical background, as far as what you grew up listening to?
AI: Well, I’ve said before, I think, when we were 9 or 10, it was glam rock. And I think this record, quite a lot of it is glam, the new record. Bolan and Bowie.
BE: I’m a fan of both.
AI: So I guess it’s back to that a bit, this record. I don’t know if ye know a band called Slade…
BE: Oh, absolutely. I’ve got a copy of “Slade in Flame” on DVD.
AI: Brilliant. (Writer’s note: the manner in which Innes said this one word made it clear that his estimation of my worth as a human being had just gone up tenfold.) So that’s the sort of groups that we loved when we were kids, and I suppose it sounds like that. This LP is quite Slade and quite Bowie.
BE: I hear that you can become quite a studio hermit if you’re not careful. Is there any truth to that?
AI: Eh, well, ye like to get out in the air now and again, do a couple of concerts. We quite enjoy them as well.
BE: I had just heard that you enjoy going in and tweaking things.
AI: Oh, yeah. But I like playing live. We’ve been doing quite a few gigs lately, so it’s been good fun.
BE: Now, I’ve read David Cavanaugh’s decidedly comprehensive history of (former Primal Scream label) Creation Records…
AI: Oh, Jesus. It’s massive, right? Who the heck wants a 600 page book about a record company? (Writer’s note: actually, it’s almost 750 pages.)
BE: I’ll tell you, I…
AI: Hold on just a second. (The sound of an aircraft passing overhead can be heard on Innes’s end of the line.) They’re coming for me, I think…
BE: Oh, geez!
AI: Sorry, it was just a helicopter going overheard. Now, did ye read that book?
BE: Yeah, actually, it was the bane of my wife’s existence, because I bought it when we were in London on honeymoon, and I had to carry it around in my backpack.
AI: Ugh. Did she divorce ye?
BE: She did not, thankfully.
AI: God. Did she at least hit ye over the head with it?
BE: That would at least be an instant end to the message.
AI: That it would!
BE: Did you have any input into that book yourself?
AI: No, I didn’t. I wouldn’t talk to many people. No. I haven’t read it, so I don’t know. I just thought…ye think that books about music should be mostly pictures. And mostly made-up stories.
BE: You know, it’s over 700 pages, and I don’t think there are actually any pictures.
AI: I know. No. If it’s about pop music…have ye read the book by Keith Moon’s butler?
BE: I have not. I’ve got the Moon biography by Tony Fletcher.
AI: Ye should get one…I think it’s by Dougal Butler, and it’s called “Moon the Loon.” And it’s just all the stories ye want to hear. It’s just about wrecking hotels rooms and stuff. That’s more like it. Ye don’t want to let to get the facts get in the way of a good story.
BE: I’ve heard they’re in talks to make a biopic of Keith Moon with Mike Myers playing the part.
AI: Right. He might get away with that.
BE: Yeah, I can kind of see that. As long as he doesn’t make it too much of a caricature.
AI: Yeah. That’ll be good.
BE: So you were talking about garage rock earlier. I take it you yourself are a fan of the 13th Floor Elevators, since you’ve mentioned them twice.
AI: Oh, yeah, of course. And anything on the Nuggets box set.
BE: Yeah, I just picked that Children of Nuggets set they put out a few months ago, and…hey, actually, Primal Scream are on that, aren’t they?
AI: (Gleefully) Yeah! And so is my other band, the Revolving Paint Dream, too. That’s me as well.
BE: Okay, right! So I guess that was really full circle for you, then, to actually be on one of those sets!
AI: Oh, it was great! It’s an honor to be on it. But I think that first one’s the best, the American one. (Writer’s note: in case you have no idea what we’re talking about by this point, Rhino Records has put out three box sets in their Nuggets series; the first consists predominantly of American garage bands from the ‘60s, the second covers the same era but with bands from other countries, and the third is filled with post-‘60s garage rock revivalists.) Although they were trying to copy the British music, they did it better, for some reason. They sound more psychotic.
BE: The second one was the most educational for me, I think, because…
AI: Because ye didn’t know it.
BE: Right. Because I’d gotten the various single-album collections Rhino had put out throughout the ‘80s, but that second set…
AI: The British stuff.
BE: Yeah, that was almost all brand-new to me.
BE: And there was also some international stuff on there I’d never heard. So what have you bought recently for your own personal record collection?
AI: Oh, God…
BE: I know, but it’s a traditional question.
AI: Ali Farka…oh, God, how do ye say it?
BE: Oh, I know who you’re talking about: (the late) Ali Farka Toure.
"I think (MySpace) is a bit like opening a can of worms. If I start, I don't know if I'd be able to stop. I don't have a PlayStation for the same reason."AI: Yeah. Because Duffy, the keyboard player, had it on the tour bus, and it’s really…he’s died, but it’s his last LP, and it’s really beautiful. That’s the latest one I’ve just bought. And I just bought a Toots and the Maytals greatest hits. A bit of early reggae. And that’s about it, recently.
BE: Any back catalog stuff you’ve been trying to fill in?
AI: How d’ye mean?
BE: Like, say, any older artists who you’ve just recently discovered?
AI: Um…I dunno. Recently, I’ve gotten some Elizabeth Cotton. She wrote a song called “Freight Train.” It’s one of your classic folk records. She died about ten years ago, but she’s a phenomenal guitar player. She’s pretty good. And a great voice as well.
BE: Do you find it disconcerting to realize that there’s a generation of artists out there who are able to say, “Oh, yeah, I love Primal Scream, they’re a big influence on me; I grew up listening to them when I was a kid”?
AI: I think it’s great. It was funny, some dude wrote in and said he loved “Country Girl,” and that he was 16…and I was thinking, “God, ye weren’t even alive when we put the first record out!” But, yeah, it’s great. Of course it’s great. Especially when the young bands come up to ye and say they really like ye. Because, y’know, we used to do that to bands as well. I think it’s great if ye’re a musician and other musicians like ye.
BE: Are there any up and coming artists who’ve caught your ear?
AI: I like…well, everyone here likes the Arctic Monkeys. They’re so young and they’re so punky and they just mean it. And it takes away from the rotten pop music when ye hear it.
BE: Did you do the usual summer festival circuit this year?
AI: Oh, yeah. All the usual. Belgium festivals, all these places ye never want to see again, like Holland and Belgium.
BE: I’ve heard that a lot of the lineups at those festivals can be just totally bizarre, as far as the other artists you’re playing beside.
AI: Oh, yeah, it’s just bonkers.
BE: Who’s the weirdest person you’ve ever found yourself playing with?
AI: Ah, geez. (Pauses) I can’t think. I’ll have to come back to that one before we finish.
AI: Actually, ye know, it’s probably the Happy Mondays. We played a few shows with them last week.
BE: How are they sounding these days?
AI: They sounded great. They sound a little better than they did the last time I heard them.
BE: I did a review of a recent DVD from a 2003 concert, and it didn’t appear to be any other original members in the lineup other than Shaun Ryder.
AI: Right. No, they had about four of the original lineup there, and Shaun sounded good…’cause the last time I saw them, he wasn’t sounding good. He was mumblin’ away. But he was on it this time. He was good.
BE: There was a special feature on this DVD called “A Pint with Shaun Ryder,” and I just couldn’t imagine how many pints he’d actually indulged in before the show.
AI: Ah, geez. I can’t imagine. But he’s a genius, though.
BE: Absolutely. But by the end of this interview, there was definitely some slurring going on.
AI: Yeah, but he’s brilliant.
BE: So you guys are doing a handful of shows in the States to promote the new album…
AI: Yeah, just to start with. And, hopefully, if it gets any better, we’ll come back and do a bigger tour. That’s the plan, anyway.
BE: Do you have a MySpace page?
AI: I think we do. I don’t really know myself.
BE: You haven’t delved into it yourself?
AI: I think it’s a bit like opening a can of worms. If I start, I don’t know if I’d be able to stop.
BE: I think you’re right. I know of what you speak.
AI: I don’t have a PlayStation for the same reason…because I’ll be one of these people who’s still up at six in the morning, trying to get high score. So it’s best just not to have it.
BE: “Andrew, come up to bed!” “I can’t! Just one more game!”
AI: (Laughs) Yeah, I know. That’s when you get the Creation Records story out. It’s got the hard cover for her to take you down.
BE: See, I had the advantage; I had the paperback. Well, I think we’re finished, then.
AI: Well, brilliant!
BE: I hope you make it to the East Coast; if so, I’d like to see you guys play.
AI: What’s nearest to ye? Philadelphia?
BE: Welllllll, that’s more like about eight hours.
AI: Ah, God.
BE: Washington, DC, would be closest for me.
AI: That’s good fun playing there.
BE: Yeah, I guess you’ve played the 9:30 Club a few times.
AI: Yeah, and there was this place called the Eight by Five Club. We thought that was the size of the stage. Turned out it was the size of the club. We had to play sideways, there were so many of us.
BE: Well, if you make it down to the Norfolk area, there’s a club called the Norva where they provide a hot tub for the bands.
AI: Excellent. Brilliant! Well, ta very much!