With Primal Scream set to release new album More Light on Monday (13 May) - grab Q323 now for a full review and interview - frontman Bobby Gillespie and co have been praised for a songwriting returning to form. In a guest column, the frontman takes a career-spanning look at how his band have written songs. "To me, it's all an experiment. I'm not trying to be arrogant or say we're better than anyone else, but I think we've got good at writing songs. We've had plenty of practice at it!" declares Gillespie. "Sometimes there are things inside you want to say, but you store it there for a long time. You have to work at being open and opening your consciousness. Other stuff can be more crafted. What I like about the whole songwriting process is that we tend not to keep to the same way of working. We're always trying to find new ways of doing things..."
The words can come first... Things like Swastika Eyes, Insect Royalty, Exterminator, Deep Hit Of Morning Sun... those songs were all written as poems way before we'd even thought of the music. Around the XTMNTR/ Evil Heat time, I had a typewriter and I'd just sit there and have these images and ideas. Sometimes a whole song would come out. Exterminator, the song, more or less came out in one go. I went to Cuba on holiday and I came back via Gatwick. I wasn't trying to juxtapose Britain and Cuba but it was just it was a really sunny place and I got home in the first week of January. I'd read up on all of the history - Fidel Castro, the American boycott - before I went, but it was more when I came back into Gatwick and got the train back. I always get this thing about coming back into England after been in a sunny place, especially in winter... Gun metal skies, broken lives/ Claustrophobic concrete, English high-rise... that just came at me, and shortly after that I wrote the whole song. It's obviously stuff that gets stored up in your consciousness. Sometimes these whole songs come out as a splurge, like a trail of vomit. You're writing it as you're thinking it. Later on we'd write some music and I think: "I've got some lyrics for us."
...Or sometimes it's the music that gets you going A lot of time I react to the energy of the music, taking inspiration from the atmosphere. With something that has a forward propulsion like More Light's Culturecide, it's dramatic, it's a film theme and it has a thrust to it. It's attacking and so are the words are attacking too. That song started with two chords in LA, then I went to New York I started thinking about what to write over it and the lyrics came within a day. I pretty much got six, seven verses. We then did the Screamdelica tour and on the way I wrote another versus and a middle eight without even thinking or trying. I didn't think we needed more versus, but all this stuff started pouring out of me. I just started writing it down: Teenage drug gangs running with machine guns/ miles of favelas up and down the M1/ law of the jungle, ghetto mentality/ like Margaret Thatcher said there's no thing as society/ free market credo theology/ high priest banker stealing your money/ living like a refugee in your own country... I didn't consciously feel I needed another verse but I'd seen the favelas in South America on tour. Every time I'd leave an airport to go to a city there were favelas. I thought "Man, this is wrong" and started wondering if Britain will get like that? Will it become completely lawless like it is over there? It's a science fiction thing I put in. It's a dramatic image. It all easily dovetailed and made sense with what I'd already written, so I thought "Oh good, subconsciously I've finished the song."
Crafting a good, simple pop song ain't easy Something like Come Together is a sad wee love song. The lyrics are beyond simple. It's like a Troggs or a Monkees song, but that's what we were trying to do. We were trying to write a love song that would get in the charts. We'd studied pop songwriting. There's a craft to being that simple. We weren't trying to be clever and overload it with imagery, we were working in the pop tradition. That's a thing about Primal Scream that people miss out on. We got a lot of criticism for Rocks when we released it, but since people absolutely love it now. We were trying to write a classic rock and roll song. We did a gig with Kim Gordon last year and she sung it with us. She just said "It's a classic!" She got it. She saw it for what it was: we were trying to write a Alice Cooper's School's Out. Everyone says it's the Stones, but it's more Slade than the Stones, it's quite a glam track. We've always written well crafted rock songs, like Rocks, Moving On Up, Country Girl... They're pop rock songs, or whatever you want to call them.
Remember where your records will be played With Don't Fight It Feel It on Screamadelica, the idea behind that was to make an acid house, northern soul call to arms! If you hear a lot of soul records it's all about going out on a Saturday night and feeling good. The culture of dancing, going to clubs and forgetting your job in the factory. So it was a celebration of nightlife. We were going to a lot of clubs in 1989, 1990 and were deeply into the acid house scene so we wanted to make a record they could play in the clubs. We wanted to make a soul, acid house experimental track. There was song craft. We kept the lyrics simple because they had to be simple if we wanted it played in clubs. It's pop song writing. Then we can also do the existential blues thing, like Tenement Kid or Walking With The Beast on More Light. It's a different thing, it's a bit darker and a bit harder, but it's all part of our aesthetic or consciousness.
Finally, enjoy yourself... We're known for being performers and a good live band, but we're good songwriters - maybe deceptively so because we've worked on a range of different material. We deconstruct songs. We like songs to be remixed, fucked about with, messed around with. To us it's all part of the experience and the idea behind the band. We're just trying to mess with the format of having a band. The Velvet Underground had Heroin, they had I'm Sticking With You and White Light White Heat somewhere in the middle. They had songs of redemption, sin, addiction and fun. I don't know why people think you can only be one thing. It's crazy because as people you've got to have everything otherwise you'd be some dull, depressing, self-obsessed bastard who no one else wants to hang out with. You've got to have fun in there. There's a lot of humour in Primal Scream... but maybe it's just us who get it! You shouldn't be afraid for people laugh at you, because that's part of it all. We take what we do seriously, but we've got the art thing and we've got the rock and roll thing. We've got both going on. A lot of art bands take themselves too seriously, for us it should be fun. We've always had a laugh doing this! Bobby Gillespie was speaking to Paul Stokes