May 30, 2000. The Guvernment, Toronto. A sea of lights complementing a two-hour glorious sea of beats and grooves with both of them crashing into walls of guitar. Kevin Shields, Mani, Andrew Innis, and Bobby Gillespie finishing up with MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams” with their front of house sound engineer repeatedly kicking the crap out of the soundboard. Rock ‘n’ roll personified.
It was a different brand of rock ‘n’ roll though. On the previous two albums, British rock band Primal Scream were knee deep in effects, layers, and generally anything that would create audible overload. XTRMNTR and Evil Heat, particularly the former, were roundly praised in music circles for being hard, heavy, infectious, and politically oriented. Yet at the same time, and as they’ve done in the past, Bobby Gillespie and company can turn off the machines, toss aside the soap box, and dish out Stones-y rock that even Mick and Keith would be envious of now. And it seems that less is more with the group’s latest album Riot City Blues, one that took the band mere days to finish.
“We just kind of went back to basics a bit in the way we approached it instead of using computers like we did for the last couple of records,” bassist (and, yes, former Stone Roses member) Mani says on the line. “We just got in a room and jammed, kicked tunes around. It was just ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ machine-gunning them down. We wanted to make a record that you could just get out, plug in, play it, and it would sound like the record without having to use any technology and shit.
“I think a lot of people can get overly fussy with that shit,” he adds. “It’s easy to be dissecting every little thing. It’s basically three-chord idiot rock ‘n’ roll we’re dealing with here. You don’t have to be a fission scientist to be able to do that, man.”
It’s that approach which has resulted in some stripped down but quite appealing tunes, including “The 99th Floor”, which resembles a cross between an early Stones version of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” and the Who’s “My Generation”. As well, the mandolin-tinged foot-stomper “Country Girl” and the bluesy “Boogie Disease” set the tone for a seedy but surprisingly good album.
One notable tune that might recall the past albums to a certain extent is “Little Death”, a song that came together rather quickly.
“I think we were fucking about one day towards the end; we just evolved it from there,” Mani says. “We just got together in a room and that’s what came out. And I think Bobby had some lyrics mulling around for a little while and he just tried them in there and they worked, that’s the story behind that one.”
Mani says Riot City Blues came following the group’s touring behind 2002’s Evil Heat and Dirty Hits, the band’s greatest hits package.
“We were on great form for playing live and we just decided to keep rolling on rather than taking a bit of a gap, we just went straight into it,” he says. “We’re conscious of time—none of us are getting any younger so we’re just going to keep rolling with it, man. That seems to be the ethic at the moment and it’s working for us.
“We always like to try and do things from one album to the next like way differently,” he adds. “This time we decided on a more organic kind of approach and get back to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. We kind of went out there on a couple of LPs with too much politics and a lot of technology and electronica and things. We just discovered ourselves as the rock band that we are and that started us off.”
While fans of the group know that Primal Scream visited this area with songs like “Rocks”, it might come as a surprise to see some covers they’ve recorded for recent b-sides. One of these includes “To Live Is to Fly” by the late Townes Van Zandt.
“When we do sound check before a show Bobby would always be singing stuff like that, he’s always singing Dylan things,” Mani says. “I had never really heard of the guy and Bobby really turned me onto him. It’s a beautiful song and we just wanted to do a little interpretation of it.”
Although the album has been released in the UK, fans in North America will have to wait until August 22 for its arrival. The North American version will have additional tracks but Mani doesn’t know which bonus songs will be on it. The band is playing around eight of the new songs live while “cherry picking” the back catalogue to flesh out the set list as well as the occasional cover like Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth”.
The band has also played a string of European festival dates, something Mani enjoys as much as perhaps Primal Scream doing their own tour.
“Festival gigs are great because you’ve got a captive audience and there are maybe people who don’t know what you’re all about so it gives us a chance to kind of grab them and indoctrinate them a little bit and make them love you,” he says. “We play anywhere, we love our own club gigs, they’re a little more intimate and stuff and you can generate a great atmosphere.”
A North American tour is also in the foreseeable cards but nothing has been announced. Mani loves playing live and says the synergy presently within the group is hard to describe.
“We’re growing together in a way and everyone has a real comfort level in everyone’s abilities,” he says. “We’ve got everyone we want in the band now. There’s a kind of weird ESP thing that you get when you’re that confident with people. Everyone isn’t second-guessing what everyone else is going to do and it makes the writing process a lot easier.
“I think we grew up a little bit,” he continues. “I think Primal Scream have this reputation as the mental motherfuckers of rock, party animals and stuff. Yeah we still do but we do it after the gig, man. We’re very cognizant and we don’t want to fuck it up.”
And while they try to be on their best behavior at times, it seems trouble finds Primal Scream. It’s a couple of days after an incident in Madrid where Bobby Gillespie was attacked, leaving him in a rather bloody mess, both figuratively and literally.
“He’ll be cool, it’s only a little cut,” Mani says with a laugh. “We were in the bar and he sat down on the other end and we were at the other end of the bar. The next thing you know he just appears in front of me and his nose is just pissing with blood, man. Some guy had come and head-butted him. It’s unfortunate but he’ll be okay.
The guy was arrested, which seems to have been a blessing for his sake.
“We caught the guy and just when we about to give him a fucking saying to the Spanish police turned up, which is unfortunate because I was just ready to fucking unload on the guy, man.”
Primal Scream - “Dolls” [Live on Later with Jools Holland]