Primal Scream first emerged onto the music scene in the mid ‘80s and, since then, the band has continued to defy convention by reinventing its sound with each new release. They've moved from psychedelic pop to punk to acid house to Stonesy blues-rock—and their legion of dedicated fans have followed them faithfully every step of the way. Led by Bobby Gillespie (formerly of Jesus and Mary Chain), Primal Scream are currently touring Europe with a US tour to follow. Bass player Gary "Mani" Mounfield recently spoke with Ticketmaster about his musical roots (he was the bass player for the much acclaimed Manchester band The Stone Roses), the new album Riot City Blues, and the current tour.
TM: Do you remember the moment when you first knew you wanted to be a musician?
Mani: I think it was probably going to see the Damned or the Clash in 1977 when I was a little punk. And I thought "yeah, this is what I want to do man, this is great!" And I feel I made the right decision. So I'd like to thank the guys from the Clash and the Damned for that....I just played a gig with Brian James and Rat Scabies from the Damned the other week in London because it was like the 30th anniversary of the first Damned LP and they asked me to play bass for them which was pretty weird because it was the first gig I saw in me life. And it was great.
TM: That's awesome. So who else did you listen to growing up?
M: I started off with punk and then I got into dub reggae and then began liking bits of hip hop. And I always loved bands like The Byrds and Love and The Doors—stuff from the ‘60s, Hendrix and stuff. So a pretty broad spectrum of musical tastes gets me buzzing. Anything that's good. I also really liked James Brown and Parliament and Funkadelic. Right across the board you know.
TM: Yes, like Primal Scream's music—very much across the board.
M: Exactly. You can't pigeonhole it into one kind of style...If it feels good, do it.
TM: So tell me, what it was like transitioning from the Stone Roses to the Scream?
M: Oh it was easy, you know, because I was already really great friends with the guys from the Scream anyway. We used to meet up with each other in various clubs in London and Manchester and Glasgow and Brighton. We always had a great admiration and respect for each other. We considered ourselves to be on parallel courses in different cities. Everyone sort of grew up in the same social position and grew up on the same kind of music. It was so easy. I think if I joined a band where I didn't know anyone it would have been a lot more difficult—but it was seamless.
TM: I've heard Primal Scream referred to as the "chameleons of rock." What's been the main driving force behind the different musical directions the band has taken over the years?
M: What we like to do is to move a million miles away from the last thing we did with each new thing. I think with five or six guys with the wealth of musical taste that we've got, we just like to try different things all the time. I think it's too simple and too easy to just stick to one thing. You can make a good living but you'd just be so bored, you know. We just like to keep it fresh and try different things. Rock and roll should be dangerous and subversive and you should take risks and chances—and that's the way we approach making our music.
TM: The new album Riot City Blues seems to be a return to the rootsy, blues-rock sound of Give Out But Don't Give Up (as opposed to the highly electronic sound of the two previous albums). Would you say this is true?
M: Yeah, because the last two or three albums heavily relied on computer and studio technology and a lot of politics in the lyrics and things. So we just thought, "we've done all that, let's just slip it back to basics. No trickery." And instead of putting things into a computer we all sat in a room with guitars and jammed in a traditional way. And I think it came out sounding like a more traditional kind of album...There's no need for that technological safety net. Just guys with guitars again.
TM: Are you enjoying that back-to-basics method?
M: Absolutely loving it. It's been brilliant...We're in real good form at the moment.
TM: What's your personal favorite track off the new record?
M: I kind of like "The 99th Floor." I like "Suicide Sally." It's great storytelling. Bobby's really improving lyrically...
TM: As with other albums, you have an impressive lineup of guest artists on Riot City Blues. What was it like working with Will Sergeant (Echo & the Bunnymen), Warren Ellis (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) and Alison Mosshart (The Kills)?
M: Amazing! We've always been massive Bunnymen fans from growing up. When we wrote the song we thought this would be ideal with some of Will's guitar magic. We ran into him and Ian McCulloch in New York City once and Will said "if there's anything that I can do for you, don't hesitate to give me call." Well five years down the line we said, "well let's make that call!" And it was great to drag him into our studio and watch him at work. He's a prime guitar player and right out of the old school like that Garage Nuggets, psychedelic thing that we love...Same with Alison Mosshart from The Kills. Bobby wrote a couple of songs that were duet based. She's like Bobby's feminine alter ego. She's great. She's got the attitude to spare! And same goes for Warren Ellis. We did like a county-ish song that required a bit of fiddle playing and it don't get no better than that! So it was a great time with Warren also.
TM: Who would you like to work with in the future?
M: There's a million of them but half of them are bloody dead, you know? (laughs) Which could be a bit of a major problem unless you find a good medium or something somewhere!
TM: So how is the tour going?
M: Every weekend we've been doing festivals in Europe. Last weekend we played in Belgium on a Thursday night, then we played in Madrid on a Friday Night and then Barcelona on a Saturday night. We've done these two great festivals in Spain with New Order and the Happy Mondays and the Dandy Warhols...It's just been superb. And the weekend before that we played in Denmark, then we played in Hyde Park in London with the Who. So it's been great!
TM: Have your setlists consisted mainly of newer songs?
M: Well I think we've got eight new songs and then we just try to pick the best from our back catalog which sit in well. We've got things like "Jailbird" and "Get Your Rocks Off" and "Movin' On Up." The stuff that really sits in with the rock and roll thing. "Kowalski" and "Kill All Hippies." We've got a good mix of old and new going on. It's awesome. I can't wait for you guys, the Americans, to get to see us. We'll be wearing all our best clothes and showing off and just kicking ass...we'll give you guys a great time!
TM: Great! Looking forward to it.
M: We're looking forward to it. Believe me!
TM: What's your most memorable onstage moment?
M: There's been plenty. I really loved it a couple years back when we played the Coachella festival. That was awesome. Just the look of the place, and the people were cool. That was amazing. I just enjoy everything. Any time you strap on a guitar and get on there doing your bit is a memorable day.
TM: So tell me about your side project Freebass with fellow bass players Andy Rourke (The Smiths) and Peter Hook (New Order).
M: Well, I still live in Manchester and Peter Hook of New Order is always complaining that there isn't enough work (laughs) and he's bored. And I just went "alright well come on then, we'll go into the studio." And we got Andy Rourke from The Smiths and we just went in with an engineer friend of ours and just started kicking some ideas about. And we ended up with about seventeen great ideas and people have been going away and working stuff on the computer. And I think Peter might have found a vocalist. Maybe that's something we can pick up in the new year when we're all a bit quiet because New Order are out doing their customary four gigs a year and we're going to be working right through Christmas and stuff. So hopefully next year we'll pick it back up. It's just exciting to have three of Manchester's famous bass players in one room at one time!
TM: So what's the music sound like when you've got three bass players?
M: More often than not, two of us are playing bass at the same time and either Andy or I are on guitar. So it sounds like a cross between Stone Roses, Primal Scream, New Order and The Smiths (laughs).It's just got a mix of bloody everything in there! It's weird but it works, you know. We only did it for a laugh at first and then obviously, we've been taking it a bit more seriously now.
TM: So when can we expect a Freebass record?
M: Hopefully early next year...maybe do a few gigs somewhere. Which could be interesting--watching three bass player egos jockeying for position on stage, trying to get the limelight!