Sunday, 22 April 2012

Primordial interview pt 2: "We cannot do a Wednesday show to 50 people anymore"

According to Primordial's website, their last headlining UK club show was four years ago, at the Underworld in Camden, London. The last time I saw them was two years before that, at London's Elektrowertz (also known as the Slimelight for the club that is regularly on there). It's not a great venue at which to see bands - it's small, the sound is usually poor, it gets excessively sweaty - and though Primordial did their best, recalling that night made it easy to understand why Primordial hadn't prioritised headlining clubs in the UK.

"It really depends on what you’ve been offered. I mean, four or five years ago, I don’t really think there was a climate to do maybe a week or something in the UK.  I mean, the last time we played four or five, maybe six dates was with Rotting Christ in 2003, and a lot of those days were, to be honest, quite pointless. Like 23 people in Cardiff. It's just that now, at the age that we are, the responsibilities that we have, that kind of thing – not that we're ancient or anything, but we just can't do that any more. We cannot do a Wednesday show to 50 people any more, it just doesn't work like that in our lives. And we also can't do a Friday or Saturday show to 100 people. It's just... We're not Marduk or Vader or Rotting Christ, it just doesn't work likes that. It has to be, more or less, this way. I mean, it's nothing particular, it's just all those tours that we've done... you know, unless they go to Paris, it's very seldom that they'll go to London, you know? It's really not very much to do with us."

Any band only has so many days in the year, and it makes most sense to go where you're most wanted and appreciated. There's an argument that says that until 'To the Nameless Dead' had done its work, Primordial didn't have much of a profile in the UK - and the work it did do to raise their profile generally meant they had better opportunities open to them than UK club shows. Plus there is nothing like absence to make the heart grow fonder. And of course, the older you get as a band, the more you have to pick carefully.

"This is true, but also the fact that we aren't a professional band, that we don't make our living from Primordial. Maybe if we were twenty-two or twenty-three we could have thrown our hats in the ring and gone, 'Right, let's take everything that we're offered. Let's tour for three months...' and this that and the other. But that's just not the way life has worked out."

Being in the business of being a metal band while not having it be a professional gig requires you to have a lot of discipline in your life as a whole.

"There's no pension plan in heavy metal," says Nemtheanga with a chuckle. "I mean, it's different for me as I don't have [pauses] kids or family or, you know, some of the bills to pay that some of the other guys do. Mortgages and this kind of thing. And also Ireland is a very expensive country to live in. You know, it's not like the money we have goes as far as it might do for Vader or Behemoth in Poland. It's not like in Scandinavia where you can apply for grants from the state or anything. The balancing act (is) between picking the things that you're able to do, that financially make sense, and of course, in the current economic climate in Ireland, if you have a job you really have to hold onto it, which means that maybe some of the leeway you might have been allowed with your job four or five years ago, as regards to like unpaid leave, just doesn't really exist any more. So it's just a balancing act, like anything else. We do enough - maybe we don't do as much as we'd like, but we do enough to be able to, you know, make it sort of sort of tick over."

Given the life opportunity, one wonders if Primordial would do a lot more shows. Some bands aren't into playing live- some professional musicians (Kate Bush is an example) find that fitting live work around commitments to family life makes their prospect completely unpalatable. How much of Nemtheanga's life would he be happy to spend on the road if there were no commitments to consider?

"Most of it, probably. [laughs] It suits me, it's what I like. I don't really like being in the studio, it bores me. People in a heavy metal or rock band complaining[emphasis] about being on the road? I mean that's... You know, you don't realise what sort of opportunity you've been given to see the world. Well, maybe the toilets of the world but you're still seeing the world. I would do way more if I was able. It just doesn't necessarily work out like that, you know? Like I said, we do enough that there's things to do, but you know, trying to get away for more than fourteen to twenty days at any one time... That said, you know, if you were, I don't know, the Vaders or Rotting Christs of this world, doing a hundred days, ninety day tours in a hundred days and stuff, I don't know whether that would suck the joy out of it. But if that's you're living that's also your living. The other thing I just thought: if we were a professional band then we would have to, probably, make an album every 18 months at least. That might[emphasis] impinge on the creativity of the music. You know, if we had[emphasis] to do it.

Not being tied to the constant album cycle seems an advantage for Primordial. Their records sound like they take time to bring together, to mature in their creators minds. Things might get horribly watered down were they hooked up like cows for milking. If you're managing to make consistently great records at a rate of about one every three years, probably it's desirable that you not be forced to make them on someone else's tighter schedule.

"Yeah, I mean it's not impossible. The only thing is that don't forget that, you know, when you pick up the new Primordial album and you compare it to the new Satyricon album you have to make [pauses, wry chuckle] a judgement there that here is a band who are professional musicians: that's what they do, make music. It's what they can do for the whole week, whereas we might rehearse, I don't know, once every six weeks sometimes. [interviewer exclaims 'Wow'] Yeah, sometimes not for two or three months if there's nothing to do. When you're having to juggle all the other things in your life with[emphasis] trying to be creative as well, it's very difficult to find that... that equilibrium, that balance, you know? So I think that's probably something that most people don't appreciate but, you know, that's life. What can you do? You just get on with it."

As apologetic as Nemtheanga is, some of us would say that he's seeing it the wrong way around. Having music not be a job, an obligation, is arguably a virtue. Not having the time to play the life out of your ideas may keep the spark that spawned them present. When all was said and done, the best albums of 2010 were not made by professionals but by amateurs. But more on that another time.

[Part 3 will be completed asap - not promising is better than breaking a promise]
Primordial recently announced their first UK club shows in 3 years, one in Manchester on the 4th of May and one in London the following night. If tickets for either haven't sold out by the time you read this, you are strongly urged to secure your place. It will be incredible: you won't believe a mere band of men with instruments and vocal chords can transform the world around you into such an intense arena of sensory experience. Be there.

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