Up The Pub! An Interview With Primitive Parts

The London trio tell Joe Clay about their no-frills post-punk, influenced by both Dr Feelgood and doomed video rental chains, and take in lyrical obscuring and plans for a new automotive playback format in the process

The Marquis of Lansdowne marks the point where Stoke Newington ends and Dalston begins, a rare "pwopah boozer" before you hit the run of trendy bars. It’s not exactly spit and sawdust, but it’s the closest you’ll find in this part of London – San Miguel on tap, well refreshed old fellas on stools at the bar, a pool table, a crappy quiz machine and a telly showing England’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland. (Later, the roars from the smattering of England fans when Wayne Rooney breaks Bobby Charlton’s goal-scoring record will drown out the conversation I’m recording.) It’s a fitting venue in which to meet Primitive Parts, the East London punk trio whose stripped-back, no-frills debut album Parts Primitive, is, according to guitarist Kevin Hendrick, influenced by Dr Feelgood – "not doing the same thing, but that sort of pub rock that’s pure and rhythmic".

"Like Eddie & The Hot Rods," agrees singer and guitarist Lindsay Corstorphine. "It’s all that throbbing, clean guitar. We’re definitely into that. But it’s more just the idea of pub rock. It’s quite a broad church."

"It’s a big boozer," chuckles drummer Robin Christian, who is recovering from almost having blinded himself in one eye with a drum stick while playing a gig in Bristol with his other band, Male Bonding, of which Hendrick is also a part.

Corstorphine is also in other bands – post-punk outfits Sauna Youth and Cold Pumas – but Primitive Parts came together in 2012 when the trio were working together at Flashback Records in Crouch End. They’d spend their time discussing the qualities of the music that they liked and listening to 7"s with "interesting cover art… yellowing paper sleeves," explains Corstorphine. "We were really into the idea that all that’s left of a band is this artefact."

The first gig Primitive Parts played was the Flashback Christmas party. "The first few things we did were really strange," says Corstorphine. "You could hear the composites of the individuals. It sounded like Male Bonding plus Sauna Youth, but eventually we found whatever our sound is, working with the limitations of not having a bass."

Hendrick, a bass player by trade (formerly of 90s/00s indie rockers Seafood), was adamant that he didn’t want to play bass. "For me it was like starting again. I’ve always played bass – and there’s probably a good reason for that! I can only play the guitar in quite a basic way. That made our sound probably less designed, because I’m quite limited with what I can do with that instrument. That was the whole approach. It’s stripped back compared to what we’d done before. We wanted to be quite transparent about our sound."

The three would get together whenever commitments with other bands/life/work allowed, rehearsing in various studios in the area, including Audio Underground in Stoke Newington and Sound Savers in Homerton. But as well as the talents of the individuals, the Primitive Parts sound is defined by the Tascam 388, a giant Portastudio with an open reel eight-track tape recorder that the whole album was recorded on.

"When you record to tape there’s not much room for correcting it afterwards," Corstorphine reveals. "It’s a real pain in the arse to drop in where you’ve made a mistake and had to cover it up. You have to cut the tape and put it back together – you’ve got to really know what you’re doing. So we left the some of the mistakes in, and the magic of the tape hides them for you. They’re still there, but it’s almost like it becomes part of it."

"You can work really quickly," says Christian. "You can write songs in an intense burst and then record them in the same day. There isn’t that run up to recording, or having to demo songs. It’s almost like an instrument."

"It really is," Corstorphine agrees. "It’s like the fourth member of the band. In technical terms, it rolls off certain frequencies. It doesn’t have that harshness. It squashes everything together. So you can record the drums at a really high level, but the tape flattens them down. It’s very pleasing to listen to. It’s almost distorted, but in a very satisfying way. It sounds right because you grow up hearing these songs on the radio – Beatles and Stones songs – that were all done on tape. So you know this sound intrinsically. That’s the sound you grew up with."

There is something hugely addictive about the noise made by Primitive Parts – the drums sound like Christian is bashing away at a pile of cardboard boxes ("that’s the desired effect," he explains), and the simple fuzz bomb guitar lines and catchy vocal hooks stay with you. Peerless Aussie punks Eddy Current Suppression Ring are an influence, but ‘Troubles’ evokes Dirk Wears White Sox-era Adam And The Ants and the snotty attitude of early Blur B-sides is evident on songs like ‘Being There’, while you can definitely hear the raucous pub rock influence and early Stiff Records vibes in the fuss-free approach to music making. It’s not uptight and Kraut-y as a lot of post-punk can be; it’s loose and free, rhythmically.

The artwork fits in with the no-frills approach of the band – a black and white image of an upturned shopping trolley taken by Christian. "That trolley was outside Sound Savers, where we used to practise," says Corstorphine. "It was there for months. There used to be a dead rat under it. It became sort of symbolic, but it’s also just a really nice image."

An early 7" had a photo of the interior of Blockbuster in Crouch End on the sleeve. "I knew that it was closing down and I liked the idea that you could see this thing that was dying. It wasn’t going to be there for much longer… everywhere in Crouch End is a coffee shop now," explains Christian.

"It’s really weird how a photo of Blockbusters from not that long ago can suddenly look like it’s from the 1970s," muses Hendrick.

The record was mastered by Mikey Young (of the aforementioned Eddy Current, currently on hiatus), but despite being big fans, the band weren’t afraid to speak out when they heard his first attempt. "The first time he sent it back it basically sounded the same, explains Corstorphine. "So we asked him to do it again and it was much better. We wanted it to sound loud and… contained. I think he was just a bit too restrained when he started. The mastering makes it authentic – it makes it sound like a record. But people get too hung up on the sound when you should be listening to the song."

"You can’t really govern for how people are going to listen to it," says Hendrick. "Songs that stay with me I’ve listened to on really shitty tapes in cars and on vinyl on really amazing sound systems. I’ve got a Skoda estate with a tape player – the silver dream machine. We should do an album playback in a car."

"It should be hardwired into the car," laughs Corstorphine. "The car format. Buy a Primitive Parts car."

"A Rough Trade playback in a car," concurs Hendrick, warming to the theme. "Just drive it into the shop. Or you have to play it in your car – like a drive-in movie. A car is a great environment to listen to music."

Corstorphine writes all the lyrics, and "every song is about something, but I’ve taken a step back. It’s more of an abstraction, so it’s not exactly clear. Contrary to what Kevin was saying earlier about transparency, that’s the one point where I wanted to hold it back a bit. I really like The Fall, and it’s not always obvious what he’s singing about."

"I tend to like songs more if I don’t know what the fuck they’re on about," says Hendrick. "I don’t zone in on it – I don’t need to know. It’s more about the rhythm of the words."

"For me, it’s often things I’ve heard people say that I liked the sound of. I try and work them in," Corstorphine continues. "It’s the tapestry of the lyric. But then ‘Rented Houses’ is about living in a shared, shitty flat in Hackney Wick. In the winter it was unbearably cold and you can see your breath – that was a reality."

Poverty used to be an occupational hazard for musicians, but Primitive Parts are part of the new breed of music makers who fit being in a band around full-time jobs. "The only downside is that we don’t get to play together as much as we’d like," says Corstorphine.

"People keep saying we’re a new band, but we’ve been together for ages," says Hendrick. "We don’t really do all that much, but there’s no reason why we can’t be taken as seriously and reach as many people. There used to be an all or nothing thing about being a musician. It doesn’t really matter – everybody has to work. You can be in a band as well. That’s probably why we ended up working in a record shop. Being in a band changes the nature of the work you pursue, to enable you to do other stuff. You either get on with it, or you give up."

Parts Primitive is out now on Trouble In Mind. Primitive Parts play an in-store at Rough Trade East tonight; for full details, head here

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