Interview: Srdjan Bilić of Primitai

Last weekend, Primitai made their long-awaited return to Scottish soil and played a stormer of a show at Ivory Blacks. Prior to this, I had chance to catch up with guitarist and all-round lovely chap Serj.

You played with Triaxis in Glasgow this past weekend. How do you feel the show went?

We’re pretty buzzing after our weekend in Glasgow for many reasons. Playing with a band like Triaxis is great on many levels. They are one of the bands we have a long history of sharing the stage with since 2012 and it is heart warming to reconnect with familiar faces and see us both still going strong many years later. Playing with a band with their level of musicianship and songs is always a thrill. The Glasgow crowd was just as loud and welcoming as it has always been, a modest size as expected for us grass roots bands but certainly full of support, chanting to songs we haven’t played there before. The sound was great for all the bands and certainly did everyone justice. Financially we were able to cover costs too thanks to generous merch sales. We hope to be back in 2017!

The latest Primitai album, Night Brings Insanity (review here), came out earlier this year. How do you feel the response has been to it?

It has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of press reviews, presales and sales, as well as the moral support of the bands and contacts such as yourself that we’d met over the years. Very humbling, considering the place the band was in when it was made. After the Rise Again album cycle was rounded off with a February 2015 tour with Wolf, we were back to square one in many ways. We parted ways with our long time rhythm section and could not ride on the Rise Again release any longer

The remaining core of Guy, Sergio and I knew we had to act there and then to stop the band losing all we had gained, and made an action plan to write and record the album over the Summer, have it mixed and mastered during Winter and release it in Spring. So we did not have the luxury of years to make it, we got our heads down but wrote spontaneously and freely in the spare time we had.

That’s why being met with such a positive response meant a lot when we finally re-emerged. Being back to square one reminded us of why we should be doing this – for the enjoyment of making music together and enjoying it with the fans. We were humbled by the welcome back, all the support, positive response and feedback, and that our new songs were held in as high regard as our previous albums that were made in much more favourable circumstances.

It was also your first time doing an album with new-comers Scott and Jonny. What was it like working with them and how has it been playing shows with them?

Scott and Jonny joined at a relatively late stage in the album recording but were able to add some of their own input and finishing touches to most of the songs. We straight away had a great working relationship – Scott is Guy’s brother and Jonny their life long friend which certainly contributes to the good atmosphere and work ethic, and all three of them have been in bands together many times. That existing connection and chemistry has translated to the live shows. I for one have found myself smiling ear to ear and lunging into every single chord during every gig.

In comparison to your previous albums, how different would you say the new album is musically?

The music of Primitai is ultimately founded on the arrangement of the guitar riffs, chord progressions and melodies and this has not changed. What has changed is that the Rise Again album was written by Nick and Jamie (founding guitarist and bassist) and I, whereas Sergio and I wrote all the music on this one. The musical changes are therefore relative to our personal preferences. It is still the classic metal formula with a modern production, but comparisons might shift from In Flames/Manowar vibes to Sergio’s progressive/technical influences of Symphony X and Angra. The vocals are just as melodic and harmonious, and in order to keep the balance of technicality and rock and roll I think I have been more liberal with my Accept/Saxon/Ratt style riffing. I think we still achieved the common goal of keeping heavy metal up to date and reviews have name-checked bands like Trivium. Rhythmically there is a bit more hip swinging and groove which has helped the songs come to life live, courtesy of Jonny and Scott’s tight and developed partnership.

Production wise, was it any different to the previous?

The main difference was that we left the guitar sound to our producer, this time; Lasse Lammert, who literally has every amp under the sun, from Marshall JMPs to Kempers… He re-amped our tracks through many different combinations settling on the PRS Archon and Peavy EVH. The difference was huge! We couldn’t be happier with his work. One thing we hope will be a constant collaboration is with Tom Keech on vocal recording. He brings out the best in Guy’s singing and helps us find the intricate and subtle harmonies that fit best.

What sort of equipment (in terms of guitars/amps) are you using at the moment?

My main guitar is a Jackson RRMXG24 flying V with EMG pickups, which really punch through the mix. Amp-wise I bought a Marshall JMP-1 rack mount valve preamp 5 years, which I then powered with my old Laney head. Five years later I’m still using it. It’s not quite a JCM 800 but it can dial up all sorts of Marshall valve sounds and has 128 memory banks as opposed to 1 or 2 channels. I’ve recently acquired delay and chorus pedals which sound a bit Somewhere in Time!

What are the band’s plans for the next 6 to 12 months?

I think the plan is to carry on what we are doing. Everything has been going to plan so far and gigs are starting to pop up here, there and everywhere. We are writing new songs as well as we don’t want to leave it as long as last time. That way, when this album cycle closes we’ll have new stuff ready to throw at people. It means then we can avoid this long gap that we had which was rather counter-productive to us. We want to try and avoid that this time and continue to build momentum. We were very lucky that we’ve made the most of this ‘fresh-start’ per se.

Are there any new bands that you’ve discovered in the past 12-18 months that have piqued your interest?

Guy and me have been really liking a band called Ambush from Sweden. They’ve got this heavy metal sound right down to a tee and are bloody great. Sergio’s really been enjoying Haken recently; he loved their new album!

Is there any advice you would give to a new band?

There’s not really much of a music industry left and I think you really need to keep your feet on the ground and enjoy every moment. You need to have the ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality as well. You’ve got to come guns blazing into everything. You can’t just be a guy that makes music, you need to sell yourself in everything you do. The days of getting discovered are gone. You’ve got to be a band that does everything so that when/if you do get discovered, then the person who takes you on won’t have to do as much and can focus on getting stuff out to more people. There aren’t many doors left to knock on so you have to build all of this up yourself.

At the end of the day, you must not lose sight of why you are doing this. If you forget that, then you’ll just end up being miserable and lose morale. I don’t want to be too negative, but it’s tough out there. If you make a good enough impression on people then you’ll be able to keep going forward. People will remember you for the right reasons and you just need to keep positive.

All pictures by Bukavac Photography

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