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[sic] Magazine - Interview: Primitive Ignorant

[sic] Magazine

Interview: Primitive Ignorant

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Sym Gharial – aka Primitive Ignorant, and once of The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster and Piano Wire – discusses his debut album, Sikh Punk, being released during a pandemic:

“It’s been difficult. Literally finished it just before the lockdown started. We had all these plans around it that have not been able to materialise.”

There are plans to play live:

“I’m not really too keen on trying to do an online gig. I haven’t done any shows with this yet. We had a load of rehearsals and I had a load of shows booked in, and then… I haven’t been able to do any rehearsals because we haven’t been able to get people together. I’ve been offered a lot of stuff. I was beginning to kind of work it all out and then we locked down.”

“It’s great to be doing something not in the traditional band set-up, I can go and represent the songs in whatever way I want. Which is really freeing. I kind of planned it to be a bit more raucous. I was picturing the live thing being a bit more visceral. We’ve had to put it back so who knows? I’m getting on with the next record now.”

Gharial describes the writing process:

“In 80s Matchbox, I wrote a few songs, but I was never a songwriter. In Piano Wire, I did a lot of writing, but with Andy (Huxley) driving along which was totally cool. I wanted to make something that I’d never made before.”

What was the inspiration for the album?

“Loosely inspired by The Clash’s Sandinista. I like the way they did whatever they wanted to. The process didn’t have any specific formula; I was just making music and using instruments in a way I’ve never really done before. I asked people who I admire and really like to come in at certain points.”

Brett Anderson lived round the corner from me, I used to knock on his door when Dog Man Star came out. One of the songs is called “Beautiful Scum” – the original title for “Beautiful Ones” – which I think is a better title. It’s a sort of a homage.”

Gharial collaborated on many of the tracks on Sikh Punk:

“There’s a different singer pretty much on each song. I did all the music and wrote all the lyrics. The singers came in with their melodies, but sang all my words. It’s quite cool, to get their perspective. They’re not of South-Asian origin like me and they’re not immigrants, but they’re singing about this stuff that’s quite deeply personal to me, that I’m acutely vulnerable, revealing all this intimate stuff. Maybe they have experienced it, maybe they haven’t. Their singing about it makes it quite enticing, quite alluring, quite mystical.”

“I really like Idles, and collaborated with Joe Talbot. It’s a bit of life stories, that starts with my cousin reading Oscar Wilde poetry, and Mick Jones finishes it off. It’s sort of autobiographical, with a twist at the end.”

Lyrically, Gharial explains he was influenced by his growing up in London, aware and at times ‘ashamed’ of his Sikh background (“People react to things in different ways. My cousins weren’t really bothered, but it did hit me really, really hard,”) before moving to Brighton, joining 80s Matchbox, and embracing rock and roll:

“Andy (Huxley, 80s Matchbox guitarist) is half Sri-Lankan. We both considered ourselves English or British, even though we weren’t… or I was certainly hoping that’s how I’d be perceived. That’s why music is so extraordinarily powerful. Even if it’s for a millisecond, you can comprehend your identity within the confines of a song.”

“I never took much of what was going on in the world too seriously. But I became kind of aware of the xenophobia in this country, and the Brexit thing really sort of encapsulated the whole thing didn’t it, the whole race issue?”

This issue became even more prominent as the record was being completed:

“It was recorded before the murder of George Floyd. It’s awful having to talk about racism, and that black lives matter. I guess I feel like the album is important because it is talking about these things that lots of people think don’t really exist, that inequalities don’t really exist, that discrimination doesn’t exist. I guess after the murder of George Floyd, the outpouring of emotion, that’s centuries of persecution coming out. You can’t control that level of trauma, it was a global outpouring. I’ve been quite inspired by the Black Panthers, they were fighting for racial equality – their uniform was really great! I used it in the last video.”

Talking of videos, what was that 80s Matchbox “Mister Mental” video with the giant heads all about?

“The guy who shot it was called Peru; he said he posted it and it got taken down by Universal, meaning that if you did not see it, you now might now not. We’d done this photoshoot in Iceland and we looked terrible. He had to do something weird. Our manager said ‘You’ve got to do something, it looks fucking awful!” They bastardised it and gave us big heads. When we came to do the video, they just gave us big heads!”

Gharial remains in contact with the 80s Matchbox band members:

“We’re all definitely in touch. We all still love each other and care for each other. There’s a bond there that will never be broken. We weren’t very cool. We were out on our own a little bit. If we were to come out now, we would be a lot bigger. In that day people were slick, neat, cool, stylised indie-pop.”

Switching back to the present day, Gharial discusses the current music scene:

“I don’t think artists, even before the pandemic, across the board – painter, scupltor, actor, actress or writer – they haven’t been respected enough in this country. The government particularly have not supported the arts. However they phrased the whole ‘retraining’ thing, that statement was a culmination of years of abuse of the arts. It’s such a huge – even if you want to think of it as economics, and most artists don’t – a huge industry, in terms of how society runs, and how people feel and what’s important to people emotionally. And it’s the lack of empathy and understanding. In a way, words aren’t enough, but if they were to come out and say ‘We wanna be clear about how important this is, how integral it is to our society, we’ll do what we can to support it,’ that’s kinda what people want. Just the gesture of it.”

Despite this, Gharial is pleased that the arts have continued:

“There’s so much great music at the moment. There’s so much great art that’s being made. If you wanna make music you can put it up online, put it out to people straight away. It’s a lot more multi-cultural, a lot more cross-genre stuff, a lot more exciting. Music’s in a pretty good place… I think we’re in a really healthy state at the moment.”

Sikh Punk is out now. [sic] magazine would like to thank Sym Gharial for his time and words.

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