Disclaimer: I initially intended to interview Lucy Xavier, the vocalist of Primal Rite, over the phone for a more conversational tone; but thanks to shitty German wifi while I'm on the road, we've been reduced to a standard Q&A format.
To preface, I first met most of the members of Primal Rite (sans Lucy) when I was living in Chicago in 2015. They were playing under the name Scalped, and I was immediately impressed with their style and energy. Though from the Bay Area, they had a heavy tone and aggression that felt distinctly out of place from what I was used to hearing from that area: faster, more traditionally punk-based bands like Look Back And Laugh, Lights Out, and Ceremony. They were angry, to be sure, but ultimately still very much rooted in punk. Scalped's music was meaner, heavier, and much, much more metallic. It could have been easily confused as "tough guy" hardcore from Baltimore or New York.
While the city boasts no shortage of internal problems for anyone remotely socially conscious to dissect, the general outside perspective seems to be that the San Francisco Bay Area is a "happy" place—but these kids were certainly not happy. I instantly connected with the members—especially Jeremy (drums) and Max (bass)—and we kept in touch, discussing music, television, and literature. A few months and a couple of line up changes later, the band was reborn as Primal Rite. Enter Lucy Xavier: Bold. Confident. Pronounced.
Although a proud supporter of the Bay Area hardcore scene, at first I was only able to view Lucy through the lens of the internet, but even through a screen, I could tell that she was fucking fearless. Before the band ever even dropped a track, Lucy came out swinging on places like Twitter and Instagram, pronouncing her queerness and gender fluidity, and foreshadowing the distinct possibility that Primal Rite was going to be something unlike the hardcore scene had ever faced before. In my opinion, that's completely come true.
They've since released a couple of fantastic seven-inches, signed to Revelation Records, notched a tour with Power Trip (upon which we grew closer as friends), and are now gearing up for the release of their debut LP, Dirge of Escapism (out January 26—we're streaming it in full below). It's an exciting time for the band and for those who support them, and I've been chomping at the bit to pick Lucy's brain about the album, her view of the world, and where she thinks we're headed.
Noisey: Let's get the more formal talk out of the way: what's the "big picture" message when it comes to Primal Rite, and more importantly, your new LP, Dirge of Escapism? Is there an overarching theme or lesson to be taken away from this album?
Lucy Xavier: I think as a band the “bigger picture” is chaos, power and clarity. A lot of our fast parts we want to be chaotic like Japanese hardcore, and we want to employ the power of death and thrash metal moreso than its brutality or dramatic essence, but arrange it and perform it all with sharpness and clarity. For the LP lyrically, escapism has kind of an interesting dual meaning to me, because it is both from a psychological standpoint the avoidance of the unpleasant or mundane with fantasy, as well as the actions, both physical and mental, you’d take to cope with depression and anxiety. I think my lyrics from song to song are exploring different escapes from the world—some fantasy, some confrontations with pain and some musings on the self. There are both intimate ideas and big ideas, little escapes and big escapes. It culminates in the final track, "Immutable Law," with the lyrics “manifest a world of thought”, which is me saying, I think if you struggle with yourself because of depression or having a marginalized identity, that you have to empower your mind and believe your truth to reshape your world, and find your peace.
We're all stuck on this rock, and I think we both agree that if society at large doesn't find a way to be more accepting and empathic of other classes, races, genders (ideally: the obliteration of ALL of them), we're fucked. What does the name Primal Rite mean to you? You also mention the "extrasensory self," what is that?
Agreed! Well, “primal” is like root or essential. So I guess you could see our songs as like, a pure expression of the human “core." Raw and chaotic with a lot of strength and groove! But honestly we just needed to come up with a name that fit our sound and wasn’t taken, and Primal Rite was good enough. The “extrasensory self” is a concept I am still working to define for my own personal development, and sort of “spiritual health” if you will. The idea spawned from reading some Kierkegaard and the I Ching, but it’s basically the self beyond what is built from basic sensory impulses and experience. It’s kind of mental and emotional, but deeply hidden from the outside world, and it pushes and pulls. That other self is in some ways the very tension, or hanging force, between your conscious mind and the outside world’s influences. It’s something I want to have a closer relationship with, but yes, in the meantime, everyone needs to be more accepting of and willing to break down constructs and systems around class, gender, and sexuality.
The artwork from your seven-inch and now on this LP remind me of classic Scandinavian death metal bands like Dismember and Entombed, but sonically you're very much still a hardcore band. Is it strictly an aesthetic choice, or do you have intentions of "crossing over" further? Do you want to branch your message our beyond the hardcore/punk scene? There's a point, I feel like, where you're just preaching to the choir.
Yeah, I mean we all love death metal and definitely favor that aesthetic over typical hardcore imagery. The main idea for the covers was nature, because the natural world is always in a balance of perfect order and uncompromising destruction. Images of mountains and water and shit really evoke that for me. And also the LP is a “zoomed in” perspective of the Rev seven-inch art, as to imply it is a continuation or deeper look into the same shit we’re working on. And yeah you guys (Power Trip) are sort of the blueprint for what we’d like to be, in the sense that we’d like to play to new people and a broader audience, play with more kinds of bands, but maintain our hardcore ethics and personal message to bring it to those new venues. I don’t want to “preach” to any choir, but accessibility to information is a big facet of classism, and I can’t expect everyone to embrace new ideas if they have no personal connection or fair education with them. Perhaps people can make a personal connection or be educated through me or my music. I’m open to anyone who respects me.
Crossover thrash, in a big way, was birthed in the Bay Area. Was this a conscious thought when Primal Rite was percolating in your mind? I hear much more pronounced influences from Cleveland, and East Coast, but is there some desire to pay respect to the local elders, too?
I mean, musically it all percolated in Jake’s mind—style-wise, it’s his brainchild, he is the primary songwriter. But we all love Bay Area thrash for sure. The Bay Area is a breeding ground for “sauce” musically. The Bay puts flavor into people. Just look at Metallica and Tupac. But yes, from Exodus to AFI, The Bay produces tracks and we are fans.
You're a self professed nerd like myself—we bonded quickly over things like video games and comics. In this fast-track connected globalized society we have going on, I feel that "nerd" culture has almost been entirely obliterated—what have you observed happening to these spaces for niche fandom, even outside of places like hardcore, that used to feel private, like our own secret sanctuary? On the flipside, our friendship blossomed because of the internet's ability to further those connections. It can be a miserable place, but has interacting with people through the public spaces of the Internet done more to uplift your spirit, or bring it down?
Ah yes, well to the first point I’d say the internet has allowed anyone to gain an immediate, cursory knowledge of anything. So you can watch a couple of Youtube videos and read a couple of wikis and kinda join a fandom overnight [laughs]. But shit that blows my mind that makes me love games is listening to podcasts about people who learned Japanese in order to import and play Japan exclusive video games, or development teams who worked insane hours through tireless months to produce experiences that would touch hundreds of thousands of lives. A true nerd invests themselves in their interests—there is time and love on the line.
As for toxic internet culture, oh boy yeah I’ve seen my fair share. It is like a double-edged sword, but it really comes down to how you want to view it, or how you navigate it. It’s in our hands and an extension of ourselves, so if you use technology because you want to explore ideas, share content and make friends, you will! But if you want to use it to hide, manipulate, and be combative because you’re a coward who can’t get their own life together, there’s unfortunately plenty of internet for you as well.
While my experience may be drastically different, I've always considered hardcore punk to be ahead of the curve, to be a more enlightened place than many other scenes, not strictly music. In your own experience, do you agree or disagree with that reading? I would lean that way as well yes, but also it has grown to such a point that it is often more of a subculture than a counter-culture. And that’s just inflation really, hardcore is operating on a bigger scale now. If you go to a big “triple-A” package tour, then there’s a chance you could meet some assholes that have found a neat little pocket in which they can gather some social clout and just basically be a normal ass shitty dude in a room they can scream and kick their friends in, while buying cool shirts and maybe getting laid.
But you can definitely still find counter-culture in moments of hardcore at any show, and moreso in smaller rooms, in local scenes. As with most things, the smaller the scope, the more focused the product. You will find what you seek if you stick with hardcore, what you need will find you. In my mind hardcore should be a voice for the voiceless and a place for progress, but I’m just a hoe so who’s gonna listen to me.
Tell me more about the song "Demon"— am I correct in thinking that the song is about mental health? Many times, I've felt like my entire personality can be overtaken by demonization. Is there a specific time or place these lyrics sprang from? Is this something you see yourself as living with, or eventually defeating?
It’s definitely about living with bipolar disorder and feeling like you sometimes lose control to the worst parts of yourself. Sometimes being depressed and compelled to hurt yourself can really feel like you’re possessed, and it’s terrifying. And mental health is really something you will and have to live with your entire life, it’s not something you defeat. You have to put in the work to find what works best for you, and have a support system in place for yourself when these problems flare up. No one is perfect and there will always be down times, but you have to keep trying and be constructive.
Another song that struck a chord with me was "Immutable Law." I believe an evolved, civilized society is one that is constantly questioning its own norms and its own state of being. Idealism is a disease, and we must constantly be analyzing and restructuring society to fit the needs of now—not passing some legislation and hoping in 20-30 years things pan out. Is that what this song is about? Do you find a strange sense of "order" in "chaos"?
Yeah, I guess it can be extrapolated to societal issues and development, but I wrote it as more about personal growth and life as a journey you participate in but don’t fully control. It was a passage in the I Ching that likened life to a river, and it really struck me. That you are in control of your own body in the water, but the water itself is outside of your control. Sometimes you move yourself, sometimes the water moves you.
But yes, the title comes directly from the only immutable law of life being change, and having to live with that in mind. If you fight against the signs of life and the opportunities for growth, even as these opportunities are sometimes great hardships, you are vain and ultimately not reaching your potential. You’re wasting energy on vanity, similar to a swimmer wasting energy swimming against the current. You have be open, present in the moment, fluid and adaptable. The first verse section does address society to an extent though. Those lyrics are about marginalized people and those who oppose them. Those swimming against the current will die faster.
Bruce Lee said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Be like water, my friend—formless, shapeless." Clearly, Lee was not making a bad pun in regards to gender fluidity, but I think his metaphor extends to the topic: though I have always identified as a straight male, I have, in my adult life, accepted and embraced gender as a vast spectrum. How can more privileged people like me aid in helping others understand this concept of fluidity as water, with the ever-flowing stream eroding the "rocks" (stubborn ignorance) of "tradition" (typical gender roles)?
Ah, the perfect connection! Yes I love this quote of Lee’s. It’s one of my favorites and actually is in my Instagram bio. “You put water in a cup, it becomes the cup.... you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.... Be water, my friend.” Yeah I mean, I have plenty of friends who are like, “I’m a man” or “I’m a woman” and that works for them. That’s great! There’s nothing wrong with that. But expecting everyone in the world to be one of those two things is ridiculous when you take into account how loaded and pressured those roles are because of media and history. The human body is such a complex thing and our emotions and internal dialogues and desires are even more complex and diverse. There’s no reason someone can’t be who they say they are if it isn’t hurting you!
As far as helping goes, the primary tenant is that oppression is in direct correlation with privilege. That is to say, someone is only at a disadvantage because someone else has a directly proportionate advantage. So if you see different people struggling and being attacked, you have to engage them directly, make a connection and figure out how to level the playing field. We should all communicate and work together so we all have the same access to a better quality of life.
Consciously or subconsciously, I feel the masses are engaged in an enormous power struggle. Do you think we are on the cusp or societal revolution, or a downfall of civilization? How do you cope with the high levels of suffering we are subjected to on a daily basis, both in self-doubt, and society at large?
Yeah this touches back onto "Immutable Law" subject matter too. Change is inevitable, man; flowing energy must go somewhere and something must be destroyed for something else to be created. But I can’t say I have an idea how it’s going to play out. Tough to say. I would assume there will be a collapse and change will only come out of necessity, when society has witnessed complete failure haha. It certainly seems to me that the systems we have in place are failing miserably. But we had a good run right? Slavery. Genocide. Korea. Iraq. Jersey Shore. And as far as surviving goes, well, you just have to keep trying new things. Life is intense and overbearing more often than not but it is never, never too late to start over or try something new. Meet new people, move somewhere, find a new hobby, go back to school. The only solace in life is bettering yourself, taking good care of yourself. Don’t ever let yourself feel stuck under life, just keep it moving. It’s totally up to you. Challenging power also starts with you, it starts small. You change yourself, change your language, change your lifestyle, then the changes in your day to day life will influence those around you and you will develop a platform on which you can reach further.
What's next for Primal Rite? Tours? Shout outs? What are you listening to/playing/reading? Roasts for my terrible interviewing skills?
I’m going to cap it by saying I love you and Power Trip is my favorite band to see live! It’s such a crazy and special thing to me to have become friends with you and tour with you because I remember being in my early 20s and loving Power Trip, never having any idea where I’d be now. So yeah, kids, anything is possible! Stay involved in DIY music and it will take you places (if you don’t mind being broke all the time and having a hard time explaining your life to other adults).
We’re doing an East Coast tour in early April leading up to Damaged City Fest in DC and we’ll be planning more moves for the rest of the year, so keep your eyes peeled. We’re already two songs into our next record so we’re gonna keep the tracks coming! Shoutout the bands who are part of our record release California tour: No Right, Dead Heat and Mizery. Also excited for the new Turnstile LP too! My favorite game of last year was Nier:Automata, don’t even dare talking to me about video games until you’ve played it, and I plan on playing Dragonball: FighterZ religiously in the near future. Also, Jump Up Superstar literally felt like a moment my entire life was building up to, it was that good. Okay I’ve said my piece, thanks for caring anyone.
Primal Rite live:
January 26 San Francisco, CA @ Thee Parkside
January 27 Los Angeles, CA @ Top Space
January 28 Santa Cruz, CA @ SubRosa
April 5-8 Washington, DC @ Damaged City Fest
Riley Gale yells in Texas thrash titans Power Trip; follow them on Twitter.