The Glasgow‐Based Band Primal Rival Discuss Their Latest Single, “Faceless”

Born and raised in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, Kevin Donnelly was exposed to music at a young age. While talking with Post-Burnout, Kevin recounts, “Quite a few people in my family and in my house were musical – my dad, especially, who’s a guitarist that loved rock and that kind of music from way back in the day – so, there was always a guitar sitting there, so I had an interest in that for a lot of years.

“And then I was probably about, I don’t know, fourteen or something when I finally did it, because, like everything, I procrastinate a lot! And I think I used to always get the feeling because you’d watch and listen to… – I think this maybe stifles a lot of people, early on – where, everything you listen to, you think, ‘God, they’re so good. It will take me years to ever be able to do that,’ and then, when you actually go and see people live and once you start learning, you realise, actually, a lot of the music you like and listen to is incredibly easy. In fact, you sometimes think you already exceeded that! [Laughs]”

Like a lot of young music lovers, Kevin’s experiences of live music were sadly dampened by local licensing laws which made gigs that permitted attendees under eighteen few and far between. Fortunately, this had the benefit of making Kevin engage with the local scene more. “My first experience of gigs was probably just local band nights and things, you know?” he says.

“They would’ve been bands that people I went to school with were in and stuff, and they were underaged at the time. You basically had to get by on either laxed door staff or [Laughs] fake I.D.s, or whatever! But, yeah, there were opportunities that way. Yeah, I suppose I didn’t really… – in terms of bigger gigs and the like – I didn’t really start that until I was over eighteen, anyway. But I certainly was going to some of the local nights when I was a bit younger, so that was probably the start of it.”

Inspired by the local music scene, Kevin wanted to start his own band. While he had picked up the guitar by this time and had jammed with friends, none of them eventuated into long-term (or even short-term) projects, despite his best efforts. At university, he and his best friend started a band. As both played guitar, Kevin decided to take up bass. “Once you do that, you’re going to be playing bass for a long time, because everybody, all of sudden, wants you to play with them,” laughs Kevin.

Photo by Eddie Mceleney
Courtesy of Old Crow Promotions

Kevin honed his bass skills and played with a plethora of acts in the North, including a jazz band, for about a decade. Eventually, life circumstances made him relocate to Glasgow, Scotland. “When I got into Glasgow, I was jamming and doing some bass playing because [it’s] a great way to meet people, [a] great way to sort of get into the local scene and things,” he says. “That’s always been an interest of mine, anyway, wherever I’ve been.”

Unfortunately, the timing of the move and trying to form a band was not fortuitous. “I didn’t have any experience of Glasgow[‘s] live scene before COVID, really,” says Kevin. “I had been to see some gigs; I hadn’t played any. I only moved over in, maybe, like, October of 2019, and it was – what was it? – like, March of the following year was when everything shut?” Still, what he did get to experience in that window of time impressed him. “I was really struck when I came over,” he continues. “I lived in Belfast for about nine years before that, and there was a pretty good local scene there, too, but the scale of things in Glasgow was just so much bigger.”

When locked indoors for the quarantine, Kevin began a new one-man project out of necessity: Primal Rival. “Even in my own time, I’ve always enjoyed songwriting, so I was doing that anyway,” he says. “And you come to realise, as you’re playing bass, I think, that any ambitions you have for some of your songs to make it onto the set are usually quashed quite early on.

“So, whenever the band sort of had to take a break from doing anything for a couple of months – I guess it was the second lockdown, by this stage – I thought, ‘Well, you know what? I’ll try.’ Because I’d never really tested any of these songs, so I was able to just layer everything – I had my bass, I had my guitar, [and] drum loops – so, I was producing quite early on, I’d say fairly good demos; like, full-rock-band-sounding demos, and  I was sharing them with people I knew, on SoundCloud and the likes. It was very slow at first. It was kind of testing, ‘Am I onto something, here?’ If people were to tell me they were terrible, I would go back to basics and work on it, but the reaction early on was quite good.”

After some trial-and-error woodshedding, Kevin released the first track, “Neighbours,” under the Primal Rival name in October 2021. The following month, he released his first EP – which included “Neighbours” and three new tracks – titled Sundaze. Musically, Sundaze was a solo effort from Kevin (save for a session drummer he hired to add some real percussion) that he later got professionally produced. Not long after, he got his first opportunity to play live in his new hometown.

“I started with, actually, just some friends from my old band,” Kevin says. “When they were gigging, they were happy to let me go on stage and just open, acoustically, just doing some of my songs as a means to promote this EP that I put out. I had a few gigs booked as myself doing that, and about halfway through that run, I managed to get a band together, very quickly. So, it went from what was going to be an acoustic opener to a full band playing, and people liked it.”

While there have been some line-up changes since then, Primal Rival has remained a full band. At the beginning of February, the band dropped their first single since Sundaze‘s release, the grunge-infused “Faceless.”  “That song, even though it was written relatively quickly, it’s a number of years old, at this point,” says Kevin of the track. “It sat for a long time before I did anything with it, until I had a band together, you know? I maybe jammed it with a few people and it just didn’t work.

“Once it was sounding good and once it actually…you know, not just, ‘Ah, I’m going to release this,’ but once there was a band together that was playing it live, that was the time, I think. And, also, we had a run of gigs coming up and we had this new line-up, so new opportunities, new photos you can put out, ‘Here are the guys,’ and new things you could do. So, I think the release was timed, in that sense, where we like, ‘Can we do other things with this release and not just throw it out there, a few people listen to it, and then it goes away?’”

Primal Rival’s latest single, “Faceless,” is available now on all streaming platforms. You can follow the band on Facebook and Instagram.

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