It’s a risky move when a band shifts gears and tries something new. It could be a welcomed change or be lambasted by fans and critics alike. California’s Prima Donna put those fears aside and went in a new direction for their fifth album, S/T. The title stands for “self-titled” because the band wants to reintroduce themselves. It’s a new chapter for them and frontman Kevin Preston feels it represents who they are now. Preston sat down and spoke with GID about the new LP, the challenges Eric Palmquist put him up to, playing in The Longshot, and how the band has evolved over the years.
GID: S/T marks a new chapter for the band. What was the catalyst for this change?
Kevin Preston: We didn’t have any hang ups anymore. For a long time, we had this really strict vision of what our band was gonna be and we dropped that. We’re not afraid anymore. We came into this record with over 40 demos and ideas and whittled that down. There were no rules. We were listening to Roxy Music and Bowie at the time thinking ‘I don’t think they thought well Roxy Music has to be this or a Bowie song has to sound like this.’ It just seems like people were more daring [then] and it felt like we needed to be this time around.
GID: Were you nervous about the reaction the record would get since it is a change from what you’ve done in the past?
KP: Well not really – okay maybe early on in the writing phase. You always think ‘we’ll see what happens,’ so we did have some jitters. We did a couple of warm up shows before we went into the studio. We’d do half new stuff, half old stuff just to see how the hometown crowd would like it and they were all well received. I think people went crazier for the new stuff. We knew we were stepping in a cool direction.
GID: For this record, you worked with producer Eric Palmquist and he really pushed you guys out of your comfort zone. What made you want to work with him?
KP: He worked with The Mars Volta and I figured anyone who can capture that in a studio can definitely spice up what we’re doing and hear us out on some of the crazier ideas. He likes to take risks, you know. We didn’t want a producer that was just gonna clean things up and polish some of the rough edges. We really wanted someone that was gonna get their hands dirty and try some weird stuff. We liked some of the stuff he did previously and knew he was the guy. We worked with him on a seven-inch single years ago and we thought his head was in the right place. We always wanted to get back with him and this time our schedules permitted, so it was great.
GID: What was the greatest challenge when it came to making this album?
KP: I sang my ass off! He had me singing so much. Every producer we’ve worked with always get the best out of me, but a lot of times we’re really focusing on things like ‘you can sing that line better’ or ‘let’s try it another way.’ But with Eric, I sang at least four different vocal tracks on every single song, no exceptions. That’s not even takes. I probably did dozens of takes on each of just random stuff. We had a low vocal, lower than the main melody. I would also do a take that was just completely, low, not necessarily a harmony just a really weird low version. After that, I’d do a falsetto version like Frankie Valley or Lou Christie really high up. Then I’d do ab lib tracks where I would chop up some of my lines and throw in some random screams and animal noises. For me, that was the biggest challenge because I’m used to getting an idea of a melody or a harmony and acting it out, but he really wanted me to dig deep, so I did. I know once I get back in the studio I’m doing that same thing.
GID: A running theme on the album is betrayal. Was this intentional or did it come about naturally during the writing process?
KP: It was natural. There were a few intentional lyric choices, like the first track “4 Real.” I really wanted to write a song about Richie Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers and his disappearance. Otherwise, I don’t set out to have a love song or a this song and a that song. As for the theme, it’s a few different types of betrayal. I focused a lot on friendships I’ve had that have deteriorated. People may assume it’s about lost love or a breakup, but I wanted to write about friendships this time, so a lot of that bled into my lyrics. And some of it is the crazy social and political climate right now. Everybody’s feeling betrayed on all sides. It’s not a doom and gloom record but I definitely let some of that come out in my writing this time.
GID: Do you feel like this is the album Prima Donna was working up to and the others were trying to find your sound?
KP: I wouldn’t necessarily say that because when we look back, we totally realize what place we were at when those records came out. They’re like perfect snapshots of what we were up to. We don’t have a record where we don’t know what we were thinking or we were talked into it, no way. Every record we’ve done, we’ve owned it. That was totally us at the time and this record is the same. We’ve gone through so many life changes since the last record; you can hear it.
GID: Aside from Prima Donna you’re also playing in Billie Joe Armstrong’s new project The Longshot. How did that come about?
KP: Oh man, I got a really great phone call from Billie Joe a few months ago. He said ‘I wrote some songs. I want to know what you think.’ He sent me ‘The Last Time’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ and I was like ‘God these are great.’ I didn’t tell him but I listened to them like ten times in a row before I wrote back. I told him ‘yeah these songs are awesome, dude.’ And he’s like ‘You wanna be in a band with me? What do you think?’ I didn’t have to think about it, let’s just say that. That was a few months ago and now we’re in the middle of a tour. It’s all been a whirlwind and it’s been so much fun.