Primitive Inspiration
Spellbound - Vol IV Iss IV
© June 2000

Stephen C. of Melbourne, VIC submitted to Spellbound his ideas of a discussion of album cover art and the inspirations behind songs. We discussed with Iva the album Icehouse in Volume IV Issue III. Here now is the next installment in which Iva answers questions about Primitive Man. Not only is this a continuation of Stephen's suggestion, but two of the questions below were contributed by Deborah G. of Orlando, FL.

What was the influence behind the cover for Primitive Man?

That's a fair question. That was a piece of artwork which came out of Chrysalis, believe it or not. But it came out independent completely of any project. It came via Ray Hearn. He was either speaking with an artist in there or came across something that was on a table in the art department. It just caught his eye. So it was completely isolated from any project. It wasn't that we'd recorded an album and went looking for a cover. In fact, we had the artwork way before "Great Southern Land" was written. It ended up becoming the cover and, in fact, was partly responsible for my using the phrase "primitive man," because of the fact that it was such a naïve, almost cave-person type of depiction on a human figure.

Why did you choose to perform a version of "Uniform" in German?

By complete accident, I ended up buying Peter Gabriel's third album, which is the one with "Games Without Frontiers." It was completely recorded in German. It became apparent that Peter Gabriel had, I think, done an entirely French and an entirely German version of that album. They were only distinguishable on the outside by the fact that the cover, although it was the same, had slightly different colour schemes. Having heard this, and also given the subject matter of "Uniform," it came to light that Keith Forsey had spent ten years working in Munich. He spoke fluent German. So I asked him to translate it for me. He coached me in singing it and we recorded it in German. In actual fact, it's been pointed out to me since that I sing it in a Bavarian accent, which is because Keith Forsey learned to speak German from a Bavarian. I was actually foolish enough to sing it to a crowd of 20,000 people in Nuremberg (Nürnberg) Stadium.

And did they tell you that you had a cute accent?

No, they were probably highly offended.

Were there any interesting stories behind the other songs on Primitive Man that you'd like to share? For instance, "Goodnight, Mr. Matthews" was because you had to sit with that fellow.

That song was written well before the Primitive Man songs. "One By One" was completely constructed in the studio in Los Angeles. That was definitely an afterthought, as was "Hey Little Girl." "Hey Little Girl" was the last song on the album written.

Didn't you write it very fast?

Very fast, and the master recording was completely done in Giorgio Moroder's home under really, really primitive circumstances. Keith Forsey engineered it. It was one of the most horrible recordings, sonically, you're ever likely to hear. But it all sort of works, for some reason. The actual arrangement of the song is completely a result of editing. I actually constructed the arrangement of the song with Dave Jerden and a razorblade. There are, in fact, about five verses of it. The verses that you hear, on the final recording, are literally lines from five different verses. One verse will be three different lines from three different of the originally sung verses. I went through, with all the verses, and I went, "I like that line in that verse. That line in that verse." Then I got a razorblade out and went looking for them. I cut them in the right places and stitched the whole thing together so that instead of there being five verses, we ended up with the compact version that it is. It was so late in the night when we were doing it and Dave was following instructions from me like "go to the fourth verse and get me the second line." He was getting so confused he ended up with all these pieces of tape stuck up on the wall. He was literally so tired and so confused by the end that he was putting them in backwards.

That's amazing. A patchwork song.

Well, yeah. Of course, these days it's very easy to do that sort of thing with computers. You just cut and paste. In those days it was a bit more demanding with bits of tape and razorblades.

"Trojan Blue"… a huge favorite…

"Trojan Blue" is one of the originals from Leichhart. We went with "Great Southern Land" and those songs that were completed there. "Street Café" was complete except for the title and it didn't have any lyrics. That was one of the most resistant songs ever to finish. It was taken all the way to Hollywood and recorded entirely, the whole backing track. It still didn't have any lyrics. I had the whole vocal line and I remember the process of actually filling in the blanks was one of those things that I just kept postponing it and postponing it. So it was a complete miracle when I actually knuckled down to it and finished them off.

Was there a story or inspiration behind "Street Café"?

I think the offices were in King's Cross, in Sydney, at the time. King's Cross has got a particular kind of atmosphere to it. It's different now than it was then. It was quite exotic, at that point. It always had been. It was full of dodgy clubs and strip joints and flash people. Sort of a Bohemian society. It was probably more that place, than anything else, that gave me the idea of just coming across somebody again.

What made you want to write "Trojan Blue"? It's obviously about Helen of Troy.

I don't know where that came from. There's a fantastic song on a John Cale album. I can never remember the name of this album. It's a great album. It's got a picture of him, collapsed on a floor, wearing an ice hockey goalie's mask. There's a song on there called "Helen of Troy," which is really fantastic because there's this gay queen on there just mumbling. So that was sort of somewhere in there, as well. Also on the album is a fantastic version of "Heartbreak Hotel" with Brian Eno playing synthesizer. One of the most bent cover versions you'll come across in your life because it's quite scary. It's the haunted house version of "Heartbreak Hotel." So somewhere in the back of my mind was this "Helen of Troy." Then, I studied all of that in the original Latin, believe it or not. When I was studying, I read the entire of the Iliad and the Odyssey. I don't know whether you've ever bothered?

Not in Latin! But I have bothered.

It was just more really the point of how history has portrayed the most beautiful woman in the world and that's that. Never putting a perspective on the consequences of the entire thing resulting in the Spartan War. Years of war and all these heroes we've come to know like Achilles, Hector…


Paris, yes. Just the whole idea, if you believe the legend, on how one face can…

…launch a thousand ships…

…create an entire war. But that was all. [laughter]

Oh, that was all?!

"Break These Chains"… I would imagine it was just a…

…just an angry little song. "Break These Chains" was semi-inspired by a band, who's name keeps coming up in the oddest places, called La Düsseldorf. They had a really suspect album called something or other Über Alles. La Düsseldorf were quite an influential band in that the report is that they created or David Bowie borrowed their sound for that whole reinvention of his sound that resulted in Heroes and Scary Monsters. It was a whole change in direction for David Bowie. Very strange band who are quite different sounding. They keep turning up. I think the last person to mention this band to me, which was completely out of the blue, was Doc Neeson. I did, for a while, have a cassette of that album but I don't know what happened to it. Anybody who's got any information on La Düsseldorf…

And why did they inspire "Break These Chains"?

Just the particular style of what they did, really. It's quite manic for that time. It was a pretty radical band. It turned out it was one of those bands that is often cited as being the influence behind lots of people.

Why was "Love In Motion" on some versions of Primitive Man but not others?

For some reason… That's a damn good question. "Love In Motion" was recorded during the Primitive Man sessions and then was re-recorded. I wasn't particularly partial to it, partly from the point of view that it was trying to remake what had already been a Top 5 single. The version that I thought was more faithful to the intent. However, because "Love In Motion" hadn't been released outside of Australia, they were keen to put it on the album. Of course, they wanted the "new album, re-recorded Keith Forsey" version of it. So the compromise was that it didn't end up on the Australian one, having been old news by then. Then the British went further and elected to call the album Love In Motion and feature it as such. So that is how that all ended up happening.