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Interview: Kevin Preston of Prima Donna

Prima Donna are no stranger to the music scene. Since their formation in 2005, the Los Angeles-based rock band have released five musically diverse albums, boasted international opening slots with acts like Green Day and Adam Ant, and garnered much critical praise along the way. The group met during various times in their adolescence, eventually forming a band at the insistence of lead singer Kevin Preston. Comprised of Preston, David Field on drums, Aaron Minton on keyboards and saxophone, and Adam ‘Lights Out’ Levine on bass, Prima Donna have maintained an impressive and refreshing authenticity throughout their whirlwind tenure.

Latest release S/T is no different, defying cliche by infusing the eleven-track record with influences across the musical spectrum. Preston worked individually with each member of the band, finding the ideal sound by working with each of their particular styles and strengths. The result is an album as diverse as it is fun, full of driving melodies, powerful lo-fi vocals, and thumping beats. S/T weaves its way through thrashing punk, glittering Brit pop, and creeping goth rock, all tied together with a distinct bite that is unmistakably rock and roll.

Preston took some time out of the band’s ever-growing schedule (he and Field also play in Billie Joe Armstrong’s newest band The Longshot) to chat with Music Existence. Read on for more on Preston’s collaborative songwriting process, the mysterious disappearance of Richey Edwards, and the aftermath of touring with Eddie & the Hot Rods.

Music Existence: Hi! How are you doing?

Kevin Preston: Good! It’s kind of a gloomy day in Los Angeles right now and I’m actually enjoying it.

ME: Oh yeah, that’s great. Out of character for LA.

KP: Yeah, we just get these cloudy days every once in awhile and people go inside but this is when I come out, I love it.

ME: I totally get it. So I’m gonna jump right in. Can you tell me a little bit about the band? How’d you guys all come together?

KP: Well, I’ve known David, the drummer, since I was like, we were both five years old. We kind of grew up doing everything together. And then David met Aaron in high school when they were like 14, and then [he] introduced me to Aaron. And then at some point we-I went to a different high school-but like right around maybe senior year or right after high school, I just, I knew I wanted to be in a band with those two. Aaron was just playing saxophone and he’s always playing piano and stuff and David is a killer drummer. Anyways, I had written all these rock and roll songs and my whole goal was just when I finish these songs, I’m going to go over and see David and Aaron and make them play in my band. And so that’s really how it happened. We just spent months in David’s parents’ garage just, you know, playing rock and roll music. And then here we are now.

ME: That’s really awesome hearing stories like that. You don’t hear that from a lot of bands, just knowing each other forever.

KP: Oh thanks! Yeah, man. I still see them almost every day. We were just together last night. And we still get along and have fun, which is also very rare.

ME: So S/T is your fifth album. What excites you most about it? What makes it different this time?

KP: I just think this is our most daring effort. Like we really just, we let all of our guards down and we tried different things across the board. Like every single band member tried to play differently. So that, that was really neat. There’s no rule book but, you know, any even like scrap of that we set fire to and just really tried to play without any abandon.

ME: So what would you say the typical writing process was on this album? Was it more spontaneous or did you guys really deliberately sit down like, all right, this is what we’re going to do.

KP: Well, for the first [record], I pretty much just wrote everything because I had this idea in my head of what we were going to be in the beginning. But for the last two I’ll come in with a few songs and I’ll try and make them as diverse as possible just to kind of set a precedent. Like, cool, this is where I’m feeling it going, and then we just go from there. This time around, for this record in particular, I just tried to work to everybody’s strength, or at least in my opinion, what each band member did best. And I went to them for those things. So like, I wish I had the track listing in front of me, but the first song [“4 Real“] we all wrote together right before a show. And I wrote the lyrics about this guy, Richey Edwards, who disappeared. He was-I wish it was a bigger story than it was-but he disappeared. He was in this band, the Manic Street Preachers and he was their principal lyricist and just a cool English icon. He just vanished and they still don’t know what happened to him. So I thought like if a bunch of American kids hear that song and get into it, it’d be really cool.

But, I digress. So the other songs, like “Press Your Luck” I went to [Lights Out] Levine to write some cool jangly Brit pop music that I could put some lyrics over. For “Vulture Culture” Aaron’s really good with dance rhythms. So I was like, ‘I’ve got some cool dark, like Lords of the New Church-style lyrics for this song. Can you write something cool and dance-y?’ And then with David, we wrote the song “Year of the Rat“, a tune with like stompy garage rock rhythms. So basically, I just kind of went to each guy for different things. Then that’s how we put this one together.

ME: So you had mentioned the Richey Edward’s song, “4 Real”. I’m really curious about that, because it’s a really infectious, driving song about a pretty grim story. What sparked your desire to write about that? How did you learn about that story?

KP: Well, I’ve always really liked the Manic Street Preachers, so I was aware of the story and it always fascinated me. And then I was talking to a friend, my friend Steven, about this and he had a book. There’s a whole book that came out about 10 years ago, and this guy just explores every possibility of what might have happened. And in the end he can’t even really make any conclusions. He’s presumed dead, and they had a public memorial and he was declared dead, but they’ve never found a body. It’s just fascinating. The idea that he might still be out there. He was definitely smart enough to pull it off if he wanted to, to actually just vanish. He was extremely intelligent. And I think for me, when I talked to people in the UK, they all know that story. That was big tabloid fodder for them, but stateside no one really knows. Worldwide, it’s not a huge story and I think it’s so crazy. A rock and roller just completely, at the height of his band’s career, just completely vanished.

ME: Yeah, I had never heard of it, so reading about that story was really cool. I did not know that.

KP: That’s awesome. If you come across this book, A Version of Reason, this guy did a pretty good job of picking apart that story.

ME: I feel like I’m going to have to check it out. So besides introducing American audiences to Richey Edwards, what do you hope listeners will take away from listening to S/T?

KP:I just hope they get a kick out of just all the different flavors. We really tried to give the listeners a whole ride. Some of my favorite records…they really take you on a trip. It’s not just, here’s 10 songs that sound like this, you know, here’s like a collection of this sort of song. Some of the songs are super dance-y, some of them are just thrashy, some of them make you think. So we really, we wanted to get back to that. All of our favorite records have so many different things going on and that’s what was going on in our heads at the time.

ME: What would you cite as some of your favorite records? Like what artists do you think influenced you guys as a whole?

KP: Well, man, that’s really hard to pinpoint for me. I don’t know. I love this record called Fearless by Nina Hagen. She recorded it in two different languages, but that is always on my turntable, like everyday practically. But that’s me personally. But this time around I think the whole band…we were really into Roxy Music this time. We’ve always been into Roxy Music and they…could have these crazy, funky songs, they could have really beautiful love songs, just straight up dance songs, experimental songs. And they always pulled it off and it was always stylish and it was always cool. So that was our goal with this record.

ME: Well, I think you pulled it off. So do you guys have plans to tour S/T, what can listeners expect for the rest of 2018?

KP: So we have some dates this summer with James Williamson, who was the guitar player in Iggy and The Stooges. We’re supporting him on a few dates on the west coast and then in July we’re going to the east coast to do some shows. In the fall we’re getting out to Europe, and then after that we’re trying to get down to central and South America. So that’s a big goal for us.

ME: So switching gears a little bit, you and David started performing with [Billie Joe Armstrong’s] The Longshot last month. What has that experience been like for you guys?

KP: Oh, man. Without getting too gushy, it’s a dream come true. It’s just, I constantly have to pinch myself. I’m playing with one of my heroes and my best friend and it’s just, it’s awesome. It’s surreal. But it’s just a great rock and roll band and it didn’t take any convincing and it didn’t even really, it didn’t even take a lot of work. We went in and started rehearsing and everything just clicked. I think we all knew where we were each coming from and I think that’s definitely why we were chosen to be in the band, because he knew he would get the material right away. It was as soon as David clicked to four we were in it, and we’ve been going ever since.

ME: So speaking of Billie Joe Armstrong, you guys have also toured opening for Green Day, Andrew WK, a bunch of really incredible bands. I am assuming that brings a pretty unique tour experience. Do you have any particularly memorable tour stories that you’d like to share?

KP: Oh, man. You know, I always get stuck on this question. Oh! One of my favorite nights that we’ve ever had as a band: We were touring with this great band from England called Eddie & The Hot Rods and we were in New York and they were about to fly back to London and we still had, I think, three or four shows left on our tour and we ended up partying with them so hard that we had to cancel the rest of our tour. We just, yeah, we just painted the town red. I don’t know, we hung out with them for two nights and in New York City and we just, we just kind of did everything. It was pretty amazing.

ME: Uh yeah, sounds like it! So I’m gonna jump into some less conventional questions. First one is if Patrick Stewart were to perform a dramatic reading of any of Prima Donna’s songs, which would you most like to hear?

KP: Oh, that’s a good one. Okay. Well, I’m going to go with, off this record, I’m going to go with “Love From Above“.

ME: Excellent choice.

KP: I would love to hear him recite “Love From Above“. That would be, that’d be amazing. You know, I was on a, well this wasn’t his series, but I was on an episode or two of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when I was a kid. I did a lot of acting.

ME: Wow, that’s a cool story to be able to drop.

KP: Yeah, that was pretty fun.

ME: Okay, not sure how into superhero movies you are, but in Marvel they’ve recently started incorporating some more mainstream songs as kind of themes for their characters. Like the classic rock mixtape in Guardians of the Galaxy, and Immigrant Song in Thor. If you were to see any Prima Donna song used as a character theme for any superhero or villain, which song would you most want to pick?

KP: I hate to be a wet blanket but I don’t watch the movies. But I would love to hear “4 Real” in one of those movies. That would get me to watch one of them. I think that could really go for anybody, villain or hero.

ME: It really is a great song.

KP: We were super jazzed, like lyrics aside, we wrote the music because we had to play it. We were on this like hard rock bill. Just a couple hard rock bands and we didn’t really have anything at the time, we were like, ‘we need something really strong to open the show with.’ And we wrote that song in like 10 minutes just to go play a show and then it stuck. And then I wrote those lyrics over it.

ME: Well it really worked out. Last question, what songs and artists have you guys been digging lately?

KP: Oh man, I really, really love this band from France right now called La Femme. They’re not brand new, they’ve been around for a couple of years, and they’re just writing really crazy stuff. And um, there’s this awesome sort of like dreampop post-punk band in Sweden right now called-well, it’s real hard to spell-but it’s Makthaverskan. If you can find them, they’re just so good. There’s a really cool band in LA right now called Sextile and I think they’re super interesting. Yeah, there’s a lot of cool stuff going on right now. Johnny Marr is putting out a new record and I think that’s amazing too.

 ME: I’ll check those out!

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About Dana Jacobs

I write about music and live shows and other fun things. Strong feelings about pugs, Halloween, and burritos. Currently zooming around northern California, with frequent stops in LA.

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