A (not so) short history of PRIMITIVE REASON:
Long time friends Guillermo de Llera (bass & voice), Jorge Felizardo (drums) and Brian Jackson (main voice) originally met in the coastal village of Cascais (a few miles from Lisbon, Portugal). In 1993, they decided to pursue their dream of becoming professional musicians and founded Primitive Reason. Soon after, they called in good friends from the Cascais night scene, Mark Cain (sax) and Mikas Ventura (guitar).
The diverse backgrounds (Portugal, Spain, UK, U.S.A., Switzerland), musical tastes and lifestyles of each member, from the first moment, made for fertile ground for the cross-over trademark mix found in their first songs, and their anarchic and intense concerts soon became talked about in the local scene.
Primitive Reason emerged in the Portuguese national musical scene in 1996, when they released “Alternative Prison”. Their first single, “Seven Fingered Friend” (reggae/ska mood, in an ode to marijuana), was an instant hit and, along with “Hipócrita” (afro and ska fusion), showcased their unique and unexpected mix of musical styles from rap, punk, hardcore, reggae, ska, tribal and African rhythms to jazz and funky. Songs like “So you say” and “Devil in June” are now considered classic examples of their anarchic, no-rules and no boundaries sound. With “Alternative Prison”, Primitive Reason won the major musical awards in Portugal (Blitz Awards), for best new act and best single.
This success took them to countless tours in Portugal and to the stages of the most important summer festivals in Portugal (Paredes de Coura, Super Bock Super Rock, Vilar de Mouros).
Amidst the success, the band begins to work, in 1998, on a second studio venture, “Tips & Shortcuts”, that revealed a tighter production. The impromptu aggressiveness of “Alternative Prison” (brilliantly captured by Joe Fossard) gave way to a more technical, experienced and clean production by Marsten Bailey. The album has several shining moments, such as Guillermo’s breathtaking rapping in “Man and the Mask” or the Madness-inspired ska piece “Object”, which would become the chosen single to promote the album. In this second proposal, the lyrics (written by both Guillermo and Brian) are less politically explicit and more of a storytelling nature, from Indian paths to LSD trips.
Not long after releasing “Tips & Shortcuts”, frustrated with the Potuguese label’s lack of interest or capacity in promoting the band internationally, Primitive Reason – already established in Portugal as pioneers of the crossover genre – decide to take a bold step and move to New York, where they sign a contract with US independent label Jah Notion.
This move turned out to be a crossroads situation for the band. When they started working on new material for their U.S.A. debut, Guillermo and Jorge Felizardo found themselves alone after the other members of the band decided, one by one, to leave for different reasons (musical differences, personal problems or just the desire to change lifestyle). Nevertheless, they decided to keep going: Guillermo took on the lead vocals and the band completed their third record, “Some of Us” (2000), recorded with the help of friends from the NY musical scene, including members from the Scofflaws, Toasters and the New York Ska Jazz Ensemble. Musically, “Some of Us” extends the paths created in the previous records, although perhaps closer to a more extreme, hardcore style. In the record, a hidden track exist revealing a surprise guest: Darin Pappas, aka Ithaka.
With the turn of the millennium, the band eventually recruited two NY locals and long time band fans, James (bass) and Abel Beja (guitar), and started touring in the NY club circuit, playing in landmarks such as CBGB’s, Mercury Lounge, Knitting Factory and Wetlands. To promote their first U.S. release, in the summer of 2000 the band performed several tours around the country, playing with acts such as Fishbone, The Urge, The Misfits, Murphy’s Law and The Pilfers. In 2001, they eventually returned to Portugal to promote the Portuguese release of the record. The following year, Primitive Reason decided to relocate to Lisbon, and toured intensively around the country, sharing the stage with bands like Soulfly, Rammstein, Manu Chao, Suicidal Tendencies, UB40 and Slipknot, among others.
After a whole year on the move, the band decided to pause the touring and explore their individual interests in other settings. Each member traveled to different parts of the globe: Asia, North America, South America and Europe. These world travel experiences would come to have a direct musical influence in their subsequent releases.
In 2003, a refreshed and inspired Primitive Reason finished recording what would become their first release on their own independent label, Kaminari Records. “The Firescroll”, the band’s fourth record, received good reviews and feedback, both in the media and among the public. Songs like “Kindian” and Shadow Man” soon became new classics, and others previously released in a limited edition EP (“Primitive 4.0″) were reinterpreted (“White Tree” and “Breathe”, among others). Musically, “The Firescroll” took Primitive Reason to unprecedented levels in their classic proposal of no holds barred cross-over and breaking genre barriers: one can hear an ever-widened array of sounds, from Portuguese guitar to Indian sitar, African percussion and Didjeridus in hardcore, thrash, and reggae cuts.
The national tour for “The Firescroll” included performances for thirty thousand people in the Rock in Lisbon festival, along with Marylin Manson, Audioslave, Deftones and Disturbed. Video clips for “Kindian” and “Had I the Courage” received extensive airplay, and Primitive Reason were nominated for Best Portuguese Act in the MTV European Music Awards in 2003.
At the end of that Summer, however, Primitive Reason suffer an important line-up change, with the sudden farewell of Jorge Felizardo, who moves to London. The band quickly found a substitute and finished the national tour, but was forced to abort their plans for an international tour.
In the following months, the band tried out many different drummers, while still playing in Portuguese venues. This also didn’t prevent them finishing their next album, “Pictures in the Wall”, their fifth and conceptually most ambitious release to date. The album was conceived as a 74 minute soundtrack for a short story written by Guillermo the Llera. As he explains it, “The book, and the music that accompanies it, describes a deep sleep, in which several distinct dreams tell their own story, filled with hopes and desires, living on memories and suffering through its own sorrows, like a wall filled with photographs that seemingly mark the passage of time”. Originally written in English, the book also includes Portuguese and Spanish translations.
After releasing “Pictures in the Wall”, Primitive Reason promoted the record in Portugal, Spain and the U.K., and played major festivals, alongside international acts like Tool, System of a Down, Placebo, Prodigy, Deftones and Incubus.
In 2007, Pepe de Souza (drums) and Ricardo Barriga (guitar), joined the band. Primitive Reason stabilize their line-up and returne to the studio to work on new material. The first results were released in a limited edition EP, “Cast the Way”, revealing a more aggressive, compact and technically complex Primitive Reason, though maintaining their trademark diversity.
In 2008, to celebrate their 15th anniversary, the band release a reissue of their first album, “Alternative Prison”, that had been sold out for many years, and tour in Portugal and Spain.
2009 brings about another line up change in Primitive Reason, by this time very much feeling like a “collective” rather than a static band. James Beja (bass player since 2000) left the project, followed by more recent guitar player Ricardo Barriga.
In May 2010, Primitive Reason, recruit a new collaborator and guest singer for the collective, called Nuno Gomes (of the same name, but not to be confused with the Portuguese footballer!). The band perform a show with the new vocalist in the Azores in June 2010, with Nuno and Guillermo sharing vocal duties and bass playing.
Work then begins on the band’s 6th full-length studio album, “Power to the People”. Recorded at new drummer Tino Dias’ studio and mixed in NYC by “Bassy” Bob Brockman (who has mixed The Fugees, Notorious B.I.G. and countless others and also plays horns in Brooklyn Funk Essentials), the album features Guillermo de Llera (vocals, percussion, keys, harmonium), Abel Beja (electric and acoustic guitars), Luis Pereira (bass), Tino Dias (drums and percussion) and Rui Travassos (tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet) as the “core” band but with the ever-expanding collective in full swing: Mark Cain returns on alto sax, Bufford O’Sullivan contributes with his trombone and horn arrangements for Pam Fleming’s trumpet and Jenny Hill’s sax, and Portuguese keyboardist extraordinaire João Gomes also joins the party.
Musically, the album is the perfect amalgam of everything that Primitive Reason had done to date, and the album resonates with the “Primitive Tribe”: the fans help finance the album through a pioneering Crowdfunding effort on ground-breaking Portuguese platform PPL, setting a new record for a Portuguese-based crowdfunding effort in 2012. The record is released in Portugal, the Netherlands, and Germany in 2013 and subsequently re-issued on vinyl in early 2015 by popular demand from the Tribe.
Via a new digital distribution deal with Finetunes in Germany, the band also digitally re-issue, in 2014, their entire back-catalogue complete with unreleased bonus tracks and EP tracks.
Meanwhile, 20 years had come and gone – in March 2013 Primitive Reason fill the São Jorge Theatre venue in Lisbon with the special concert “Celebration!”, featuring old members of the collective (Nuno Gomes, Mark Cain, James Beja) back in the fold, and also special guests like Marta Ren, Nel Assassin and Youth One. The expanded horn section features Tó Bravo and Fábio Cruz. The show is recorded and five tracks are offered in a live digital EP format, “Never Forget Your Freedom”, to the Primitive Tribe’s attending members at the band’s 2014 year-end Tribe show.
“Here’s to another 20!”, Guillermo de Llera toasted from the stage. 2015 promises to be the most prolific year ever for Primitive Reason – and the Primitive Tribe will be the first ones to know.