Interview // Spiritualized
I spoke to Jason Spaceman ahead of Spiritualized’s appearance at Body & Soul this weekend.
Originally printed in the Irish Sun on Friday, June 15 2012.
Jason Pierce – a.k.a. Jason Spaceman – overcame a near-fatal liver disease to release the darkly comic Songs in A&E in 2008, and with follow-up Sweet Heart Sweet Light the face behind Spiritualized has set his sights on disproving the notion that rock n’ roll is a dead art form.
“I’m absolutely in love with rock n’ roll – it’s very much part of my life and part of what makes me who am I, and I don’t want to see it die this kind of painful death,” speaks Pierce from the London home where he wrote the band’s seventh album.
“People think it’s all over. The record is infused with this kind of melancholy as well – that there’s more to come, yet there’s a kind of sadness that some of the great things have already gone.
Strangely, it was the re-release and revival tour of Spiritualized’s classic 1997 album, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, in 2009 that convinced Pierce of the need to reinvigorate both the band and rock n’ roll in general, to arrest its decline into a backward-looking nostalgia trip.
“I was horrified at the state of this great music that I love, that it seemed to be folding back on itself, that everybody seems to be looking backwards and saying, ‘these were the great moments, ten years ago; fifteen years ago, here’s another one.’
“And I was even more horrified that I seemed to be joining in with everybody by performing Ladies and Gentlemen. So the influence was really twofold. One was the only way to push this music into the future was to make new great records, not to keep turning and looking backwards.
“Also, it was not to repeat myself, not to just do the same again. So in a weird way, Ladies and Gentlemen was a kind of ‘negative’ influence on the record, if you like. You could take any one of my tracks and put it on any one of the albums and it would fit, but it was important just to point the vehicle in a forward direction.”
That’s easier said than done, however, and Pierce is as reluctant as anybody to pinpoint exactly how anybody could expect to transform a style of music that enjoys such a long and rich history: “I think music evolves really, really slowly, and sometimes what people perceive as great leaps into the future are just big stylistic changes, you know?”
He continues: “It moves forward like any evolution – slowly – and in the areas that make the changes, there are things going wrong, or things not being fully realised or fully formed. So it’s really hard to tell at the moment of change, but I think a few albums down the line I might know exactly where it was leading to.”
The album’s lead single and opening track proper, ‘Hey Jane,’ is proof of just how tangled and wrapped up rock n’ roll is in its own illustrious past.
“I wanted to make a pop record. The Velvet Underground record that was a real influence was Loaded – it was that thing where it was all about melody. There is a reference on ‘Hey Jane’ to ‘Sweet Jane’. It’s weird because I’m trying to make a record that’s not looking back and referencing things from the past.”
Though essentially a rock n’ roll band, Spiritualized’s music has always encapsulated a wide variety of sounds from the shoegazing, Phil Spector-influenced wall of sound approach to more classic influences like gospel and blues. However, while the god-fearing vocabulary of that kind of music seeps through in his lyrics, Pierce insists he is in no way religious, despite his recent brush with death.
“I read something about Brian Wilson’s ‘God Only Knows,’ about how god is in the title but it has absolutely nothing to do with god or religion – it’s about how great it is to love somebody. I think that my language is like that.
“When I first got into the Velvet Underground, I read that Lou Reed had said that doo-wop is the sound of angels. I listened to doo-wop music for about two years straight, and I realised recently that a lot of the language comes from Dion and the Belmonts and that kind of stuff.
“The language is all full of stuff like “heaven sent me an angel” and “I ask the lord above,” but they’re essentially love songs.”
Spiritualized’s previous incarnation, Spacemen 3, famously titled a record Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs to, but it was medication of an entirely different kind that fuelled the recording of Sweet Heart Sweet Light.
“I was diagnosed with liver disease and that put a real full stop on my lifestyle. I did treatment to get rid of it, and then made the record on those drugs, so it was kind of the best circumstances to make a record.
“I don’t really think about what I’m writing – I don’t think ‘this is the kind of record I’m going to make’ – I just write what seems relevant at the time. It’s just honest, you know? If somebody’s going to invest time and money in your music, you’ve got to be telling them the truth.”
In fact, Pierce insists that his illness has had little to no impact, positive or negative, on the way he looks at the world: “I was waiting for an epiphany. There are people who say they got ill and then they got better and suddenly their life changed. I was kind of waiting for it, because I was a certain person before I was ill, and disappointingly I was the same person when I came back!”
More than anything, he’s happy to be back on the road with new music in tow: “I love touring more than anything. I love playing live music – it’s way more interesting, and it doesn’t come with the weightiness of trying to capture something to record.
“I know music travels – that’s the idea – but sometimes it just fits. You’re in a certain part of the world and you play a certain piece of music and it makes complete sense, and that’s what touring is to me.”
Spiritualized play Body & Soul in Ballinlough Castle, Westmeath from June 22-24.