Interview with Spiritualized: From Space Into The Spirit

About 20 years ago, J. Spaceman a.k.a. Jason Pierce split from Spacemen 3 to from Spiritualized. While the two groups were equally matched in creativity and experimentation, Spiritualized’s sound over the course of time began to explore the roughly hewn edges of American Gospel and Blues music, leading to the creation of numerous critically acclaimed albums, most notably 1997’s stellar Ladies And Gentleman We Are Floating In Space. The “wall of sound”-style production of the album, much akin to that of 1960s producers such as Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, combined with Pierce’s penchant for sounds from all ranges of the emotional spectrum—frantic, soothing, melancholy, uplifting, sparse, and bombastic—helped the album funnel itself into the minds of millions, becoming “one of the most fiercely loved British albums of the past 20 years.”

Thirteen years after the release of Ladies And Gentleman, Pierce and company will be recreating their late-‘90s masterpiece for one night only at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall on July 30. In addition to the seven-member rock group responsible for the past three albums, Spiritualized will be joined by a full choir as well as an eight-piece strings and horn section.

Pierce was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule of writing and recording the upcoming Spiritualized album to speak with The Aquarian a bit about the past, present, and future of Spiritualized, as well as the beauty of fallibility.

Spiritualized has gone through a number of lineup changes, with you being the sole permanent member. Does having a rotating cast of musicians to play with keep you feeling fresh musically?

No. It’s kind of the opposite. The lineup we had recently has been the lineup for the past three albums. The last kind of proper core band I had kind of wanted more. I guess they saw a lot of other bands becoming successful and rich making popular music and they kind of wanted to go that route. That’s never been my intention. It’s not that I’m trying not to make any money or anything, but that can’t be the main motivation.

It’s far easier working with people that have been around for a while because they kind of grow like you do with any group of friends. You learn what irritates, you learn what tends to get people down, you know how to get them high, learn what they like. It’s like that with music too, where you get better as a group of people get into that magic, finding the excitement or finding the energy in the room. We’re not like a jam band. It’s a very simple, simple thing. It’s a rock and roll thing. The longer you’re with people the more they kind of understand that.

Since this lineup has been around for a while have they been making more contributions to the writing and recording process?

The band we have now we did three albums with that kind of lineup. It’s not like a rotating cast of characters. I think people end up putting more into it. People always contribute if people can do the parts.

I tend to still make records in the same way that I don’t really know what the fuck I’m doing. I’m all over the place when I make a record. I’ve got a ton of ideas and no ideas at the same time. I just want to try everything and see what sticks. Everybody including myself contributes and then gets more firmed back out again and then contributes more stuff. There’s no real fixed path to it. Some things work, some don’t work.

And then live it’s all about finding the energy and pushing the air around in that room. When making a record you have to make sure the music that will stand up and will hopefully work in a year from now or two years from now or ten years from now.

Many of your songs are very densely layered and arranged. Do you ever write music based on a certain kind of arrangement or mood that you’d like to convey, as opposed to the actual theme or compositional components of the song?

Kind of both, you know? A lot of the songs just come from a melody. I don’t really write songs. I get an idea for a tune and then the words will come. It’s all a bit different. Sometimes I wish it were easier. It really isn’t since I’ve got mixed ideas about what I’m trying to ge—some of the best things come from mistakes. I don’t think that, oh suppose they make a lot of people take half-finished idea in their heads and it’s just about getting that down—I don’t think it works like that. I think a lot of music comes from mistakes or having an idea of where you want it and what you want to sound like and not coming close or coming close enough but not really getting what you were after.

It’s important to set the bar as high as you can. Sometimes when you’re making a record when it goes well, all of a sudden it starts to get difficult because then you set the bar higher for the rest. Once one song starts to fall into place then the rest of the album has to come to that level.

So would you say it’s very important then not to focus so much on expectations and just be open to whatever happens?

I don’t think there’s anything more important. You’ve got to be open to everything. You’ve got to be able to mess up as well as get the thing you want to get.

You can have all the ability in the world, you could be so fucking talented and still be absolutely awful. Isn’t there a line like if you’re that fucking good why aren’t you better? Most people know people who are immensely talented in their singing voice or how they play guitar but it’s god awful. It’s not born in talent. It’s not something you can learn otherwise everyone could go to college and do it.

I read a little article you wrote about Mississippi Records, the label, in which you were rather critical of the music industry, saying that the music industry is just about making a quick buck and not really all about creating art with love and passion attached. Do you think now with the relative waning of the music industry we will we see any shift towards a more DIY, less commercial approach?

I didn’t necessarily mean that. I always just think a lot of us who make music are guilty of that. A lot of people music make music by just copying some one else’s riff or someone else’s idea or someone else’s style and try to pass it of as their own. That’s why you get fashion in music-this kind of thing where everything comes in cycles because somebody copied somebody and now everyone is coming up with the same original thought.

In a weird way I think rock and roll is kind of dying. It’s becoming more like when you look back at 1920s flapper music and looks like something from out of space or out of time and I think rock and roll is like that. People can kind of copy the notes and you can sit around and play a Stooges riff but you’re not invested in whatever happens. That’s what’s not there. Do I make sense? I don’t know if it even makes sense to me yet.

The music I love is becoming endangered…

And what kind of music do you love?

I love rock and roll music. It’s where the needle falls, it’s where it makes sense. You hear that in rock and roll records and I just think there is less of it. I love this idea that you can go after it, this energy, you can still find this place that pushes people over the edge into this really magical experience. And I see more people who just want to play it accurate, who want to get the dots right.

Are you working on any new material now?

I’m in the studio every day now. It sounds amazing.

Would you care to elaborate?

No [laughs]. It kind of makes sense right now. That’s always good. It’s coming together. I don’t know what more to say about it other than that.

Spiritualized will be appearing at NYC’s Radio City Music Hall on July 30 where they will perform the critically acclaimed album Ladies And Gentleman We Are Floating In Space in its entirety.