Where most bands of his generation used guitar pedals as an excuse to stare at the floor, Jason Pierce used them to voyage to the stars.
Freed from the shackles of Spacemen 3 the English auteur almost immediately used Spiritualized as a vehicle for his own sonic ideas. Vast in scope and ambition, the band’s output has contained some searing emotional works that often contain very un-rock ‘n’ roll messages of spirituality.
Arguably the band’s finest moment to date, Spiritualized released ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ in 1997 to instant acclaim. Here, finally, Jason Pierce had matched his influences and produced an album with stunning sonic ideas and staunchly emotive centre. Hard break, drug lust, religious uncertainty and Dr John – truly this album had it all.
With Spiritualized set to re-visit the album in expanded and live form, ClashMusic sat down with Jason Pierce to chat about one of the most ambitious British rock albums ever made.
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The album is a pivotal moment in the career of Spiritualized, what drew you to larger works compared to the minimalism of Spacemen 3?
There’s a certain amount of orchestral elements to it, but it’s not necessarily big. The parts that make it up are simple, they’re still minimalist ideas. Towards the end of Spacemen kind of what was happening is that more ideas were coming from the studio and we had different positions on that, like how we were going to do them live. I didn’t care how we were going to do it live, to me that’s an approach you take after you make a record not before. So it was kind of a follow through, a case of taking things further. I guess that’s the big change, a shift in how things go together. I doesn’t come from any one thing, I don’t think it was a massive change just more a sense of evolution. The main change is that the band changed.
‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’ follows on from ‘Pure Phase’ and it seems like there’s a big leap between the two.
It’s interesting because I don’t see the leap. That’s just it – there’s so many elements to ‘Pure Phase’ that are apparent in ‘Ladies And Gentlemen’. It’s something that I’ve always been interested in.. a lot has been made of the fact that I listen to gospel music but I listen to a lot of devotional music as well. I was listening to Purcell last night, and a lot of that is string based. At that time I was listening to a lot of orchestral music, Michael Nyman as well. It wasn’t new to that record, it even appeared on the record before that. Perhaps it’s the way it turned out. A lot of a record is devoted to the time and place, you know you’ve got certain ideas about the record you’d like to make and then the record itself starts initiate. There’s a way of working when the record seems to find its own space – a place where the songs sound their greatest. It’s the way it happens, the way the songs turn out.
The album opens with an ambitious choral technique, which at times recalls classical works like Pachebel’s Canon. What drew you to this?
The thing is I didn’t actually take Pachebel’s canon – it’s kind of undeniably influenced by the piece but I didn’t take it. It’s sort of more than it started to sound like that by accident towards the end, rather than a starting point. I just put some lines down, wanted an ascending scale and then worked out how to play it. That song wasn’t really a song until the little transmission bleep went at the end. Before that it was just a whole lot of ideas that had been thrown together.
The new edition restores the elements of ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ – what impact does this make on the track?
I think it’s more of a curiosity. I think it’s the fact that it did change from that. It’s indisputably how the album would have turned out had we not had those problems. At the time the people who owned the rights said “yes you can use it but you have to call your track a cover of our track”. A cover version. In the case of the Elvis bit, I mean that was kind of an afterthought, I had put too much work into that for it to be considered a cover of their track. So I didn’t want to do it and it forced me to go away and re-write it and I kind of think that because of that it forced me to make it better. I had to make it totally my own piece and I think it became better because of that. I think putting the Elvis element back in is kind of limited as well. It’s just so people can hear what it would have been like.
I’ve heard that you can’t read music – how did you go about arranging those tracks?
Anybody can read music, it’s just a code – you know one line is one note, the next is another and so on. It’s not a difficult thing to do. The thing for me is to be able to play it. Gospel choirs have their own internal thing that happens, they’ve sung together since they were kids in the church. It’s a matter of placing your voice where it fits. The rest of it is quite simple, I mean if you can’t play the instrument you can put your idea across with your voice. In a way you can use a voice to write songs so you’re not limited by your ability on the instruments, so you can put your idea across. I had to sing the parts down to them, to let them know roughly what I was after.
On a track such as ‘Come Together’ did you work through different ways of arranging the material?
No. Not really. Sessions actually went really quick. Same with the orchestral sessions, those went real quick. You’ve got a studio, you’ve got a clock on the wall and you’ve got people who are being paid by the minute. If you’ve got three songs to so and three hours to do them then you have to get on with it. In fact most of your time is spent re-winding the tape. Or fixing problems: mic leads that aren’t working or guitar leads that aren’t working. You have to get ready and get on it – at the end of the day you see what you’ve got.
Does this interest in gospel music come from a musical point of view or a spiritual fascination?
Maybe a bit of both. I like music that seems like it’s honest. I think if you’re going to invest time in somebody’s music then a condition for me would be that they’re telling the truth. When it comes to gospel then it’s obvious that those people are only singing those lyrics because they believe. It’s hard to listen to that music and not be moved by that. Even apart from gospel music, people like Henry Purcell and church music, a couple of hundred years ago – it’s the same. It’s devotional, the spirit of love. You can’t possibly fake love.
How did the album sessions commence? Did you rehearse the entire album with all the musicians?
I just put down a lot of backing tracks. The record was started in Bath, there was a studio there and it was pretty much me, George, Kate.. then we took it away and played the songs live for a while and then we went back into the studio. We did ‘Electricity’ and ‘Cop Shoot Cop’ and stuff like that. A lot of the songs on the album were from the original demos which I then worked into songs. Like just messing around with them, continuing the ideas and seeing what could be added to them. It wasn’t like we played them, like we all sat down together and put all the ideas together. It was a bit more patchwork, then all these things we kind of tied together at the end, made into songs.
Watch out for Part Two tomorrow!