It had to happen.
For an album as vast as ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ there was simply no way we could edit a transcript with Jason Pierce. As erudite and probing as ever, the Spiritualized main man seemed to have perfect recall of those seminal album sessions.
So, ClashMusic just split it in two. Read them both at the same time for a mind bending stereo effect, why don’t know! Or just savour each part, as Jason Pierce talks us through one of high waters marks of British rock.
Spiritualized merged together rock, soul, gospel, free jazz and more into one incredible ode to drugs, heartbreak and the general fucked up state of affairs that Pierce found himself in.
Ten years on and it still moves. The interview continues…
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On the new version fans can hear many different versions of the songs, is this part of a de-mystification process?
I don’t think it’s that serious. I mean it’s rock ‘n’ roll it’s not that difficult. It’s not the most difficult art form in the world. I think it’s good to hear those demos, it’s good to hear how some of those songs became detached from the original demo, the train of thought behind it. The thing about rock ‘n’ roll is that it’s all based on mystery. The cornerstone of rock ‘n’ roll is like when Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil. It’s like a myth, a fable. So stripping away the mystery isn’t always the most sensible thing to do, but I don’t think the demos do that. They change some of the workings of it but not in a negative way. I think they show how we had to tie it together. They come from a time when there wasn’t a finished album, they come together in the same way as the ‘Smile’ sessions by Brian Wilson. Rather than replace ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ I see them almost as an album in their own right.
‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’ also incorporates all this other types of music, though – ‘No God Only Religion’ is a free jazz track.
At the time I was listening to a lot of Miles Davis and a lot of stuff that made sense sonically. When you listen to the song which eventually became the demo it’s just a guitar and keyboard. When I listen back to it there’s something about the way the album was made is something quite astonishing. I don’t think it’s a case of sitting down and doing things in some orderly fashion. You’ve got a certain time and space in which you think “right it’s got to have saxophones on it”. In fact the way that track worked is that the keyboard just sounded like saxophones, it sounded like horns so we thought “oh well it’s got to be horns”. It had to be real horn players. We tried to transcribe some of the piano notes as I played them but it was a mess so they played some written music and some improvised music, just filled in the gaps. Again it was a kind of evolution, it wasn’t the idea I had in mind when I wrote the demo.
That title as well. Is there a running concern with spirituality running throughout the whole of the album?
It’s trying to make sense of what your world is about. It’s like in ‘Sophie’s World’ – the quote that became the title is about how people just want to hide down, bury themselves in sand. But there’s certain people who just go through life looking people in the eye and say “we are floating in space”. I think that kind of permeates the whole album, this absolute wonderment, embracing life and wanting to get all of it down. A feeling.
The album finishes with ‘Cop Shoot Cop’ which features Dr John – how did he become involved?
I rang him up. It just seemed like it was right for him to play on it. Somewhere in my mind the track was like a trip across New York, from Chinatown right out to this desert, like the Joshua Tree. The middle bit was picturing the entire range of the States and it seemed like the kind of thing that Dr John should be playing on. So I sent him the track and he loved it. I went out to New York and let him do his thing.
Did Dr John’s contribution alter the way the track was structured?
No he played the track as you hear it now. It was like he blessed it. He played the piano, sang the choruses, played the national anthem for the middle section and just made it seem like it was finished. Like on the opening track where the transmission bleep really helped the song to come together, as if that was it, that was what was needed. I guess that’s when we finished recording, then the mixing began. It was a year before it came out.
You’re about to tour the album with a massive ensemble, how did you go about rehearsing something like that?
We don’t rehearse. Even when we did those shows in London we did one day rehearsals. We loosely book these shows over the songs, and songs aren’t that difficult. You’ve got a verse chorus, verse chorus – how many times do you want to do that before you get sick of hearing it? I think that these shows are always loosely based on the songs but they’ve got to be free. It’s about energy, it’s about electricity it’s not about how in time the bass player is. I think people have lost it somewhere if they’ve got into that level of performance. If it’s all about accuracy, if the shows are all identical. Even the lines between the shows are rehearsed, the jokes are rehearsed. You have to let things move and hold onto the great bits.
Is a project of the size of ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’ something you would undertake again?
Maybe if it felt like it was the right thing to do. I like the idea of an album being a record of your indulgencies. They’re records of your obsessions and that’s what you get down. If that’s what you’re obsessed with at that time then that’s what goes down on the records. I don’t think ‘Amazing Grace’ is garage rock, it was mis-conceived. I got more into that that thing of a more honest performance, less studio work. Kind of coming from the world of what I was doing with improvised musicians. It’s all about putting the microphone where the action is and recording it. I find that more honest than just the sound of a voice with loads of effects on it. It’s more closer and more honest. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Listening back to the album, how do you feel about ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’ ten years on?
I think it sounds amazing. When I started looking at the demos from this, I was struck by how charming some of them are – in the same way that you could listen to field recordings you almost forgive them their bad sonic qualities. But there wasn’t one piece of early recordings for that album that I thought it wasn’t worth what it later became on that record. I really think a record is a huge undertaking and there’s not a moment on there that I would take back.