Renowned as a meticulous
sonic craftsman, Spacemen 3 veteran Jason Pierce has made four astounding
albums with his current band, Spiritualized, all of them considered modern
psychedelic-rock classics by the group's dedicated following.
For the band's fifth effort, "Amazing Grace" (Sanctuary), the guitarist
and vocalist threw away everything he knew about working in the studio and
took a radically different approach -- recording live and attempting to
capture the spontaneity of playing with the crack lineup of John Coxon,
Doggen, Thighpaulsandra, Tom Edwards and Kevin Bales -- and the results are
no less impressive.
*8 p.m. Tuesday
*Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield
I spoke with the former Jason Spaceman in the midst of tour that brings
Spiritualized to the Vic Theatre on Tuesday.
Q. Every time I think that Spiritualized will never surprise me
again, the band blows my mind. "Amazing Grace" was recorded in a very
different way from the other albums, right?
A. The thing is not to repeat yourself -- not to do what you know
you can do. I guess I always try to do something different. The record I
made with Spring Heel Jack [2003's "Amassed"] was a free-jazz record, and
that was what was in our vocabulary at the time. They're kind of the giants
of European jazz: Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Kenny Wheeler. Kenny Wheeler was
this dynamo of a man -- music just pours out of the guy -- and what he
brought to "Amazing Grace" for me was these lines like, "Who gives a [crap]
what the record is going to sound like, just play!"
It's about the physicality of playing an instrument, to kind of put your
soul into this inanimate object -- this weird tube of brass or this plank of
wood. I was trying to get that down onto a record, so "Amazing Grace" is
nothing about production or processing; it's all about trying to capture
people playing. I figured the only way to do that was to introduce the songs
to the band on the day we were going to put them down. What you hear on that
record is the first time that those songs just about held it together enough
to say, "We've got something special there."
When we were playing back the takes for these songs, it was like
listening to [Captain Beefheart and] the Magic Band for the first time, or
the 13th Floor Elevators. Nobody knew any of the parts, the drummer was
playing to a bass line and he'd never heard and they were all listening to
lyrics they'd never heard in their lives, so people were hearing it back and
going, "Jesus, is that us?" By the 11th day, we thought we could tackle
anything, because there was no stopping it.
Q. There's always a special energy the first time a group plays
A. It's response. It's people responding to the unknown. Rock 'n'
roll is essentially a rehearsed medium. You go away and you rehearse, then
you go into a studio and lay it down as best you can and you do shows in
that manner. Jazz comes from this attitude of, "I'm going to respond to
music I've never heard before in my life." I kind of wanted to bring some of
that spontaneity back into what we were doing. We've always been a free
band, but I've never attempted to record like that. I think that's the key
to anything that we do -- to get outside of my expectations, trying
desperately not to tread water. I'm the kind of person that if I press this
button, I don't want to know what's going to happen. I think that's where
great music comes from: from people who are completely out of control and
don't know any of the answers to the questions.
Q. You've always had the reputation of being a studio
perfectionist. Does the success of this album make you question your working
methods in the past?
A. No, it wasn't in reaction to anything we've done. I think it's
that I know how to make those records. This was just informed by different
things, by meeting Kenny Wheeler and doing the record with Spring Heel Jack.
It's not that Phil Spector or Brian Wilson isn't where it's at, it's just
that my ear is leaning more toward Robert Johnson or people who put what
they're trying to deliver down in a really naked way.
Q. How does the current lineup of Spiritualized compare to
A. That's not a fair question, really. But I do think we've hit an
extraordinary vein at the moment. I'm not big on self-promotion --I don't
find it easy to sit here trying to sell this -- but I think we've hit
something now that can be astonishing. I don't know what it is, but it's
always gotten better night after night. That's the whole reason we tour, to
use what went down the day before as your grounds for the next day. And it's
just slaying at the moment. This is the first record we've made that's ready
to go: It doesn't need any kind of deconstruction, because what you hear is
the very moment those songs got it together. We're actually starting at that
point and we're playing the whole album live.
Q. We've been talking about the free element of Spiritualized,
but at the same time, you've always had this strong pop sensibility: You
never lose sight of the fact that melody is important and the music has to
have this rhythmic drive.
A. It's also songs, you know? Everything with us has always been
song-based, and as free as it gets and as kind of spaced-out as it goes,
it's still rooted in what is essentially a rock 'n' roll song or a blues
song or a spiritual. "Amazing Grace" is all rooted in the first records I
heard -- the Stooges playing up against the Staples Singers. That's also
where this record is coming from.
I had a chance meeting with [New Orleans pianist] Dr. John, and we had a
really big band at the time. He was saying, "People get your [stuff]. They
understand what you're trying to say because you tell it straight. You
should never hide behind anything and just deliver it as, 'This is where I
stand today.' " Those words kind of stayed with me.
Q. How do you know when you've written a song that's a keeper?
A. Because I'll carry it for a couple of years before I put it
down. And so a line like "Nothing hurts you like the pain of someone you
love" or "Death cannot part us because life already has," I'll carry those
lines around because I'll know that they're going to make for great songs.
Quite often when you're just saying the line, that dictates what kind of
song it's going to be. "She kissed me and it felt like a hit" -- you only
have to say that and you kind of know what kind of meter and rhythm that
song is going to have.
I think the most beautiful thing about rock 'n' roll is that it doesn't
need any intellectualizing. I love the way that you can deliver lines that
are actually quite mundane and very primitive -- things like "I can't stop
loving you" or "Be my baby" -- and they'd kind of dull lines, but when you
apply them to music, they become better than great poetry.