In 2005, Jason Pierce nearly died. The longtime leader of Spiritualized, who's spent 25 years perfecting his narcotic gospel-space-rock, was in ICU for a month. Fighting double-pneumonia, his heart stopped twice, but Pierce eventually recovered, released his sixth Spiritualized album, Songs in A&E, and played a series of acclaimed acoustic shows.
Interview: 24 October 2008
How different does it feel playing Spiritualized music with the electricity removed?
“Hugely different. It’s mostly the way people relate to it. The more simple the way you put your feeling across, the more you seem to get inside them. The effects have been far greater than I ever would’ve conceived. The shows’ve felt deeply reverential, almost like a church service.”
Did you ever go to church when you were growing up? Or have your experiences of gospel music been purely secular?
“I never really went to church at all. My exposure to that kind of music came when I was a teenager, just as we were starting Spacemen 3, listening to this radio-show that played lots of old field recordings that sounded like they’d dropped in from another planet. It was interesting for me hearing these people from the mountains, in the Southern States, singing about God, and heaven, and things like that. Those seemed like such alien things to be singing about.”
Has each recent interview made your relive your near-death experience?
“No, because I always skirt over that question. I know it’s unavoidable, and, with hindsight, people have made it ‘special’ how this record was delayed. And maybe they’re right: if I’d left behind an unfinished record, it would’ve sounded quite different from the one I ended up making.”
Were its almighty themes —life, death, drugs— things you'd already been writing about?
“Pretty much. Most of the lyrics had already been written. I don’t know if it’s that much of a change: those are the things I’ve been writing about on every record.”
When you play these songs, live, do they bring up memories of your hospitalization?
“Not in a literal sense. Music’s way more abstract than that: once you write these things, they become weirdly narrated the further they travel away from their author. All art flows away from when and where it originated from. At first it’s about me, but ultimately it has a life well beyond you. I can’t play songs with specific things in mind, I have to let them go. Music’s too universal to ever be just about me.”
But can shows truly be universal? Transcends barriers of culture and language?
“I’d like to think so. The people that make music are trying to hold up these emotional states that go beyond the business, the day-to-day rushing by. People generally respond to these things in the same way regardless of where they’re from.”
When you played 'the world’s highest-ever show,' was that an in-joke that got out of hand?
“[Laughs] Yeah, but most people’s minds’re like that, aren’t they? There was certainly a pun involved. People used to ask me ‘what’s the highest show you’ve ever played?’ I don’t think they expected me to take it so literally.”
Most consider Ladies and Gentlemen your magnum opus. Do you?
“I don’t ever think like that. I know most people want to be able to define a band by a single thing. It’s a reductionist idea: this is band x, this is their best record, these are their influences. I don’t like to do that with anyone’s music, let alone my own.”
Are you still inspired by other people’s music?
“Kind of, but it’s really important to drag the influences kicking and screaming into your own world. You can’t afford to just pass them off as your own. It's dilution of ideas, like carbon copying: each time you copy something it gets progressively weaker and harder to read. I think great beauty comes from tearing up these influences and scattering them through your world.”
Has the Stooges' influence on you been as pronounced as it seems?
“Not in the fact that, in Spacemen 3, we just wanted to turn around and played Stooges covers. Early on, we were listening to the Stooges, then came Suicide, then we’d start listening to Sun Ra, and pick up on all these lateral threads that ran between them.”
Do you think of Spacemen 3, now, fondly?
“The question is, really, do I think of it? Well, yeah, bits of it, and I do tend to remember the better elements. But, I just don’t really spend my time wallowing in memories; I tend to focus on pushing this thing forward always. I think so much now is made of the past. The talk’s always about reforming bands, but that’s just reforming old ideas. The notion that you can do what it was when you were a kid, that’s just insane. People are always obsessed, too, whether a reformed band is still ‘the same’. Well, of course it’s going to be the same; why would it be any different if you’re just out to copy whatever it was you used to be?”
So promoters have made overtures to you about a Spacemen 3 reformation?
“Yeah, because that's become its own industry, with its own lingo: the original line-up, the original members. What lengths can this be taken to? The original audience? The original sound-man? Who cares!”
How do you feel about the My Bloody Valentine reunion?
“I’ve known Kevin [Shields] for many years, so I wish him well. I’m not talking about them, of course; I’m not trying to point the finger at anybody. No one reformation is the culprit. It’s just become this movement, and that’s what disheartens me. Too much looking backwards.”
You never think about your place in rock history?
“I don't know if you can think about where you fit in, because you don't. There's never this single, set idea of what music is, what it means. You can only think of yourself in the way you relate to the universe. Sure, you're special and you're unique, but in the big scheme of things, you're just a tiny speck in the middle of all of this wonder. I’ve said this before, but: music is something special, something intangible, something magical. We don't really understand music, why it moves us so, but it has this amazing power over human-beings. Which is why it's really sad that all the success in music is, somehow, to do with commerce. If that's success, if that's the measuring stick, then I don't ever want to weigh myself by those terms.”