SPIRITUALIZED: BARELY TINGED BY THE BLUES
illustration by michael c. hsiung
Spiritualized will release their Songs In A&E album next month. Jason Pierce speaks between other interviews from the Standard Hollywood. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
What was the last time you read ‘Politics and the English Language?’
I’ve not read that. Somebody asked what I was reading recently and I happened to be reading Down And Out In Paris And London.
To get ready for the coming hard times?
For that downward slide. The slide’s always the good bit. The climb back is the laborious bit.
Are you ready for the food shortages?
I’m not eating much—I don’t know if that’s helping.
What is your favorite song on the Life Is A Problem compilation?
I can’t remember—I haven’t got a copy, but Elder Charles Beck did an anti-rock ‘n’ roll sermon that kind of praises rock ‘n’ roll. ‘You rock rock rock around the clock, and it brings all the evils in the world!’ And the whole congregation goes, ‘Yeah! Yeah!’ It’s fucking exciting. ‘You roll right into the penitentiary!’ ‘Yeah! Yeah, we wanna go there too!’ Somebody bought me the Washington Phillips one—I don’t know if that’s the first one Mississippi Records did, but it was the first I heard, and I got hooked from there. The way they put them together is very beautiful. I really like I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore—it’s music from immigrants to the U.S., kind of barely touched by American music at all, barely tinged by the blues. There’s a Greek track I absolutely adore—it’s not like Greek orthodox music, but Greek music out of New York. Almost the whole history of American music is on tape—that’s a rarity in itself! And also this early exploration of tape—a lot of it sounds like it was recorded by accident, like some guy just had a machine in the back of a church. It’s kind of endless—it’s not like stuff you’d find now and you can understand why it never surfaced. Those records are full of stuff—you wonder where it’s been!
Is there a British equivalent of this kind of thing?
I should say no, shouldn’t I? There was an influx of Jamaican music in the ‘40s and ‘50s—I guess that’s kind of similar. And a lot of American gospel—‘Amazing Grace’ is an English tune, this pious thing taken to America.
What’s the best Roky Erickson love song?
The first one that comes to mind is ‘You Don’t Love Me Yet.’ We saw him recently and I was in tears! It seemed like when he was singing ‘Splash One’—‘Now I’m home…’—it seemed like he really was home! He’d been the furthest out and he came home. But the ones that really stood out were the ones where he sounds like Buddy Holly—and ‘Don’t Slander Me’ and stuff.
Would you ever do a song with him?
I don’t know how easy that is to do, you know? I was thinking—when we were kids, so many people in England wanted to be the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. But that’s an unattainable thing. Nobody’s been that! When we kids looked at Roky and Alex Chilton, it was like—‘I can do that!’ They were iconic figures to me—the kind of failure in that music, and I don’t mean that in any detrimental way, but this glorious failure—I thought, ‘I can do that! I can keel over.’ There’s sort of a huge honesty there.
With Chilton, it’s almost more refusal to participate than failure.
It’s almost like you should turn your back! All the success in music—it’s nothing to do with music, and it was then and still is now. You don’t have charts where number two is musically better than number three. It’s all the amount you sell, the airplay you receive—it’s all bullshit, you know.
How are we supposed to use the Pure Phase Tones records?
You need to get a few of them and build a few chords up. You should have them on another deck—have it on between every record.
Are you ever going to play the Integratron?
We nearly played the CERN collider. They asked us to do it! We were gonna play in it before they’d thrown the switch. But it was a timing thing—their timings didn’t coincide with ours.
So you never got to tear a hole in the fabric of space-time.
Yeah, they were already doing something—there were too many tiny objects whizzing around in there!
How do the different backing bands affect the Acoustic Mainlines sets?
Immensely! In New York, we had people from the Queens Choir—a 250-strong choir. And in L.A. it was more like Ray Charles’ country-and-western—but that’s good! Some of the shows have been deeply reverential and kind of hushed, and some of them are like those snake churches where they speak in tongues—jumping up and sitting down!
Alan McGee said you make a classic every ten years—is that a good rate?
It’s hard to grade your own record, you know! But Sly Stone did four in a row, didn’t he.
You said before how you admire bands like the Cramps and Gun Clubs for informing people about the music they listened to—why is that important to you?
I think it’s important because it’s kind of an homage—Tav Falco did as well. So much music is people trying to pass of other ideas or cop other people’s style and pass it off as their own. Those bands came with an incredible amount of style and said ‘This is where it’s from—if you like us, you’ll like this.’ Hasil Adkins or whatever. There’s a lineage to it. It didn’t just drop out of the sky. I think that’s really important. Most people are too scared that if you find out where they’re from, you’ll find out how narrow they really are. Most people just cop a few ideas. The thing about telling people about music is important. There’s that Duke Ellington thing—‘There’s only two types of music—good and bad.’ There’s music you like and stuff you don’t like. And if it doesn’t touch you now, tomorrow it might be the most meaningful thing, or in ten years.
What’s something like that for you?
Alex Chilton’s Flies On Sherbert. Somewhere in my life that got lost. I had it and I never really listened to it—there was always other Chilton stuff I was getting off on. Then I was digging through records and found that again, and suddenly it crashed into my world.
What do you think of Mark E. Smith’s quote about how there are more ideas on the back of a Fall LP than in half the songs on the charts?
Yes, I agree with that! Most records aren’t full of ideas. On A&E, there’s no reverb on our record—I got sick of people applying a technique of production to something where there was no song, no idea, no clue, but you could still produce it—‘This is how people like to hear music!’—and you could sell it that way. I wanted to willfully avoid that—just make music that speaks to the source of it. It’s all trying to make the thing work—a whole exploration of ideas and concepts. I tried that with some of this record—I tried to produce it in that kind of sounds, but it sounded like something I’d already done. It seems foolish—producing it in the manner of Phil Spector, or the style of the Cramps. What’s that got to do with it? The space and atmosphere is unique to that record—it’s not just a collection of ten or eleven songs.
How do you feel about the falling dollar affecting the American ability to purchase limited-edition Spiritualized vinyl?
I think that’s a major issue they’ve got to resolve, isn’t it?
What have people asked you about what it’s like to be dead?
I don’t know—you hadn’t asked about that, which is a relief on my part. It sounds like all I talk about is my illness—but that’s gone, that’s over. But they ask—everything. Like I have a message.
Like you came back from the next country over?
I don’t have much to report. I lost my camera!
And there will never be a Spaceman 3 reunion, correct?
We call it ‘battle re-enactment.’ Civil War guys fighting it out on a field. That’s not something I’m into music for! I’m not motivated by money or a ready-made audience. If the audience wants to come where we go—we’re not sitting and waiting for you.
SPIRITUALIZED WITH ROGER WATERS, LOVE AND ROCKETS, SWERVEDRIVER, MURS AND MANY MORE ON SUN., APRIL 27, AT COACHELLA AT THE EMPIRE POLO FIELD, 81-800 AVE. 51, INDIO. 6:20 PM / $90-$269 / ALL AGES. COACHELLA.COM. VISIT SPIRITUALIZED AT SPIRITUALIZED.COM.