By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Jason Pierce, Spiritualized’s prime mover, has always been a study in creative ambition. Even the band‘s formative work, recorded in the early ’90s on the most modest of budgets and then fastidiously mixed by Pierce to THX-headphone perfection, offered a depth of sound and a span of references that few artists working in pop music had ever attempted. Here was a man who sought to encompass the fervor and uplift of gospel, the raw power of the Stooges, the cool ambient space of Brian Eno, the pathos and humor of blues and country, the psychedelia of the 13th Floor Elevators and early Pink Floyd, the minimalism of Suicide and the grace of European classical music. And, incredibly, it worked.
But Spiritualized records didn‘t sell until 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, a critically lauded masterpiece featuring Dr. John, the Balanescu Quartet, a host of free-jazzniks and the London Gospel Community Choir as well as the English band‘s core members. In the wake of that album’s (relative) commercial success, Pierce set out to unfold his musical vision even further, and Spiritualized‘s recently released Let It Come Down is his biggest production yet: If Phil Spector built a Wall of Sound for his three-minute teenybop pop operas, then Pierce has been to the Holy Mountain of Sound for this album’s adult symphonies. The music is played by a 96-piece orchestra, a gospel choir and a new eight-piece band.
Pierce spoke by phone about what motivates his unorthodox approach to recording and performing, and what we can expect when the now-13-piece Spiritualized plays here this Tuesday.
L.A. WEEKLY: You have a reputation for being a perfectionist in the studio. Yet you also obviously enjoy playing on the road, which is rare for “studio heads.”
JASON PIERCE: Making the records enables us to get on the road, where the whole thing becomes about making results immediately. I don‘t understand bands that say they don’t like to tour. What do you do as a musician if you don‘t like playing music? If you’re recording an album, unless you‘re doing lots of overdubs, you’re only playing, I dunno, 140 minutes every two years. I think to a lot of bands it‘s a required thing that they have to tour, and for me it’s completely the opposite: It‘s a requirement that I have to make records to enable us to go on tour.
And we’ll tour until the money runs out. Same plan as last time. It‘s always done on the fly, making things work for whatever we can get at the time. We’re looking to get a gospel choir for L.A., but I don‘t know how strong a chance that is yet.
Your music has always had a gospel influence. When did that develop?
Natty, who was the original Spacemen 3 [Pierce’s former band] drummer, used to tape this radio show that played a lot of roots and blues music, and one gem was a very early, pre-Stax Staple Singers record. So it was there from early on. The Cramps were also a huge influence on us, because they weren‘t shy about letting people know where their sound was from. They said, “If you like this, you might want to check out Hasil Adkins.” It was an education being interested in that band.
The sets on this tour so far have been evenly spread over the whole of your catalog, rather than emphasizing the new album.
As far as I’m concerned, we‘re not on tour to promote our album. We’re not out here with a string orchestra, we‘re not replicating this album, we’re not learning the parts and just putting them out like some dumb cabaret -- we‘re finding the excitement within the parts, whatever makes the electricity, and pushing that. You can make the same kind of excitement as a 30-piece string section on a single guitar if you play the guitar in the right way. But that’s not to diminish the albums. Because if you‘re gonna make a record, it should always be the best record you could possibly do at the time.
You’ve really made a leap with the lyrics and arrangements on this album.
I think everything had to stand up a lot more on this record. I know it sounds kinda dumb that there‘s a hundred players on it, but I really felt that this was stripping everything bare. The voices of the instruments are pretty much the voices that they were, and the record comes about by these people playing through these songs. I mentioned records like Ella Fitzgerald’s Cole Porter Songbook to the people who performed the sessions, to say this is what I was after. Once you‘ve got the idea that the drummer is at the back of the hall, and the choir are over there, then you’ve got this kind of soundscape in your head.
I think a lot of music nowadays is only about making interesting noises, making interesting sounds. It doesn‘t matter what kind of music you’re trying to make, whether it‘s hip-hop, drum ’n‘ bass, trance, psychedelia, whatever bag you’re into, there‘s a whole vocabulary of effects that you can use to make something that sounds within that genre but doesn’t actually require any more thought or depth or soul than the application of those effects. And because of that, people don‘t have to apply themselves to the songs or to what they’re trying to say.