Josh Pearson, the 28-year-old singer-guitarist-songwriter for the Texas-based art-rock band Lift to Experience, lives and works in a world drenched in Judeo-Christian allusion and metaphor. So of course he‘s conducting a midtour interview on a cell phone from a Manhattan pub called the Slaughtered Lamb.
”Yeah, it’s perfect,“ he says, with a chuckle. ”It‘s like, ’Where do we go? Oh, there‘s a spot.’“
Lift to Experience are in New York City on their first-ever extended tour of America, which will reach Los Angeles this week for two shows. It‘s a tour that’s been a long time coming, in support of an audacious double-CD concept record, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, that itself was a long time in gestation. The songs that made it onto the album — the band‘s debut release — were originally composed in 1998, after Pearson had moved out to a ranch to work as a farmhand.
”It wasn’t a career move or anything,“ he says. ”I just needed a place to be alone and not have to talk to anyone, to have enough time where the good ideas could become great ideas.“
Soon, the songs came. And with them, the concept for the album.
”I started writing songs and they were all pointing to a place, and then one night I realized where it was headed. You‘re trusting in your intuition that it’s headed in the right direction. Sometimes you don‘t know why you’re headed that way, but it works out. All the pieces sorta fall into place.“
No brief summary of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads can hope to do it justice, Texas-style or otherwise. But here‘s a shot. Pearson has said that the record is ”a concept album about the end of the world, where Texas is the Promised Land — the final battleground in the war between good and evil.“ The 11 songs’ lyrics — both spoken and gorgeously sung by Pearson — are populated by distant trains, incoming storms, prophets, Texas boys and the angel of the Lord, who announces in the album‘s opening, apocalyptic number that ”just as was foretoldJustice will unfold.“
Sonically, the album is full of quiet moments, ambient sprawl, haunting builds, graceful a cappella interludes, thunderous muscularity and psychedelic overload: Godspeed You Black Emperor meets My Bloody Valentine meets the rhythm section of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, maybe — with Jeff Buckley on vocals. Pearson doesn’t shrill like Buckley, though, and despite his songs‘ melodramatic weight, he avoids the vocal histrionics that both blessed and cursed Buckley’s singing.
The album is huge and deep, serious yet self-aware: It encompasses the solemnity of a believer (Pearson is Christian) and a healthy sense of humor. On ”Waiting To Hit“ the narrator negotiates with God to make his band the biggest in the land; on the album‘s purposefully cheesy cover, Pearson wears a cowboy hat ringed with thorns.
”From the record cover on, we knew we needed an element of humor. We wanted it to look like a rap record, something so narcissistic, but at the same time be self-deprecating. So we took out a pre-emptive strike against whatever people might have against the album [due to its content]. It needs humor in it to pull it off.“
With the album finished, Pearson went looking for a label. He found no takers.
”There was a year there where no one wanted to touch this record. I knew that I could’ve dumbed it down quite a bit and just made some stupid-ass indie-rock record that might‘ve been good for the times but no one would listen to in a decade. And I was like, Fuck it. Doing less would never satisfy me. I’m going to go for the higher good, try to create this piece of art that maybe no one will get, and shoot for much higher and probably get much, much less.“
The album was eventually released by Bella Union, the English record label run by former members of the Cocteau Twins, who were given early LtE recordings by members of L.A. band the Autumns. In 2001, Texas-Jerusalem was finally released to critical acclaim and modest commercial success in England. The band‘s accomplishments there and in other parts of Europe while remaining an almost unknown quantity in their homeland is a point of frustration for Pearson and company.
”We’ll get great press in the U.K. and France, but you read an American review and it makes them angry, ‘cause they can’t pigeonhole it and don‘t know what to do with it. And it’s always because of the religious references; they‘re saying, ’This is not good art because I don‘t agree with their world-view.’ It‘s ludicrous. If it’s good, it‘s good. Good art exists in and of itself.
“At the same time, you know, I don’t care. I‘ve got full confidence in what we’re doing and our ability to write a song, and the future of it. If it takes America 15 or 20 years, I could give a fuck. We‘ll keep putting shit out, and our sound will bury ’em.”
Life to Experience plays at the Silverlake Lounge Saturday, June 29 (show starts at 5 p.m.); and at the Derby Sunday, June 30.
LIFTTOEXPERIENCE | The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads | (Bella UnionNail)