So-dubbed ‘space-rock’ band Spiritualized’s accolades have included some definite ‘out-there’ moments in their 21 year career. While playing the ‘highest ever concert’ in print sounds typical of a band known for neo-psychedelic rock and drug-referencing, the fact is altitude alone is the basis for the record. Apart from performing at the planet’s northern most point - the Arctic Circle - and delivering career defining, poll-topping album, Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, the UK band’s leader, Jason Pierce, was actually revived from clinical death in 2005. His lack of interest in staying earth-bound seems almost too fitting for a man most commonly known as J. Spaceman. Interviewing Pierce therefore, I’m not surprised to discover someone struggling with the idea of 'down-to-earth'.
New material from the band is reaching completion as we approach the four year mark since Spiritualized’s last album, Songs In A & E, but Jason doesn’t claim the time-frame was in anyway a break to ‘reconnect’. “No, I still feel quite disconnected from myself, actually.” This opening quote, it turns out, is almost a crutch with which Pierce moves about on – especially when discussing his music. It’s true that the quiet, evenly spoken singer has long had a turbulent relationship with the press, but his former band, Spacemen 3 and to some degree, Spiritualized haven’t been spared Pierce’s apparent turbulence either. Hiring and firing musicians – or at least failing to retain them for any length of time – has ensured Spiritualized remained Jason’s own project. On this subject, however, he is quick to point out, “Most of the current line-up has made the last four albums with me.” He adds further, “I actually feel encouraged by this band, which is something that has taken a long time for me to feel.”
Stable band in place, Spiritualized’s seventh studio album is finally nearing completion following almost a year of imminent release date teasers. The as-yet untitled album, according to Jason, “Is more about my voice this time, which has happened I think because of doing the Acoustic Mainline shows.” Spiritualized have long divided their shows between Acoustic and Electric Mainline billed performances, dependant on what level of 'plugged' or 'unplugged' they happen to be. “I’m not hiding away behind the music this time around and it feels… just good to step forward like that.” He confirms. Pierce’s music in pre-Spiritualized indie psyche-rockers, Spacemen 3, was a big ol’ bag of drugged-up crazy - in scientific terms. Spiritualized, although an easier listen, have scarcely delivered anything like a ‘pop’ album thus far, but mention of a rumoured pop direction on the forthcoming record has Jason scoffing.
“Did I say that?” He snorts, “I must have because I don’t think anybody’s heard any of the songs yet. Most of them aren’t even complete.” Although I can’t offer a relieving source to the rumour, I wonder if Pierce has at least an interest in creating a pop record. “Not in the sense that it has to be about slick sounding pop in that ‘gotta be bigger and more overblown than the last album’ way artists go.” He adds, “I hate that mindset where everything has to keep getting bigger and louder and more. I have no interest in making albums that takes what we’ve done before and just serve up a slicker, more polished version of that.” Spiritualized’s 1997 album, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space - which was widely praised at the time and has become something of a classic since - was again toured in 2009 as part of the Don’t Look Back concert series. Revisiting their most popular album while work was beginning on their latest, Jason reflects on how much his interest in jazz-like deconstruction has grown.
“On the tour for Ladies and Gentlemen... we had a string quartet and a choir on stage with us and rather than have everyone just learn their part, I wanted the musicians to feel the music and add to it as they saw fit.” He says, offering a peak into what the next record might actually offer. “I have no interest in standing on a stage and just recreating the same concert note for note over and over. When we play the songs on our current album, it won’t be any different to that.” He adds, “But that experience (playing Ladies & Gentlemen...) was a beautiful, wholly successful, and extremely satisfying one.” If Pierce sees Spiritualized’s music as a very personal expression for him, it is hard to determine. The obvious drug or break-up songs etc… he refuses to confirm as autobiographical. In fact he dislikes talking about his personal life at all, and retreats from any inquiries to that effect. He reasons that whatever music he is makes shouldn’t be overshadowed by amateur profiling.
“A lot of people in the press want a story to attach to you whenever you have an album coming out, you know some angle to try and read into, and I learned that when I made Songs in A & E.” He says referring to his band’s 2008 album, written entirely while Pierce was recovering from a bout of pneumonia which almost killed him. “Really though, the truth is I have not spoken about music for about a year and a half and the words have quite simply deserted me.” To summarise, Jason in his way of avoiding answering questions wherever possible, offers, “I honestly don’t know to what degree external influence in my life find their way into our music, because I’m always just filtering.” Attempting to get Pierce to open up is tough, but then reading between the lines proves to be a fun challenge. The fact is Jason sees his music as the most honest, undiluted expression he could possibly offer, while interviews to him offer only weak, inadequate platforms. So by the time I ask if he feels a sense of pride regarding any or all of Spiritualized’s albums, I’m starting to warm to his non-committal responses.
“I have a kind of distance from my work once it’s recorded and released.” He sniffs, “I don’t sit and contemplate my music at all.” Following the singer’s 2005 (obviously temporary) clinical death from complications surrounding pneumonia, a clichéd ‘new lease on life’ character has not resulted. Perhaps the extraordinary amount of pharmaceuticals – legal and otherwise – apparently ingested by - and certainly sung about by Pierce - had long ago dulled any sense of his own mortality. But then even a quick glance at the band’s visual output – albums in prescription medication packaging – hints at an ongoing reliance in Pierce’s life, or perhaps an unspoken ‘music is medicine’ philosophy. “Making music has probably kept me alive, yeah. I’m not sure if that’s what you mean, but all I know is I feel so alive when I’m out there playing (live) and that makes me want to keep going more than anything else.”