This interview with Jason Pierce of Spiritualized was done November 7th, 1997. As I recall, the interview took place backstage at the Vancouver club Richard’s on Richard’s, a few hours before Spiritualized’s show.
The really odd and unbelievable thing is that I somehow forgot to include this interview in any issues of Space Age Bachelor. A very odd oversight, since I was a big fan of Spiritualized over the years. I think I did the interview just as issue 1.1 was going to the printer, and then it somehow escaped my attention by issue 1.2. So, as I upload this transcript on August 11th, 2010, it is the first publication of the interview.
SAB – So how’s everything going? You been at it a while?
Jason – We’ve had a bit of a break. We’re just getting back into it. I did one show before I came here. It was just myself at the LaMonte Young Benefit. His wife’s really ill at the moment. And they’re having trouble in New York right now. They’ve got a beautiful installment in the lower west side of New York. It’s like a single chord which is supposed to play until the end of the century. It’s like the most beautiful chord. It’s just a continuous drone basically. Whereas most music is made up of tones or semi-tones, this is just a microtone, so it’s got like 440 Hertz — these tiny increments of sound. Wherever you put yourself in the room, the sound changes. But it’s just coming out of two stereo speakers. That’s the amazing thing about it. And when I heard they were trying to close that down, I wanted to get involved. The event went really well. They made a lot of money.
SAB – Have you done any work with orchestras, in terms of sampling what they’re playing, and messing about with it after the fact?
Jason – Not really. We do some work with samples. But I’m more interested in having it played. There’s something about that. A lot of people think “I Think I’m In Love” is just one big loop, but we had everyone play it rather than just take a sample, even though the thing doesn’t change from beginning to end. I’d rather have people play for eight minutes. The Chemical Brothers just did a remix of that, and I think part of the reason of them wanting to do the remix was just to find out — they think there’s a drum loop on it. They just couldn’t believe that someone sat and drummed the time signature for six minutes or whatever. So they just wanted to get a hold of the multitracks, and see what was going on with the drum sound. For some reason, we managed to get an effortless Al Green kind of sound on the drums that is just amazing.
SAB – That’s quite contrary to what’s going on these days. Most people are sampling more and more.
Jason – It sounds great, especially when you’ve got horn sections. There’s something about pushing that amount of air around the studio. It always sounds better than sampling like a loop.
SAB – What about the acoustics of it? Do you spend a lot of effort thinking about where you’re actually going to record the stuff — as in the acoustics of the room?
Jason – Most of it was recorded in the Church.
SAB – In a currently used church?
Jason – No, it’s a studio that’s been built into a church. So all the choir, the horns, and the strings were done there. Some of the strings were done at Abbey Road, because they’ve got the most amazing acoustic room for strings, and some of it was recorded at Olympic Studios, where all the Scott Walker stuff was done, and the Rolling Stones did a few sessions. And we didn’t get that kind of sound, and I didn’t realize until after the sessions that they’d changed the studio quite considerably. Evidently, they’d changed the whole layout of the place, whereas Abbey Road is still as original as it was when it went up. They’ve done nothing with those rooms.
SAB – So do you do lots of takes? What happens when someone screws up?
Jason – Just get them to do it again.
SAB – It sounds like on the new album, like your technical skills and your production skills have improved quite a lot?
Jason – I guess I’m getting used to it more, maybe. I don’t know. By album number 11, I hope they’re getting a bit better.
SAB – This album also seemed to have a lot more natural instruments, and a lot less electronic?
Jason – There wasn’t a lot on the last album. Although, the whole album was put together in a more techno way. There was a lot more live playing on this album. Like “Cop Shoot Cop” took sixteen minutes from start to finish. Whereas, on the last album, a lot of the stuff was layered up. The drums went on last, for instance.
SAB – In terms of your composition, it’s quite a funny thought, but I just saw this quote the other day on this poster — ‘architecture is frozen music.’
Jason – Who said that?
SAB – Goethe. And I was thinking about that, and then you’ve got classical music and classical architecture. Can you think of the music you do in any physical way like that?
Jason – No … I haven’t really thought about it I guess. I think what we do is new music, but it’s kind of traditional as well. It’s kind of like classical. It’s partly like a marrying of avant-garde to rock’n’roll. But I think of it more as folk music. I guess that’s what makes it more traditional. There’s always been a tradition of people writing folk music, whether it’s hymns or soul music in the 60s. There’s always been music that reflects the culture that people are in, and what’s going on in their lives. And that’s what we’ve always tried to do as well through Spiritualized.
SAB – Yeah, with soul music, people treat it like a genre, but I don’t think it is really. Jazz can be soul music, or whatever. And I think soul music always has lots of instruments, because you have to reach into your soul — well that’s not quite true, I guess, because maybe someone can reach into their soul with just an acoustic guitar. You know what I mean?
Jason – Yeah, all good music is soul music, whether it’s Daniel Johnson with his acoustic guitar or Alban Berg with a full symphony orchestra — it’s still soul music. All the stuff that moves you. You feel country music in your belly, you feel soul — well, what we’re trying not to call soul music, like Sam Cooke — in your head, on the back of your neck. You can feel music spinally. And I think that’s soul music. And if it hasn’t got that, then it doesn’t move me. I can’t relate to any music that hasn’t got that.
SAB – So you’re not interested in intellectual music?
Jason – Yeah, but I think that can be soulful, too. Like I think Kraftwerk has soul in it. Not just because they use human voices. It’s got soul in it. And Can — I don’t know if that qualifies as electronic music, but I guess not. Techno music in England got tired very fast, got lazy very fast. It’s not a difficult formula to learn. It’s four beats to the floor at a certain tempo, and once you’ve got your head around that, you can make techno music. And it got tired very fast. I didn’t understand why anyone wanted to make the complete works of Kraftwerk again — almost to the extent that if you are going to rip off Kraftwerk, you should at least half the decency to change the order of the notes, or add a few of your own. But a lot of people didn’t bother. They just ripped off whole sections. And the same with ambient. A lot of people took everything that I’d ever heard — bands like Cluster, or Brian Eno, or Philip Glass, or Steve Reich — just took them and put it out again under a different name. And I’m not interested in buying second hand music. I’d rather go back to the source to find something where there is some genuine soul, some genuine human spirit that moved that person to make that music, rather than someone just taking that for their own gain really. I’d rather listen to Nirvana than any of the 10-15-100 bands that use Nirvana’s lead to make music.
SAB – Cause the real soul music is always original isn’t it?
Jason – It’s not diluted. I think once you start diluting it, like I was saying Nirvana’s better the first time around, and the Beatles are better the first time around. I don’t need to hear it again. I think people only get away with that, because there’s very little history of music taught, especially in England. If you live on a diet of English music papers, you’d never find out about Daniel Johnson, or Roky Erickson, or whoever — you hear about Hendrix or Jim Morrison, because there’s big money behind them, but that’s about as far as the history of music goes. You get to hear the classic music, but that’s about it. In England, they’re doing a lot of the stuff that is wholly based around the Yardbirds, the Beatles, John Mayall-sort of thing, almost like it came from nowhere. And I’m not stupid. I know where it came from.
SAB – So if you’re talking about ambient, and techno getting played out, what I was thinking was that if you take the blues, as in those conventional chords, I think that’s got to be one of the fakest music’s around right now.
Jason – Yeah, yeah, and some of the most exciting. Cause people like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, who’s getting press right now because of his involvement with Jon Spencer. They’re doing stuff, especially Junior Kimbrough, that is so traditional, but it’s something you can’t play. I know there is also this dreadful cabaret, House of the Blues type thing with everybody playing 12 bars, and these horrible B.B. King type guitar riffs, and that’s dreadful. But that’s what happens with all music. It’s like in England right now. Some of the most exciting music being made is drum’n’bass, but it’s also some of the most unexciting music, because people have learned the formula, and there’s a whole load of 90% background drum’n’bass noise that does nothing for anybody. And blues is the same. But Junior Kimbrough is definitely amazing.
SAB – Now with blues, you have these traditional structures …
Jason – It’s got a traditional base. It’s folk music. It’s got to be based on something. Everyone has the same musical vocabulary. Everyone has the same choice of instruments to play, or the same notes to play. I just get tired of when people say, ‘It’s all been said before, or it’s all been done before, or there’s only 12 notes.’ It hasn’t all been done before. The thing with is its evolutionary. Some of the biggest changes come from the smallest players. Like John Cage or Lamonte Young change the way people listen to music. They’re not all big players. Whereas, say the Beatles or Jimi Hendrix changed the way people looked at the recording studio in music, or Brian Wilson. They no longer went in to capture three minutes of a song. They used the studio as an instrument, like spending three days in the studio to make Electric Ladyland. It evolves. It isn’t just, ‘here’s your new music, there’s your old music.’ Nobody writes in a vacuum like that. Everybody gets to hear what’s gone on before them. And the trouble with most people is that they’re not forward looking. They’re not evolutionary. They’re doing the opposite. They’re just retro, or just making music that’s diluting. They’re not finding new ways of saying things.
SAB – It seems like some music is almost created in a vacuum, like if you look at the Beach Boys Smile or Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, that shit is so far without precedent.
Jason – It’s not though. Like I don’t know how aware Brian Wilson was of it, but if you listen to Olivier Messian’s Tarangalia Suite, that’s incredibly close to Smile. So, no, it’s not from a vacuum. Or some of the more minimal pieces, some of the more abstract pieces, people like Lamonte Young or John Cage — people were aware of what they were doing, but maybe only people who were already making music. So it’s out there. It’s not like Smile is written without knowledge of other people’s music. What it is it’s written ambitiously. He doesn’t want to just replicate — all that requires is ability to learn musical practice or musical theory, both of which can be taught. The ambition is something that is internal. If you sat here for long enough, you could play guitar just like Jimi Hendrix. You could buy every Jimi Hendrix Songbook and learn it after hours and hours.
SAB – Yeah, anyone can play it, but can’t think of it. Now there’s something else I’ve thought of, and I don’t think it is a criticism. It’s something I think on a lot of my favorite albums. It seems like there’s so many open doors that are opened up on Pure Phase, and I was waiting for some of that to be explored, but there’s still so many open doors left. Do you know what I mean? It just seems like there’s so many places you can go in some of these moments.
Jason – I don’t know what’s happening yet. At the time of making it, I would have said we were going to go more towards that “No God Only Religion” kind of thing, that sort of Miles Davis freeform jazz kind of thing, but I don’t think it’s going to go that way anymore. I’m getting really into loads of stuff I was doing with the Chamber Orchestra. I started to write pieces of music that just have mathematical rules, or laws, like ‘these are the rules to play this piece,’ and then seeing what happens when we played them. And it started to work. Like one of the rules might be that you can’t play a note longer than three seconds, or three beats. And once you deliver those rules in an abstracter way to enough music, you end up with these things that sound incredibly non-random. You know that whole idea of random numbers. I’m actually reading a book by Gell-Mann, who thought of the idea of quarks. The thing that caught my attention in this book of random numbers is that some of these numbers actually aren’t random. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across random numbers before. They use them for working out certain averages or certain mathematical theorums. Um, I can’t really explain (he shows me a drawing). You would think the more of these things you get, the more random it is. The most complex of that kind of random thing is non-random. So I’m trying to write music in that kind of way. If I give enough people enough laws, then the music will come out non-random or atonal. The idea is not to get the people to write the music together, but only by themselves. I did one piece at the Barbican last week.
SAB – Yeah, one idea I liked from John Cage was that the instruments shouldn’t be playing together, but each one should be doing its own thing.
Jason – That’s kind of what I’ve been trying to say. That’s kind of the opposite. Before with our music, everybody was playing in like a jazz way, and now I’m trying to go to the opposite extreme, almost like you’re creating music which started with the last album. Like on the last album, I didn’t let the saxophonists hear the music, or the saxophones they were playing to, to make that music. So none of the musicians could hear what the other musicians were playing, but when you hear it as a piece you wouldn’t be aware of that. It sounds structured. Which is kind of the opposite of “No God Only Religion.” I played that recently at the Barbican, and I gave everybody sheet music — I actually scored that whole piece, and it sounds incredibly random. What I wanted to do was something that sounded random but actually written down as a piece. If you could read music, you could read it straight off the sheet. I’m trying to find new ways, instead of just saying, ‘This is how we did the last album, now let’s do it again.’
SAB – So you reckon it’s a good idea to learn music?
Jason – I can’t read music. I wrote it, but I can’t read it. Anybody can work it out. If somebody gives me a piece of music, I can’t hear it, but I can work out that that’s a G and that’s a whatever. But I know people, like Alec Balanescu, you can hand him a piece of music, and he can just hear it in his head.
SAB – I’ll just ask one more question, then leave it at that. I thought I’d ask just one question about Spacemen Three, only because I was reading a Sonic Boom interview, and it seemed like he was expressing something like regret, or that he missed you as a writing partner after all these years.
Jason – Of course he did. He didn’t do much writing. I would miss that, too. He got good credit for what he did.