IN THE STUDIO: SPIRITUALIZED
Jason Pierce opens up on the painstaking creation of his first album in six years.
“I get fixated,” reasons Jason Pierce as he reflects on the long and painful gestation of his excellent new album.
If you want to know why the new Spiritualized album has taken so long to make (it’s been a painful six years since 2012’ s Sweet Heart Sweet Light), the answer is the same as always. “It’s to do with my obsession,” grins Jason Pierce (aka J Spaceman) ruefully, sitting outside an East London bar having just come from a funeral. “I get fixated, it feels like madness. I’m always chasing the things that are wrong with something…” What makes the gestation of And Nothing Hurt – for Spiritualized, an unusually concise, nine-song suite of overwhelming heartbreak and beauty – even more remarkable is that you can find live versions of over half the songs online from the end of 2012. What happened next was simply the product of Pierce’s self-doubt and unceasing desire to explore every possibility he could. Initially, he considered John Cale or Bowie-producer Tony Visconti to make the record, but when those conversations didn’t progress he started recording at home. In his head, the sound he was reaching for was going to be as ambitious – and diverse – as anything he’d attempted before. “I wanted it to be like a Lee Perry record mixed with something a lot freer,” he explains. “It was going to draw on the strings of all the things I love from dub to soul to free jazz.” Early on in the process – 2015, he thinks – he accepted some assistance from former The Verve/Art Of Noise producer Youth. It was a disaster. “I’ve tried to avoid that as a subject,” is all he’ll say about it now. The effect was to make him, in his words, “hole up” and start the process again from scratch. His drive came from the fact that he felt he had to better himself, had to reshape the notion of what a Spiritualized record sounded like. “I’m getting older,” he says shrugging. “Too many records by people my age sound like [ they’re by] people pretending they’re 30 or they’re using the same musical shapes or lyrics. That’s not for me. If I’m going to make a record now, it has to be better than that. It also has to reflect who I am, not who I was.” This aim proved easier said than done. As time ticked by, sessions came and sessions went (nine or 10 studios are listed on the album credits), the same with musicians. At one point, for example, he convened a session with This Heat drummer Charles Hayward and double-bassist John Edwards, who he knew from the East London, Café Oto improv scene. That didn’t work either. “It sounded like a conceit. It was like I was pushing it into a corner it didn’t want to go into. As I’ve said all my life, you can wilfully make strange music, you can change the time signature, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good.” Along the way, he looked for and found displacement activities: in 2014, he released an experimental record with US drummer Kid Millions (Live At Le Poisson Rouge) and contributed a rough and emotive song (Always Forgetting With You (The Bridge Song)) to the Space Project compilation. Other collaborations followed the following
year with Primal Scream and Chilean trio Föllakzoid, while in 2017 he produced a handful of tracks by London trio Yak. Meanwhile, work progressed on his own record in a studio put together in an upstairs room at Pierce’s East London home. Lack of money meant that the strings he’d dreamed of being like those in a Gil Evans orchestra or Ray Charles session actually ended up being sampled from out-of-copyright classical records. It took weeks to construct but the end results are vast and ravishing, never more so than on The Prize’s slowly unfurling grandeur. Things were beginning to take shape, the songs gradually revealing themselves as being much straighter musically than Pierce had originally envisaged. “I wanted it to sound like it was all beamed down from a satellite – kind of, ‘What is this?’ – but [ the songs] didn’t want to go there,” he says. At this point what became increasingly important to him were the words, the desire to convey real truth, and in that regard this really is one of the great, heart-wrenching Spiritualized records. From I’m Your Man’s unflinching self-portrait (“If you want wasted, loaded, permanently folded, trying the best that he can/Then I’m your man”) through to A Perfect Miracle’s rapturous but remorseless examination of the duality of love, it feels like a brutally honest snapshot of Pierce’s psyche. And then, finally, it was done. “I have this idea that great albums sound like they go in a cassette player in a car,” concludes Pierce, looking down at his hands. “The car is always in America, it’s always dark and it’s usually in the desert. In the end these songs satisfied that.” After the torture and agony of its creation, the end results are more effortless and rhapsodic than anything he’s ever achieved before. Some things, it seems, just can’t be rushed.
“I get fixated. I’m always chasing the things that are wrong with something.” Jason Pierce
“And for my next drone...” Pierce at work, East London.
In it for the long haul: Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce, Strongroom studios, East London, 10 July, 2018.