Mit Spacemen 3 hat er in den Achtziger Jahren die Psychedelik zurück auf die Musiklandkarte geholt, seit 1990 übt er sich mit seiner Band Spiritualized in der hohen Kunst der musikalischen Entrückung. Jason Pierce ist besessen von Klängen, in die man sich förmlich einwickeln kann – dicht, intensiv, spirituell, sphärisch. Nicht umsonst heißt eines seiner Alben „Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space“, nicht umsonst nennt er sich bei seinen Soloauftritten J. Spaceman. Müßig, den Impact dieser Musik erklären zu wollen, und auch Vergleiche – egal, ob man Pink Floyd, Terry Riley oder indische Ragas ins Feld führt – greifen allesamt zu kurz.
Jason Pierce kennt die Grenzbereiche der menschlichen Existenz – seine Drogen-exzesse verschafften ihm eine Zeit lang einen Stammplatz in den Kolumnen der Regenbogenpresse. Darüber spricht er heute nur noch ungern. 2005 kostete ihn eine schwere Lungenentzündung beinahe das Leben. Von seinem monatelangen Aufenthalt in der Intensivstation ist ihm aber eine Erinnerung am wichtigsten: Das monotone Fiepen der medizinischen Geräte erschien ihm nach einer Zeit wie wunderschöne Musik.
Dem Schnitter im letzten Moment von der Klinge gesprungen, ist Pierce mittlerweile wieder vollständig genesen. Dieser Tage sind Spiritualized beim Donaufestival live zu hören.
It seems to me that concise song structures have become more and more important to you over the years. Is that so?
Hard for me to say. I think it just turned out that way. A&E was the first album I’d written on a guitar. So I could play these songs before I went into the studio, which is kind of rare for me. Usually, I go into the studio with just some rough ideas, but with A&E, I went into the studio with songs. I dunno. I usually have a rough idea to begin with, but a lot of music comes through mistakes. A lot of the great things in life come through mistakes. If you allow for those, then things change all the time.
We put down a song just this afternoon, and it can go in a million directions, but the basis of it is found. If it’s a strong enough idea, then it will support any way it goes. Any idea that gets round a bit is gonna work. And then, in recording, you choose what works, you choose what fits. I think the songs find their own space. The thing that feels right, you know, you go in with three ideas, and the song kind of finds the space where it fits best.
Sometimes it’s nice to let things hang in the air a bit, but it seemed with these songs, the shorter they were, the more information I could get into the record.
A&E sounds and feels a bit like a concept album to me.
Kind of. Initially. I lost the plot. I lost a lot of the original ideas in the time that I was away from the album. I started the album, and then I got ill for a while, so I lost a lot of the original intent, but there is some idea about writing about characters that weren’t myself, so hopefully, I could write about a lot more stuff than I would normally.
After you came back from the hospital, it must have been strange to continue recording material that must have seemed like yesterday’s news to you to you at the time. Did you ever consider abandoning the album altogether and start anew?
Yeah (laughs). Like a long time, a lot of the time. But it seemed like it was harder to do that than it was to finish it. If you put something away forever, you kind of have to say that it has no value at all, that there’s nothing in it that has any kind of merit that’s worth pursuing. But it was obvious from the songs and the lyrics that there was a lot in it there that was worth holding on to.
If you had abandoned it, it might be seen as one of the great unfinished albums in rock history, like Smile, the Celebration of the Lizard or Get Back.
You know that’s a nice story, isn’t it, but I don’t know if it’s as good as making the thing.
I don’t know if it’s as good as finishing it. So much is made of these mythological things, and they’re amazing settings, but I don’t think it’s ever as good as if it’s finished.
Many people think Spiritualized are among the most amazing live bands of our time. Tell me about it.
The live thing is the best. This band is so fucking good at the moment that it’s a joy to do this thing. It’s not like „we got to do this song, so we count to four and go through with it“, but you get inside of this thing and you elevate it, you know. It’s so much better than the recorded version. I know the recorded version is out there, but there’s something that fails in the recording process every time for me. And not just with my records, but everybody’s records. When you see and hear the thing live, it transcends all of that.
When I recorded with (American producer) Jim Dickinson, he said it’s about pushing air around. It’s really a simple thing, speakers push air into the room, and people try and copy it, they try to get that down and record it. And you know, people also make films of live-shows all the time, but it’s not one tenth of what it’s like to be there.
Sometimes people are deeply kind of reverential, and sometimes they go crazy. It works both ways. It’s so strange, the shows at the moment, it’s not like we’re fitting the songs into the set. The new songs kind of dictate how the old songs sound.
I saw you play live with Spacemen 3 in the mid-eighties in Linz – you were playing at 5 in the afternoon which was really strange. Anyway, I remember you gluing down three notes with duct-tape on that organ of yours, and you kept this one chord blasting throughout the whole set. I found that completely amazing. Even with all the big instrumentations you use in Spiritualized, is this kind of reduction still important to you?
Kind of. Everything we do is based in simplicity. If you play one chord with the right kind of intent, it can be the single most important thing in the world. People sometimes try to overcomplicate things, but actually, it’s really simple. Rock & roll is this really simple thing, and it’s so powerful, but people try to overcomplicate it, you know.
I’m doing a show in April with (free-jazz keyboarder) Matthew Shipp, which is a similar kind of thing – he plays electric harmonium, and it just hangs in the air. That is really special to me. It kind of asks quite a lot of the listener to go along with that, to get inside of that, but if you do, it’s an amazing thing. Music can elevate where you’re at, you know. It has this amazing ability. It’s just about making things that push you, that fill your soul with joy, and if you make it right, it’s just the most incredible thing. We travel all over the world, we travel 14 hours to Buenos Aires, get off the plane, go straight to the venue, play the show and then get back on the plane – but the most important thing is not going to Argentina, the most important thing is this hour and a half when we’re playing this music. You get better at it a little, and you hang on to the beautiful bits, the bits that make it work, the bits that make you feel right. You let moods just rush by and hang on to the great bits. And that’s kind of what you do.
You recently recorded a soundtrack for Harmony Korine’s movie „Mister Lonely“. Are you planning on doing more of that kind of thing in the future?
Kind of. I’ve been asked a few times. I’ve been asked by the Wachowski Brothers and James McTeigue, but it’s really hard to fit them into time. I play so many shows, and doing these things takes a bit of time. Harmony just called me at a good time. I’d just gotten out of hospital, and he came to see me do a show with Daniel Johnston, because he is a big Daniel Johnston-fan. He came and said hi after the set and asked me if I’d do some stuff for his film. It worked out, and that kinda got me back into the studio. You know, I wasn’t really doing much, I couldn’t find a way to get back in and finish my album, and harmony put me back in the studio and got me working again.
So what was it like seeing the finished movie on the big screen for the first time?
I was proud of Harmony. I think he took on a big thing there and made this incredible film. But it’s difficult at times. I didn’t think the music was loud enough in some places.
I saw the film a few times, and I saw a lot of the film while it was being made, and I’d read this script, you know, and it kind of ruins the enjoyment when you know the insides of it, but somewhere – maybe it was in Cannes when we saw it there – I finally managed to watch it like I had no involvement in the film, and it was really beautiful. It’s the same way like I can eventually listen to Spiritualized albums like I’m not involved in them, but it takes a long time.
With ITunes and mp3, it seems people only want individual songs nowadays. But albums are still very important to you, aren’t they?
Yeah, because that’s what I do, whether I like it or not. Record albums are like spaceships. They’re like these little time capsules that you put information into, you package them really beautifully, and then you push them off into time. And on their travel trough time, they touch some people’s lives. Somebody might listen to this record in seventy years time. Once you’d let this thing go, you can’t make changes to it, and I think that’s really important. That’s what I do, and I’m not going to change that. They say that people are not interested in that anymore, but I disagree. People will always be interested in the bigger picture. Downloading just one or two songs of an album from ITunes, that’s like buying a postcard from the Sixtin Chapel. And then you have this postcard with two hands on it, the hand of god and the hand of man, you know, but you can’t deny that that’s just part of a bigger picture. Or you can read one chapter of a novel in a magazine, but that doesn’t change the fact that it actually comes from a book with more chapters. And that’s the thing with making records – there’s so much effort going into these things, they cover a year and a half of somebody’s lives, of my life, and there’s more happening in that time than just 3 minutes of information.
Your album covers are really beautiful, and probably really expensive to make. How did you convince your labels to spend so much money on the packaging?
I paid it. I pay for the cost of that, because record companies don’t deem that important. To them, It’s all about product, about how cheaply they can put things together. But as I said, these things are really important to me. And if they’re thrown together like junk, then that’s really all they are. I think it’s just too important just to throw out there, you know.
Musically, there’s so many layers to your albums that it takes repeated listening to catch it all. Do you think that is sometimes wasted on the record-buying public, do you sometimes fear that most people will only really see the surface of what you do?
I like to not be bothered by that, but there’s a massive amount of attention to detail. It’s important to me – whether it’s important to the listener or not is not important to me. The fact whether that’s recognized or not doesn’t matter. I find that really deeply part of the process. I find that in most art forms, the process of producing is actually more important than the work that’s produced. The process is really fucking important, and I find that it’s part of the process that I have to try permutations of ideas. I have to throw lots of ideas at these records that don’t work. It’s part of the things that I have to explore so I know it’s the way that it should be.
What role does the band play in that?
This band didn’t happen by accident. People always talk about this special chemistry in bands. I don’t really believe in that. You just get better at these things, and you need to be very definite in your taste to get the results. You need to be able to say, this is where I need the needle to fall, this is what’s right for me. Good songs find their own space, and you can throw lots of ideas at them. It’s well documented – you can make records that sound like Phil Spector, you can make records that sound like the Beatles, or you can make records that sound like Royal Trux. Everybody knows how you make these records. But it doesn’t work that way. Great records find their space, they’re not forced into that space. Too many people think that you can copy people’s ideas, and that’s going to make great music. But great music hangs between the notes.
You are playing at the Donaufestival alongside people like Stereolab and Sonic Youth. Is that a context you feel comfortable with?
I think that’s good. Whoever curates that festival, it seems they have put a lot of thought into it. Too many festivals are kind of thrown together, people seem to have this idea that when they throw together lots of disparate acts, they bring in different crowds, bring in more people and make more money. With a lot of festivals, it’s not about the music – not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s more like people seeing each other, which is no less important, you can still have a great time there, but more recently, people are putting together festivals where music is the focus again.
For a while in the nineties with all those shoegazer bands, it seemed like a big part of British indie music was directly influenced by you. Did you ever think my God, what have I done?
How do you answer that? I think that whole thing didn’t really have much to do with what we were doing. Everything that we did was deeply rooted in rock & roll. We used very simple effects, tremolo and wah-wah and those things. I don’t really see a connection to the shoegazer bands. And even when Spiritualized started, we were just trying to get further out, push things further out, I still didn’t see a connection with any of that. I think it’s just one of the things when people just throw in a whole lot of scenes and everybody just wants to sign the same kind of music. It’s almost like people make the music just because it sells rather than making music because it represents where they’re at and what they feel. So much music is about people trying to copy somebody else’s attitude or style or take on things and try to pass it off as their own. Invariably, eventually people see through that, and even if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. I never found that important.
Enough of the past. What are you up to right now?
We were recording this afternoon, just putting together ideas for the new record. And I’m doing some bits and pieces, soundtrack works. I’ve been on tour for a long time, so I’m just happy to be home, just playing some music and stuff. Apart from that, I’m doing a lot of sitting around and taking it easy.