Here is part 2 of my profile on Spiritualized (again, this was published in edited form by “Goldmine Magazine” sometime in October 1997; you can read part 1 here). Don’t forget tonight is the night they play their 1997 album Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space in its entirety with choir and orchestral backup live, on-line, via Facebook tongiht! Accept their RSVP to make sure you do not miss it. It will be historic! Now on with part 2 of the profile….
When trying to explain the power of his music on people, specifically fans who burst into tears at performances, Pierce says, “We get extreme reactions because we deal with extreme issues. We’re not dealing with any mid-ground. I think those things have been there since Lazer Guided Melodies, or since Spacemen stuff, and we’ve always said we deal with the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s not some kind of music that’s dealing with some kind of mediocrity, and I think when you’re dealing with those kinds of issues in music then the reaction to the music is quite out there as well. And I think that’s why I can kind of say ‘Hey, I’m feeling kind of down today,’ and I can write ‘Broken Heart,’ or say, ‘Hey, this is exciting stuff,’ and I can write ‘Electricity.’”
References to Jesus Christ and God have appeared in Pierce’s lyrics since his days in Spacemen 3. He explains that those references aren’t necessarily supposed to be interpreted as literal allusions to Christianity. Once again, something deeper lies behind the implications. “I think it’s a way of getting people to understand that kind of thing,” he says, “like ‘Walking With Jesus.’ People understand the message of that song. It’s just getting people to understand what that kind of feeling is about. It’s not necessarily Jesus. It’s kind of like normal morality or a kind of societal morality. I think people really, genuinely think that I’ve been walking around with Jesus on my right-hand or left-hand side.”
It’s no surprise that the carefully constructed and deeply moving music of Spiritualized has spawned a devout following of fans that pick up every scrap of Spiritualized’s releases that has crossed over from Pierce’s days in Spacemen 3, which also had quite a cult following that continues to grow since its demise in 1989. Between the lag of albums, Spiritualized have released exclusive items to fans and a multitude of EPs that often offer sneak previews to the follow-up albums. Pierce has no trepidations about releasing early versions of songs to the public. “I guess we do that because they evolve into something more,” he says. “I’d rather the ideas are more realized sometimes before they come out, but, also, it’s good for people to get earlier versions, like demo versions, or earlier kind of ideas of songs.”*
Nothing is sacred for Pierce. He also believes some of the music he’s done in Spacemen 3 can still be developed into something new. He re-recorded “Feel So Sad,” from Spacemen 3’s final album, Recurring, and released it as an early Spiritualized single. “So Hot (Wash Away All of My Tears)” from the 1988 Spacemen 3 album, Playing With Fire, was re-recorded by Spiritualized as “All of My Tears” on Pure Phase. “It’s still relevant,” Pierce says about the new versions of older songs. “I still play some of that stuff live. We still play ‘Walking With Jesus.’ They’re all still relevant now, and they’re relevant to what we do, so it’s not like that’s old stuff or some stuff that doesn’t mean anything anymore. I think it still has the same, universal message. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time when songs like ‘Broken Heart’ or ‘Cool Waves’ don’t have a message.”
Though some of the music of his Spacemen 3 days still matters to him, Pierce doesn’t really stay in touch with any of the former members of the group. “No, not at all,” he says. “I haven’t seen any of them for about five years.” Pierce immediately goes back to his memory of the break-up, saying, “I wasn’t quite content with how things were going, and it just became cabaret. It became doing ‘Revolution’ twice, nightly, and I didn’t want to do it.”
He admits to having heard some of the new music from the his fellow off-shoots of Spacemen 3, including Spectrum, which is fronted by Sonic Boom, a.k.a. Pete Kember, who co-wrote Spacemen 3’s music with Pierce, until their last album, where either one of them had a side to themselves for their own works, which were recorded in separate studios, illustrating the rift between the pair and foreshadowing Spacemen 3’s demise. “I’ve heard some of the new stuff,” he says about his former collaborators’ music. “The stuff that I have heard just kind of sounded like it hadn’t moved far from what we were doing in Spacemen 3. I think what we’re doing now is so radically different. I know the roots were in Spacemen 3, but it’s so radically different from everybody else is at, within that. I also feel it’s a bit of a shame that people feel that they have to buy every kind of splinter of Spacemen 3, good or bad. Especially with the kind of cynical marketing of Spacemen 3, at the moment, where people are being asked to buy different art work and different colored vinyls. I just think it’s kind of cynical, taking the piss out of fans, but I’ve got no control over that.”
Pierce is very conscious of his cultish fan base, which often buys up Spiritualized’s every release since their music would be hard to hear otherwise, beyond US college radio. Besides commercial radio’s problem with drug references and certain vocabulary in Spiritualized’s songs, there’s also an inherent quality of its songs that beg for album-oriented context. The tracks are placed in a certain order and practically melt into each other, setting the listener up for a powerful range of emotions, and some songs last as long as 16 minutes. Pierce is not out to concede his music in order to sell million-selling albums to the pop radio audience. “It’s not really made for radio,” says Pierce about Spiritualized’s music, “and we pretty much refuse to compromise the music for radio and do edits. We’re now refusing to do singles in the sort of contemporary sense. I don’t want to do that kind of thing.”
Staying true to the music also means staying true to Spiritualized’s fan base, and, over the years, fans have been offered a lot of original goodies to get their hands on. There was the previously mentioned, mail-order only live CD, Fucked Up Inside, a performance recorded at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, on Nov. 21, 1992, after the release of Lazer Guided Melodies. It presented the band at an interesting crossroads, featuring songs that would later show up on Pure Phase, as well as a version of the ever-coveted Spacemen 3 classic “Walking With Jesus.” The embossed, foil artwork on the cardboard sleeve was a nice bonus, and characterized Pierce’s attention to packaging. This was later up-staged by the glow-in-the dark alternative package of Pure Phase, limited to 40,000 worldwide. “I just started getting tired of those jewel boxes that everybody knew had faults within them,” says Pierce about the inspiration behind his ideas for unique packaging. “Everybody complains about the same things, all the time, about them, but nobody ever does anything to change them.”
Pierce’s current foray into original CD packaging is a pill box containing 12 three-inch CDs, which each contain one track from Ladies and Gentlemen, a play on , and a step further beyond, the packaging of the current album, which is presented as a prescription drug rather than a traditional record. “We put every track onto a different CD, so it’s a 12-CD pack,” says Pierce. “I think I’m going to try to make some more of those available because, initially, they didn’t really get out of the industry. They all went to retailers or shop owners, or people who could get them at cost price.** They just didn’t make enough of the things, and I kept trying to persuade them to make more because people would want them. We’re going to try to make more available, mainly to people that write back on the business reply card that was given with the album. We’ve always made records available to those people that write back on those things.”
Though he senses a demand for the fancy package, even though it is impractical as a listening experience, Pierce expects his fans will pay the price to have a copy of the album in such a unique format. “They are kind of expensive. They’re expensive for us to make. I think they cost about $70 in America, just to make the things, but I wanted to do it, if nothing else just as a design thing because it doesn’t really work as a musical thing at all in that the album was put together as an album. It isn’t a collection of 12 tracks, so I can’t really think of why anybody would play the limited edition.”
So, will Spiritualized ever grow beyond its devoted cult following and attract the interests of the MTV kids? “Somebody just asked if we ever thought we were going to go mainstream,” replies Pierce, “and I just said, ‘There’s going to have to be a whole lot of change in the mainstream if that happens, because we ain’t going to change.’ We’re not going to compromise what we do to our audience, and, I think, gradually, people are coming round to being more acceptive of different styles of music. People aren’t just into dance music anymore or into one style of music. People can listen to drum and bass and Hendrix and Sam & Dave and Acetone and Stereolab and Beastie Boys and Spiritualized. It’s not such a weird thing.”
*As a matter of fact, the deluxe version of last year’s reissue of Ladies and Gentlemen includes an array of studio outtakes across two extra CDs that some might feel redundant.
**Full disclosure: I actually got mine free from the label after doing this interview, though I did have to buy my own ticket for the NYC show on Spiritualized’s tour for this album.