CULTURE

Keeping raw rock music alive amid the prevalence of electronic sounds

Jason Pierce is one of the most interesting personalities of modern rock and Spiritualized is a band that manages, with every new release, to reform traditional rock sounds without abusing them. If psychedelic music still exists in 2004, then Spiritualized is definitely its main representatives. Shortly before performing with his band in Thessaloniki and Athens, Pierce spoke with Kathimerini about their latest album, the future of rock in the era of electronics and technology recording wonders and the Mediterranean mentality. In your new album, «Amazing Grace,» you changed your musical direction, the sound is more raw and rock. Why was that? I wouldn’t say I followed a different path because the music stems from the same roots. My collaboration with Spring Heel Jack greatly influenced both the composition and the orchestration. They’ve got some great jazzmen in the group, like Evan Parker and Matthew Shipp, and when I played with them on their last album, I saw how a modern free-jazz ensemble works. It wasn’t far from the atmosphere that prevails in the concerts of Spiritualized, where we adapt our own compositions and improvise. We tried to do the same in the studio. Musicians usually rehearse a lot before recording, but I was after a spontaneous result, without any pre-production. Today, everything boils down to the producer’s mixing desk; even when there are no musical ideas, a good producer can fix the sound. Cynics claim that we no longer need good compositions or artists who have something to say; a good producer is sufficient, he can turn trash into diamonds. I ignored all that because I do have something to say. I tried to bring out my music and lyrics without any tricks. I think there is a strong feeling of religiousness on that album. You sing «Lord Let it Rain on Me.» Is that a personal need? I don’t think religiousness prevails, I just think the album is very human and shows how fragile and weak the soul is. Some of the lyrics may be be taken as references to religion, but in reality, they are just poetic tricks. This is the case with what you just quoted. The outstretched arm on your album cover is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s well-known wall-painting in the Sistine Chapel, but here it is by itself. Many people have made that observation, but when we made the photo shoots we had nothing like that in mind. Looking at the final result you are probably right, but I would like to point out that even if it is a reference to Michelangelo, it is not about religiousness but about renaissance faith to man. We could interpret the cover as the depiction of human passion, of the soul. How much have you changed personally and as a musician since your time with Spacemen 3? As one gets older, one’s perception of music becomes broader. We lose the dogmatic views on what is right and wrong, imposed by the stereotypes of each music genre. I can now listen to anything and that is very important. When I start recording I don’t want to know what the final result will be like, I want everything to be fluid. I don’t want to produce a record that sounds like the previous one. This is more or less how we worked with Spacemen 3 and that’s why I don’t adapt their compositions. Of course, my music identity combines rock, blues, grassroots and elements of soul. In the era of electronic sounds, many have predicted the end of the electric guitar. What do you think? There are musicians who promote their work by undermining the work of other musicians, especially older ones. Journalists also daily present the «next» phase of music and are ironic about everything that came before. In reality, importance doesn’t lie with the means of making music, but with the feeling that the artist expresses. You may use a computer, a 1965 guitar or primitive drums, but what is important is what you are saying, the message. Is the song «This Little Life of Me» autobiographical? Not exactly. It portrays my current situation, it is a dionysiac song that says, «We only have one life,» this is our life and we will live it the way we want to. You have played in Athens before, do you remember it at all? Of course, and that’s why I come back, because I like it. You know what’s strange? If you want to play rock’n’roll or blues, you must be outgoing and sensitive, but at the same time very focused on the music. Mediterranean people’s mentality is outgoing, but the pace of life is also very relaxed. You can easily forget yourself in the sunshine and put everything off for tomorrow. The interview was translated from the Greek text. Traditional and modernist As soon as Spacemen 3 appeared on MTV with their video «Revolution,» people hailed them as the new Velvet Underground. The three-member group couldn’t take the publicity and disbanded. In 1990 Jason Pierce founded Spiritualized, which then produced some of the best modern rock albums: «Lazer Guided Melodies» (1992), «Pure Phase» (1995), «Ladies and Gentlemen, We’re Floating in Space» (1997), and «Let It Come Down» (2001). Spiritualized’s work is both traditional and modernist. Their sound is centered on a particular use of the guitar, in an era when many believe the guitar is no longer that important. Maintaining references to major bands of the 1960s (like the Velvet Underground and Red Crayola) and the ’70s (Suicide, Television), they have developed a musical style that expresses today’s rock music. Spiritualized are also not afraid to meander their way through jazz, blues and soul, or to even use an entire orchestra, as they did in their album «Let it Come Down.» Finally, the band’s good stage presence is yet another reason to watch them live. Spiritualized have repeatedly played in Greece. They are playing at the Mylos Arts Complex in Thessaloniki tonight and at Athens’s Rodon Club tomorrow.