EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll visionary Jason Pierce on the new Spiritualized tour and the town that made him

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“Ah. Rugby.”

It’s hard to tell whether that sigh is wistfully nostalgic or exasperatedly peevish. But then, it’s hard to tell quite a lot about Jason Pierce.

He’s an obsessive musical perfectionist who demands things are ragged and untalented. He’s an atheist who sings constantly to God. He’s a traveller who just wants to sit still. He’s a quiet man (I had to turn the phone’s volume up to hear him) equipped with a sonic arsenal capable of continent-shaking volume (such that you may even want to turn it down a bit).

But he’s responsible for some of the greatest music to have come out of this country in the past 25 years, so that’s OK.

“It’s like an island,” he says of his home town. “It’s got its own pull and it’s hard to get out.

“But one way to escape is to set up a band, just with people who look the part. Finding three or four great musicians is probably impossible, but then talent is the death of rock’n’roll.”

Thus an “average” childhood in Bilton morphs into something strange and magnificent.

“You had to make your own entertainment,” says Jason. “It’s easy to do what everyone does and wait for the weekend and get drunk. But there were people around who were finding psychedelic music and drugs and the Stooges, and these people started coming together.

“We felt like we were outsiders, like we were in a vacuum. But we had a lot of support in Rugby at the time, and there were quite a few decent bands around.”

Jason’s decent band was called Spacemen 3, formed in 1982 at the old art college in Lower Hillmorton Road. ‘Cult status’ is a term habitually employed as a euphemism for ‘unsuccessful’, but it describes accurately the following and acclaim garnered by their melding of Velvets grind, Stooges thrust and doo-wop sugar.

They split in 1991, the growing animosity between Pierce and co-founder Peter Kember proving terminally destructive. And so, with Spiritualized - a band of which he is the only permanent member - Jason became free to pursue his own singular vision.

Spiritualized released their latest album, the relaxed and joyful Sweet Heart Sweet Light, in April. It’s their seventh in 20 years. But if that seems a tad unproductive, bear in mind that Jason twice spent a whole year merely mixing the records. It’s that sort of behaviour that earns Pierce a reputation for uncompromising perfectionism.

But he doesn’t see it quite that way. “My music is ragged. The perfection is my idea of perfection - it’s not the same as a perfect sound. Getting it right can take years, but a record is around forever, so it should be the very best record you can make. You have to nail it.

“Music is the single most important thing, and rock’n’roll is the greatest form of it.

The relaxed schedule also imbues every Spiritualized release with a sense of occasion. This has been the case especially since 1997, when out came Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. It was the NME’s album of the year and is widely regarded as one of the greatest records of the 1990s. Its combination of ethereal rock, grimy jazz, riotous cacophony and swoonsome balladry shifted a million copies.

But they’re not exactly a singles band - and in these days of Spotify and digital downloads, it’s tempting to fear that their work will be met with increasing apathy. Jason, thankfully, fears not.

“I still think albums are important to people. You can buy a postcard of the centre of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but you can’t deny it’s part of a greater thing.

“It’s so easy to get music now - bootlegs, live recordings - but that’s not the same as sitting and listening to it over and over again until it becomes a part of you. Some people treat music like data, but there will always be people who will listen to entire albums.”

Medication of various forms has been one of Pierce’s lifelong preoccupations. Much has been made - not least in his own music - of Jason’s darker addictions. Then there’s the medication of God, a theme of his work since Walking With Jesus, one of the first songs Spacemen 3 recorded.

“There’s no real religion in my music”, he says. “It comes from doo-wop, where there are always lines about heaven and angels. There no religion to it - it’s all about love. God Only Knows isn’t religious - it’s a love song. And I’m not religious.”

And then there’s the pharmaceutical stuff. Ladies and Gentlemen... was initially released in a tablet-style blister pack, complete with instructions for safe use and possible side-effects. Pierce became dependent on those sorts of drugs in 2005, when he lay close to death with pneumonia.

“It didn’t change my outlook on life,” he says. “I kept hoping there’d be some revelation, but there wasn’t, and I think I’m just the same as I was before. Unfortunately.”


Spiritualized play at Warwick Arts Centre on Sunday November 4. Call 024 7652 4524.