Published Sep 04, 2018Jason Pierce doesn't know the meaning of taking it easy. Almost three decades after leaving influential drone rockers Spacemen 3 to form his solo project Spiritualized, Pierce, a.k.a. J Spaceman, has spent the last six creating his latest opus, Spiritualized's eighth studio album And Nothing Hurt.
Of course, it was never intended to take that long. But Pierce used upwards of 10 studios, including his own, and scrapped most of what he had halfway through.
In fact, he even went so far as saying this may be the last-ever Spritiualized album. However, as Pierce now tells Exclaim!, that's likely no longer the case.
"Way back in the past, I wanted it to be more free-form, like the shows I was doing at the time," he tells Exclaim! of the album sessions. "I did some work with John Edwards, John Coxon and Charles Hayward, but it just didn't work. The songs were too classic or too sort of straightforward, and they just didn't want to be pushed in that direction."
From that point on, Pierce began working with famed producer Youth (the Verve, Paul McCartney), who, based on their resumés, seemed like a match made in heaven — until they actually got in a room together.
"I laid a load of demos down with Youth, which I'd forgotten all about; I didn't approach to work with him, he just offered to help," Pierce explains. "That got incredibly messy and it really wasn't good enough. When I finally got the tapes back — he held the tapes for nearly half a year, trying to extort cash and push for that to be a record — I felt like I had to start again. I had no love for any of it. It felt tainted by this awful process. And to be honest, it wasn't good enough to start with. So I didn't get off to the best start with this record."
Having spent all of his money up to that point, Pierce had to regroup. His first order of business was spending what funds he did have on a new laptop to basically build his new album from scratch. But for him, the laptop represented more than just a recording device.
"What I really bought was time," he says. "I didn't have any money by the time I settled on making this record for real. I figured if I bought a laptop I could buy myself enough time to get what I wanted. And because I'd already had a few false starts I really felt like I was holing up and protecting it."
That said, it was a recording device, too.
"A laptop is just another kind of tape machine; it's not that different," he adds. "It just allows you so many more channels to record with. I didn't want to follow somebody else's ideas of what is finished. It's been said that I recorded it at home, but any time I could, I would dash to the nearest studio and put some timpani or drums down, and go back home to assemble it."
Collaborating with other musicians has always been a major component of Spiritualized's recording process; Pierce often favours working with a string orchestra. However, with no money to work with he had to get creative. Instead of recording live strings in a big studio, most of the album features classical records sampled with his laptop, which added to the delay.
"It was purely for financial reasons, to be honest," he quickly points out. "I mean, not all of it is, but I had this feeling of disappointment when I was doing that because I know how to do it the other way. As soon as you get four string players into the studio they've got all of those years of experience and practice.
"To be honest, they're not even really that expensive. They are the most amazing value for money, but I just couldn't afford it. So I spent weeks and weeks sampling sounds from records to try and get the same kind of thing. It seemed like an inordinate amount of work to do. It almost seemed like I'd found the hardest, longest, most daunting way of doing this thing that I've already got a proven track record to get the same results, even better results."
While making And Nothing Hurts, Spiritualized performed a number of shows featuring the band's seminal 1997 album, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, in full. Despite investing a lot of time into the performances, Pierce says the new album is quite different from Ladies and Gentlemen. With this one, he wanted to focus more on writing a good song.
"I got more into songwriting this time," he says. "I listened to an awful lot of country music, like Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, just massive songs. I wanted to write these songs as best as I could, and not use the same themes I did 20 years ago. I wanted to write songs where the words could almost work outside of the music. That dictated the sound."
Pierce isn't so sure about a quote he gave the Independent two years ago, in which he described And Nothing Hurt as "equal if not a lot better than Ladies and Gentlemen," but he does remember saying this could very well be his last Spiritualized record.
"I didn't think I had many more albums in me," he admits. "And it wasn't that I was going to stop making music. I feel like when I make an album the net is cast as wide as I can, so I can pull all of the strings that link all of the music I love together, and make the distances between them less. It's also that unwritten rule in music where as you get older your music doesn't have to be as good. There is a fashion now, and only in music, where it's like, 'Why aren't you doing what you did when you were younger? Like reform your old band, take it on the road and see what you used to be like.'
"I'm not suggesting that all records made by musicians my age aren't worth anything, but I feel like they should come with a greater responsibility. I certainly don't feel like it's easier to make records now. I think rock'n'roll almost seems to work better when it's full of stupidity, arrogance and youth. But I felt that this record had to be about where I am now, not mirroring what I was doing 20 years ago."
When asked outright if he thinks And Nothing Hurt will be it for Spiritualized, he gives a little more hope than before.
"I honestly don't know," he answers. "This one has thrown up lots of loose ends, but I feel like I know the process now. I know what is waiting for me."
And Nothing Hurt is out September 7 courtesy of Fat Possum/Bella Union. The album is available for pre-order on standard black and deluxe orange vinyl via MusicVaultz.