PEEKING INTO HEAVEN: A conversation with Jason Spaceman (2008)

Peeking Into Heaven

How a brush with death, a haunted guitar and filmmaker Harmony Korine helped Spiritualized’s Jason Spaceman wrestle a new album of narcotic gospel music into being.

Text: Jay Babcock
Photography: Stacy Kranitz

Originally published in Arthur No. 30 (July 2008)

There are some humans who seem specially equipped to not just interact with consciousness-altering drugs, but to thrive from their persistent use. For two decades, English musician Jason Pierce, aka J. Spaceman, seemed to be one of these special specimens. His first band, the succinctly named Spacemen 3, was a triumph of drugs, sound and stubborness—”Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to,” “Fucked up inside,” and “For all the fucked up children of the world,” were bandied-about slogans/mottos; Playing With Fire and The Perfect Prescription were album titles; and a serious, incandescent reconciliation of drone, blues, rock n roll, junkie metaphor and primitive psychedelic sound effects was what they achieved. Formed in 1982 with Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom, with whom, astonishingly, Jason shared a birthdate and birthplace hospital, Spacemen 3 burned both ends brightly (if distantly—they never made it to America, and relatively few people saw them in England) before disintegrating in 1991 after a series of truly despicable actions by Kember.

As Spacemen 3 fell to earth, Pierce launched Spiritualized, releasing a series of studio albums in the ’90s combining an ever-broadening musical palate with an audiophile’s attention to detail and a continuing lyrical preoccupation with the idea of Need—need for companionship, for drugs, for hope, for relief from suffering. 1997’s woozy Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space, a breakup/lament album of epic musical scope incorporating gospel, noise and sublime bliss-outs, caught the public’s attention unlike any other album Pierce has made before or since, but it should be understood that ALL OF THEM ARE GREAT. Pierce has stuck to his themes, to his minimalist-maximalist vision, and each album—from the coldstar beauty of 1995’s Pure Phase to the orchestral grandeur of 2001’s Let It Come Down to the raw, stoic ache of 2003’s Amazing Grace—offers a variation on that single approach, or to use his metaphor, a single mainline. Live, Spiritualized tend toward the overwhelming; I’ve seen people black out, weep openly, mount each other in joy at shows through the years—if that isn’t evidence of being in the presence of transcendence, I don’t know what is.

When word leaked out in July 2005 that Pierce was in hospital nearing death, most of us assumed that the OD catastrophe (to quote an early Spacemen 3 song) had finally happened. The truth was in some ways scarier—Pierce was down to 110 pounds and taking half-second breaths, with his wife undergoing grief counseling in preparation for the seeming imminent departure—because he had contracted double pneumonia, and a doctor had somehow failed to detect it in an earlier visit.

Almost three years later, on the eve of the release of the new Spiritualized album (punningly titled Songs in A & E—“A & E” is British shorthand for the “Accidents & Emergency” department of a hospital), Arthur meets up with Jason in Williamsburg. Wearing white pants, a white Roky Erickson t-shirt and silver sneakers, Pierce is in good spirits, and with the sunglasses and hair, he seems ageless: it could be 1988, 1998 or 2008. It’s all the same, and yet things have changed. It’s not yet dusk, so Jason insists on Coca-Cola rather than something harder. As we head through the bar to the backyard pebble garden, we pass a large medical poster displaying two human lungs. I gasp. Jason laughs. He’s lived to play with fire another day. Continue reading

New Welsh psych: WHITE NOISE SOUND

Download: “Sunset”—White Noise Sound (mp3)

Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/WNS.Sunset.mp3%5D

If you’re gonna (essentially) cover Spacemen 3’s “Revolution” in 2010, good god this is the way to do it. For all the fucked up children of the world, we give you “Sunset,” the opener off White Noise Sound‘s debut album, produced with obvious great care by Cian Ciaran from Super Furry Animals, out Sept. 21 through the good people at Alive/Naturalsound Records. Spacemen 3’s Pete Kember (Sonic Boom) had something to do with this album’s recording.

“Revolution” by Spacemen 3, live: watch here.

A Freak-Out(ting): Julian Cope's CORNUCOPEA festival (Spring 2000)

cornucopea

Souvenir CD Programme given away to Cornucopea Festival goers, still available for purchase from Head Heritage.


Cosmic Cuckoos: Julian Cope and pagans against the machine
By Jay Babcock

First published Thursday, May 18 2000 in the LAWeekly

Because we have our own aural tradition and need for congregation with like minds . . . because we can’t, not all of us, get our knickers in a twist about the muffler-rock of Testosterostock 2000 (Metallica, Korn and Kid Rock at the Coliseum, July 15, mark your calendars!) . . . because the airwaves are clean and there‘s nobody singing to me . . . Because of all that, I find myself here in London, jet-lagged and double-lagered, listening to Julian Cope.

Yes, that Julian Cope. Ex-leader of the Teardrop Explodes, the early-’80s Liverpudlian post-punk group with a sizable cult following. Solo artist with a minor pre-alternative hit (the anthemic “World Shut Your Mouth”). A petulant, paranoid near-rock star freakoid who in true “VH1 Behind the Music” fashion succeeded in alienating his band, his fans, his record label and, finally, himself before a series of revelations in 1989 shifted him in a newly “aware” direction.

Cope went hypernova and deep-historical—from town frier to town crier, from “Saint Julian” to “The Arch-Drood,” from Syd Barrett-esque acid-gobbler to full-throttle goddess-worshippin‘ Mystic Brother No. 1, becoming a self-conscious subscriber to Dadaist artist Hugo Ball’s dictum that “Artists are Gnostics, and practice what the priests think is long forgotten.” Now confident in his role as “Shamanic Rock & Rolling Inner-Space Cadet,” Cope released an extraordinary series of artistically ambitious albums on Island (and, later, American) that, in the music-industry scheme of things, were underperforming commercial failures, and he ended up without a major-label recording contract.

Today, Cope spends his days out on Ur-Pagan Patrol near Silbury Hill, raising a family, self-releasing a number of limited-edition mail-order records, overseeing a fantastic Web site (headheritage.co.uk) and, in the last six years, laboring over a clutch of obsessive, entertaining books, including two hilarious autobiographies (Head-on in ‘94 and Repossessed in ’99, now out in one convenient $19.95 paperback volume), a crash course in Krautrock (‘95’s essential Krautrocksampler), and ‘98’s The Modern Antiquarian: A Pre-Millennial Odyssey Through Megalithic Britain, a scholarly study of Britain‘s pre-Christian megalithic sacred sites, now in its third printing.

Clad in leopard-skin tights and knee-high platform jackboots, Cope ventures into the city rarely and reluctantly to report, bardexplorerlike, his findings to The People. And so “Cornucopea”: two early-spring weekend nights at London’s South Bank Centre of Cope-curated space-rock ambient-glitter bubble-metal protest-blues, starring a host of artists and, of course, Mr. Cope himself. A sounding of the horn of plenty. A celebration of mystery, whimsy, eccentricity—of Supreme Oddness. A festival for the cuckoos. Continue reading