Music is a drug. It’s a truism. But with Spiritualized, it’s more true, more mind-expanding than most. Take the cover of the English band’s 1997 album Ladies & Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, which mimics the instructions on a prescription package, and the meditation of songs like “No God Only Religion,” for instance.
Jason Pierce, or “J. Spaceman” as he goes by in Spiritualized—of which he is the sole permanent member—got his start in music by listening to “the hard stuff.”
“As a youth, I didn’t know what I wanted to do; then I got lucky and discovered Iggy & the Stooges’ Raw Power,” the 47-year old singer/guitarist says. “I started exploring other Detroit music like the MC5 and realized that all music is linked—from the MC5 to the blues to the avant-garde.” He founded Spiritualized in 1990 after the breakup of his equally seminal but more incendiary ’80s alternative band, Spacemen 3.
Ten years ago, I saw Spiritualized at Club DV8 in Salt Lake City. It was a transcendent experience to witness Pierce’s music brought to life onstage, not with a full orchestra as he had used on occasion, but with tympani adding rhythmic depth. A lot has happened since, but a band like Spiritualized is as relevant now as then, maybe even more so, since Pierce follows his own muse rather than musical fashion.
“As powerful as both [drugs and spirituality] are at their best, in the pop-music world, music is just treated as cheap entertainment to be sold,” he says. “I wanted something stronger than that. All the music that I hold dear deals with things like what it means to be mortal and stand on this Earth.” It’s a trope of psychedelic music from Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” through much of the Flaming Lips’ entire canon, and Spiritualized has its own niche on that continuum—easier to swallow than some, yet deeper and more contemplative.
Did Pierce find himself “spiritualized” by health problems? These include double pneumonia that brought him near death in 2005, and undergoing experimental chemotherapy for liver disease during the recording of the band’s seventh album, 2012’s Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum). “Not as much as I’d thought,” he says. “I’d heard about people coming back, who change direction in life or have some kind of revelation, but I’m the same disappointing person.”
His self-effacing manner doesn’t hint at the importance of Ladies & Gentlemen in the world of indie music; it’s considered one of the most influential albums of the ’90s and virtually invented the shoegaze genre. When asked if it was difficult to make music after that success, Pierce says he took “tiny steps. I’m wary of major leaps. We’re a rock & roll band, and there’s a certain language that it needs to be rock & roll, and to be Spiritualized.
“You get better at it, hitting high moments when you perform,” he continues. “Our live show isn’t about accuracy, but energy. Music is just pushing air around, but it’s still the most exciting thing in the world.”
Understated yet extravagantly imaginative, bombastic yet indescribably subtle—these are some of the contradictions that Pierce’s music has embraced over the course of his career. He can seemingly dismiss music-making as “pushing air around” and, at the same time, make it sound like the most important thing you could do.
Pierce has just begun work on songs for a new album. “I’m trying to pursue things I couldn’t pursue last time, since the last [album] was difficult to make,” he says.
Pierce is aiming for short recording sessions, and says, “I don’t like to overly polish, but I like to live with things and know I’ve made the right decisions.”
The Urban Lounge
241 S. 500 East
Friday, April 5, 9 p.m.
$22 in advance, $25 day of show