Jason Pierce picks and chooses his moments very carefully: on Spiritualized songs, the introduction of an instrument is as deliberate as ever, appropriately designed to rush its way into your psyche all at once and a little at a time.
Take the lead single for Spiritualized’s new album, Everything Was Beautiful, “Always Together With You” — as the song builds to a cascading crescendo, it finds a natural ending point around four minutes in. But then, very quickly, the song bursts back open again, with his vocals, dramatic guitars, and harmonies colliding into each other repeatedly, creating a hypnotic energy that borders on maniacal.
It’s one thing to experience “Always Together With You” sonically, but pair it with its intense, environmental collapse-focused music video, and the steadfast love that Pierce sings about ends up seeming terrifying. This dichotomy is exactly what characterizes the best parts of Everything Was Beautiful (out April 22nd). For his ninth studio album, Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) mixes the enchanting with hidden notes of pain and anguish, love with a sense of fleeting vulnerability.
Pierce has always been a powerful agent of widescreen emotions channeled through incredibly specific musicianship; his perfectionist ideals have certainly shifted since the legendary Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, but there’s still a sense of melding the organic and natural with a truly maximalist atmosphere.
In our conversation, Pierce confesses to being “obsessive” about creating music, but when making Everything Was Beautiful during the pandemic, he felt relieved to have the space and time to be obsessive: “I didn’t have to worry about not being invited to the party. I didn’t have to worry about what else was going on because there was only this to do.”
Now in the 32nd year of Spiritualized, you’d think it’d start to get easier for Pierce to be vulnerable when making these massive songs, but according to Pierce, it’s as challenging as ever to stay open. “I find it really hard to do this,” says Pierce, “But I find that I have to keep raising the bar as I get older.” Having dabbled heavily in country, blues, and gospel sounds throughout his career with Spiritualized, it’s clear that Pierce is still fascinated with a free, uninhibited sound, a simple expression lifted and beautifully blown out of proportion.
Ahead of the release of Everything Was Beautiful, Consequence chatted with Pierce about the journey of the album, being vulnerable, and the art he gravitates towards. Check out the full Q&A below.
Is there anything about this album–whether it be the recording, writing, or release, that feels different this time around?
Yeah, quite a bit of it. I recorded the demos for this at the same time as the last record. My original intention was a kind of grand statement, or to have the whole thing be a double album. I’ve kind of said this before, but nobody really wanted a double album. There was the feeling that lambs tend to get lost only to be discovered if they’re worth it. The one that was cited most was The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, but there’s a lot of double albums that just seem to be overwhelming or have too much information, maybe more so now that people have had their attention spans robbed, and don’t seem to have the time or energy to indulge in a lot of information.
When I finished the last album, I didn’t want this to be the “also ran” or kind of “outtakes” or whatever, because it never was — it wasn’t like these were the weaker tracks. So the whole process of putting it together and assembling it and mixing it was completely different from the last record. I didn’t attempt to mix it in the same manner in my home. How exactly it’s different… it’s probably too long of an answer.
But yeah, I didn’t just kind of repeat the process and say, “Okay, here we go.” I found a different way of mixing, a different kind of sound, but I didn’t want it to sound like the kind of claustrophobic sound of the last record. It felt like it should be more expansive, it should have a bigger sound and more. And I guess it sounds more alive, although it’s probably less, or at least the equivalent of the last album in that not much of it is played live. Not many of the musicians played at the same time as other musicians, but it feels like it feels like there’s more, it just feels more alive, I guess.
Looking at the timeline of the release, you mentioned that some of these songs that ended up making the album came from the last album’s sessions, but how much of this album was created during the pandemic? Similarly, are there any aspects of this album that were influenced by the pandemic?
This was all assembled during the pandemic, and it was mostly influenced by that strange, quiet space that it afforded everybody. I guess one of my biggest problems is that I’m very obsessive. I feel like this is the single most important thing in the world, and that comes with a lot of guilt. Of course, it’s not; it’s just music. It’s not such a big deal. It’s all consuming. In a weird way, the pandemic allowed me to have a kind of guilt free ride through that. I didn’t have to worry about not being invited to the party. I didn’t have to worry about what else was going on because there was only this to do.
So in an odd way, it helped, and this is kind of weird, but most musicians record late at night, even if they’re in soundproof studios. There’s something about when the world chills, it gives a little bit of space for music to add on. And I guess when you’ve got that kind of chill 24 hours a day, it kind of allowed the space to be able to make music in a kind of unhindered way. There was nothing that could get in the way of this one.
Did you feel the sense that time was a little bit suspended throughout that period?
Yeah. I mean, it was, wasn’t it? There was a sort of peace of mind as well, and the sort of clarity that comes with that. I was quite worn out after the last record, and I was not looking to go back into that. But this gave us a sort of chance to be able to find time to do that. Time was handed over in huge quantities. It was kind of a little bit of opportunistic behavior on my part; it allowed me enough time to do it on my part.
There are some very enchanting, massive-sounding moments on the lead single, “Always Together With You,” paired with a really powerful music video. What were some of the impulses behind that sort of hypnotic track, and pairing it with the jarring imagery of environmental collapse found in the video?
I think the single biggest influence was Adam Curtis, who I had spoken with a while back about possibly making a film with, but he’s so busy with what he does. I think it’s hard making movies. I’ve always thought of them as ads. You know, even though people have made pop videos, and this is sort of a market for them, I’ve always seen them as a kind of an ad. It was quite nice to make something that wasn’t very personal. And that was very social media, but also it was all stock footage. And there was something about being, again, pandemic led, that it felt really important not to come back after three years of everybody being locked in with something… the last thing people wanted to see was my holiday snaps, like, “Here I am in Mexico on a pyramid!”
So, it was kind of what it wasn’t that was very important, that it was just made from stock footage. That kind of led the whole way, I guess the artwork included. It was very much like, “Let’s use what we know, let’s use what’s what we’ve bought with what we’ve already built,” and with a kind of respect. When you start making films, it kind of leads wherever, and it started as certain type of stock footage. As soon as the other bits came in, it felt that way. The more we worked on it, we ended up with those kind of loops at the end, which made it really work.
There’s a theme of vulnerability on the album. “Let It Bleed (For Iggy),” and “Crazy” are really sweet, honest, personal songs. Do you find it’s more difficult to open yourself up in this phase of your career? Or easier?
I don’t think it ever gets easier. I find it really hard to do this. But I find that I have to raise the bar as I get older. It feels like I’ve said a few times that a lot of people my age seem to make new recordings as a means to get back on the road to play their old recordings. You know, like the new stuff doesn’t matter. There’s even a kind of joke line in England where people announced they’re going to play new songs and the audience groans, because the last thing they want is new material. So, I feel like there’s a bar is always raised, you know, it feels like it has to be really worth something to be released now, that it has to compete, so it’s certainly not easier.
I find songwriting really interesting. I think it’s amazing. You could write knock-off songs real quick, you know, you could just say “that’ll do” and I don’t feel that you should do that with any art — you should try and find the best words. But I think pop music is quite weird in that it’s kind of dumbed down. I like the Carole King example, like she had to dumb down to play with Bryan Wilson, but with no disrespect in those words. It’s got these kind of simple elements, but good songs, they’re still hard to find, and I don’t know why.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an academic, or if you’re worthy, or whatever. You could write any song, but good pop songs are still really hard to put together. I don’t know why, but I find that fascinating. I find it strange that something that sounds so simple can be so complicated. They’re elusive. Even the simplest phrase, you know, like “be my, be my baby.” The words are almost trite, but they’re so full of passion, full of soul. And there’s something really beautiful about that. But even though it’s simple, it never gets any easier.
Are there any pop songs that you’ve fallen in love with in the last few years?
You know, when I make a record, I find listening to other music really disturbing. I don’t know why. So not really in the last few years. But since I finished the record, I’ve been playing a lot of records again. Chuck Berry never fails to amaze me with this. And also, I think musicians talk about it all the time, but Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, the Phil Spector canon, the Jimmy Holiday songs, Lee Hazel, Patsy Cline… they go on and on. But also, it’s how they managed to write the songs into two and a half minutes, which is kind of this amazing thing. I take like three minutes just to set up the premise, just to kind of set the scene [laughs].