“I’ve realized I can do interviews from the comfort of my bed,” says Jason Pierce, Spiritualized’s very relaxed-sounding mastermind, speaking on the phone from his Manhattan hotel room. “It all gets easier as I get older.”
Hardly. The stalwart English psych-rock band’s Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, due April 17 on Fat Possum, was originally scheduled for release a month prior, but the album got pushed when Pierce, 46, had to do some last-minute mixing. With the lushly detailed, uncharacteristically (and wonderfully) relaxed-sounding album ready to go — and sounding exactly as he intended — Pierce, who will be touring behind the album in May, spoke with SPIN about where this album fits in the Spiritualized spectrum, the problem of mixing, and fake rock’n’roll.
For the casual music fan who doesn’t understand why something would need to be remixed at a late stage in the process, can you explain why it’s such a painstaking undertaking? Mixing is making all the little sonic moves, you know? It’s balancing. Is the bass or treble too loud or too quiet? It doesn’t take much adjustment to change things radically. I think you know a mix is complete when it feels like the song resists any further change — when it feels like you can throw the different parts of the song up in the air and they keep landing in the same space. That’s how you know a song has found its proper shape. Also, I wasn’t mixing the album as individual tracks. I was trying to make my decisions on how the tracks would fit across the whole album. So where the choir comes in on a song — my mixing isn’t not necessarily just to do with where it enters in that song as a singularity, it’s to do with where it enters in relation to the rest of the album. It’s not easy.
Spiritualized albums have often had a very grandiose feel to them. Sweet Heart, Sweet Light feels humbler. What was your vision for the album? I like abstraction in music. I like pop songs when they’ve been twisted. And with this record I just kind of wanted to emphasize that. I wanted to make a record that embraced harmonies and pop, in my kind of way. I like that pop is so exposed. You can’t say to a listener, “Well, this is beyond you” or “You’re not ready for this kind of music.” I just wanted to try and make hooks and melodies that worked on an immediate level.
One of the worst things about rock’n’roll is that it tries to relive its youth.— Jason Pierce
I feel like it’s often the case that as a musician gets more experienced, he or she is more interested in experimentation than accessibility. Did you have any models for the kind of music you wanted to make? I was interested in music that wasn’t made by people who are, like, 19- to 26-years-old and waving flags and throwing stones at you and have a singular vision. There are these other records like Clear Spot by Captain Beefheart or the ’70s Link Wray albums or Kill City by Iggy Pop that were made when the artists had soaked up some wisdom and deviated from their original vision as kids. I started to see those kinds of records as the backbone of rock’n’roll. They’re no less important than the pinnacles of Brian Wilson or the Beatles. They’re the core of the music. They show how you can sustain and make something beautiful after that initial burst.
Why is that particular kind of energy inspiring to you? One of the worst things about rock’n’roll is that it tries to relive its youth. But the albums I was talking about are the kind of albums that are like old friends. You can put it on and you play it from beginning to end and it works and you go, ‘What a beautiful and great album.’ And they’re not even that rare. They’re just not as famous as the firebrand stuff. They get lost. Yeah, that was the other thing. It was the sort of melancholy — these records that are a part of what makes me who I am and a part of the core of rock’n’roll and they slowly drift into a place where they’re not important, you know?
But we can’t make everyone else like all our favorite records Well, the problem is that a lot of what is being hailed as rock’n’roll patently isn’t. That process is an inevitable part of getting older but there’s a sort of sadness about it. It’s not going to be that long before talking to someone about rock’n’roll is going to be like talking to the people in The Great Gatsby. It will feel like you’re in a completely different era. It’s only another couple of generations before that happens. This is music that’s deeply personal to me, you know? And it’s going to seem like ancient history. That’s the relentless drift.
Time is a hell of a thing, Jason. I can’t stop it. But I can put some of what’s beautiful about the music I love into my own records.
Do you think you achieved that on the new album? My problem is I wanted my album to have the most expansive, emotive, joyous sounds but also have the most fragile and personal and intimate sounds and I want all that in the same ten seconds of music. I want it to go in all directions at once, and it’s just such a hard thing to do.
No wonder you have such a hard time mixing! Yeah, there’s lots of tinkering. But it’s important to make new music now. By “new” I mean exciting. It’s as impossible to make “new” music as it is to make a new animal. But it’s important that you are part of the process of evolution. It takes time. It’s a slow process. You can’t force it. The important thing for me was this idea of albums that you can’t help but play and say, “What a beautiful album.” I kinda wanted to make one of those. I hope I have.