Spiritualized: Sweet Heart, Sweet Light… Exclusive Interview and Live Video

Spiritualized records have a history of being some of the most intricate, complex and laborious undertakings in modern rock music. Conceived from the often medicated mind of Jason Pierce and translated to tape, Spiritualized’s musical journey has explored everything from psychedelic freakouts and overwhelming orchestral offerings, to gospel soul and epic etherealism. Exploring the sonic peaks and valleys of drug use complete with agnostic, religious allusions that seem to cry out for redemption, the band’s anxious buildups and triumphant crescendos sounds like symphonies for substance sympathizers.

Jason Pierce wasn’t easy to track down. He never has been. But at the last possible hour of the last possible day before deadline, he came through to talk about the recent release of his seventh album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light.

While his previous record was recorded after a near death experience with double pneumonia, Sweet Heart Sweet Light was written during another health scare, one he doesn’t like to talk about. This record wasn’t created with the help of illicit drugs like many of the previous ones. It was recorded under the influence of different substances—ones prescribed by a doctor.

Thanks to the kindness and access provided by Spiritualized’s management and the venue’s security staff, this interview is accompanied by exclusive live video and a few photos from their recent show at the Paradise Rock Club.

Without further ado… Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Jason Pierce……

What is the background story behind the cover art?

Wow. I wanted it to look like one of those medical logos. But most of all, more than making it look good on a 12” LP, I wanted it to look good on any scale, no matter how small it goes. I wanted it to look like a work of art. It kinda worked on each scale and it kind of looks like the Periodic Table as well, so it kinda worked.

It seems like an interesting choice to start with a 9 minute song. Was there any reasoning behind that decision?

No, it just kind of came out like that. With the record, I wanted to make the whole thing like a pop record, like the Beatles. Then halfway through I realized I didn’t really like the Beatles. Not that I don’t like the Beatles music, but I decided I wouldn’t like to make a record like that. The idea originally was to make all of the songs two and a half minutes so it would be about harmony and melody and not about that abstraction or distortion– but some of it just came about like that. You can’t really edit that down. In a way, with the album as a whole, all the songs lean up against each other and editing them down would have made them more fucked up than this freedom. All the songs lean against each other, you know?

How did the official music video for “Hey Jane” come about and was any of that your idea? Did the video give the song a different meaning in the end?

You know how that video came about… it’s how most videos come about. You commit to someone to make your video. We usually use the video money to have some fun like when we went to Mount Edna. But most of the times you commission someone to make something. And then someone makes it seem like it was their idea. But this time, I sent it out and people came out with their ideas. This time I hadn’t known what he had done and I let him run with it and I did the opposite and didn’t give him any input. My only input, if you can call it that, was to resist any further conventions of the record label to destroy what it was or to try and chop it down to vignettes. There’s all kind of restrictions.

Is it true that you scrapped the original mix of this record after you released promo copies?

No. You know I didn’t mix the record by sitting in a room and mixing the record. I started mixing it a year before I was finished and I was trying not to do any further recording and try and balance it. It wasn’t strictly mixing. But I sent out what I called a finished thing ahead of time to try and jump the gun. There’s so much importance placed upon lead-up time nowadays. It used to be you finished a record and had it out in the stores a month and a half later. Now, it’s 5 months ahead of time because magazine have 3 and a half months lead-up time, so they’re not writing about current affairs anymore– they’re writing about things that happened 3 and a half months ago. So, I figured we could get a jump on that and if I sent an early copy out for review, I could jump on tour right when I finished the record. And it kind of worked. Within a month I was on tour. There wasn’t a clever thought about it. I wasn’t trying to get a jump on journalists or trying to make a clever statement. Sometime down the line I said as a joke that people who review the record haven’t got the proper record anyway. Some people didn’t find that funny. Some people thought I was trying to make some clever point on the state on music journalism. I was just trying to get a jump on touring.

Is the record thematic at all to you?

Is there a thread through the whole record? Is that what you mean? Yeah, kind of. I kind of had a difficult time putting it together actually. Sometimes I think I just make a record to tour because I feel the need to get back on the road. I think that’s what is most exciting… when you’re not trying to tie it down and catch something and put it down forever and be able to hear it in 20 years time. There’s something exciting live when you’re pushing it and you’re within it, but you’re not trying to hold onto it. With this record, as I said, I was trying to make a pop record—I wanted to make something where you didn’t have to be hip to a certain style or music, you could just sit and listen to it like a collection of songs that really worked. My influences were Iggy Pop’s Kill City, Clear Spot by Captain Beefheart and Accelerator by Royal Trux. They weren’t albums that they were releasing into the stars or that would change music forever, they were just beautiful collections of songs. When I tried to put that down, it became very hard to make. Anyone trying to make pop music has nowhere to hide. Everyone knows the definition of pop music. You can’t hide in an abstract idea. I started thinking that the more abstract you go with music, the more you can start to say “oh you’re not really hip to this or you haven’t got the musical ear to understand this”. But with pop music, you can’t really hide behind anything. It doesn’t really come with a disclaimer.

How is your health these days?

It’s good I think.

Did your health problems affect your visions of songs and how you approached songwriting?

Yeah, I don’t know. They got in the way. The treatment was worse than the thing I was suffering from. I had to do the treatment, otherwise I was going to get worse. Really it was made under a whole set of conditions of what being cut off of drugs can do. And so that got in the way. I can’t really even listen to the record now because it reminds me of that time. And I’ve never really made a record like that before. I usually make records that make sense to me after. It’s weird because I haven’t really got a control record to compare with. I haven’t made a record that wasn’t made under those circumstances so I don’t know if it would have been made different, but I really think it might have been.

The last time I saw you play, you played stripped down with gospel singers. Is this going to be similar, or will it be a more all-out rock show?

It’s a similar lineup. I’d like to say it’s a sit-back show, but it’s a little more involved and still allowing the ideas of the new record. But I’d like to say it’s more pop. We’re traveling with the same girls who played on the previous record, but they’re not gospel singers, they sing pop music and they sing like Leonard Cohen or the Leonard Cohen singers. They sound more ethereal and spaced out. It’s not gospel anymore, it’s taken on it’s own thing.

You’ve always used religious allusions in your music. After the near-death health experiences, the Jesus references are still there. Are they any more realistic or are they still just reference points?

No. They never really meant anything religious. I’ve had trouble trying to explain this. It’s like “Heaven Sent Me an Angel”. It’s kind of a short cut in language. I read something this morning about the Beach Boys’ song with Brian Wilson. Even though it has God-reference in the title, the song has NOTHING to do with God. It’s about love. It’s like an economy of language. Really that’s my use of language. Having a conversation with Jesus, you know exactly what that’s about. It allows you to take things with few words to carry what the songs about. There’s no religion in these songs at all.

As far as touring vs. making records, which do you enjoy more?

Touring, always. I’m not trying to pin things down and hold onto things when I play live. You can push it around from the inside and make changes. I fucking hate making records, I really do. And it just gets harder. It changes the way you listen to music. It starts changing the way you listen to other people’s records. You get caught up thinking about what kinds of reverbs they’ve used. Once I get to playing again and I get on the bus, it all starts to make sense again.

When you guys play now, do you go back through the whole catalogue or are there songs you stay away from for any reason?

It’s not very thought about. It’s not really planned. We don’t sit around with a list of songs we can do. We play something and then we think about what leads into that. Nothing’s really out-of-bounds.

Your characters have names on this record, at least more so than usual. Are they based on real people

Yeah, but they’re a bit more fluid. I think there are about 3 Janes in there. There’s no single Jane.

Do you think your songs have turned into more of a quest for penance or redemption at all?

My songs? No, I’ve been trying to write pop songs. In making an album, you almost drain the songs of any substance. By the time I’ve finished the album, they almost have no emotional effect on me at all. It’s kind of wicked because I know it’s in there. I know that some of it really moved me and some of it had to be said like that. But now I listen to the album and I like the pop aspect of it, but I have a few chuckles after hearing some lines of it. But there was a time when the whole album and lyrics were important to me. But you can’t make records fast. I think most bands relinquish responsibilities and hire a producer who comes in with his own bag of tricks. I set out to make my own records. I have to learn it as I go along. I don’t write the finished song before we record it. I record enough ideas and add to it as we go along.


Twin Shadow: World Premiere Video in Times Square and Previous Interview

In honor of this week’s release of Twin Shadow’s second album, Confess, here are some photos and videos from last month’s world premiere of his catchy, dramatic, driving new single “Five Seconds”, live from Times Square. The place was packed (even by Times Square standards). ?uestlove introduced the event. It was a big deal. The official video is available in higher definition online, but hopefully these clips put the premiere in the context and perspective of the chaotic and magical moment that some of us witnessed for the band’s video debut.

A former punk rock Bostonian, George Lewis Jr. picked up and left for NYC a few years back and soon found a new sound. Reemerging as Twin Shadow, Lewis’ career took off as he became one of music’s new and brightest shooting stars. His 2010 record, Forget found it’s way to Top Ten lists all over the world…. Not to mention being named one of the Top Ten 10 most stylish musicians of the year. While his well-deserved rise has kept him on the road almost non-stop since the release of his first record, Lewis spent December 2011 working on his follow up in Los Angeles. Released this Tuesday on 4AD, “Confess” has already garnered several favorable reviews from major and cutting edge press outlets, proving that Twin Shadow has plenty more to share and more to… well… confess.

Included with the videos and photos are clips from my last interview with Mr. Lewis late last September as he prepared to record his next record. For more information and the proper video experience, visit 4AD or twinshadow.net….. Enjoy…

You seem to have been touring non-stop. How many times have you slept in your own apartment this year?

I was actually trying to calculate it and I think it adds up to 25 days in a year at this point. So it’s pretty much been a year in a van and hotels. I might be exaggerating it, but when I really think about it, I don’t think I am.

Are you spent at this point?

To be honest I am toast at this point. I am completely, completely burnt. I made a pact with god to get me through this essentially.

You were talking a little bit about writing parts of the new record while being on the road, how is that going?

I’ve been trying, but it got kind of difficult, but now that we’ve gotten a little bigger, you have to do more press or there’s more preparation for the show, the sets are longer, the van calls are earlier. You get more responsibility and have less time to work on the thing.

You wrote the last record in solitude. Is that part of it? Do you need to get back to being alone?

Yeah, I think so. I think I thrive on that. While I was making the last record I was working for the dance company in Denmark. I mean “Castles in the Snow” was written in a hotel room– but I had 5 hours a day in my own hotel room, in the same hotel room, for a week. Now I have to bring all my gear into a hotel room, and sometimes your sharing a hotel room and its weird when you want to whisper sensitive lyrics into a microphone while other people are sleeping.

Well, I assume your mood has changed and you’re a bit happier this time around. Will that change the mood or style of the songs?

Yeah, I think so. I think that the phrase “Mo Money, Mo Problems” is strange to say, but the sadness is always being replaced by another sadness. You conquer your darkest problems and new ones show up. It’s always fuel to write about. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of amazing things this year and I want to focus on positive things now. I think that Forget is missing some of the fun that I did have in my life—and I want to capture that. And that’s actually more challenging. Writing fun songs is way harder. But I won’t have any “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”-type songs. Those are the fun songs that should never be written.

You didn’t have a band when you wrote the last record. Will you have the band be part of the recording process this time around?

Some of them. I thought about opening it up, but in the end I want to keep my cards close. Twin Shadow has always been a personably important thing so it’s hard to bring other people into it.

Is there pressure time-wise for the new record to be recorded?

Actually, I have put the pressure on myself. I’m actually going to officially be making the record in Los Angeles. I’m going to rent a house in the Hills, hopefully somewhere fancy, and rent a motorcycle and a car and just live there for 6 weeks or something. You are the first to know. That’s in a month.

Are you going to have Chris from Grizzly Bear mix it again?

I’m not sure. I want to get Chris involved somehow, but not sure how. But on the other hand, the one thing I can’t change is myself and how I write and the things I can change are who is involved in post-production and I’m interested in changing it up. I love Chris’ production and love working with him, but I want to experience something new, someone that’s been in the business for a long time making big records. It’s your typical sophomore ambition.

Do you feel a lot of pressure because your first record was so well received?

I think so. I think we’ve gained a lot of loyal fans and I think they’ll be expecting something similar, but as some people know, I can be a chameleon of sorts. But then again, I think Twin Shadow is meant to be a continuation of Forget. I feel pressure, but I’m not really worried about it. The pressure I’m worried about is the pressure I’m giving myself.

What are some of the highs and lows of being on the road for so long?

Low points are getting sick on the road. It’s such a drag. I went to the emergency room twice last year and it’s just scary when you’re on the road. Your body doesn’t know how to handle it. When you deal with so many places and so many people I think your mind just gets tricked. You go from state-to-state and you can communicate, but then you have to adapt to relate. Then when you’re in a different country and trying to communicate, that, on top of physical exertion– every bit of you gets worn out.

Any there any highlights from tour?

Yeah, we go to Portugal and they treat you like God over there. We showed up to Portugal once and they closed out a restaurant and locked the doors and gave us a 7-course meal at this beautiful restaurant. Then we did this in-store interview and they shut the doors and all these people pile up in the window peering in at you. It’s what you imagined when you first imagined what it might be like to be a rockstar. It’s a little taste of that over there, just as far as the treatment and respect that you get for being an artist. It’s not like we’re looking to walk into our local coffee shop and get a free cup of coffee every day; it’s just a respect and a real want to host and have the artist mean something over there. As far as other highlights… I had a guy come up to me in LA. He was a huge, huge Mexican guy, who looked like a low-riding Cholo gangster. He came up to me and said “hey man, I haven’t had a job in 5 years, I was doing nothing with my life. I was kicked out of my house.” And someone had suggested that he listen to my record and he listened to it and he couldn’t relate to my stories, but something about the music made him go get a job, start spending time with his daughter… I hope those things are true, but just the fact that he said that the record single-handedly changed his life is a real special thing. I mean hotel parties with models are really fun and I look forward to that for the rest of my life, but all of that shit doesn’t matter when you hear somebody say that to you. Some people are afraid to talk to artists that they like, but I love hearing things like that. It kind of makes me feel like what I’ve wanted to do means something.

Have you learned anything about yourself through all of this?

I learned that I’m possible more evil than I’d like to be. And I’d like to change that. I can be a nasty son-of-a-bitch sometimes. Maybe I’ve already known that and I’d like to have fun with that, but now it’s kind of raw and ugly. And that’s one thing I’m learning and trying to change.

I saw you in Spin when I was at the airport. So you’re one of the most fashionable people in rock n roll?

I don’t know what they actually said. It’s weird, there’s a lot of pressure in this fashion thing. The thing is I just like to dress well. The truth is I’m wearing the same thing now that I’ll be wearing on stage tonight. It’s not like I’m putting on my Batman costume.

What do you think about the term “chillwave” that all the kids are talking about?

Well, I don’t really care about it. I think anyone who is in their 20’s now will be in their 50’s one day and they’re going to feel really embarrassed. That’s all I have to say about that.

So when are you going to sell out?

I already have. I sold out June 1st of last year. I woke up and thought “I”ve sold out”. I didn’t sign anything. I didn’t do anything. I just came to terms with the fact that I have mentally sold out.

I don’t think people will want to hear that.

That’s okay.

Anything you’d like to say to the Boston people?

Boston, I’m starting to love you again.