A Kind of Madness: Jason Pierce of Spiritualized on the New Album And Nothing Hurt

Owen Murphy

It's been six years since Spiritualized released 2012’s Sweet Heart Sweet Light, but on September 7th, they return with the full-length And Nothing Hurt, released via Fat Possum/Bella Union.

According to a press release, the album was recorded solely by founding member Jason Pierce, alone at home: "Making this record on my own sent me more mad than anything I’ve done before. We’d been playing these big shows and I really wanted to capture that sound we were making but, without the funds to do, I had to find a way to work within the constraints of what money I had. So I bought a laptop and made it all in a little room in my house… There are bits that I went to a studio to record — mainly drums and percussion. I mean, there’s no way I’m going to get timpani up my stairs."

KEXP's Morning Show Producer Owen Murphy spoke with Pierce from his timpani-less London living room to discuss the new release.

KEXP: This is a really great listen. And I heard that you had some difficulties making it. There must be some level of satisfaction because to my ears, the music seems very much like a complete idea. It's very catchy, uplifting and interesting. 

Jason Pierce: Thank you so much. I honestly don't know how to answer. I feel like I'm still learning to even like it, let alone be satisfied. I feel like I found the hardest way to make a record like that. I should have written the songs, gone into the studio, and recorded it. I didn't do that, for whatever reason. Stupidity.

It seems that every time I start to make a record, I forget everything I ever learned from making records.

And I guess once I'd started on, that I kind of got obsessed and just wanted to see this through. I wanted to make like a 1960s Columbia Studios recording, but without ever going to the studio to put that thing together. And it seemed kind of dumb. I don't know what went down. I became so obsessed. Like making any record, you become so close to it that it's hard to distance yourself from it when it's made. It's hard to just listen to it. And I've learned a lot, in a weird way, about the process – of course, the process makes it what it is, and you arrive at that. And I'm a big fan of going down avenues that don't go anywhere just to say, "Well, that doesn't work." And I'd feel a bit like, when the record's finally released, I've exhausted it for myself. 

It's kind of weird because you almost have to disengage from any other music. I shouldn't imagine if you are writing a book you're reading other people's books because it's almost like it would get in the way. My problem with other people's music is I kind of think, "What's the point?" People have made records I adore that say all of this so succinctly and correctly. It almost makes what I'm doing seem like it has no purpose. But also I start listening to music trying to understand how it's made or the production of it. And one of the nicest things about having finished my own record now is I can listen to music again. It just does exactly what music should be. 

You mentioned collecting Columbia Records albums. Any of those specifically inspire you or influence the album? 

I mean, yeah, any of those recordings but I was particularly thinking about the Dion recordings... the other thing is I decided that I wanted to do a big recording and a little bit like with Let It Come Down. I didn't really think about the mechanics of that. Just recording lots of things because I thought that lots of instruments would make for a bigger sound. And then in a kind of strange way, if you got two things on the record then 50 percent of the record is each one of those sounds and each thing you add to it diminishes the amount of space that that thing can take up and I had this idea that I could make that work. That I could record hundreds of things into these songs and it would only get bigger and then kind of tried to chase that back on itself and it just became a kind of thing where I didn't seem to be able to achieve what I wanted to achieve very easily. 

Do you recall the first time that you knew what a song is? When you were a child and you wanted to listen to it over and over again? Deconstruct what was the type of song and what about it grabbed your attention. 

I kind of think I got lucky with the first record ever bought because I've got "Raw Power" by The Stooges. It was just completely impulsive. I knew nothing about what the contents of that record were. I was just fascinated by the silver pants and the wildcat on the jacket and I just took this record home. But we did have other records at home. We had The Seekers, this kind of vocal group and I still love those records. But I don't think until maybe I found Brian Wilson and heard those... I still maintain the Smile Sessions are better than the finished recording and I kind of think, well, that disturbs me the way I want to make my own record. I'd like people to be able to hear the timpani with the bass and how it fits into that record more than I want people to hear the record, if that makes sense. And it seems like I'm privy to that. I can hear all of this. I can just go home now and put up three faders and hear this amazing thing that sounds like its being broadcast from some strange satellite but it's hard to then put that into a record and it sort of disturbs the whole writing and recording process for me, because I kind of want people to have all of it and it doesn't really work like that. 

Right, what your kind of describing is dub style... or, even when you go back to listen to the bootleg recordings of The Beatles sessions where you only hear half of the music – or you could pan right to left and hear certain instruments. 

Yeah, of course. But I don't think I've heard anything by The Beatles that's better than their songs. And maybe you're allowed to think that with the Smile Sessions because there was never really any finished record except for a kind of a relatively modern revisit which is never going to sound the same as the people who played on that record. 

What motivated you to make music for yourself, for others, duties, all of the above? Why choose to make music? 

Wow. You should ask me again in a year, I don't really know. A sort of madness, a kind of sickness. I feel like it so wears me down and I start with all this kind of ambition and like, "This is going to work. This is all going to sit right." And I had a set of songs that all made sense. With this record, I always thought it was the kind of record you put on at the start of the drive and it would work for every moment in that drive. And for whatever reason, it's always an American road. And it all seems to sit and make sense and then I get into it and then for whatever reason, I always seem to end up on my own. Nobody seems to want to do the distance. Nobody's there at the end. I'm just pushing faders by micro amounts trying to get it to sit or trying to make something happen.

I don't know. I feel like I'm complaining and I shouldn't really, but I feel that I only have to listen to any record that I love and I feel like, "What's the point?" What is the point of me making a record? I listen to a Kris Kristofferson record or a Suicide record or a Lesley Gore track or something and I just go, "What's the point? People have said this, everything the same, so much more beautifully and so much more right" and whatever. 

Well, you must hear that you are adding to the history of music. Your layers and drums sound are totally unique. And you attack things from a different matter. 

Yeah, kind of, but I just don't feel like that when I'm inside of it. I was going to add that I saw Kris Kristofferson play on his birthday and he's singing with an autocue and putting these songs across and absolutely everybody in the audience was singing those words. And it reminded me of something that somebody said to me recently that "it belongs to the universe now." Like it belongs to all those people. And I know it sounds kind of it sounds really kind of dumb to say it and dumb to not recognize it, but you know, those people have fallen in love and out of love and buried their loved ones and all sorts to that music, and it seems like that kind of makes it all make sense. Sometimes I can't dislocate that from my own thing. Of course, I love the music, but that means the most to me because it's part of my life and part of things that have happened in that life. 

I love that line: They are for the universe. It is a shared experience. I think that's cool because your music is like that as well. 

Yeah, it's more important than just as simple as the notes on the page. But I was kind of saying that when you're actually putting it together it seems like I almost can't listen to other people's music because it gets in the way. So it's kind of odd to be making something you love and working in music, but the act of doing that doesn't allow you to listen to music and it kind of disturbs it. You were asking me why I do it and sometimes I can't answer. I can't think as to why I do it. It's a kind of madness, like, "This is this will work out. I know this makes sense." And then this sort of hits the same the same problems that I always hit. 

The world, from a certain perspective, feels very negative right now. Our President Donald Trump or Brexit, in general. Your album feels very hopeful to me. Do you feel very hopeful about the world? 

Well, that's a big question, isn't it? Yes and no, I don't know. I wasn't expecting anything like that relating to this album. It was kind of strange to work on something that was kind of... there's nothing kind of heavy in there. There's nothing kind of upbeat in a kind of traditional sense, it's all kind of laid back. I kind of fought that because I didn't think that was right for Spiritualized, but then I would take that if it was J.J. Cale or I'd take that if it was coming from somebody else. Do I feel positive about the world? I feel like I've spent most of this interview moaning or complaining, but I feel like I'm kind of lucky to be doing what I'm doing and then I think sometimes the thing that's on the front page isn't necessarily... yeah, it's on the front page, but there's a lot of stuff if you dig a little. I don't think that what people see is as front pages is always the the the most important thing. 

I like the way it began with 'and' ...I like the way it presupposes that there's something ahead of that.

I always assume when I'm talking to an artist that they work from intention. That they're making choices on purpose. Picking the title to an album, you chose three words: And Nothing Hurt. Why those three words? 

Because it kind of made sense. It's got more meaning than any of those three words do in that little sentence. Also, this album is a lot to do with time and experience and I think it's really important not to put out records just because you can – that they should be there, that there should be a reason for them to exist. And I think that's even more so with somebody of my age that I can't just be throwing out a record and I can't be kind of pretending that I'm not my age, I've not had any experience, and I just want to write the same kind of lyrics I wrote when I was 20 or 25 or whatever. And those words had this sense of time. I like the way it began with 'and.' One of the songs begins with the word 'and,' I like the way it presupposes that there's something ahead of that. And also that it's kind of painless when quite plainly it's not. So there's a kind of irony and it kind of fitted I guess. 

The album ends with morse code. I'm curious to see that correlation between sharing your music with the world where something is obvious, some things are hidden, some things need some explaining. Is there something behind the morse code or am I just reaching for questions? 

No, I think there is something about [it]. I always wanted this record more than any I've made to feel like it was broadcast from some strange satellite, like it was just dropping in on people's world. And also I kind of got fascinated with even songs that sound like they're in morse code. I wish I had a list in front of me because I found songs where they have got Morse Code. There's an S.O.S. in a soul song where it plays as a kind of morse code and then they double it up on – maybe it's a Fender Rhodes again but I think it's a guitar in that. There's a famous Motown song that sounds like it's just a guitar kind of playing the line, but it's always reminded me of that kind of broadcast. It's a good sound, isn't it? Now the record is done, I can kind of mess with it and I've been working on little film loops and things that I've got that as almost like in place of the vocals. It seems to work really well. 

Our tagline here at KEXP is 'Where The Music Matters.' From your perspective, does music matter? If so, how and why? 

I think it's the most important thing. I really do. I think it's something else. And I think quite often, because it's pop music and it's kind of a product, it's kind of thrown out. Like almost the opposite – it doesn't matter. I hate the marketing language like "dropping albums" and "units sold" and I think it cheapens it. It's a kind of jargon that makes it sound like it's some kind of business that unless you know those words, you are not part of it. And I just think it's too important.

I've been saying that a lot of people in England seem like they come from a kind of James Hunt school – James Hunt was the English guy won the Grand Prix. He won and then retired. But he didn't retire. Then he was everywhere. He was on every single talk show and every single camera opportunity and it feels like a lot of music is like that. It's not about the music, it's about it's about this kind of "Aren't I great?" And people can still put out records to say "Look, I did this! 20 years ago, I did this! And here's some more stuff!" It feels like quite often the business is more important than the music.

I don't really know what I'm trying to say, but I think it's too important just to throw out, like "we need a record." It's so much a part of everybody's lives, whether they know it or not. It's so much part of everybody's memories of their lives. It's about the most beautiful thing in most people's lives. Sometimes you can hear a piece of music you don't even like but it reminds you of a part of your life or something that happened. The plan is to do what we always do, which is to travel and take that to people. That's the plan for next year. 

And Nothing Hurt is out Friday, September 7th via Fat Possum/Bella Union.

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