Spiritualized releases Songs in A&E after five years and near death illness

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:: Spiritualized ::
 :: Ogden Theater :: September 23 ::

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By Timothy Dwenger

Spiritualized has been amazing their fans around the world for the last 18 years. When their name comes up the conversation often turns to searing guitars, soaring vocal harmonies, thunderous drums and blinding lights, but there is much more to this band. From their mind-blowing live shows to the numbing beauty of their studio releases, Spiritualized combine raw power and pure grace in a way that few other bands are capable of.

While the band has existed in essentially its current form since 1999, the line-up varied significantly for the first nine years, retaining Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) as the only static member. An enigmatic personality, Pierce is the mastermind behind the Spiritualized sound, which ranges from shoegaze space rock to tender acoustic ballads, and it’s a sound that has evolved over the years.

The most significant of these evolutionary movements was revealed with the release of the landmark album Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating In Space in 1997, when gospel influences began to emerge in Pierce’s music. “The first gospel song I heard was ‘Tell Heaven’ by The Staples Singers when I was about 16 or so and it kind of made sense,” Pierce said in a recent interview with The Marquee. “Great gospel music is almost like people have got this insight to heaven, to this place they are singing about, and they are letting you in on this information. I think that the most important thing in music is truth. You are singing about something you know about and you aren’t trying to copy somebody else’s style or take on things. Gospel kinda comes with this inherent truth because you can’t really think about it unless you believe it. It’s not really to do with the message within the music; it’s the sense of where it’s being sung from.”

Five years after the release of their last record, Spiritualized released their sixth studio album, Songs in A&E, in May of this year. Pierce, who is infamous for taking years to complete a record, finally has what he darkly calls “a good excuse.” In 2005, while working on the songs that would eventually become Songs in A&E, Pierce fell extremely ill with double pneumonia. “It was, at best, touch-and-go for some time,” his manager Marc Marot said shortly after he was released from the hospital. “The medical team at the Royal London Hospital twice revived him during the course of his intensive treatment.”

Before the illness, Pierce had been experimenting with writing songs about characters rather than focusing on autobiographical subjects. So, while it is easy to assume that songs like “Death Take Your Fiddle” and “Yeah Yeah,” which have a central lyrical theme about death, are about his experience in the hospital, they were actually written before the illness and seem strangely prophetic in its aftermath. “These songs were kind of haunting when I had to go back to them,” said Pierce. “I think that was one of the reasons that it was so difficult to finish them up and make the record what it was meant to be.”

While the album itself draws on several influences, from the gospel that has been saturating Pierce’s work for the last decade to a classic Nashville country sound that evokes the likes of Gram Parsons or Bob Dylan, Pierce has managed to craft a piece of work that is still, most definitely, a Spiritualized record.

“When I’m making a record I can’t just sit back and say, ‘This song works’ because I am looking to fit that song into a space. It’s that that makes the record finished, that thread that runs through the songs and the relationship between how the songs fit together,” Pierce said. “The great bits of music hang between the notes and that’s what I’m after when I make a record. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. When it does happen, you can still make it better.”

Now that the record is done and he has had the opportunity to take the band on the road again, Pierce is still striving to make the music better, to extract beauty from the space in a live environment, which seems to come much more naturally to him. “The live show is loosely hung on the song and then the whole thing is free to go wherever it goes,” he said. “To go out every night and faithfully reproduce the songs on the record is kind of ‘cabaret.’ The essence of rock and roll isn’t about just going through the motions; it’s about summoning up this weird spirit. The albums are hard and long to put together but what they allow me to do is what I think is the best part of this, the most thrilling part, which is playing live.”

:: Spiritualized ::
:: Ogden Theater :: September 23 ::

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