For a band so obsessive about the the sonic minutiae of their recordings – Jason Pierce’s attention to detail in the recording and mixing of Spiritualized’s records is legendary – the state of their vinyl catalog has been pretty dismal. Like most of their ’90s-era peers, their early records got only a cursory vinyl pressing in an era where CDs reigned supreme, and those original releases are as expensive as they are rare.
This should have been remedied in 2010 when their first four records – 1992’s Lazer Guided Melodies, 1995’s Pure Phase, 1997’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, and 2001’s Let It Come Down – were reissued, but unfortunately those releases were done by Plain Recordings, a reissue label whose ability to license sought-after titles is only matched by their ability to put out lousy-sounding pressings of said titles. Exactly how or why they manage to do so badly is unclear – they’re alleged to use CD masters for their vinyl releases rather than seeking out the original tapes/DATs, the artwork often looks like its poorly-scaled low-res sources, and the actual vinyl is often noisy – but they’re basically a no-fly zone for anyone with a moderately revealing audio setup. Further, the post-Let It Come Down releases have been frustratingly inadequate in analog form – okay at best, but smaller and flatter-sounding than you’d expect.
So the announcement of the Spaceman Reissue Series earlier this year, the first batch of which sought to replace the Plain releases on the market with editions “mastered from a half speed lacquer cut from original sources by Alchemy Mastering” and pressed to 180g vinyl with reworked artwork on a gatefold sleeve, was very welcome news. And that they call these four records just the first part of the reissue series, we might get better-sounding versions of the last four studio records, and/or the live records and b-sides compilations.
The press releases for each edition have come with recollections from Jason Pierce about the making of the records. Of Lazer Guided Melodies, which came out in April, he said:
“The last Spacemen 3 record was under-realized to me. When I listen back to that stuff it sounds like somebody finding their way. There was a lot of ideas but no way to put them into a space that would make them all work. So, there was a huge freedom forging over the last Spacemen 3 record and when Spiritualized started it was like, ‘OK it’s all yours. Go’…
We recorded the tracks in the studio near my flat which was a place where they predominantly recorded advertising jingles and it’s where we made all the Spacemen 3 records, but then the recordings were taken to Battery Studios in London, to explore a more professional way of making music… Once I approached that way of doing things I opened up a whole world and I was astounded that somebody could take those tracks and turn it into the record it became…”Jason Pierce
When the June release of Pure Phase was announced in April, he offered:
“You can’t really compare this record to any other because of how we mixed it; in such an “incorrect” way. We mixed the tracks twice but I couldn’t decide which one I liked better so we said “let’s have them both”. Both of them were on tape so we spent hours cutting them into usable sections. If you run two things together in parallel you get this kind of Hawkwind effect (phase), which gets deeper as they drift away from being ‘locked’, so we had to keep re-locking on a bass drum every eight or ten bars and it took forever.
If you listen to the isolated parts, everything is incredibly simple, the horns, the slide, all these little motifs and they lock together like some strange kind of machine. Something like Kraftwerk was the nearest thing in my musical vocabulary at the time. Great rock and roll music is like systems, it has its own endless cycle. Pure Phase was Michael Nyman, Steve Reich and John Adams, rock ‘n’ roll and gospel music, and it sounds like driving as fast as you can in torrential rain.
I wish I could do it now, to mix things twice and throw it together and end up with this magic world. It was a thing that was out of our control and it just sounded better than we could have imagined so we chased it.”Jason Pierce
And with the release of Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space today, he says:
“We went out to America ahead of recording this record. John had joined on guitar and I’d recorded the title track and a number of other demos that ended up on the finished record.
But we got to play Cop Shoot Cop and Electricity live and to work them out before we recorded them for the record and then John became integral to the band. He came from a world of Syl Johnson and Al Green, Teenie Hodges and Reggie Young; a different world within the guitar lines. And then there was Kate (Radley)’s hugely influential keyboard that was relentless and loud.
I like Pure Phase the best of these four records, but people still say Ladies and Gentlemen is where everything kind of came together. I’m still astounded by both records, where they don’t let up. There’s no kind of curfew. Or no “you can’t stay on that section for that length of time”. They sit on where they arrive and stay there, and I found that kind of amazing.
The abstract parts were just as beautiful as these kind of pop / simplistic nursery rhyme ideas and they were no less important.
I went all over the place to make it. I went to Memphis to see (country recording legend) Jim Dickinson for two weeks, I think. Parts of his recordings are in there but by the time I finished, I had all these different mixes. There was very little that was one single mix. There were some mixes from the old A&M studio on La Brea in Los Angeles. Part of the reason that I’ve never received any royalties from any of these records is that I was always thinking, ‘Well where should I go now?’ Suddenly, the move from Rugby to London was small-time compared with “well can I do this in L.A, can I do it in Memphis, can I do it again?” And then “Can I fly out to New York and put Dr John on the record?”
With Dr John, I just wrote a letter, sent the track and his response was immediate. He said “absolutely, absolutely, love it”. It was where he wanted to be. I was completely in awe of him and his playing and everything he put to it. I could hardly speak, to be honest. Not that I needed to speak much. It didn’t add anything little or less to the proceedings. It was an amazing session, amazing to do.”Jason Pierce
hen Let It Come Down is announced – likely in the next month with a release before the end of the year – I’ll append his notes here. Update: The Let It Come Down reissue has been set for October 22. Pierce’s notes on the final instalment of the reissue series are as follows:
“It all fell apart a little bit during this period. With Ladies & Gentlemen we had everything. We had Kate on keyboards, John on guitar, Damon (Reece) and Sean (Cook) on drums and bass and everything seemed to find its space in a beautiful way and then that fell apart. It just wasn’t there any more – the politics of being in a band. So, I was trying to build something out of that.
I recorded demos for these tracks at John’s studio again. And it was just putting all these parts together, writing for instruments I’d never written for before, the basslines, the flutes and the French horns and I’d never done that. Changing instruments around so I would try the bass playing the flute parts or vice versa. So when it came to actually making the record it was like ‘well, all we need to do now is replicate those on the real instruments’ which is kind of what we did; an amazing time at Air Studios where we pulled in every instrument under the sun. Bass strings, bass clarinets, ten trombones. And I remember talking to Dr John again and he said: ‘Nobody ever stopped to say how many you SHOULD have in a section?’ because there IS no ten trombones. There is no section like that.
It’s a funny record to me because in a way it’s so conventional but it’s got some of our most sublime moments. A lot of people say Ladies & Gentlemen is where it happened because it’s when they first got aboard, found out about this band. But people who got into it through Let It Come Down are as passionate about that album and then moved backwards to find the stuff that came before it. Some of it had ideas that didn’t quite hit but when it does hit, it’s way beyond where I thought it was gonna go; it’s got these extraordinary parts that I don’t think I could get anywhere near again.
We were the best band when we ran at ‘we can’t really fucking afford this but let’s do it anyway’. I still think that if it’s gonna fail, it’s gotta fail big. And that’s ok. I still feel like that.”Jason Pierce
But in the meantime, there’s a couple of full interviews he’s given to accompany the series. In June, he talked to The Quietus about the making of Pure Phase:
Coming Into Phase: Jason Pierce Interviewed @ The Quietus
And this week, Aquarium Drunkard posted their interview with Pierce about the reissue series. In it, he comments indirectly about the quality of the Plain Recording editions:
I’ve seen some other reissues that just came out without anyone even telling me. Whoever wants to pay a retainer to the major can make a reissue of it. It just seems that that wasn’t good enough for those records.Spiritualized :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview
Obviously, that’s just trash. But what’s not is this little tidbit near the end:
Jason Pierce: Not much. I just finished a record. I’m kind of kicking my heels at the moment.
AD: When is it coming out?
Jason Pierce: Early next year.
AD: Will it be Spiritualized?
Jason Pierce: It’s a Spiritualized record as well. That seems like a weird kind of accomplishment.Spiritualized :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview
So all that ‘last Spiritualized record’ chatter surrounding 2018’s …And Nothing Hurt? Nope.