Before Spiritualized, Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) began his musical career with Spacemen 3. The alternative rock group formed in 1982 in Pierce’s hometown of Rugby, Warwickshire. The initial line-up consisted of just Pierce and his friend Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom). The sound of this early music was often described as neo-psychedelia and boasted a distinctive mangle of distorted guitar sounds and synthesizer tracks that repeated throughout their ethereal songs with minimal note or tempo changes. The relaxed and distorted style made them comparable to the likes of contemporaries The Jesus and Mary Chain, and they have been cited as one of the early influences on shoegaze.
Pierce’s early music with Spacemen 3 was notably similar to the dark avant-garde sound The Velvet Underground pioneered in the late 1960s. This prominent source of inspiration appeared to be confirmed in the group’s visual style and, of course, the early track ‘Ode To Street Hassle’, which pays a touching tribute to the Velvet’s frontman Lou Reed and his 1978 track ‘Street Hassle’.
The group’s throwback to the psychedelic period of the ’60s was made complete with the use of minimalist light shows and shadowplay during their live performances. Despite the live shows being noted for their darkness, this aesthetic was clearly an important part of their image. The budget light shows appeared reminiscent of the early incarnation of Pink Floyd fronted by Syd Barrett and hinted the step toward “space rock” Pierce would take with Spiritualized following the dissolution of Spacemen 3 in 1991.
Spiritualized launched onto the musical map in the early 1990s and became the most successful of Pierce’s musical projects. The band has undergone multiple line-up changes over its 30-year history, with Pierce at its hub all the while. The sound takes a marked departure from the distorted and raw sound of Spacemen 3 toward something a little more refined and dreamy.
Of Spiritualized’s eight studio albums spanning the past three decades, 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space has remained the group’s most acclaimed work with its eclectic spread of soaring tracks. Like most of the group’s other studio releases, the album draws on a myriad of influences and flicks between genres like rock, classical, gospel and electro in the most inspired and seamless fashion.
In an interview with Discogs in 2018, Jason Pierce discussed the records and artists that have been most integral to his musical development, both as an artist and a fan, over the years.
J. Spaceman of Spiritualized picked his top 5 most influential albums
Raw Power – Iggy and The Stooges
“I think I got incredibly lucky with my first record,” Pierce said with a chuckle. “The first record I ever bought was Raw Power by The Stooges. I don’t know how I came up with The Stooges from that. I knew nothing about it whatsoever. I knew nothing about the band or where they were from, or what they were about. I just fell in love with Iggy in that picture with his silver pants and then the wildcat on the back of his jacket.”
Pierce began to feel a sense of belonging and identity after listening to The Stooges. “I felt like I discovered something uniquely mine. I think that’s really important when you’re young — that it’s personal, you know? And everybody I spoke to thought I was making it up. Iggy Pop, even the name sounds like such a bizarre idea!”
Off The Bone – The Cramps
After his early love affair with Iggy and The Stooges, Pierce became enamoured with The Cramps, another proto-punk group, and realised that The Stooges hadn’t been as otherworldly as he had once thought. “Listening to these bands was an education in the fact that their music wasn’t unique to them,” he said. “It came from another source. The Cramps were influenced by [Screamin’ Jay] Hawkins and Ronnie Dawson. No one is making music in a vacuum.”
“It’s like if you’re dropped into European improvised music from out of nowhere, it’s almost impossible to know how you’re meant to feel or how you’re meant to navigate that sound,” he reasoned. “But if you go and find Sun Ra, Coltrane, Coleman, you can say, ‘Yeah, now I know where this is coming from.’ No one is untouched by music from earlier.”
Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
When he first set about making music, Pierce’s approach was one of the simplistic punk angles. He would focus less on the intricate beauty and diversity of music and instead opted to make a punchy noise that grabbed attention.
“I think rock music is effortless when you’re young,” he said. “There’s the arrogance of youth that makes it feel that way.” He explained that this changed when he got into The Beach Boys. “When I heard music like Brian Wilson,” Pierce remembered. “I realised that music could go in all these different directions. It didn’t have to be tied to something like rockabilly.”
That realisation seemed to have freed him. “You know, when I was younger I think I always felt restricted. If I couldn’t play it live, then we couldn’t put it down. Then I started to get inspired by people who didn’t worry about such things. You make your studio recording and you work out the other bit later. You don’t start throwing in restrictions to what you do.”
Astral Weeks – Van Morrison
“When you’re a kid, you don’t have access to a lot of records. I spent half a year listening to Astral Weeks almost every day,” he recalled. “It’s beautiful you can do that with music. It takes a severe kind of personality that wants to watch the same film or read the same book over and over, but with music, you can do that. You can start every morning with the same record. And then it becomes part of who you are in this strange way.”
Pierce deconstructed the eclectic sound of the music “I loved it so much. It has all these different ideas in it. It sounds like a soul record. It sounds like a blues record. It sounds like a jazz record,” Pierce said. “It takes all of these related things and draws them even closer all in one album, and it just sounded so different for me. My friends would buy anything related to the Lenny Kaye/Nuggets thing, and Van Morrison was just outside of all that. Then I was only just discovering things like Otis Redding and soul, so I didn’t have a point of reference for Van Morrison.”
Link Wray – Link Wray
Pierce admitted that his ideas weren’t as easily executed in practice as he would have liked. “All that Link Wray ’70s Polydor stuff — I envy those records. I love records where people are able to just sort of go in a room, play a record, and make it sound like that. That’s hard for me. I always want to explore once I start,” he conceded with an air of envy. “It seems so simple to do, but it’s difficult to make a record like it that’s so long-lasting.”
“People always say Link Wray created that whole guitar sound,” Pierce said. “I feel like electric guitars almost play themselves. You turn the volume up, put it around your neck, and it’s all about holding that sound down. It isn’t about how talented you are or how fast your fingers move. I’m not interested in that. It isn’t to say he hasn’t got any talent, but it’s almost brutal. It’s like, ‘This is how simple it should be.'”