It is just four days before Christmas but Jason Pierce seems oblivious to festive cheer. The leader of influential space-rockers Spiritualized, sitting in the home studio where he has spent the last two years creating the band’s forthcoming seventh album “Sweet Heart Sweet Light,” has issues on his mind.
“What makes me upset is, I just think everyone is constantly looking back,” Pierce begins in the quiet yet exasperated manner he adopts throughout our chat. “It’s just, ‘Here’s our classic album from 15 years ago.’ If you want a classic album then write one now! Forget all this ‘they were the great times’. Time allows things to be great. With most of these bands you’re just praying they aren’t going to play anything new. Who wants to hear anything f-cking new from them? I want to make something great. And it has to be now.”
Uncharacteristically grand words they may be (Pierce’s reputation for being prickly and disingenuous during interviews precedes him) but his music is grander still. “Sweet Heart Sweet Light,” Spiritualized’s first album in four years, is shaping to be Pierce’s best in at least the past 10. Honing all the preoccupations in Pierce’s artistic cannon — psychedelia, gospel, heartbreak, religion, drugs — he describes the record as “a love letter to the music I love”.
The record’s digestion would suggest as much. “I wanted to make a rich man’s record, but I don’t have the money,” he admits. His solution was to remove the expense of luxurious recording studios and make the majority of the album at home, “spending the time on it I imagine Brian Wilson took on ‘Smile.’ “
It’s a comment that enhances the perception that Pierce is obsessive, and when he mischievously confesses that the album is yet to be fully completed despite advance review copies being sent to journalists, I broach his perfectionism.
“I’m not a perfectionist,” he states plainly. “I just want something that sounds right. There can be a fine line between a great record and a terrible one. There really isn’t much difference between Elvis Presley and Shakin’ Stevens. Well I know there is, but musically and sonically they are very similar. A small thing can often make all the difference between something dreadful or not.”
If Pierce isn’t a perfectionist he does a remarkable impression of one. He famously sacked the band that performed on seminal 1997 album “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” (“I regret how that is reported, that lineup was never going to work,” he adds) and he is adept at controlling every aspect of dialogue. Refusing to even engage in what he perceives as scurrilous conversation, he swats away queries about his much-documented drug use and the pneumonia that nearly killed him in 2005.
Music is the only subject on Pierce’s agenda. It has been his calling since his mother bought him a guitar aged 7 (“she recognized something in me”), through his teenage years to his previous band, late-1980s shoegaze pioneers Spacemen 3. Now 46, Pierce has created the most accessible record of his career, though: “Not pop as people imagine it. The problem with pop music in general is that it follows trends in the sonics of how it is made and the way it sounds. At the moment, everything is very bright and very loud.”
He sounds confessional. “I’ve always been embarrassed that I write pop songs. I’ve been embarrassed by that. Who wants to play that game? Who wants to be in that market? But this time I thought I’d embrace that. I wanted to make a pop record that didn’t have to succeed commercially.”
Hooks and melodies exult throughout “Sweet Heart Sweet Light,” which, Pierce affirms, shouldn’t perturb long-term fans.
“People are always disappointed there are elements of previous records, but you can’t just invent a whole new sound. It’s like trying to invent a new animal, an animal that doesn’t exist and does all these things you haven’t seen before. Nobody can do that.”
Pierce remains a keen musical historian and traditionalist, where the concept of the album as a complete art form remains vital — “I don’t buy into all this about people’s short attention spans. My album is an hour long, are you saying people haven’t got 60 minutes?” — and the spirit of rock must be upheld.
“When people look back at rock ‘n’ roll in 50 years I’ve got the fear it will eventually be viewed like the ’20s, like the jitterbug and flappers and people will be asking, ‘How did people get off on that?’ That thought upsets me.”
More immediately, Pierce returns to Japan when Spiritualized headline the inaugural Hostess Club Weekender, a chance to showcase new tracks to “the most attentive fans” he performs to. “The market has really opened up to new things since I first went, which is great. It is still a culture shock, it is like nowhere else I’ve ever been.”
Spiritualized plays Hostess Club Weekender at Yebisu Garden Hall in Tokyo on Feb. 19 (8 p.m.). Tickets cost ¥7,900 for a one-day pass (the event is held on Feb. 18 and 19). For more information, visit www. ynos.tv/hostessclub or www.spiritualized.com.