Spiritualized on the 20th Anniversary Reissue of "Amazing Grace" | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, February 27th, 2024  

Spiritualized on the 20th Anniversary Reissue of “Amazing Grace”

"We had the album finished after 11 days."

Jan 12, 2024 Photography by William Seldon Web Exclusive
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Spiritualized are one of the most iconic bands of their generation, having formed in 1990 after the dissolution of founding member and mainstay Jason Pierce’s previous band, Spacemen 3.

Since then, they’ve released nine critically acclaimed albums, embarked on numerous musical directions, and changed line-ups several times along the way. It’s been an eventful journey but one that’s been ultimately fruitful and rewarding, culminating in the band’s now legendary status as genuine innovators within their field.

One of their most revered long players is 2003’s Amazing Grace, the band’s fifth album. Recorded in just 11 days over the space of three weeks, Amazing Grace heralded a new approach to making music for Jason Pierce and Spiritualized.

With Amazing Grace being remastered and reissued on vinyl next week (Friday 19th January), Pierce recalls the making of the album while revealing plans for a possible new record emerging in 2024.


Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): Amazing Grace is reissued on 19th January for its forthcoming twentieth anniversary. It was a very different record to Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space and indeed anything Spiritualized had released up to that point. How did the ideas and songs come together?

Jason Pierce: Maybe somewhere in my head I’d gotten a little bit more involved in writing songs. Songs that had bridges and middle eights, choruses and whatever. On the back of things like “Come Together” and “Electricity” it felt as if I could write a song in a more traditional way. Also, it came on the back of two albums that were huge in their outlook. Let It Come Down had a 100-piece orchestra whereas Amazing Grace was very much the opposite of that. And also, this idea that maybe we could just throw stuff down and capture the immediacy of it. I’d also gotten into making more records with John Coxon and Ashley Wales from Spring Heel Jack and their whole studio which was about putting microphones into the source of where the sound was rather than messing around with reverbs or whatever. It was just beautiful microphones and beautiful source sounds. Somewhere in that mess of ideas was Amazing Grace. Looking back, the songs that I thought would be easy to lay down; the heavier bits which I believed I could record in my sleep; ended up being the hardest parts to do. They were the ones that suggested we needed more time. You need more time to do the things you think you know. Whereas with the quieter stuff on that album like “Rated X,” “Oh Baby,” and “Lay It Down Slow” it seemed like we captured something quite magical. Not that the rest of it lacks in magic, but the real magic in that is the bit that was missed by people saying Amazing Grace was some kind of garage record. There’s probably three songs on it that fit that description. It wasn’t about us tearing up the rule book or anything. It didn’t feel as if it was outside of our remit. Listening back now, it felt like the really special bits; the kind of unrepeatable bits; were the more introspective moments. The more peaceful, almost silent bits. The parts you’d expect us to have spent time perfecting to get it right, for some odd reason we got it, and that’s quite rare in any recording that hasn’t been recorded over and over. I introduced the songs to the band on the day of recording, then recorded the songs that day. We had the album finished after 11 days.

It was a very different line-up to the one which had made the first three records. Did that change the dynamic in any way?

Yeah, for sure. I asked John [Coxon] to come in and produce so I had somebody outside of myself making decisions and calling the shots. That was the thing really, it wasn’t going to be labored. Not meaning this is it, that’s as good as its going to get. There were overdubs and bits of string quartets that went in, backing vocals, choir parts. The intention was to try and capture the immediacy similar to how Spring Heel Jack operates when they go on tour rather than pursue every idea that’s possible. Just try and put this down and see what we get. If it hadn’t have worked or we hadn’t seen results we would have changed tack. I’m not just saying that’s it; you get what you get. The idea wasn’t bigger than the thing itself. We didn’t have to stick to an idea because the beauty lies in the idea. It certainly didn’t. It just worked immediately once we’d got four or five songs down. Once we’d got “Oh Baby” we just knew the results we were getting were really working.

The zeitgeist between Ladies And Gentlemen… and Amazing Grace had changed dramatically, particularly where music and fashion are concerned. Does that ever play a part in your thought process?

I don’t even know who was putting records out when Amazing Grace was coming out. There’s music for all times. There’s always somebody playing free jazz or somebody playing rock and roll music. There’s always somebody doing something interesting. It’s just the stuff that is hip is generally not that interesting. It’s interesting for some other reason but not necessarily musical. I’ve never thought that’s where my attentions should lie. Let’s make it more hip or let’s make it more commercial. If anything, it’s more commercial as soon as you start to write a song. But even that’s interesting. Even that’s a strange process. It’s strange and rare because it’s so financially rewarding if you can get a hit record. You’d think every poet on the planet would string a few words together and write something that could move everybody. Except it doesn’t work like that. It’s not magic but it is this strange thing that I find fascinating. I really do. You can move the sonics around, change the tone, change the EQs and stuff. The words don’t need to be eloquent. They don’t even need to be words. You can just make these things that find a way to becoming important to other people’s lives.

With Amazing Grace having been recorded in 11 days, is it one of those records you enjoy playing live, as a number of those songs have remained in the band’s live sets ever since?

A lot of our sets are based on where we are at the time. The most recent live shows have mainly just featured songs off the last two records. It just seems really important if you’re putting a record out to at least be able to play some of it when you go on tour, and also to counter balance the notion the audience groans or walks off to the bar if you’re playing some new songs. If I’m going to continue putting out new music it must be valid and worth performing. It seems as if so many people are putting out new records to then validate going out on tour to play their old songs. I’ve never put records out under that guise. Nobody’s really interested in it, it just gets us back on the road. It’s taken a while to get the band to where it feels like everybody’s in love with it. Like everybody’s on board in the right way. It’s not always easy holding the band together and getting everybody on the same page. You don’t want to be in a band where you’re telling people what to play, but they’ve got to have the same kind of roadmap. Which is why your first band always works because you grew up together. Sat in the same rooms playing in the same records together. You’re all completely on the same page but its more difficult as people come in from different places and areas. But I feel we’ve hit something really deep and special with this line up.

Have you got any music ready to go? Are you working on a new record at the moment?

Yeah, little bits but we’ve been touring a lot. So, it’s been difficult just playing shows, particularly since we left the EU. It’s hard trying to combine the two things but I guess when that’s all done, we’ll start putting down some ideas.

The impact of Brexit has hit touring badly for UK bands and also overseas artists coming over here. Looking at some of the early festival announcements it’s becoming abundantly clear overseas bookers won’t book as many UK bands and UK festival bookers are struggling to do the same with overseas acts. Do you think it’s going to get worse before it gets any better?

I think it’s almost certainly going to get worse because there’s nobody fighting on anybody’s behalf. It’s almost like it’s just been forgotten. If people like Elton John are writing letters saying “what the fuck are you doing” then it must be bad. It’s not just musicians. If you work within the music business—if you do front house sound or whatever—you don’t just work with one band. You don’t just do a month in Europe and then that’s the end of your year’s work. You go on tour with someone else after. There’s a 90 days rule for Europe now so that’s the maximum number of days anyone can work there. There’s so much red tape now, far too much to go into. Visas, carnets, bus hire, it’s just a mess. Our last European tour was six or seven dates whereas previously it would be something like three months. I’d like to think we’re okay, but it’s not just about us. It’s about people that are just trying to make a start in it. Trying to make something of it like the Ukrainian national orchestra that got refused entry. Nobody’s there saying, “Leave this with us, we’ll have it sorted out by tomorrow.”

There doesn’t seem to be any impetus from any of the major political parties to try and sort it either.

That’s what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting somebody in a band sits down and sorts it out. It shouldn’t take that long to sort out some politics but it’s just been forgotten. None of them are interested in the arts. This government hasn’t got an artistic bone in its body.

Are there any new artists you’d recommend for Under the Radar and its readers to check out?

I’m not listening to new stuff at the moment. I’m going through everything that I’ve ever had and just playing it. We’re on tour at the minute so I’m playing music all the time. Much to my disappointment, Spotify has put a limit into the number of songs you can put on a playlist—I think it’s 10,000 songs. So, their idea is that 10,000 songs is enough for anybody.

Have you got any tours or festivals lined up for 2024?

We’re filling in dates that we couldn’t do this year [2023]. Going back and playing some of the places in Europe we should have done this time but couldn’t, then maybe some studio time in between and after. I think we’re on top of our game right now so it seems a shame to not keep playing if we can. We’ve been supporting Queens of the Stone Age in America this month, just to keep going basically. Because it seems like as soon it stops, it stops and that’s it for a long time then when we start back again it needs to be rebuilt. While it’s running like it is we should just keep playing as many shows as we can.

Amazing Grace is reissued on Friday, January 19 through Fat Possum as part of “The Spaceman Reissue Programme: Curated By J Spaceman.”

www.spiritualized.com

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