Track by Track is a new music feature that tasks an artist with breaking down each song on their latest effort Track By Track.
Jason Pierce isn’t used to solitude, at least when it comes to making music. And yet, the artist also known as J. Spaceman of Spiritualized found himself in that unfamiliar position in recent years — holed up in a home studio, piecing together a collection of songs one fragment at a time, without frequent input from the live collaborators that helped make records like Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space into essential entries in the space rock canon.
In a recent appearance on Kyle Meredith With…, Pierce acknowledged the process’s pitfalls (including, but not limited to, his own tendency to dwell on the songs as parts rather than wholes), and he reiterated the arduous nature of bringing his latest record to life in our latest chat, saying flatly “I won’t make a record like that again.”
Though it may have come from difficult circumstances, there’s no denying that And Nothing Hurt is a worthy entry into Pierce’s esteemed catalog. On Spiritualized’s eighth full-length, you’ll find plenty of the same mixture of cosmic bombast and unguarded vulnerability that’s become Pierce’s calling card, combined, at times, with his takes on the “cowboy songs” and vintage love ballads plucked right from the FM radio of the ideal American road trip. It’s an honest collection of tunes indebted to the past but rooted in the present. For Pierce, that’s by design.
“I kind of got fascinated by the idea of making an album that reflects who I was now,” he said. “A lot of people seem to just throw records out as a means to get on the road or to reconnect. Or they were in response to ‘we need a record’ rather than ‘I have a record.'”
In And Nothing Hurt, Spiritualized certainly has a record. Listen to our full audio interview with Jason Pierce for insights on how his new record converses with past work, what Morse code means to him, and why cheap keyboards rule, or check out a condensed version below:
“A Perfect Miracle”
There was some kind of connection to Ladies and Gentlemen… It completely passed me by that it had any similarity to the title track from that album, but it does. You know, if you play it a tone-and-a-half higher, it sounds the same, in some respects. But that kind of passed me by while I was doing it, but I knew as soon as I started putting it together that it had something about everything that I tried to put on this record.
I wanted it to be like a Lee Hazlewood thing, but in a weird way that’s more like a Nancy & Lee track, it’s got this dialogue, although it was always an internal dialogue. It was never meant between two people. It was the sort of the self-doubt and lack of confidence that’s internal rather than somebody putting you down or somebody putting somebody else down.
I wanted to write a record that had kind of FM radio feel, or my idea of FM radio, like you just turn the dial and you’d find a series of songs that all kind of made sense. Why was it first? I don’t know. When we put together the album, there wasn’t a running order, although “Sail On Through” always felt like it should end. Somebody here pointed out that this album sounds like a good two-thirds or it or more are all end tracks on somebody else’s album. Like it’s an album of last tracks. I kind of like the idea of that.
“I’m Your Man”
Somebody here said this seems like the most close to who I am [and that] this one seems to capture my personality and wit more than previous records. […] As I get older, I find it harder to make records, but it was really important that it was a record that was made by somebody my age, that I wasn’t trying to cast myself as somebody younger, which often happens in music.
You see people throw records out revisiting themselves 20 years previous. Also, I think that the truth is the most important thing. If someone’s going to invest their time and money into your music or words, then the one thing that they should be able to expect is that it’s the truth. Some of the most autobiographical, literal things to do with language – there’s a poetry to it.
I’m not convinced when people change their musical style, especially if the change hits the currently hip style. It just doesn’t convince me. It seems like the motivation there isn’t about music, it’s about money, it’s about fame, it’s about whatever else you’ve chosen, but I’m never convinced. […] I still use the same cheap Realistic and Casio keyboards. I love the cheap sound of them, I love the fact that they’re not trying to be much else above what they can just about achieve.
“Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go”
When you asked about which track to start with, that always seemed like the logical one – that’s the start of the trip. But that’s also the least satisfying thing to do, to lay it out too obviously. The most literal idea of the whole record was wrapped up in that song. Again, like an FM radio – I mean, it starts with the sound of the radio.
Oddly enough, I heard that for the first time since I finished it, I did a radio interview yesterday and they played that track ahead of me talking, and it was really strange to hear it on the radio. I always thought that the radio would annoy the hell out of radio because the last thing you want, second only to silence, on the radio is the sound of the thing losing its frequency, but it sounded so right, like that’s what it was meant to sound like, like you’re turning the dial on the car and finding the songs that make sense with where you are and what you’re doing.
The trip’s real. The house being mine is not.
That song is about as literal as you can get, laying the kind of closing of a late-night, Bukowski-like bar alongside life, and saying you’ve got so little time. I wanted the end to sound like some strange European dance, with everybody playing the same note, like everybody in unison just hammering out and saying “dance!” Because it was the end, time’s tight, time’s running out, I had an idea of writing like a “September Song”, like the [Frank] Sinatra standard, and I kind of liked the idea that by good fortune, I could use the “September Gurls” lyric in there to reinforce that further. It was quite straightforward. The fact that it was so straightforward was almost disappointing, in a way. I think now I’ve gotten over it now, but while I was writing it, it seemed like too simple a connection to make.
“On the Sunshine”
It was really important, on this record, to get the words right. I’ve been listening to a lot of country records. I love the narrative in those records. I love the way that choruses are quite often more of the narrative. They’re not a hook line. Although they work as choruses, they’re not three words that are sung over and over. There’s a kind of narrative that goes through the chorus also.
And also I read years ago […] about how lazy people people are for using the first verse again for the third verse. And I do that all the time, everybody does, often because the first verse is the only good one, and any good bears repeating. But I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to sing the first verse the next time through, or the same line over and over.
The other thing about that song is that it was meant to sound like somebody with their foot to the pedal, like “here we go, this song’s gonna take off.” But it was always two songs. It was always meant to be like a slow jug band type thing, so the actual tempo of it is ridiculously slow, but then somewhere through the middle of it, somebody’s got their foot to the floor.
That song wouldn’t have made it if it had been without the middle section and without the line about “quell the cavalier child.” As soon as I got that line, I knew that song was staying. It’s kind of been covered, you know? It’s the blues. It didn’t seem like it went anywhere other than where people know where that song should fit. People have heard that. I’ve heard that a thousand times, and it didn’t make any sense to have that anywhere near this record, but then suddenly the middle eight kind of started to reference European film music, somewhere completely alien to the blues, that steel guitar solo type thing. And then the line “quell the cavalier child,” it just suddenly made real sense to me. I don’t write lines like that. They don’t come that often, or near often enough, for me. As soon as that went in, it just fit. Then it was there, and it had to be on the record. And it really works.
“The Morning After”
[“The Morning After”] did seem like “Hey Jane Pt. II” in some respect, but maybe I’m just being lazy again, you know? Maybe I could’ve found another name to throw in there, but it just seemed to work best like that. [Writing] is always easier in the third person. I don’t really think about it, to be honest. I don’t sit down and go “is this going to be an ‘I’ or a ‘you’ or a ‘we’ or whatever,” but you can cover more when you’re talking outside of yourself. Even if it’s deeply personal, you can cover more.
It seemed like the front end of that song was very simple, the language was really simple, and then the last three choruses, the language becomes slightly more extraordinary. I love the line about “You’ve got your dreams but rest assured” and the end to that line. It seemed like the language just picked itself up a little bit. The ideas ahead of the instrumental are very naive, and then suddenly it becomes really focused. And I love the way that it comes in after a single note. You know, the violin, cello, just play one note, and I kind of love that.
And forever and even now I wanted the strings to come in ahead of that, I thought that the front end of the song was light, it didn’t work, but I couldn’t lose that moment where the strings come in just to play a single note. It seemed like, if I put the strings in anywhere ahead of that, it lost that moment. I was working on it – the guitar went down the day before I mastered it. I still wasn’t satisfied with the front end of it. The end always worked, as soon as the wah guitar comes in, it just seemed like that had done its job, but the front end was worked on right up until the day before we mastered the record.
“Sail on Through”
It’s a chord organ, and that was the sound of it. Right from the first moments of putting that organ down, it made sense. […] It just hangs in – any slower and it barely travels, you know? It always just hung there and it always seemed right. It always seemed to be perfect, and everything that went into it, sure, it made it better, but it didn’t change how right it had always felt.
Part of [the Morse code at the end] came from guitar loops, from the sound of loops and the way you cut things up, but I also like the fact that it was the international distress signal. For people who know Morse code, it’s almost like when you hear it, it’s never anything other than a message of distress, so I kind of liked the idea of using it in that way.
But also, the things that I’ve done with Morse code sound is like foreign language records […] when I listen to those records, I’m never compelled to get a French-English dictionary and find out what’s going on, but I know there’s some poetry there, that it means something, and the fact that I don’t understand the exact meaning never prevents me from listening to it.