Spiritualized Biography

This dark, neo-psychedelic band was formed by J. Spaceman aka Jason Pierce (19 November 1965, Rugby, Warwickshire, England; vocals/guitar) after his messy break-up from former writing partner and Spacemen 3 cohort Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom. Based in Rugby, they were actually inaugurated in 1990 while Spacemen 3 was still officially active. Pierce took the remnants of that band with him, namely Mark Refoy (guitar), Will Carruthers (b. 9 November 1967, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England; bass) and Jon Mattock (drums), and added keyboard player Steve Evans.

Spiritualized’s first release was a sensitive cover version of Chip Taylor’s ‘Anyway That You Want Me’, then ‘Feel So Sad’, a sonic opera lasting 13 minutes and 20 seconds. Evans was then replaced by Pierce’s girlfriend Kate Radley (b. 19 February 1967). Headliners at ICA’s Irn Bru Rock Week, the band’s familiar Velvet Underground guitar noise/dream pop found favour with old Spacemen 3 fans as well as new converts, and their debut album, Lazer Guided Melodies, was widely regarded as one of the best of 1992. Singles such as ‘Smile’, however, were something of a departure from Pierce’s morbid and moribund legacy. Notoriously shy and reticent in interviews, he had a preference for sitting down while playing gigs, which an impressionable audience eagerly imitated.

A mail-order live album arrived in 1993, after which sessions began on a second album proper. In the meantime Pierce discovered an affinity with some of the 90s ambient house artists, working on remixes for LFO, Global Communication and others. With the core of the band reduced down to Pierce, Radley and new bass player Sean Cook, Pure Phase (credited to Spiritualized Electric Mainline) finally arrived in 1995 to the usual critical fanfare, going some way to accommodating its protagonist’s assertion that he wanted to make ‘a record so beautiful it brings a tear to your eye’. The best example of this approach to creating elegiac pop was ‘All Of My Tears’, with strings provided by the Balanescu Quartet. Of the original band, Carruthers had left in 1992 to form Freelovebabies, while Refoy and Mattock played on Pure Phase before departing, the former going on to front Slipstream.

Further personnel changes saw guitarists Kevin Cowen and John Coxon pass through the line-up, which by late 1997 featured Cook, Radley, Mike Mooney (guitar), Damon Reece (drums) and Ray Dickaty (saxophone). The aptly-titled Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space was Pierce’s finest distillation yet of his wide range of styles, an ambitious sonic experiment that even found room for the piano work of Dr. John on the epic closing track ‘Cop Shoot Cop...’. The album was crammed full of influences that sounded refreshing rather than plagiarist. From the Smiley Smile -period Beach Boys on the title track to the Primal Scream groove on ‘Come Together’, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space was one of the musical highlights of 1997, and also featured one of the most original and cleverly designed album sleeves of the 90s.

Following the release of a live album, the notoriously fickle Pierce dismissed most of his former bandmates, including Radley (who had married Richard Ashcroft in 1995). While Mooney, Cook and Reece regrouped as Lupine Howl, Pierce returned to the studio to record the sumptuous Let It Come Down (2001) with a new line-up featuring the returning Coxon, Dickaty, Thighpaulsandra (b. Tim Lewis, Wales; keyboards), Doggen Foster (guitar), Martin Schellard (bass), Tom Edwards (vibes), and Kevin Bales (drums). The band was augmented by choristers, gospel singers and full brass and string sections. In marked contrast, Pierce’s first album for new label Sanctuary Records, 2003’s Amazing Grace®, eschewed the bombast of most of Spiritualized’s work in favour of no-frills garage rock.

Pierce contracted advanced periorbital cellulitis with bilateral pneumonia in 2005 and almost died, but he recovered to complete his first solo album the following year, Guitar Loops. During this period he also worked with artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard on the live art project Silent Sound, and collaborated with Sun City Girls on the soundtrack to Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely. The next Spiritualized album was already half completed when Pierce had fallen ill, but it was not until two years later that he felt confident enough to return to the project and finish up the recording.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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