Written by Spencer White
"Most people still seem to put their best music down, when the world is asleep around them"
Spiritualized's "Everything was beautiful" treads on the familiar territory of comfort and solace. Through measures of 'Spector-ish' string and drum arrangements, perpetuating krautrock and effortless country charm, the band's ninth studio LP has all the hallmarks of a quintessential concept album, that can be taken at any hour, in any space, and in any frame of mind.
Firstly congratulations on “Everything was beautiful”, it really is such a beautiful record.I was telling a close friend the other day, that personally, amongst a few other artists, your music consistently hits somewhere deep. For me it’s very hard to listen to without choking up. I’d say it’s universally regarded in that way, for anyone who comes across it. I mean this in an absolutely positive sense. I’ve persistently referred people to it, who are in any facet of joy or sadness. Obviously, from a writer's perspective you’ll always have a distinct connection with your music and personally I’ve admired your ability to keep its interpretation open.Is it a strange feeling hearing how others perceive your work?
That was quite touching actually.
People like this record which is quite astounding. I don't see why, I think they've all had the same amount of effort put into them as the other. The business of selling records is hard for me to understand. The reason why some records hit home, some get lost and some just disappear only to be found.
Sorry, I'm short of words. It's very humbling, the way people engage with it, I mean that seriously.
It's probably timing more than anything really? It seems like a time in the world where people feel, in some measure, quite vulnerable.
Yeah, maybe we were a bit fortuitous with that. I don't make this music to push buttons.
I don't know the exact quote but there's a Yeats line where he says something about "taking the personal and making it universal" the author becomes irrelevant. That's the goal I guess, to take something deeply personal and honest, kind-of lose it and people can engage with it on their own terms.
Once it's out of your hands, do you find it hard not to disconnect from that initial excitement when you’ve played the song a hundred times or so?
Yeah, that's gone pretty much before it gets into your hands I'm afraid. When you make a record there's thousands of decisions to make at every turn and you're correct, you listen to it thousands of times over and over. It's exhausting. I mean, I complained more about the last record, it really did send me to the edge. I was exhausted by the process.
For some reason this one, partly to do with the lockdown, the world stopped and seemed to run at my pace for two years and gave me time to engage without any feelings of guilt or "What the hell am I doing here, sitting in front of speakers for 8 hours a day or longer?" Y'know, all the things that get in the way of making music kind-of disappeared. It wasn't like I had to worry about not being invited to the party, there was nothing happening, it was just silence. It's a weird thing making music, if you speak to most musicians they'll say that they get their best takes late, even if you're in a soundproof room, so it's kind-of irrelevant what time you record, most people still seem to put their best music down when the world is asleep around them.
Off the top of your head, is there anything you can just turn on and have that same feeling or reaction?
Oh yeah. Thousands.
Well the thing is, it's not like a button to press. It's like trying to find somewhere between Arvo Pärt and The Stooges. It's trying to pull the chords of all the music I love, it's not like saying ok let's write something as emotionally deep as "For Elena" or 'Faure requiem". It's not trying to capture the sound that's already in someone else's music. It's the feeling of that.
I'd say it myself, that I've been writing the same song for 30 years.
But I do get accused of writing the same thing. I don't know what the alternative to that is? Do I make a soul album or a blues album? There's thousands of fantastic soul or blues records out there. Or maybe people mean, make something that no one has heard before? Music is all evolutionary, it's all connected. It's hard to come up with something that's genuinely unique, but still full of those emotions that people get from music, it's not just unique for unique sake. Y'know, abstract just because it's abstract. Maybe the whole thing is rhetorical, maybe they're not engaging and they're just sniping. But I find it interesting to try to fill in the gaps, to find a new way of expressing something, a new way of putting something down. And also songs, I like the fact that songs, by the very definition of them being pop songs, should be easy to write. You feel like anyone with a bit of academia or rudimentary understanding of language & chords should be able to write a great song, but they're kind-of illusive. You can say " I will always love you or be my baby" or whatever, the words sound pretty complicated... but they're hard to do, y'know and that kind-of fascinates me as well, that all this stuff is just out of reach, you need to keep pulling on the strings and keep searching and keep putting things down. If that makes sense?
At the base of your music, I feel there is a real knack for how you can evolve a simple idea or progression into something quite "anthemic" and transcending, whether that be through layering upon layering or even just tasteful repetition. Do you tend to approach the writing and recording process differently each time or is there a willingness to find a new approach?
Sometimes, everyone likes to work in their comfort zone I guess. So some of it is throwing down a loop and working around it. It has to have some content that makes me want to do that. 'I'm coming home again', wasn't a song, it was just 8 hits on the guitar and then it became that piece of music. Sometimes I'll just sit down and try to write a song, a bridge or a middle eight. And treat it like I'm going to write a song like A perfect miracle or Crazy, something like that.
Working with David Wrench, from what I’ve read, it seems like your comfort in him as a mixer and producer played an integral part in getting this record together and going off face value, he appears to be a very calming voice of reason?
Yeah and also I find, I was at a long end, through this album and the last one, of running up against a lot of people who came in with a smile and kind-of "I'll help you"attitude.
As I've said earlier, everybody wants to work within their comfort zone, but making music, I don't want to just pull one band out of the box and squeeze my band into the available hole and say "ok, let's do the same as we did last time". A lot of people do want to do that. You know, it's like a production line, with a lot of mixers and producers. It's like"click click, here you go, ok, next!" And maybe a lot of people go to them and say "Hey, what you did with that last record, I want that for mine." David came at the tail end of a lot of people I just couldn't get outside of that. I'm not at all aggressive in the studio, but I felt a lot coming the other way. People found my working methods to be absolutely the worst they've ever come into contact with (laughs). And y'know what, it was a lockdown, I was doing one afternoon a week on the last album via a zoom call. It wasn't like "oh Jesus I'm not wasting any time here". Three hours a week and it's still driving me crazy. David's not like that, David just came in and said let's get this done. So he kind-of saved the process. Most people will say that it's the artist they're trying to please but a lot of people don't attend to that, they've got another agenda.
Your daughter's voice opens the album up in a very classic Spiritualized manner, announcing the album title “Everything was beautiful”. I imagine she’s had a world of music at her disposal from a very young age, having you as her dad. Have you been introduced to new artists through her ?
I'd say it's fairly one way. We have our own special songs.
But I'd say most of it came from a very young age.
And how does the current state and platforms of modern music reflect on what you create and furthermore do you see it in a positive light or see it as somewhat vulnerable and fragile?
If you're talking about streaming platforms, I think that's good.
That's just access to music.
I probably own two Augustus Pablo records but via a streaming service they're all available, maybe not all of them, there's huge gaps in most catalogues. But it's an amazing thing to be able to access it and find things immediately. It doesn't change the way I make music though. There was talk a while back that nobody wanted albums, everyone was just releasing singles and people's attention spans changed accordingly, because they want to drag that little bar on the screen as fast as they can? But maybe that's because the stuff on their screen isn't worth sitting with? I still think live shows are a trip, it's like theatre isn't it? Nobody wants to just jump to the conclusion. I'm still engaged in the same way as we always did.
So it’ll be the first time you’re back here since 2017?
You’re playing Vivid and Dark Mofo whilst in Australia, two of Australia’s leading festivals dedicated solely to the arts, expression and design.
Have you had the freedom to be able to create something that represents how you’d like your music to be seen and heard? I imagine it can sometimes be limiting / difficult coming all this way with so many elements that make up your production.
Yes and no. Yes, in that we always do that. But also, I've only just been given that information by the interview prior to this one. I didn't realise Vivid is particularly light based and if you've seen us before, our show is light based.
Is the other one Australia? Or does Tasmania just get roped into Australia?
Yeah, Tasmania is a part of Australia, it just kind-of floated off.. Didn't we all, didn't we all.(laughs) tens of thousands of years ago. I mean, you could probably throw a rock across the ditch, it's pretty close. But It's strangely European, if you've never been there before.
No, never. I've met people along the way. I guess it's easier for us to get to them, than it is for them to get to us. I've never been, I'm looking forward to the whole trip but looking forward to going there too, because we've met people from there who've flown in for our Sydney shows and stuff before.
Have you got any time off whilst you're here?
Yeah we've made a bit of time ahead on this one, because it's a hard trip.
There's never enough time ahead-of, but a little bit, just so we don't have to get straight on another 24hr flight after we play.
Have a lovely trip while you're out here mate.
Thanks for the chat.