Space rocker achieves lift-off after stretch of turbulence
Psychedelic survivor ... Jason Pierce. Photo: Steve Gullick
After years enduring a cocktail of treatments including chemotherapy and illnesses ranging from two heart failures to liver collapse, Jason Pierce - frontman for the British space-rock group Spiritualized - sounds fairly upbeat.
Yes he's just climbed down from a Stockholm stage, so post-gig afterglow may explain ''amazing'' being his review of the band's latest line-up. But Pierce also tells Fairfax Media he is ''psyched'' to be heading our way.
''Last time I came to Sydney, I got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to play the Sydney Opera House,'' he chuckles.
Midway through treatment for hepatitis, the 2011 trip to perform at the Vivid festival was arduous.
''I wasn't very well … but I couldn't cancel the show because it was the Opera House and I thought I'm never going to get this chance again,'' he says.
Ironically, Pierce is back under the sails this weekend. How will the two shows differ?
''I haven't got hepatitis C,'' he says, reconsidering more than just the decision to risk his health on that earlier trip. Last year's Vivid invitation asked Pierce to perform Spiritualized's 1997 million-selling landmark album, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, in full.
''I felt more like I was part of the catering industry or service industry,'' Pierce says. ''It's such a weird thing to do. That whole world of rock 'n' roll folding back on itself started to fill me with real melancholy about this great force that seems to want to look back and hail moments from the past.
''You have to look forward in music. No matter how small the steps, the steps have to be into the future.''
Fittingly, there's a new Spiritualized album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light, to focus on. Released in April, the minimal white cover art features a hollow octagon shape. Like a sneeringly branded pill, at its centre is the only text: ''Huh?''
''For a long time, it was the title of the album,'' Pierce says. ''But I just couldn't picture people asking for it. I thought we'd get weird, Monty Python-type loops going on.''
Pierce says that the design was also ''partly to do with the drugs I was on''.
''I really didn't have a clue what was going on. I feel like if I made it now, it would be a different record entirely,'' he says.
Some tracks explore the band's pop alter ego - or, as Pierce calls it, ''the bit of Spiritualized that I'm not so easy with''. Yet the band's epic, strung-out-in-the-stratosphere brand of psychedelic transcendental rock prevails.
Pierce pitches the LP somewhere between the Beach Boys and avant-garde saxophonist Peter Brotzmann. Though a long-time collaborator with free jazz and improvisational musicians outside of Spiritualized, Pierce's latest opus is light years from Brotzmann's descriptively titled signature composition Machine Gun.
''Everything has its moment,'' Pierce says. ''Sometimes it's great to wake up in the morning and put Machine Gun on. It feels like the most exhilarating thing to do.
''Nothing falls out of the sky complete in new music. Even when you make a record, you end up keeping what you find familiar, or what you love. You don't just keep the strange bits.''
Pierce, who previously assembled 120 musicians to record one album, took three years to finish his newest.
Unashamedly ''self-indulgent'', still referencing life and death's big questions, and closing with the choral rapture of So Long You Pretty Thing, he worries Sweet Heart Sweet Light might be ''over raw''.
It's certainly disconcerting when he sings ''sometimes I wish I was dead''. Surely he's a happy survivor?
''Happy?'' Pierce says. ''I'm doing what I like doing. We play shows every night [and] we feel like we touch the edges every night … It seems like the most exciting thing to do.''
Spiritualized play on Sunday at the Sydney Opera House.