Only a few streets separate SONIC BOOM and JASON PIERCE, but the space between the frontmen of SPACEMEN 3 (RIP) seems more like light years. With a final album out next month, MARY ANNE HOBBS hears tales of pain, paranoia and bitter recriminations from the divided souls. Personal Spacemen: ED SIRRS
I left Spacemen 3 and I cried. I really cried. I put everything I had into that band for eight years. It was my whole life.” – Sonic Boom (occasionally Peter Kember).
The Spacemen 3 split was ugly. Sonic Boom walked out last summer, calling guitarist Jason Pierce a “conniving f—ing sewer rat” shortly after he was informed by a journalist that Jason and the rest of the Spacemen had formed a new band, Spiritualized, behind his back.
Jason, in turn, claimed Sonic was a megalomaniac, and that the “automatic stranglehold” he enforced on Spacemen 3 had become intolerable. The bitterness between Sonic and Jason has intensified, quite publicly, ever since.
A final Spacemen 3 album, ‘Recurring’, (committed to Fire Records before the split) will, however, be released next month. It’s an album that wears the decay of their relationship over the months in which the sessions took place like an open sore. Sonic and Jason recorded their own tracks almost entirely independently of each other, and these are segregated on the two separate sides of the album. The A-side features Sonic’s minimal, mesmeric pop; the B-side, Jason’s cathedral shadows. As a whole piece, the album’s only constant theme is its overbearing sense of melancholy. It really is sad as f—.
So here I am in Warwickshire, to find out if Rugby is big enough for the both of them. Sonic and Jason have not spoken at all for eight months, therefore there will be two separate interviews.
Fire Records’ press officer has advised me to talk to Jason first. Last time a journalist attempted a post-mortem with the pair, Sonic completed his verbal offensive, then drove the journo over to Jason’s house. Sonic insists that Jason didn’t answer the door. Jason claims he was in all day, and that perhaps Sonic wasn’t applying enough pressure to the bell. The writer was, however, persuaded that Jason wasn’t home, and Sonic packed him off on a train to London.
The Spiritualized leader lives in a pokey flat above a corner shop. The atmosphere inside over the duration of our interview is acutely uncomfortable. Jason sits on a plastic settee and chain-smokes. A road drill goes off underneath the window and I can barely hear his nervous words above the noise. He pauses after questions, sometimes for minutes, wiping away tiny beads of sweat from the area between his nose and upper lip, before giving guarded and minimal answers. This is Jason’s first unaided interview for Spacemen 3. He has had an occasional audience with the press before, but the majority of the verbal was always Sonic’s department.
Jason flatly refuses to talk about Sonic.
“I find it loathsome that the press are making more of our personal relationship than they are of our music. Pete and I were best friends… to use his words… I don’t want to be drawn into a public slanging match with him. I remember when Jo Wiggs left The Perfect Disaster. The music press made a big issue of that. Then ‘Up’ came out, which I thought was a really good album… it got very little coverage.”
OK, then, let’s discuss your contribution to ‘Recurring’.
“I find it difficult to talk about my songs. I know it’s very clichéd, but I like the music to speak for itself. It’s unfortunate that ‘Recurring’ is being released now… after Spiritualized has already become a working band. I finished my side of that album last June, and I’ve since recorded another album with Spiritualized and taken the band on the road. The Spiritualized album is out in April… that’s the most important thing to me. It’s very hard to come back to Spacemen 3. It doesn’t really matter to me now.”
You can bet your life it matters to Sonic Boom.
Sonic lives at his parent’s house – a dead beautiful lodge in a pastoral suburb of Rugby. His room is haemorrhage red, (I note that Jason’s toilet was the same colour, give or take a few shades), and densely populated with wind-up plastic toys. Warhols share wall space with holograms of Frosties’ Tony The Tiger, and an x-ray of a human skull grins from his central light fitting.
While serving Earl Grey and a mountain of cheese and pickle sandwiches, Sonic tells me that he’s been asked to produce Terry Bickers’ band Levitation. He also enthuses about his new label, Bop-A-Sonic!
“I’ve done two singles already – ‘Heavy Black Noise’ by an American band called Sacred Miracle Cave, and ‘Teenage Screamer’ by Silver Chapter. The Silver Chapter track got Single Of The Week in two of the music papers.”
Make way Richard Branson.
Sonic grins. “Y’know, I’ve always wondered what he does in that balloon of his. Perhaps he takes a massive pile of stuff up there with him and gets totally off his head… God, I’ll get sued to f— for that!”
He rolls the first of many, many joints that he will suck on during the interview.
“About two years ago Jason started saying that he was going down to London to see his big mate Craig. What he was actually doing was shagging Craig’s girlfriend while he was out driving buses all day. Jason is now going out with Craig’s ex-girlfriend. Suffice to say she’s the Yoko Ono of this situation. At that time Jason stopped seeing all his old friends.
“A few months later, only after Spacemen 3 had started to become really successful, Jason and the rest of the band came to me and said that they thought I should have a much smaller hand in Spacemen 3’s affairs. That I’d always had too much to say for myself. That too many of the songs were mine.”
He drops his head.
“Then the Spiritualized thing happened. Everyone involved was sworn to secrecy. I’d done a solo album the year before, but they’d all been informed, they knew about it all along. Jason’s big independent artistic statement, the Spiritualized single ‘Anyway That You Want Me’, was a song that I put forward for inclusion on the ‘Playing With Fire’ album, and had actually been recorded during that session. Every record had a sticker on it that said ‘Spacemen 3’, not ‘Members Of Spacemen 3’, just ‘Spacemen 3’. Then they did the gigs, and the fly-posters that I saw had ‘Spacemen 3’ printed on them in bigger type-face than ‘Spiritualized’. I couldn’t believe it. Spacemen 3 without Sonic – that’s 3 minus 3, isn’t it? Almost.
“I left the band, and I was really upset. But I thought it was better than being used by these people that were trying to pass themselves off as Spacemen. Someone suggested that we’d stages what we perceived as the perfect end of Spacemen 3. I thought that was really sick.”
The veritable stranger in front of me appears, at this juncture, to be in some distress. But what can I do? No point offering Sonic an aspirin – the guy’s on a methadone programme.
“Jason wasn’t as bothered about Spacemen 3 splitting up as me. Why should he be? He’s had next to nothing to do with it… no, ‘next to nothing’ would be unfair… but he certainly was never anything like as involved as me. Ever since the band split, he’s been saying that he doesn’t want to associate himself with Spacemen 3. So why does he now call himself Jason Spaceman? He will continue to milk Spacemen 3 for all it’s worth because he needs to. Everything he does will be a pastiche of Spacemen 3 for evermore.
You see, Jason had no idea what he wanted to say when I met him. He’s always modelled himself – his style of dress, his tastes and ultimately his songs – after mine. Jason was in a f—ing goth band when I first met him – they were a 50-chord-change-a-minute Southern Death Cult/Sex Gang Children type band called Indian Scalp. They were very dodgy. The first stuff I ever wrote, at Rugby School, was one chord stuff. Actually the same chord that’s in ‘Revolution’.”
Sonic further claims that Jason and Spacemen 3’s ex-manager Gerald Palmer have “deliberately f—ed up the ‘Recurring’ album”. That they’ve totally re-drawn the album credits as well as his sleeve art and band logo. Sonic also insists that Jason and Gerald had the wrong mixes of his tracks cut on to the record.
“Jason still works with Gerald, even though we sacked him as manager of Spacemen 3. Jason won’t commit Spiritualized to Gerald, but he’s still using him. Gerald Palmer is a wily Jewish character – it sounds racist even saying that – but he’s made me feel racist towards him.”
I wonder aloud if Sonic is telling journalists all this because he’s driven his friends away. It wasn’t a joke. But all od a sudden he’s laughing again – talking about his new manager Alan McGee. About the new band he’s putting together: “Myself and a guy called Richard Formby are the two solid members. People might be familiar with production work he’s done for Pale Saints and The Telescopes. I guess it’s safe to say that there will be a lot of other people floating. Certainly for touring, I want violins and cellos and saxophones and things.”
As I leave Sonic’s house, he points out a pub across the road.
“That’s where Guy Fawkes’ men were staked out on the night that he tried to blow up the Houses Of Parliament. Rugby has a history of conspiracy… must be something in the water.”
Poor Sonic – he’s as mad as a kite, but he does have his points. I just wonder if he’s at all aware how messy his use of public humiliation is, in batoning down Spacemen 3’s coffin lid.