Mama We’re All Hazy Now
The sound of Spacemen 3 continues to mutate with their new single. Roy Wilkinson hears them link hypnotism with revolution. Steve Double gets spaced out.
Sonic Boom, Spacemen 3’s mission control mainman, sits with an air of serenity in Fire Records’ HQ. After all, this is a man who knows his loopy psy-rock revolution is stretching across the globe.
From panic on the streets of Rugby to the green fields of England’s West Country to the addled brain cells of American youth, S3-brand sedition spreads every day.
The Spacemen’s call for change came with last December’s ‘Revolution’ 45, an amazingly literal-minded incitement to insurrection.
Now Mudhoney and Elvis Costello have added their voices to the clarion call. The latter slipped a slice of the Spacemen’s ‘Revolution’ into The Beatles’ song of the same title as he played on Glastonbury Festival’s pyramid stage (cosmically enough, Spacemen 3’s logo involves a pyramid).
But this didn’t help Spaceman bassman Willie as he sat, lysergically fried, in the Glastonbury mud.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I was on two tabs at the time – I thought I might be hallucinating. I still didn’t really believe it until I got back and people told me about it.”
Mudhoney’s live cover is perhaps intended less sincerely.
“Yeah,” grins Sonic Boom (not his real name). “We reckon ‘Revolution’ has a Slade element. That’s why Mudhoney cover it – their version is camped up to f***. It’s more like Guns N’ Roses really, heavy metal solos after every line. It’s a great version though.”
The blissfully naïve tone of ‘Revolution’ is revisited with the new S3 12-inch, last week’s Sounds Single Of The Week. This double A-side features the new song ‘Hypnotized’, along with ‘Just To See You Smile (Honey Pt 2)’ and ‘The World Is Dying’.
The latter is a bewilderingly straight eco-anthem which delivers the lines “I hear leaders lying/I see forests dying/And the skies are crying”, without the Green-taunting sarcasm which to many would be the song’s only apparent escape route.
With global consciousness ranking as today’s top fashion accessory the song’s obviousness is the antithesis of cool.
Sonic: “Everyone does think it’s an uncool thing and that’s exactly why it should be released. Everybody should release that song. People talk about compassion fatigue – that’s just bullshit!
“You can still go out and buy an ozone-unfriendly aerosol. I don’t think there’s been anything like enough songs about this stuff and it’s a good song in its own right. People have already done songs like that, but it still needs to be said. Everyone should say it.”
Like ‘Revolution’, ‘The World Is Dying’’s incredible idealism doesn’t stand a chance in the cynical microcosm of today’s youth culture. But within the context of Spacemen 3 the song is scarcely ridiculous at all.
The Spacemen create their own world, built of a fabulous purity of vision and a childlike naivety. This has been a feature of drug-fuelled pop people, from Rocky Erickson to Brian Wilson to Julian Cope.
“I think optimism is a better word than naivety,” says Sonic, rolling his slightly spacey vowel sounds. “But, yeah, really young children get into our stuff and the naivety you’re talking about comes from the fact that you’re mentally reborn through psychedelic drugs. After then you appreciate a hell of a lot of things you never appreciated before.”
The Spacemen’s well-documented drug use amounts to an intensive course in unlearning – a removal of the inhibitions accumulated in the adult mind. It’s this that gives them the innocence to write songs like ‘The World Is Dying’.
Sonic: “As well as making you appreciate things, drugs also make you more irritated by some things. They certainly make you more conscious about what you’re doing to this planet.
“Having said that, we’re not completely innocent. If we were perhaps the fact that ‘The World Is Dying’ is a bit corny wouldn’t have stopped us making it an A-side.”
Maybe so, but S3’s childlike awe shines from their songs.
Sonic: “Yeah, quite a lot of our rhythms are like nursery rhymes, or even skipping rhythms. It sounds really funny, but those are some of the oldest rhythms there are.
“Our stuff, I’m sure, is really similar to Celtic psychedelia – the sort of music a few Celts would’ve banged out with the Druids. It’s very basic, primal music, with very primal emotions.”
Apart from the shimmering, shifting keyboard layering that the band have tended to lately, S3’s mood of fantastic wonder is accentuated by the way they use few words and draw on a simple vocabulary.
‘Just To See You Smile’, a variation on ‘Honey’ from their ‘Playing With Fire# LP, takes a line “I’d like to walk you home” and, with religious devotion, works this platitude into a glowing mantra.
Sonic: “Yeah, we do take a few words and really dwell on them. I suppose it appears as a very innocent way of thinking. Innocence is a very valuable thing.”
The devout feel of S3 music is accompanied by a wealth of religious imagery, right back to the ‘Walking With Jesus’ EP. But they remove these symbols from their usual context. For Spacemen 3, names like Jesus and God are just pinnacles, focus points in their meditative dronescape.
Sonic: “There’s a line in one of our songs – ‘I could have religion, but that ain’t too good’ – and that really refers to organised religion, which I think is really shit.
“We are religious though – we believe in certain things. We believe in what we’re doing, in the purity of it. When we say ‘Jesus’, it’s almost someone to cry out to, someone for your soul to cry out to.”
‘Hypnotized’ includes the latest reference to Son Of God (“Jesus sweeter than the life we live”) and this consistency is reflected in their music – the Spacemen’s back catalogue does have a feel of continuity.
Sonic: “Yeah, all our stuff rolls on – it often refers to songs from two or three years ago. Someone said our ‘Perfect Prescription’ LP was the ideal soundtrack for an LSD trip. That’s bullshit! The record’s only 45 minutes long! It’s just physically impossible to have a trip to it.”
Sound practical advice, and Sonic has the perfect remedy for this acidic problem.
If you took all our stuff and put it on one DAT tape, which can hold eight hours of music, then you’d be getting there. That would be a really good record for tripping.
“So you need a DAT player, or one of those old record players that you can stack records up on – I’ve got one of those.”
Spacemen 3 are firm rock ‘n’ roll traditionalists. They believe in rock’s great chronological ley lines and see themselves as sitting squarely on one, matey.
“Yeah, we really believe in that. Some people have said we’re progressive rock, but I think we’re regressive in a way.
“We’re trying to take it back to one chord, two chords, back to John Lee Hooker which is basically one chord and is really close to African tribal stuff. Very psychedelic, very primitive rock ‘n’ roll is just one step further on from that and we’re somewhere on that line.”
Spacemen 3’s compelling minimalism is definitely linked to tradition, but such is its intensity that is sometimes seems to be working on different dimensions and levels of detail to rock precedent. Besides, the Spacemen don’t rely solely on established techniques.
Sonic: “A lot of the stuff we do is quite innovative in a way. Just because our records don’t go ‘N-n-n-n-nineteen’ that doesn’t mean we don’t use samples.
“We also use a lot of ‘60s technology that wasn’t exploited properly. I’ve got this guitar with the most incredible effects built in. Y’know on ‘How Does It Feel?’ (from ‘Playing With Fire’), where it has that zoink, zoink, zoink noise? Everyone thinks that’s a synthesiser, but that’s just my guitar playing itself, basically.
“We spend a lot of time in the studio looking for new sounds and new effects. We’ve used things like an electric shaver on our records. There’s a lot of stuff that we use, that if we shouted about it people would think we’re Sonic Youth or something.”
Tailing off, Mr Boom takes another tug on his spliff, apparently happy to remain the born-again Sonic Child.