April 1991- International Musician and Recording World

Space Barres

There are two sides to every story. In this case there’s just one album, but two stories.

An album that comprises a side a piece by either half of a band split into two separate, warring camps – entirely independent of one another – stretches the term ‘band’ beyond credibility. SPACEMAN 3’s fourth album, Recurring, is that album. Side one is composed and performed almost exclusively by singer, guitarist and frontman SONIC BOOM, while side two features the work of co-founder and guitarist JASON PIERCE supported by the other band members, who together now form SPIRITUALIZED (a manifestation which did much to precipitate the demise of Spaceman 3). While conceding that there were contractual obligations forcing the two to share the same piece of vinyl just one more time, Pete claims that it’s their best yet. Not only that but you get the idea he’s not just referring to his own side of the album.

Sonic Boom

The seeds of this were already apparent on their previous album, the Indie number one Playing With Fire. According to Pete, “the writing for this album began before the band split up and it seemed stupid to scrap what was the best album we’ve done just because the band had split. Playing With Fire was almost exactly the same, one side almost entirely my songs, except for one of Jason’s and the other side mainly Jason’s songs. The only person in the band who played on the last LP is WILL CARRUTHERS, the bass player and he plays on all my songs on this album. MARK REFOY (gtr) and JON MATTOCK (perc) don’t play on any of my songs but together, with Will and Jason, they are Spiritualized and they all play together on Jason’s songs on his album.” Well now that’s cleared up…

Both sides of Recurring were recorded totally separate of each other. While Jason’s contributions continue to straddle territory charted previously, Pete has veered off at new tangents, supplementing hypnotic guitar riffs with pulsing sequencers, dreamy drones and samples.

“The technology has put a different angle on it. Sampling and sequencing works very well on songs with few chord changes in them. I’ve never sampled anybody else but I’ve been sampling myself since Perfect Description (the second Spaceman LP). Things that you used to be able to achieve by splicing and making tape loops, you can do perfectly with samplers. You can get in there and look at the pattern and see where you can match it up and try out what might not work, whereas if you’re attempting to do that with tape loops, you’re losing bits of tape that you can’t put back. Most people are just using the technology to sample other people’s records beats. When people do sample themselves it’s just to cover mistakes, or to save on recording time.”

Although Pete is getting to grips with the possibilities of C-Lab Creator, the technology employed on songs like Big City was more rudimentary, recalling the inventiveness of those pioneering pre-MIDI days. “We ran a drone from the synth – a Roland D20, I think – and used a gate triggered from the drum machine to create a perfectly in-time sequence effect. We did a lot of creating sample loops of synth sweeps. Everything was created there in the studio, I didn’t walk in with a bunch of CDs.”

Pete and Jason recorded the album separately at the same studio in Rugby. “It was just a little 16-track. The engineer, Paul Adkins, owns an electronics company and the studio is his hobby. The control room was really small and the gear just a couple of gates, a few noise reduction things, an SPX90, the D20 and a few little reverb units like the Midiverb and Boss. It was very basic but there was a six string and an acoustic which were very useful and I had a couple of keyboards of my own. I’d go in and put down everything I’d got and then get the others on the track, tell them to listen to the feel and put a flowing guitar after the vocal, or whatever. After five or six takes we’d usually get something good so there was a lot of input from the other musicians.”

Judging from the album’s sleeve notes Pete has something of an obsession with period Vox equipment. Effects are also something that Pete applies to his own voice. “I know what I like to do with my voice and the way that I have to EQ it after recording. Sometimes I’ll sing through my fingers, or across a vase, which gives you a weird little reverb. What I usually do is apply a lot of effects, echo and reverbs and sometimes a bit pf phasing as well. I have to effect my voice quite a lot to be happy with it, even live.”

If all of this sounds a little ‘period’, then that’s quite the intention. “You only have to listen back to those Phil Spector or Joe Meek produced records to hear that there’s some things that modern effects just don’t do. I mean Telstar starts off with someone flushing the toilet!” One for the next Alesis update perhaps?

The great irony of all this is that after eight years and growing recognition, Recurring will be the album that finally pushes Spaceman 3 out of the Indie charts and into the reaches of mainstream success, by which time they’ve already been and gone. Still with Spiritualized already up and running and with Sonic, already with a solo deal, about to form a new band I suppose everyone comes out on top.

Keith Grant

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