By Cam LindsayFew artists have the right to moan about struggling to finish an album the way Jason Pierce does. In 2008, he released Songs in A&E, an album completed while he was recovering from a life-threatening bout of Periorbital cellulitis with bilateral pneumonia. If that wasn't enough, he was diagnosed with degenerative liver disease during the making of Spiritualized's seventh studio album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light (originally titled Huh?), for which he had to undergo chemotherapy and take experimental drugs. However, instead of channelling all of the frustration he must have felt, Spaceman chose to look on the brighter side and make the most inspiring music of his life. In many ways, Sweet Heart is the most complete Spiritualized album yet. You could say for his latest masterpiece, Pierce had to take life-saving drugs to make music to take drugs to.
Sweet Heart Sweet Light is you embracing the pop song. Is that something you've avoided in the past? Yes, like properly tried to avoid it; it's the bit of Spiritualized I'm the least comfortable with. I like the abstraction and the distortion. I like the stuff that veers left field, but the sort of straight ahead pop stuff is where I feel awkward. I figured this time I would embrace that and go for it, and I wouldn't hide behind anything. Only because I haven't done that before, it seemed like the least comfortable way to go and I figured it would leave me exposed. You can hide behind distortion and the abstract sound, and this way it would be, like, an Emperor's New Clothes kind of thing. With pop music, I just felt I couldn't do that; I've never made a record like this before. And even though Spiritualized probably aren't as left field, as I see it, I always think of it as less pure and quite abstract. I mean, if you listen to it on record, it's probably not as abstract as I always think it is. And this time, I thought, "I'm going do it" and that was the starting point. But I don't think I've made one; I don't know if I've made a pop record.
You've said in the past that you sing into a Dictaphone, put the music to piano and then have someone else arrange the strings. Has that changed? You mean, have I learned to write music [laughs]? No, I'm still doing the same thing. I realized making this record that I like to invert the chord – take the bottom note and put it higher up. I just keep doing that. When you invert a chord in gospel music, it's the thing that makes it seem like it's getting higher. Whatever we put down, I find other stuff to put in as well.
Music making is often a long process for you. Was this one any longer considering what you were going through? Yes, it seemed like it was going to take forever. And another reason why I decided to try and make a pop record was that I thought it might be a little easier. But as anyone who's tried to write pop songs knows, that's not going happen. I was a little bit naive there thinking it would be easier. Somewhere in the back of my head I was thinking about all of those great records that have never been finished, like Brian Wilson's lost record. And in an odd way, that made me want to finish it because I figured it was a lot easier to make an unfinished record than it was to finish a record. That kind of kept me going, I guess.
Your liver disease was relatively unknown until just a couple weeks ago, despite your treatment happening a while back. Were you hesitant to reveal that to the public? I guess it didn't come up – nobody really asked. Also, I didn't want to say anything unless… I now know that I'm cured and I didn't want to say anything without knowing. I didn't tell anyone while I was being treated because I didn't want people asking after my condition all the time or treat me differently because of that.
Have you found that there's more interest in your medical condition than the music? It seems like that's the story now and that's not a good thing; it was never meant to be the story.
I was thinking about the lyrics to "Medication," from Pure Phase: "Every day I wake up/And I take my medication/And I spend the rest of the day/Waiting for it to wear off…" The irony wasn't lost on me. I was taking these drugs that – actually, they were doing me a hell of a lot of good, but the side effects were pretty poor. But I didn't listen to "Medication" during the treatment so I didn't see the connection. I do now.