Thursday, August 28, 2008

10 Questions

"Think Roswell, think zero-gravity guitar arpeggios, think hypnotic deep space grooves. Joe Meek meets H.G. Wells. A corker."
Mojo, November '96

"I was in a band before (.......) where I tried playing drums. I used to practice in the shed until some old biddy thought she was being bombed like in the war and complained. My mom just sold the drums without telling me - I came home and there was a pile of tenners on the table. It was just fooling around, completely incompetent and musically worthless."

One doesn't so much introduce a guest such as the one we have today, but rather leaps for joy and SHOUTS it! It's an honor and a privilege to welcome a founder member-and, part of the definitive classic lineup of Spaceman 3, PETE BASSMAN!

"Dealing in hypnotic, head-tripping swirls of sound, trance rock pioneers Spacemen 3 evolved into masters of blissed-out groove. So dream-inspiring was their music, in fact, that they were known to sit on the floor and perform during live shows. "They can do it all--turn you on, make it all seem worthwhile," Melody Maker proclaimed in 1989, as quoted by Jud Cost in Magnet magazine. "Spacemen 3 opt for colour, space and sensuality, and come up with the last word in English psychedelia." Although they lasted only seven years, during which time they recorded seven albums, Spacemen 3 left behind a body of work--including archives, bootlegs, and reissues--that would keep fans listening and inspire other musicians for years to come.

The founding members of Spacemen 3--Pete Kember, musical and regional soulmate Jason Pierce, and Pete Bain-- hailed from Rugby, Warwickshire, England, a middle-class commerce hub located in the center of the country. Kember, also known as "Sonic Boom," "The Mainliner," "Peter Gunn," or simply "Sonic," played guitar and keyboards, handled feedback and effects, and sang lead and background vocals for the band. In addition to recording under the Sonic Boom persona, Kember also played in the groups Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research after Spacemen 3 broke up. Pierce, nowadays known as "Jason Spaceman" played guitar, some keyboards, and often handled lead vocals in addition to background vocals. After Spacemen 3 dissolved, he went on to lead the band Spiritualized. Drummer Pete Bain, also called "Pete Bassman," who would go on to form Darkside, handled bass guitar duties.

Growing up in a town with little to do, all three gravitated toward rock & roll as a source of entertainment. Pierce picked up his first guitar--an acoustic one--at age seven and taught himself to play. At age 14, he discovered the Stooges after buying the group's Raw Power album. Music was also important to Kember, who began collecting records at age 11 or 12. Some of the first he purchased included albums by Blondie, Devo, and the Velvet Underground. At age 13, he started playing guitar, and within a year, realized he wanted to become a musician. And Bain, spending time watching Top Of The Pops on television and listening to The John Peel Show as a youth, was also inclined to take up an instrument. He learned the drums first before eventually switching to bass. While the three boys came into contact with one another while playing in various groups as teens, it wasn't until Kember and Pierce were students at Rugby Art College that they began collaborating. Though self-trained, Pierce was already exhibiting the traits of a prodigy. According to Cost, Kember once commented that his bandmate could "practically pick up any stringed instrument and play it." Kember, by comparison, was drawn more to minimalist, primitive music and the possibilities of sound that he found in Bryan Gregory of the Cramps, and, to a certain extent, John Cale and the Rolling Stones.

The first incarnation of Spacemen 3 came about in 1982 when Pierce and Bain (now on bass) began practicing in drummer Tim Morris's attic bedroom. Discovering an instant chemistry, the three made a habit out of introducing themselves as "spacemen," providing the band with both a name and an image. Before long, Spacemen 3 were playing local gigs to great enthusiasm, but their first efforts proved short-lived, as Pierce left town to attend a different college. Afterward, Bain and Morris formed a garage band called The Push, again achieving some local support. Pierce, though, returned to Rugby in 1984. Hooking up with Kember, the two recruited drummer Nicholas "Natty" Brooker on drums and recorded some demo tapes. Embryonic but powerful, these early songs provided Spacemen 3 with a foundation from which to build. Bain, encouraged by former bandmates, returned to the group, and the four-piece recorded another set of tapes in Northampton in 1986. Soon thereafter, Spacemen 3 landed a two-album deal with Glass Records. Traveling to Birmingham to record, the band entered the studio and completed their 1986 debut LP, Sound Of Confusion, in just five days.

Initially, both critics and fans were caught off guard by Spacemen 3's sheer volume, interest in retro psychedelia, and apparent non-pop star stance. But they soon outgrew their cult status and also began to back off the heavy psych style, first noticeable on their second album, The Perfect Prescription. Prior to rehearsals, the group replaced Brooker with a new drummer/percussionist named Stewart "Rosco" Roswell. Considered their classic long player, The Perfect Prescription, released in 1988, was a concept album that chronicled the inception, plateau, and ultimate crash of a drug experience. Still the favorite among all the band's members, it also featured tributes to Lou Reed ("Ode To Street Hassle") and Red Krayola ("Transparent Radiation"). Incidentally, throughout Spacemen 3's career they became well-known for liberally covering others' music in concert; particulars include The Godz ("Turn On"), Sun Ra ("Starship"), Bo Diddley ("It's Alright"), the MC5 ("Come Together"), and Suicide ("Che"). They took care, however, to perform these songs in different ways, adding their own original touches.

Gaining international attention with The Perfect Prescription, Spacemen 3 embarked on their first European tour. However, by 1988, cracks were already appearing in the band. Roswell, who wanted to focus on guitar work, left first, followed soon by Bain. "I desperately needed to straighten myself out, so I reluctantly left ... I don't know--it took us a lot of work, but sometimes you lose faith in it all," Bain told Magnet." (From the Musician Guide Biography.)

Pete then went on to form The Darkside in 1989, which soured his attitude further on this business of music. (Do your own research, I'm leaving it well enough alone.) After brief stints with bands such as Supernova/The Supernova Quartet & The Banana Spliffs, Pete would form the band I most appreciate him for: Alphastone.

"At last, the first great drug record of the 21st century! Like swimming in marshmallows or doing pushups in a lemon meringue pie, former Spacemen 3 bassist Pete Bassman (that can't be his real name!?) has concocted a cotton mouthed cocktail of electronic euphoria that will set your head reeling and keep your senses working overtime. While Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember and Jason "Spaceman" Pierce have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from their heady S3 daze, Mr. Bassman has remained true to the original vibe and delivers the best Spaceman 3 release since Sonic went "boom" and Jason found that old time religion. Hypnotic 'tronics, repetitive, krautrockian moto-riff-iks, distorted fuzzboxes and sleepy vox shit, close your eyes and you'd swear you dropped "the perfect prescription" in some stoned stupor." (from, on the Life's A Motorway LP)

Alphastone released four albums, two on BOMP!: Stereophonic Pop Art Music (1996) and Soulweed, (1997); and two on Enraptured: Elasticated Waveband, (1998) and Life's A Motorway, (2001.) All are worth tracking down. (I'm more apt to pull out an Alphastone CD, by a 10-1 ratio, over Spaceman 3 any day.)

Here's Uberfuzz, w/Pete Bassman (lower right corner), performing the Alphastone track “Transfixed”. From the debut CD:

And here's one of my all-time favorite Alphastone tracks, from '98s Elasticated Waveband album, "Dans Le Jardin Avec Alphastone":

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With all that as prelude, let's get to the questions!

1. In ten words-or less, define "psychedelic music."

Music inspired by the Psychedelic experience.

2. What is the most psychedelic instrument, why?

There are many weird and eclectic musical instruments but I choose the humble electric guitar, reason being it offers the most immediate and accessable way to transfer your thoughts and emotions into sound.
The majority of great psychedelic music is created on guitar and despite great advances in technology, computers and electronic instruments nothing comes close to a magic twanger , a fuzz box and a heap of echo.

3. Favorite psychedelic album of all time?

To pick a favourite Psychedelic album is difficult. If I was to take a trip again I would probably listen to a lot of music which would not fall into the Psychedelic category. Back in the hazy days of the Spacemen 3- apart from the Psychedelic Garage Punk stuff, we would listen to Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, some Jazz even; none of it was made to trip to but it had purity. In an altered state some stuff sounded right and some stuff did not. After my first real trip I binned half my record collection.
I loved the Stooges and dark tracks like Frankie Teardrop by Suicide , but anyway if I had to pick one- a favourite Psychedelic album, I guess I would go for The Stooges: It has the power , simplicity and purity that sounded just right in that dimension.

4. What event- a gig you saw or played, a record you listened to, or something else, made you a believer in psychedelic music?

Using Psychedelic drugs made me aware of the hidden dimentions within sound and the spirituality of music. I had seen The Beatles Yellow Submarine and sung along to Lucy In The Sky at school so I already had acquired some sort of vague understanding of Psychedelia at an early age , years later it all began to make sense.

5. What song or album that wouldn't fall into the classic "psych" definition is, nevertheless, psychedelic to you?

I’m a big fan of Van Morrison. I have no idea if Van dabbled with psychedelics but during his career he veered off into a mystical direction; the album Astral Weeks was a record that I discovered during the bad old days of the Spacemen 3 when I lived on the dole, dealt dope and said fuck you to the outside world.
Astral Weeks was not- I believe an instant commercial success for Van, but it did gain a cult following with heads, a good come down album was essential. Astral Weeks is a unique record, strangely spiritual and has the power to replenish my soul when all else fails.

6. Alphastone get to play a one-off "Dream Gig" Triple Bill; who are the other two bands and at what venue do you choose? (Any band or venue/any era.)

I am slightly ashamed to say that my dream gig would be in my hometown of Rugby.
During the sixties an outdoor live concert was staged on the polo fields near to my Grandmothers house, although i know a few people who actually attended the gig none seem to remember much about it, i remember one of them telling me he took twelve tabs of sunshine acid! anyway the main band was Pink Floyd, also on the bill was Alexis Korner and The Soft Machine.
In true Rugby fashion the organiser ran off with the money. My friends- who now are all approaching 60, were all out of their minds on drugs, I’m happy to say they are all still drug users and dealers and going strong. I just would have liked to have been there to see them as teenagers and to play on the same bill as Syd.

7. Is there an advantage in being the pioneers (60s psychedelic bands), or being the continuing explorers armed with the knowledge of those pioneers' work (the modern psychedelic bands)? Why?

I must admit I regard the 60s bands who defined Psychedelic music so unique that I think it is impossible for any modern musician to come close; the dope was certainly stronger, life and times were different.
The personalities that emerged during the 60s were able to breakout into unknown dimensions- just like Apollo astronaunts, they were venturing where no man had ever gone before. Some, like Syd Barrett and Roky Erickson, never made it back but left behind music that is impossible to better or equal. Modern bands can only learn from the original pioneers and nobody has been to the moon since.

8. What band, active today, most defines "psychedelic" to you?

Greg Shaw devoted his life to Psychedelic music and without his support and influence the Brian Jonestown Massacre would never have prospered; the other bands related to them - Warlocks, BRMC, Black Angels and even The Dandy Warhols, all seem to me to represent some sort of neo-psychedelic movement .
If I were to trip again I would trust my mind to Anton and The BJM.

9. You're in the bar at the end of the universe and the jukebox contains every song ever recorded, what are the first TEN psychedelic songs you want to hear?

Itchychoo Park - Small Faces
Get Me To The World On Time - Electric Prunes
Tomorrow Never Knows - Beatles
5 Years Ahead Of My Time - 3rd Bardo
Crystal Blue Persuasion - Tommy James and The Shondells
The Trip - Kim Fowley
Mystic Eyes - Them
2000 Light Years From Home - The Stones
Slip Inside This House - 13th Floor Elevators
Big Eyed Beans From Venus - Capt Beefheart ….and I could go on an on

10. Turn the tables, if you'd like, and ask me a question.

Thanks Pete, and best wishes on the new project: the Urgz! (There's more here!)


sr-71 said...

yowza! another coup for TITH. between S3, Darkside and Alphastone I can't think of a single bum note Pete has played. and i *love* his comments about anton and the bjm!

Cliff said...

Great interview, likin' the new questions too. Back in the late 80's I worshipped at the altar of the SM3, so what a delight to see Pete turning up here.

Couldn't agree more with Pete's opinion on BJM and loved 9 of his psychedelic tunes ( Just can't listen to that particular Stones track these days!)

Finally, thers's nothing like a good 'Shag' Europeanically speaking that is!!!)

Anonymous said...

Valis, you are the man!

Chris said...

great interview!

question ten is the most mysterious yet...

sammyg123 said...

Now, those 10 songs on the Jukebox, I wanna be there man. Love these interviews.
Here's a question from me, valis: