Spiritualization of a Spaceman: A conversation with Will Carruthers


On a recent trip to the magical city of Berlin, our guy Thomas Galasso had a chance to sit down with a man for all seasons, Will Carruthers. Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, and Spectrum were three of the most influential indie rock groups of the late 80's and early 90's. Will Carruthers was the bassist in all three groups. These 3 music projects influenced the likes of Oasis, Blur, Radiohead, Nirvana, and virtually every single relevant rock group to appear in the last 20 years. Their influence changed the direction of modern music and even trickles into the world of electronic dance music and hip hop (in its current state). In addition to that he has served with indie icons The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and more recently the artful Dead Skeletons. On top of that he is a well regarded poet, who's highly esteemed hand made books of poetry are rare and highly sought after. Unfortunately we were unable to get any images due to the books being sold out. A new batch of books is on the way however. A conversation that spans many subjects on a beautiful afternoon in Germany.

UNION: Greetings. Berlin seems like a great place to have a nice quiet meeting in the park. Beautiful city. Will: Good afternoon. Yeah. Berlin is very nice. UNION: You being a guy from Britain, whats your take on Berlin? Its like Tumblr: The City. How did you end up here? Will: Man. There’s such a strange history here. It was demolished, and then it was divided...West Berlin was an island. 1989 with Spacemen 3 was the first time I came to Berlin. We drove up thru East Germany and it was fuckin' nuts. You go through a border, and then you come into the city and its like half the city is another fuckin country. And that’s only 25 years ago. I never imagined livin' here. It was an accident. I had been workin with Anton (Newcombe), playin' with the Jonestown. He wanted to do some recordins. I came over from the UK, had a good time, then came back to Britain and was like "Why the fuck do I live here? I can smoke in bars here. (laughs). Sit in a bar, have a beer, thats a big part of my fuckin' culture. UNION: With regard to your culture the 1980's and 90's brought the world some amazing music, and fashion much of which is still being imitated today. I'm always reading about the hard times of England during that era. One thing for sure is there seemed to be unity within the different scenes and an overall movement. Will: Youth culture was really fuckin' tribal. There was mods and goths and the old punks. The 80’s in Britain were fuckin' grim. It was a grim time to grow up. Fuckin' war zone. Margaret Thatcher… all the inner cities were on fire. There was like war on the Union. It was a full scale ideological assault on British culture really. She got in bed with Ronald Reagan, it was like that was the end of all this neo-liberal shit that we’re coming to the end of now, hopefully . We were just kind of holding on to whatever we had, and if that was some vague idea of belongin' to some kind of imaginary tribe then fuck it. (laughs). UNION: Unfortunately it seems like youth culture in the States is not as unified or tribal. Maybe it was in small spurts here and there somewhere in the past but not anymore. Will: We as youth were massively influenced by Black American culture. That was the majority of the stuff we were listenin' to and if it wasn’t that then it was music that was directly influenced by that. When we were growin' up we were diggin' into gospel, soul, and the whole pantheon of that stuff. We just absorbed it. We were just a bunch of drugged up fuckin' white kids in the middle of Britain. Its like "Why fuckin’ Johnny Lee Hooker why the fuck do I understand that?" UNION: John Lee Hooker is deep within the roots of black America. Deep within the roots of America period. He bore his music through painful experiences. Its actually quit fitting for a country like the States with its place in history.

Will: What else were we gonna listen to? There wasn’t a lot of good music for us in the 80’s. Not much to listen to, just bits and pieces and odds and ends here and there: there was some alternative stuff at the time like Cramps and stuff, Gun Club, but even that was all comin' from Black American music. UNION: I can hear the gospel influence in a lot of the Spacemen 3 stuff. The organs, melodies, the lyrics. Its one of those things I felt separated you guys from a lot of other groups associated with psychedelic music. It also separated the Spacemen from other groups that were considered dark in tone and subject matter. Will: Lots of things separated us from other groups. We grew up in a small town called Rugby which is only about 60,000 people. We were takin' drugs when it wasn’t cool. It was pre-Acid House. Journalists couldn’t believe it man. Couldn't wrap their heads around what we were singin' about. We weren’t condonin' anything it was just that this is the way we fuckin’ live, this is how we live. And they couldn’t believe it. You wouldn’t imagine the shit we got thrown our way livin' in such a small town. Havin' to fight your way out of bars, the jealousy and anger some people had towards us. People startin' fights at shows, then just bein' isolated and freezin' on top of that (laughs). UNION: Spacemen 3 were like one of the first music acts to acknowledge what would later become recognized as club drugs. In the States virtually every rapper and pop singer makes some reference to molly and other off shoots of acid. So in a weird way thats something the Spacemen definitely pioneered. Will: Really? Never thought about it that way. We certainly weren't treated as heroes back then. I had never made the local paper in my life yet we were gettin' written about in UK music magazines all the time. But by my second solo album, there was a small blurb in the entertainment section and it read Carruthers shows signs of some improvement. My mum was like this is terrible. I was like this is perfect. UNION: You guys became known throughout Europe, and appeared in media before the internet existed in the way we know it today. So you guys were known figures. Even now a lot of the Spacemen and Spiritualized stuff seems to be popular amongst fashion people. Models etc. How did that adjust your expectations of art and career? Will: It was...an interestin' readjustment of my expectations. We never thought we were gonna be big. We never thought we were even gonna make a livin’ out of music. We wanted somethin' better than livin' in Rugby. Better than just getting wasted...we could get wasted and make music. Ya know, it was just somethin' positive. We were gettin' fucked up from the age of like 16 and 17, doin bad drugs, not givin' a fuck. The music really helped me survive. UNION: You mentioned Acid House earlier. Its slowly beginning to trend in the States and influence contemporary fashion and music. Thats an interesting scene for a psychedelic rock group to have ties with. That kind of cross pollination doesn't tend to happen in America as freely as it should. Will: Its an open minded thing. Some of these psych bands I’m like “Is all you listen to is the fuckin' Black Angels?”, then it becomes this ever diminishin' circle of influences. See where we grew up it was a small town and you couldn’t really go off into your little gangs. You couldn’t be like “well these are the people who listen to punk I'll be with them" or "these are the people who listen to blues and I’ll just go over there". I had a reggae friend, I had a garage-punk friend, a blues friend, a jazz friend and so on. There were like eight of us with radically different taste, and we would all sit in the same room and get stoned, and be exposed to each others music. UNION: I never understood people that only like one kind of thing. One kind of music, one kind of film. One kind of food. Will: Yeah, you're right. As soon as it turns into a scene then everyone is listenin' to the same five albums and people start lookin' inward, and the whole shit caves in on itself and people start closing their minds. It gets rather borin’ don’t it? UNION: What about Jamaican music? When I was a kid I was fascinated that their culture played such a big part in British pop and punk. I see the Rastas are in full effect in Berlin too. I saw the whole YAAM set up earlier. That place is wildly amazing. Will Carruthers Collage Will: Yeah. YAAM is great been there over 20 years. We could talk about that place for hours. Brian Eno was into reggae. He told me to listen to a Lee Perry track called “Bucky Skank.” He’s like listen to the minimalism, listen to the space in the notes, the way he makes it hang together with so little. The way he keeps it movin' with so little. Lee Perry is a brain fryer (laughs). He burned his own studio down, said it was full of devils. It was the biggest studio in Jamaica. That’s one way to keep changin' things up. They say he’s crazy, I say that’s a fine honor. It’s a fine honor.

Will: All them bass lines off the Recurring album. All from reggae, and from me it was all from reggae. All from like Bob Marley records. Which again was fed from Black American culture, soul culture. See reggae was huge in Coventry, and Coventry was close to Rugby, we had The Specials, they were a big band, they were all over the radio. Pete Kember got his first joint ever from Rico the trombonist from The Specials. Big Rico gave him a fat joint and said “ere smoke this white boy”. It was big in the Midlands. Big in Birmingham, all these three day parties. All we would here was the bass. The bass is very nourishin’.

UNION: Interesting. Sounds like an endless party. But you guys never came off in your press kits as being a fun-bunch. On the last two Spacemen 3 albums there is a touch of Acid House, however its still a bit dark and ominous. And the final album you guys put out, even the artwork was a reference to the Acid House scene with all the colorful pills. I'm assuming its supposed to represent pills. There's a song called Big City. It reminds me of Neuromancer. I love the video. It doesn't seem to be available anymore. Anywhere. Its a dark dance song. You got the homie dancing his ass off in the video with all the lights projected on him but for some reason it feels like its the end of the world. Will: (laughs) Pete. You see Pete Kember dancin’ in the video. We were fuckin' howling at that video. "Look at the muthafucka dancin’". I had known him five years I never seen him fuckin’ dance. I don’t think I’ve seen him dance since. He’s not much of a mover Pete. “Everybody I know can be found here.” Weird lyric. Such a weird lyric in that song. I think he (Jason Pierce) was isolated at that point. The band was kind of fracturing so he was kind of away by himself. Partly of his own doing, and part of that was just the way things were. At the same time the world was opening up to him I guess. His music. And he was kind of optimistic. After the Happy Mondays, and after the Acid House scene had kicked in so that was kind of filtering through to him.

Will: Those were transitional times for everybody. Expectations. I knew people that gave up playin' because they "never made it". like the swimming pool never appeared, the world tour didn’t happen. Its sad to see. I didn’t start because I thought “I’m gonna get something outta this, I’m gonna go round the world”. As soon as that becomes part of your mind that you gotta achieve something and that anything less than the ideal you set for yourself is a failure. UNION: Success. The top of the mark. Will: How do you define it? With money? With fame? Or being happy with what you created? People are fucked up, everybody wants three helicopters and a fucking submarine don’t they. I’ve kinda given up on all that really. (laughs) I gave up on all that after Spiritualized the second time I went back to the construction site. I worked construction my whole life., since I been l playin' in bands really since Spacemen 3. I left spacemen 3 and went on the construction site to pay off my debts, joined Spiritualized, left Spiritualized and went back to the construction site. UNION: Yeah I read somewhere you had left music professionally to work construction. Thats an interesting switch. Will: I did Playing With Fire, Recurring, Dreamweapon with Spacemen 3, then the first Spectrum album and the first Spiritualized album probably within two years and half years. I was around 21 and then back to the building site. I was probably diggin' trenches after Spiritualized. I was working in a slaughter house at the same time I was in Spiritualized , and I was a vegetarian (laughs). I wasn’t killin' cows, I was just like carryin' bricks and layin' cement. It was more construction (laughs). For me it was artistic endeavor, and then hard labor. I have no idea why I do it. Why I make music. Because it makes me feel better than it makes me feel terrible, and then I go to layin' bricks again (laughs). UNION: You would later join forces with Anton, and do The Brian Jonestown Massacre stuff, and then become a part of a completely new project called Dead Skeletons. I recall Dead Skeletons being a buzz band around the indie scene in L.A. Will: I had a lot of fun playin' with the Jonestown. I helped Anton out with his Sgt. Pepper and Aufheben records. We’re friends and we did our thing and go our different ways. It keeps it interestin' to change it up. Its too easy to settle into things and get complacent. You gonna stick around just to pay your fuckin’ mortgage? So many bands are reformin’. Why? Lets not pretend its about art. Art should be difficult, dangerous and involve a degree of fuckin' (laughs). As for Dead Skeletons it was a lot of fun. I think its on an indefinite hiatus at the moment. But it was a lot of fun. Will: I never made shit out of music. But I did make a lot of friends all over the world. Spacemen 3 Tribute

A track from Will's most recent group Dead Skeletons