Come Together

Sonic Boom sets aside his experimental audio research for a return to Spacemen 3. Sort of.

It's the same thing all over again for Sonic Boom, who has made a career out of repeating himself. He's back from the far-reaching cosmos of Experimental Audio Research to once again plumb the depths of the eternal song, with guitar in tow, as he did in the great Spacemen 3.

Sonic, whose earthly name is Pete Kember, has made the interminable musical trek from plucking simple blues riffs in a bedroom in Rugby, England, all the way to manipulating short-circuited Speak & Spell machines in his adventurous sound-collage works as E.A.R. In between, there was a project called Spacemen 3 that compressed the basic blues-based, three-chord rock song into one or two resonating chords, changing the way lots of people approached and listened to music.

"The music we really loved came out of those simple, hypnotic, one-chord, tribal sort of things, in the hands of blues artists," says Sonic Boom, who's current tour is a run through Spacemen 3 and early solo material that the world hasn't heard for the better part of a decade. "We felt that there was an essence there that we wanted to try and capture in what we did, and we didn't feel that we necessarily needed to have complex songs to do it, that we could somehow capture it within a simple format.

Pete Kember, a.k.a. Sonic Boom, far left, back when he was a Spaceman. His current tour revisits that time.
Pete Kember, a.k.a. Sonic Boom, far left, back when he was a Spaceman. His current tour revisits that time.
Sonic Boom with his own mushroom cloud: Pete Kember, circa Spectrum
Sonic Boom with his own mushroom cloud: Pete Kember, circa Spectrum

"It takes a real discipline to be able to just play something simple, but the same over and over again, and with build, and feeling, and emotion, and crescendos. It's much harder than having lots of chord changes, and verse-chorus--the more normal songwriting devices."

As his former bandmate Jason Pierce further refined those standard devices in Spiritualized, Sonic went deeper and deeper into space with a brand of retro-futuristic weirdness that produced such mad electronic documents as E.A.R.'s Data Rape and Spectrum's Forever Alien. The Spaceman's return to the terra firma of guitar, bass and drums now has him recharged and ready to rumble.

"I've not really been playing the guitar for six, seven years, so it's really been nice having a break from it," says Sonic Boom, who says his next album will be a return to the organic bliss of the early Spectrum outings. "Coming back to it, it's really fresh. It's such a versatile instrument. There's a good reason that it has such longevity and it's so popular."

As Sonic and his veteran band, which includes ex-Spacemen 3 bassist Will Carruthers, guitarist Rick Maymi and drummer Cliff Magreta (Lilys), bust out the classics on the bar circuit, Pierce's Spiritualized tours larger halls almost simultaneously (Spiritualized played Deep Ellum Live on November 17) for his latest, Let It Come Down, his most complete departure yet from S3 psychedelia. Since the acrimonious Spacemen 3 split after 1991's Recurring, Pierce has taken an altogether different route than Sonic, who lifted the pulsating drone of Spacemen 3 and carried it in new directions.

"I think the difference between me and Jason is that when I was indulged by record companies I tended to do experimental stuff, to try and push the parameters a little bit; see what I could do," says Sonic. "Jason, when he's been indulged by record companies, has gone for the sort of big production and big sounds type thing...polishing, if you know what I mean."

Downplaying the well-documented bitterness between the two that led to the breakup, Sonic sounds actually glad his tour and the Spiritualized tour are able to feed off each other, expressing an almost wishful attitude about an eventual reunion with Pierce.

"I'd like to think it's a possibility, but it doesn't seem that realistic at the moment. A lot of water's gone under the bridge...I'm not sure I really know [Pierce] like I thought I did, or understand him. I think it may just be that we've grown that far apart."

Though Sonic is playing many of the old songs for the first time since the early days just after the split, Pierce has been playing "Walking With Jesus" and select other Spacemen 3 songs for years now, which doesn't seem to faze his ex-comrade.

"I wrote the choruses of ["Walking With Jesus"], but he wrote the verses, the main story of that song," says Sonic. "So I feel he's quite entitled to do that. He's entitled to do what he likes. I wouldn't totally rule out covering one of his songs, even a Spiritualized song."

Sonic's attitude is unsurprising, given his penchant for wearing his influences on his sleeve, naming and styling S3 songs after Lou Reed ("Ode to Street Hassle") and NYC first-wave electro-punks Suicide (the song of the same name), as well as producing a handful of cover tunes stunning in their complete assimilation into the band's blissed-out world of extended drone-jams.

The Spacemen cover of Roky Erickson's 13th Floor Elevators classic "Rollercoaster" may have been the ultimate realization of the band's sound. Pierce and Sonic took the five-minute drug trip of the original, boiling it down to a pair of essential riffs, and slow-roasted it over 17 joyous minutes of hypnotic perfection. The twin guitars meld into a wall of fuzz that breaks down the barriers between rock and roll, sacred Eastern drone ragas and the sweet ecstasy of the drug trip that made up S3's enduring Perfect Prescription album and their mantra of Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To.

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