The New Cue #202 August 22: Sonic Boom
22 August, 2022
Happy Monday to you!
We hope that you had a nice weekend. Don’t be sad that it’s over, though - we’ve got a great interview with former Spacemen 3 co-leader Pete ‘Sonic Boon’ Kember to kickstart your week. Pete tells us about the new album he’s just made with Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, whether he and Jason Pierce might be getting back together at some point in the future and a whole lot more besides.
Today’s edition is free so have a read, enjoy it, click the links to listen to some of the amazing music Kember’s made over the years and maybe share it with your friends. We’re sure they’d like it too. If you want to receive every edition of The New Cue direct to your inbox three times a week, you’ll need to click the Subscribe Now button down there. Give it a click if you don’t subscribe, it’ll feel good.
Enjoy the edition,
Ted, Niall and Chris
Start The Week With… Sonic Boom
Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember and Jason Pierce formed Spacemen 3 in the 80s with the motto: “Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To”. Though the pair only sold a handful of records at the time, their psychedelic drone rock reverberations can be heard echoing through the music of My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Animal Collective, The Horrors and countless others.
If you’re not yet a fan, here’s a great primer to get you started:
While Pierce went on to find wider fame and success in Spiritualized, Kember has trod more of a cult hero’s path. His own Spectrum and Sonic Boom records have been few and far between and he’s spent much of the past few years producing albums for artists in thrall to his old group’s sound, including MGMT’s Congratulations and several by Animal Collective’s Panda Bear.
However, earlier this month Kember and Panda Bear– aka Noah Lennox – released the superb Reset, a retro-flavoured trip partially based on samples from Kember’s record collection. It’s absolutely brilliant, once you’ve finished that playlist give it a listen…
Chris spoke to Pete over Zoom a few weeks ago about how the record came together, what else he’s been working on and why you shouldn’t hold your breath for a Spacemen 3 reunion anytime soon. Oh, and he also very kindly picked an album you might not have heard to blow your mind. It’s the one being held up by Pete in the selfie he sent us. It’s not on Spotify though so you’ll have to go and dig out a physical copy.
Hi, how are you doing?
Well, it’s the hottest day on record in London currently, so I’m currently melting. Are you in Portugal?
I’m in Sintra, yeah. This area, even when it gets hot in Portugal, it’s ten degrees cooler here. I’m very happy here.
I’m very jealous. Producing Panda Bear was the thing that first brought you to Portugal. How did you guys first become friends?
A friend of mine was having a party before getting married in Tribeca and one of the things that he played during the party was [2007 Panda Bear album] Person Pitch. I was fully psychedelicized at the time and I was like, ‘What the fuck is this?!?’ It was the best record I’d heard in a long time. My friend said that this dude had listed Spacemen 3 as one of the main influences on his music, so I sent Noah a message – he says through MySpace, but I’m not sure if that’s true – saying I love the record and thanks a lot for the shout out on the sleeve, if you ever want to do anything collaborative ,I’d be really into it. He came back and said he wasn’t sure if he’d make any more Panda Bear records and I said, “Dude, you better make some more!” The next record we did was [2011’s] Tomboy, he asked me to come in and do some mixing on that to soup it up.
It must be nice for you all those years later having bands keep coming through citing Spacemen 3 as a major influence. It’s not like you sold many records at the time.
Yeah, it’s a big surprise. I guess Spacemen 3 were sort of a band’s band in a way. Any band could cover those songs! They were meant to be like that. They were meant to be things you could just pick up and do. People sometimes ask me, ‘I want to be successful in a band, what could for my career?’ And I’m always like, ‘Pfffft! A career? I wouldn’t try and perceive it like that. Just do what you want to do and maybe later on in the rearview mirror you’ll see it as a career.’ My main piece of advice is just to be uncompromising in what you’re doing with your music. If you really feel it, then go with that. Throbbing Gristle are a good example, they just did exactly what they wanted to do. Now, people are like ‘Oh my god, Throbbing Gristle!’ but in their day they could hardly get run over. It was similar with Spacemen 3. We weren’t even a big band in our local town. I can tell you, there was no mass following. But in time, and I guess with the internet, you connect to people. Birds of a feather flock together.
With so many bands reforming, have you and Jason had many offers to get back together?
Yeah, and I think Jason summed it up best. I don’t remember his exact words, but there is no reason why every band should reform just because people have gotten into them 30 years later. Careful what you wish for as well. I remember going to see The Velvet Underground when they reformed and I left halfway through. I’m a massive fan but I was just like, ‘Naaaa, I don’t think I need to do this to their memory.’ I think it’s cool not to. I’m not criticising people who do it, but it’s not for everyone.
Back to the new album. I really love it. You can hear things like Joe Meek and Smiley Smile by The Beach Boys in there, even a bit of The Who.
Nice! One of my friends said they could hear The Who in [album track] Go On. I’m a massive fan of their 60s stuff – not much of their 70s, I thought they’d lost the plot by [1971’s] Who’s Next. It wasn’t conscious but then when my friend said it, I could hear it. I also realised with Go On after working on it for months and months and months that it was basically just [1989 Spacemen 3 song] Revolution. Revolution was based on an MC5 song that they only ever played live called Back To Comm. It’s a different sound but essentially the same.
(Hmm, maybe slightly…)
Did the roots of this album come from you moving house and rediscovering some of your old 45s?
When I was living in the UK with my now wife, the house was so full of junk I couldn’t actually get to my records for about four years. I had the growing ‘in play’ pile in front of the record player that was about 100 records, but most of them I couldn’t get to. Then moving here I wanted to go through and listen to those records in a new context and a new environment. It occurred to me when I was listening to stuff that just the first few chords of a song, or the intro, before the song even kicked in, I thought, ‘There might be some juice in this, I could make some loops for this and maybe Noah would be down for it…’ I didn’t think he would be, I thought it might be a bit too retro for him, but I made about 40 or so loops and sent it to them and he started sending me songs that he’s written to the loops.
Was it all written over email?
We were meeting face to face, but that process was done digitally. I felt severely indulged by him when we were making this. I really wanted to do this thing from a sort of bubblegum-y, really bright and fluorescent pop place. We would meet for dinner every few weeks and it this idea really started formulating. We were talking about these really enthusiastic, upbeat ska and rocksteady songs that were about quite tough shit but were done in this really positive way. Sometimes when the shit has severely hit the fan it’s important to have some balance against those sort of things.
There is a naivety to it even if the lyrics are a bit darker.
My songs are a little different but Noah, when his songs were coming in, they were beyond the zeitgeist. He was so tuned into things it felt like the most accurate summation of the vibe we were living through in Covid. We did think will this work outside of Covid, but it’s like those old ska songs. You don’t have to be living in Jamaica and not be able to buy tea to enjoy them. It transcends the moment it was created. We put together a little energy field and it was really nice.
You put out your own album, All Things Being Equal, during the pandemic too. Are we going to have to wait another 23 years for the next Sonic Boom album?
Who knows! No, I don’t think so. There was a whole load of reasons why I didn’t put out a record under the name Sonic Boom for a number of years, but I did not expect to be making another album within a year of that. I never plan to make a lot of records, but things have just been rolling nicely. I’m not getting any younger and I’m not sure how many more records I’ll make but when things like this come along it’s one of the best things that happens to me. When things roll like they did with this, it’s what I did it all for.
Do you have any other projects in play?
I’ve been talking to this artist who I really like called Bachelorette. I’ve always loved her records and I got in touch with her recently saying, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything?’ That’s all un-started though.
Thanks for taking to time to chat to us, Pete. Before you go, would you like to pick an album to blow the minds of our readers? I’m sure you’ve got loads of things that would fit the bill…
Got it! Let me show you [walks off for a moment and comes back clutching a record] I bet your readers wouldn’t have heard of this guy! Well, they might have heard of this dude, he’s not unknown – Dave ‘Baby’ Cortez, The Fabulous Organ. It’s a really awesome record. The vibe has a real dynamic to it. Sort of soul jams and party jams. I bought this about three weeks ago. I knew the guy’s name and a friend of mine has a shop out here. I like buying records just on the sleeve and what little information I have. I got it home and put it on and I was just like ‘Wow! This is a well-kept secret! So yeah, that’s my jam.
I’ll check it out. Thanks Pete.
Have a good one. I hope it cools down a bit for you.