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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Sonic Boom

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It’s midnight, and while I write a monotonous series of buzzes and feedback loops razes through my living room. The cats are wide-eyed and alarmed.

These are not the normal noises of everyday life. They are the aural explorations of Spectrum, one of the most prolific projects of Sonic Boom, cofounder of Spacemen 3.

When Spacemen 3 split up, it seemed fans diverged as well. Many followed Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman), who went on to form the poppy space-rock band Spiritualized. I took the path less traveled, devotedly dogging Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom) through the first audio probings of Spectrum and the full-on eardrum-crushing, circuit-bending explosions of Experimental Audio Research (EAR).

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For me, Sonic Boom was the essence of Spacemen 3, a band that perfectly conflated pretty melody, psychedelic meanderings and mesmerizing drone. Spectrum continues to plumb similar depths, with a new album coming out soon as well as a collaborative LP with legendary producer/musician Jim Dickinson.

Sonic Boom plays with Spectrum tonight at The Echo with Midnight Movies and Grimble Grumble.

A Q&A with Sonic Boom after the jump.

Listen while you read:

"The Lonesome Death of Johnny Ace"

Tell me about the new Spectrum albums to come, and also what it was like working with Dickinson?

The Jim Dickinson LP comes out first. It was recorded three years or so ago at Jim's Zebra Ranch studio in Mississippi. It was a real honor to work with someone of his status, albeit difficult at times. He's a definite character. I love his work from the Sun stuff by the Jesters through Alex Chilton, the Stones, the Cramps, Panther Burns, his own solo stuff and Mudboy and the Neutrons. He's done the odd bit of trash ⎯ there's a recent LP that's just barroom bollocks ⎯ but it's unusual for him not to be great. Jimmy Crosthwaite, who also played on Dickinson's early '70s "Known Felons in Drag" and the Mudboy stuff, played some drums on the session too. We got some killer stuff. One collaboration -"The Lonesome Death of Johnny Ace," the Russian roulette ending of the '50s crooner caught in song in the best folk tradition ⎯ can be heard on the official Spectrum MySpace page. The whole LP is made up of new collaborations: Jim Dickinson stuff, Spectrum stuff and some joint re-recordings, like Mudhoney's "When Tomorrow Hits" getting a fresh hitting.

EAR is a project I've always appreciated for pushing the boundaries of sonic experimentation. Are there other bands or circuit-bending projects around who are experimenting in ways you admire?

I've never perceived EAR as being part of any scenes. Of course, there are myriad exponents of great non-songbased music. Circuit Bent City from L.A. are probably one of the foremost current circuit-bending acts. Their equipment is second generation circuit-bending stuff. It takes stuff in the direction I wanted to see it go: useful, repeatable and unique. As a source of original sound, it is about as inexpensive financially as you can get. I'm lucky to own some more predictable instruments whereby I can create sounds in my head using the basic precepts of sound synthesis and modification. There are a lot of great experimental outfits out there ⎯ Excepter in NYC; The Dodos, who experiment in a rock format; Panda Bear, who does both ... a lot of great stuff out there ...

Do you think contemporary music places too much emphasis on pop and rock sensibilities?

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I'm not sure I understand. It's not something to be "decreed" because it is potentially to some artistically more accomplished. I think the whole thing is based on what mass culture on some level wants. That's fair enough. There's not much greater than 2:30 of pure exhilarating pop.

You recently put out Spacelines, a compilation of some of your favorite music. I think a lot of people would be surprised to see some of your influences, including a number of blues and R&B pieces.

I'm influenced by music from many so-called "genres" and I mix my influences. I like my pop to be powerful, emotional, psychedelic and moving.

When Spacemen 3 split, I think people were trying to parse out the members' individual roles/styles by analyzing Spiritualized and Spectrum/EAR. Do you think those projects are indicative of what each member brought to Spacemen 3?

Not especially. People like to make crass labels and conclusions. Jason took many things I brought to S3 and ran with them ⎯ in more ways than one. Even post-s3. I covered Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You" in '91, the year after its release. I've recorded two versions of it and done it live on and off for the last 16 years. Why Jason should decide to include it in his set is bizarre, but a good indicator of the way it's always been. Jason borrows easily and credits rarely. It's one reason being in a band with him was unfeasible ⎯ I stated this at the time.

Let's talk gear. What are some of the most exciting additions to the New Atlantis Studio?

A Moog MuRF pedal, nice multi-band multiple sequenced and enveloped filters. I'd like a Tenori sequencer ...

What's the best drug to be on when attending a Spectrum concert?

Probably weed, mushrooms or E for these shows, but for others, well, most drugs could work out. Depends on your tastes, I guess. DMT if you have a good spot to do it in.

What's your favorite thing about L.A.? Where do you like to go if you have any spare time here?

My friends in L.A. make it for me. I stay with my buddy Anthony Ausgang, who's an old-school dude like myself. I love his art and his company. He's become a good friend over the last 15 years. The folks at Elf vegetarian restaurant in Echo Park, whose food is superb, all my friends around town. I like the Japanese toy stores. I just went to the Murikami show at MOCA, checked out some galleries, hit some bars ...

photo by Tim Underwood

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