"I never called for people to do anything but use drugs in a considered way," says Pete Kember, aka Sonic Boom, founder of legendary trance rockers Spacemen 3. "I wasn't endorsing the Happy Mondays-type party line."
And he hasn't really changed his tune much since Spacemen 3's heyday in the late 1980s, when the band declared upfront where it was coming from with the slogan "Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to."
Kember maintains that he had a good time with the drugs during those years and hasn't had cause for doubt since. "I always have been pretty catholic in my drug use," he says. "I don't do things to myself that I predominantly don't enjoy."
Kansas City fans can check for themselves when Kember's two-man outfit, Spectrum, comes to town on Sunday as part of Kember's first U.S. visit in five years. You don't need to be under the influence to enjoy this music — it has mind-altering potential all on its own. It's a gurgling, downtempo stew of psychedelic rock, garage and pop with heavy traces of Eastern-tinged drone and American roots music.
Spectrum finds Kember continuing down the same creative path that began 25 years ago, when he met S3 co-founder Jason Pierce in art school. The pair hit it off and set about marrying the influence of 20th-century avant-garde composers such as Lamonte Young with the raw-distortion horsepower of the Stooges.
Though Pierce told British newspaper The Guardian in 2001 that the band "cleared halls," S3 is perpetually cited as a key influence on a slew of other acts, including its contemporaries and modern acts. The band is also widely regarded as a precursor to the shoegaze movement that swept England in the early '90s But whereas S3 has been perceived as a creative partnership between Kember and Pierce, Kember sees it differently.
"That sound was something that I'd been working on alone before," he says. "Jason was in a gothic band called Indian Scalp, and I got him interested in my more minimal vision of rock music. It was without doubt the original side to what we were doing."
He insists that his vision rubbed off on Pierce more than he was ever influenced the other way around.
"I'm bound to be biased," he says, "but Jason got quite a lot from me creatively, which is fine, but he never gave or gives me credit for it. On the contrary, he actually has tried to pass it off as his own work."
Listeners who want to try and discern the truth have an ample body of post-Spacemen evidence on either side in the form of Kember's Spectrum and Spiritualized, the group that Pierce formed as S3 was dissolving. Both outfits were more or less up and running by the time the final S3 album, Recurring, was released in 1991. In fact, Pierce and Kember worked separately on that album, each contributing a side's worth of material.
By that point, the acrimony between Kember and Pierce had reached a point of no return. The two were not on speaking terms and even did band-related interviews separately.
Longtime fans will nonetheless be happy that both Kember and Pierce continue to do a great deal of Spacemen 3 material in their respective live sets. Kember's appearance here presages his upcoming Spectrum EP and full-length. No tracks were available at press time, but Kember, who has evolved little over the course of his career — "That's by design," he says — promises more of the same. At least from a technical standpoint, neither his approach to writing nor his stage show has changed much from what he's been doing all along.
That means listeners can brace themselves for repetitive, hypnotic rock leavened by pop hooks. Spectrum's live set (the group also features keyboardist and guitarist Randall Neiman) spans all of Kember's work and references an impressive array of collaborations with the likes of My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields, Stereolab, Yo La Tengo and Jim Dickinson.
As for the question of revisiting S3's past, Kember answers, "Why wouldn't I? I'm perfectly proud of that work and have always enjoyed those songs."