The Belated Deification and Resurrection of Lift to ExperienceFred Pessaro |
Lift to Experience are definitely an oddity, and one of the most interesting kinds. Formed in the late ’90s in Denton, Texas, the band released their debut album, a double LP, in 2001. The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads combined Slint-y post-hardcore with a fascinating narrative element and bombastic post-rock that would later be adored by fans of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It was a classic then, now and going forward — yet no one heard it.
Originally released on Bella Union (then owned by Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins), the LP never saw the light of day stateside, as the band was close to bankruptcy at the time of release. Corners were cut, like not allowing LTE to add touches to the final mixes, and a would-be classic disappeared. Thankfully, Mute Records has stepped in to give the LP a fresh mix and prepare it for release.
With The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads FINALLY out for U.S. release for the first time, we asked frontman Josh T. Pearson about the record, as well as its religious overtones and resurrection. The results of our conversation — and a stream of the album itself — are below.
So, this double LP — it's funny because, in Texas, this is a pretty known commodity amongst those who follow music closely. I wanted to talk about getting this TTJC back out there and what it means to you. But let’s start with the ideas behind the record. Obviously, this comes from post-rock and the lyrics are tied to Jesus. What would you say are the ideas behind that?
At the time, we were pretty influenced by post-rock and early shoegaze stuff — all the stuff from the early ’90s influenced me quite a bit — and I was trying to combine My Bloody Valentine textures with Jimi Hendrix instrumentation that had more of a physical effect. I wanted to put more of a narrative over it because I thought more could be done with the genre. The vocals were pretty buried in the mix of the early shoegaze, and I thought I could transport this to another place with the combination of the textures and the personality and good storytelling. I was pretty naive at the time; we were in Denton, and there was no way of making it out of Texas or succeeding ... as a noise band. It was pretty early on in that genre. We had Explosions in the Sky, who would open for us here and we'd open for them there, and there'd be about five people at the shows. There was a small demographic at the time. Are you new to the album? When did you first hear it?
For the first time, probably five or six years ago?
You're one of the select few then; it never came out in America. Unfortunately, if you'd wanted to get it locally, you'd have to pay the imported price of around $30. This was before the internet, so there was no listening online. It was a drastically different landscape for consuming music. Music was still a sacred and old-world tradition. We worked in a way where we thought that no one was gonna hear it anyways, which really creates the record that you want to make. We specifically tried to use a narrative with the headspace that those textures could get us to.
Spiritualized left such a huge imprint on me with symphonic rock and what you could do melodically with this stuff — post-shoegaze and all that. I thought there was more to be done if you took into a lyrical and sonic landscape that was interesting texturally and melodically with the interplay of the instruments. We really busted our butt with it. We had recorded a version a year prior, and it didn't quite land where I wanted it to, so we spent another year shaping it, beating it up. It was a good scene back then in Denton — great bands that just kinda got lost by the wayside ...
Why do you think the record was never released domestically?
Part of the reason why we never got on an American label was because of the religious content. If you weren't a left-leaning liberal, or didn't reject and outright refuse your older shady Christian past — things you had nothing to do with, no [responsibility] of which was your own — you were cataloged into this marginalized group of music that could not be good in any circumstances. That was pretty disappointing, because it was a real good solid piece of work, music — three guys just trying. I think if I were to actually try and do some more records, people might just look past the ideological trappings and take this with a grain of salt. I don't have to be a believer to appreciate the Sistine Chapel or something ...
Austin has been very hospitable for bands over the years, with Roky Erickson, Explosions in the Sky, Spoon and, of course, SXSW. You were a band that benefited from what SXSW was, and in my opinion, what it should be: young bands coming and playing for music people with the hopes of getting signed. You played SXSW to two-thirds of the legendary Cocteau Twins and signed with them. What was it like to be working with someone within the sphere of your influence?
Well, it was really exciting. We had contact before with them from a show we played with the Autumns when they came through Texas and went through Denton a couple of times. We opened up, and they were really the pushers of my band onto signing with the Cocteau Twins. They had been pushing it, and they had heard the tunes and wanted to see it live and translated. We were a pretty good, threatening live band back then, and those sounds were pretty fresh: tremolo guitar, kinda washed-out stuff [that] wasn't as ubiquitous as it is now. It was exciting to have your heroes there and have the accents, and it was pretty surreal.
Growing up in Texas against the pricks and all that redneck shit, you’d go for something that's as punk rock as you can find, like Cocteau Twins, Joy Division, the Smiths, all that stuff. That stuff was wild; they were like aliens. Especially that band, you'd hear crazy sounds from her voice. I remember the first time I heard the Cocteau Twins, I was 14.
Regarding the art, it is really curious to me that it’s so Pen & Pixel-inspired...
It’s Pen & Pixel-inspired. We tried for about eight months to get them on board, on and off with them, so I just told the main dude what I wanted. And pretty much the first time, the label wasn't willing to push it and make it over the top how I wanted, but it really landed and got where it needed to be. It was one of those things where it wasn't over the top and it didn't really land. You needed to go beyond or nothing, but we wanted to add a little humor to it — you know, southern boys pretending to be something you're not.
Was that your main goal — to be fun and loose with it?
Yeah, straight up. Especially with the cover and the whole "Texas is the promised land" thing. I wanted it to be obvious to people that we got the joke, but it didn't really seem to come across to people as much as I wanted. The Brits seemed to get it — they thought it was funny — but I think Americans didn't.
When mixing this new version, did you feel like it's closer to your original idea of what it should sound like?
We weren't there for the original mix. Bella Union had no money and were going bankrupt. They wouldn't fly me over. They said they'll put it out, but they had to mix it there, and I had no money to fly over there. No advance or anything. I recorded it for a couple grand; I owed them a couple grand. My guitar went to the pawn shop, you know.
The record had been recorded for years, but no one wanted to touch it. They mixed it there within a week and a half in the studio, and it just broke our hearts as soon as we heard it. It didn't capture the testosterone-driven nature of the band, which was pretty heartbreaking at the time because we were real threatening sonic soul. Swans were an influence to us at the time — at least aesthetically, in terms of sound volume. There was nothing we could do at the time, and we weren't happy with it, but I think they just mixed it safe, like an '80s record. The whole thing sounded underwater, and it was pretty heartbreaking for us. But we were just glad it was out there.
It was harder to explain to yourself back in Denton. It was like someone clipped your balls off — no one was interested, and we were happy to take what we could get. They remixed one song, but you couldn't even transfer the sound of it. It was such a different landscape. So, now I'm thrilled it sounds like what the band sounded like live. We probably aren't ever gonna play again, so it was an honor to get that done. We worked so hard on it.
Do you plan on playing any more gigs?
We have nothing booked as of right now — nothing at all. We were just gonna see how it goes. I would love to tour the States. It'd be super neat for me. The band never made it here — not even a rumor, nothing on a radar. We were a good band. There was some loose talk about throwing something together for South by [Southwest], but it's too late in the game and I decided I didn't want to play for free. I'm 43 years old and didn't want to have to play SXSW again and play for free three times around the city. Labels get hotels, and bands sleep on the floor. Maybe in my 20s. I need to have a better attitude on it. I think this is the only interview I've done in America. This record is so off the radar here, it's nothing. If there's a demand for it, I'd love to play. We were a good band and always put on a good show, showed the kids how it's done ...
So, you guys aren't really in contact? You would never consider doing more stuff together?
Yeah, if there was some story where people actually gave a shit about it and there was a demand ... maybe it can change, but it's not like we're the Pixies, [with] endless cultural relevance. We were the culty artful band. A few years ago, we opened for the My Bloody Valentine gigs, like eight years — like, those first two Texas gigs — and tried to put something together. I'm just out of my head now; [I] start things and never finish. It takes some real discipline to do the work there, but we all built up some momentum.
I'm meant to do some solo recording; there could be some momentum with that. It's politically charged, too. It looks like there's some sort of need for it right now for some sort of metaphor for hope or encouragement. We're definitely closer to an apocalypse now more than ever. The word "apocalypse," all that means is revelation; it's just whatever the revelation is, the thing that blinds you in your life that finds you and completely recreates your insides and out — that's what those metaphors can be applied to over and over.