Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom On The Velvet Underground: “They Blew My Mind”

Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember on the life-changing impact of The Velvet Underground

Sonic Boom

by Mojo |

As part of MOJO's celebration of The 50 Greatest Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground Songs, VU acolyte and former Spacemen 3 drone rock disciple Sonic Boom salutes the ultimate indie-rock influence.

Picture: Getty Images

"I was 14. I’d read this book, Popism: The Warhol ’60s, and I’d seen the banana sleeve in there. Later I picked up the first album in Virgin in Coventry – totally on the strength of the sleeve; I’d never heard a note of it – and took it back to Rugby School, borrowed another boy’s hi-fi, put my headphones on and… Wow, Sunday Morning – what a beautiful song! And then the rest of it just blew my mind.

The big thing for me, that I took from The Velvet Underground into Spacemen 3, was the drone. That linked a lot of the music that had an impact on me. And the other thing is that their influences weren’t obvious – the closest things I could discern were The Yardbirds and The Who… and Lee Hazlewood! A weird combination – how could you design something like that?

Then there was the variety. Sister Ray is a key song, summing up their live energy. The Gift and Murder Mystery represent that art-damaged vibe that really resonated with the art-school bands that followed them. Pale Blue Eyes is just one of the most beautiful songs ever written. I mean, they really did write the book on modern indie bands.

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With the lyrics, there was some precedent, I suppose, with people like Jacques Brel talking about the seamier side of reality, but Lou Reed took it so much further. Heroin is such a brave song, not only to write but to vocalise. The flipside is the ‘Jesus’ thing – Jesus as a symbol for a yearning for something unobtainable. Or an ideal of perfect benignness. I think amphetamines might for Lou have been a hyperlink to that Jesus place – the blinding white light that felt, maybe, like a gift from God.

Musicians identify with The Velvet Underground’s story – the band who couldn’t get run over in their own time. But I think maybe it was a necessary part of their evolution to always be the underdog. Having been in a band that was a little bit like that, I can relate!"


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