Interview with Pete Kember (AKA Sonic Boom) (2005)

Pete Kember is probably best known for his work in the legendary psychedelic outfit Spacemen 3 but for the past 15 years he has been releasing his own solo work (both under the name Sonic Boom and Spectrum) and he has headed up Experimental Audio Research, a loose conglomeration of musicians who at one time or another have included My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, God’s Kevin Martin and AMM’s Eddie Prevost. While his solo work has retained some similarities to his origins in Spacemen 3, he has increasingly moved further away from that sound and more towards avant-garde composition.

What are you working on at the moment? I’m just finishing up an LP for Important Records by E.A.R.- which is unnamed as yet, plus a remix for 4AD’s MAGNETOPHONE, plus some remixes for USA’s DECEMBER SOUND & also my new SPECTRUM LP. I’m pretty much constantly working on something or other. I’ve also been working on the final prototype of my effects pedal, a remake with extra features of the treble/bass booster, fuzz tone, & repeat percussion that I use on my VOX guitar – the pedal is called the SONIC STARSTREAMER. We’ve been tweaking & adding features for a little while, but it’s sounding amazing, people seem very impressed with it. I do that with my partner in crime STEVE THOMAS. I believe there are pics and some info at On top of this I’m working on a Peter Zinovieff CD of his pioneering computer electronic music from the 60’s & 70’s. That’s been in the pipeline a while, but hopefully everyone will find it worth the wait – that’s for SPACEAGE Recordings.

Are you planning to tour anytime soon? I’m doing a few odd shows in France, and possibly the UK with E.A.R. in December – plus I’ve been DJ’ing quite a lot to promote my SPACELINES compilation LP of rare great grooves of soul punk from the 30’s to the 90’s. That’s fun. I don’t expect to tour with Spectrum until late this or early next year.

Is there a different type of audience at a Sonic Boom/Spectrum show vs. an E.A.R. show? Sure. There’s some overlap, but the two projects appear to appeal to a slightly different crowd. I dunno. It’s not easy to define, but there is a difference as you’d reasonably expect with the variance in material. I happen to equally love Meta-Electronic stuff as well as more traditional song-based formats.

Have you ever had anything really funny happen to you on tour? Any Spinal Tap moments? Sure. There’s always something going on. I’m not sure a lot of it would be funny except to bands. Mixerman pretty much out-Tapped Spinal Tap in his ‘Daily Adventures of Mixerman’ diaries that I read last year – very funny reading.

As a connoisseur of both drugs and music, what’s your favorite album to listen to high? Haha. That’s funny. Possibly ‘ DEAN WAREHAM & BRITTA PHILLIPS’ ‘Sonic Souvenirs’ EP on Jetset Records. That’s a really nice record to get high to – full of great feelings & words. I could list dozens of good recommendations. Depends on the drug. Anyone from JJ CALE to 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS. THE STONES, THE STOOGES, THE WHO, ELECTRIC PRUNES , JIM DICKINSON – plus I like to listen to electronic stuff a lot.

Do you hear your influence in a lot of today’s bands? Like BRMC or BRIAN JONESTOWN? Sure. I dont always hear it in the bands who ARE influenced by it, I guess that’s the best really, where they’ve latched onto the ethos of the band & what we were trying to do musically & socially. Often I think people just appreciate the sensibility of it. We always set out to show that soul was more important than chops & I think we succeeded to a fair degree. It is surprising how many bands seemed to have dug what we were up to.

Spacemen 3’s back catalogue has been released on a lot of different labels in a lot of forms (I’ve seen three or four versions of Playing With Fire on CD), plus there have been a lot of cd’s of live/demo material which seem semi-legitimate. What’s the deal with that? Well, over time – say PLAYING WITH FIRE: Original release on FIRE in UK, BOMP in USA. Then it was re-issued in USA & UK by TAANG! & SPACEAGE as the old license deals expired. The SPACEAGE version has a full bonus CD with extra stuff. Pretty much all the demos have been released too – people were asking for it. SPACEMEN 3 were a band who would do very different versions of songs at different periods/times & people like to hear that. I’m the same way with the VELVET UNDERGROUND. No one has to buy any of this stuff – it’s just there if you do…….

I saw a video for “Big City” on TV a few days ago and was surprised that you guys had even made videos. Were there ever any commercial hopes for the band? Sure, we did videos for REVOLUTION, HYPNOTISED & BIG CITY. Towards the end there were commercial reasons for doing them. In reality we were as capable as many others of doing stuff that might be considered potentially commercial.

What did you think of the Spacemen 3 Tribute Album? Charming, to be considered even worth the effort. It was interesting too, but those tribute LP’s rarely work out as great LP’s – as evidenced by SYMPATHY FOR THE RECORD INDUSTRIES ‘How Many Bands Does It Take To Screw Up A Blondie Tribute LP.’ I liked LOW’s version & I liked MOGWAI’s slightly unrecognizable version of HONEY.

Gotta ask…..any chance of a reunion? Reunions suck on the whole. Reforming is different, but as to playing SPACEMEN 3 material with former members, WILL CARRUTHERS often tours as part of SPECTRUM as well as doing his own highly underrated FREE LOVE BABIES. I’ll always play some SPACEMEN material. I’d like to think that JASON might consider working on stuff in the future, but there are far from likely signs of that at present.

Is there anything you want to talk about or get off your chest? Not especially. I guess, given the privilege of space here, I would like people to remember that every time they ‘burn’ a copy of any in-print CD they slowly but very surely strangle the artists/bands they love & use as a soundtrack to their life’s highs, lows & heavenly blows. I’ve heard all the excuses about ‘promoting’ the band, etc… but it’s all rubbish to kid yourself it’s OK to do this sorta thing. I won’t accept gifts of burns of this or that LP. I’ll listen to it, then buy it if I like it etc. That hurts no-one, promotes the bands & enables your favorite artists to produce more stuff for YOU – their audience. The Madonna’s of this world equally are hit, but halving a £15,000 income is far more than halving her £1,000,000 income. CD BURNING IS DESTROYING THE ‘INDEPENDENT’ MUSIC INDUSTRY.