“This is the story of three Texas boys, busy mindin’ their own bidnis when the Angel of the Lord appeared to them saying, ‘When the Winston Churchills start firin’ their Winston rifles into the sky from the Lone Star State, drinkin’ their Lone Star Beer, and smokin’ their Winston cigarettes, know the time is drawin’ nigh, when the Son shall be lifted on high.'”
So begins Lift to Experience’s The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, the best Texas psychedelic, post-rock, shoegaze LP of 2001, a distorted eschatological blur of Leslie speaker-spinning guitar, cavernous drums, and leaden bass. Fronted by guitarist/singer Joshua T. Pearson, Lift to Experience was rooted in Old Testament awe and the churning swirl of My Bloody Valentine and Ride, but driven by the same dusty wildness that drove their countrymen in the 13th Floor Elevators and the Moving Sidewalks.
The record inspired fervent devotion among those (scant few) who heard it, but shortly after its release the band dissolved. Pearson took to writing country songs; Josh “The Bear” Browning formed Year of the Bear; Andy “The Boy” Young formed Western Arms with Guy Garvey of Elbow. The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads — which should have been lauded among Source Tags and Codes and Relationship of Command as one of the great Texas rock albums of the early 2000s — mostly faded from conversation.
But nothing so weird or special goes unnoticed forever: last month, the album was reissued in expanded and remastered form by Mute Records, bearing reconfigured cover art that pays tribute to the Pen & Pixel design firm, known chiefly for its work for No Limit and Cash Money. And while the new mix clarifies things sonically, it’s clear listening to the new edition of the album that its chief strength was and remains an abiding and terrified reverence for the God of Abraham.
“That was a throwback to growing up in a deeply religious tradition,” Pearson says from Dallas, his drawl thick and voice slightly sluggish after too much whiskey the night before, a fact he offers up freely and without prodding. Raised Pentecostal, Pearson and his family spent Sunday mornings “getting to the other side, you know?” But at the dawn of the second Bush era and the burgeoning War on Terror, religious leanings were not in vogue among indie rock circles, no matter how violent or powerful your sound.
“If you grew up with that tradition, if you were even remotely sympathetic to it, people kind of, for a lack of a better word, crucified you for it,” Pearson says. “You know, if the indie rock press categorized you as having those kind of sympathies at all, you were kind of blacklisted.”
Which isn’t to say that the message of Lift to Experience’s music wasn’t a confounding one. Festooned with crosses, rifles, and Stars of David, the album art almost seems to evoke extremism — the kind that might have looked disturbingly familiar to those who’d watched the FBI’s shootout at David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco in 1993. (Koresh, after all, being another Texan boy obsessed with God, firearms, and the end of the world). Pearson’s lyrics, concerning the promised land’s location in Texas, the impending apocalypse, and the hefty price of redemption (“salvation’s free, but it’ll cost ‘ya”), were strange and arcane, confusing to even loyal Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen listeners, the kind of people potentially accepting of religious language in service of brilliant songwriting.
But the message wasn’t a dogmatic one; instead, with only the goal of “making good art” in mind, it was the result of Pearson tapping into his faithful youth in search of establishing an honest connection to spiritual mystery and magic.
“It was such a different time back then, before this modern world,” Pearson says. “Not just before the internet, but growing up in the ’80s. People passed through all the time, prophets coming through and laying on hands, not just speaking in tongues and etcetera, but [speaking] words of knowledge and wisdom, [these] sorts of prophecies going out. That was a pretty magical time. I mean, myth was such a part of the life. The end of the world was always around the corner, it was really something with the turn of the century bearing down your throat.”
But the record didn’t hit they way Pearson, Brown, and Young hoped it would, and tensions within the band led to calling it quits soon after the record’s release. Pearson immersed himself in country music, the kind he’d dismissed as a young man drawn more to the Smiths and art pop.
“If you’re punk rock in Texas or arty at all, you reject all the country cowboy shit,” Pearson says. “Later, you’ve realized how badass the cowboy stuff was and then you go to the old voice of George Jones like, ‘Man this guy’s got…[punk] bands have got nothing on this stuff.’ After early 2000s, I quit listening to rock and roll and just started listening to old country voices, because they could get to a place, a landscape that was more realized than any distortion pedal.”
But Lift to Experience still haunted him — brought up by friends who asked, “‘What the fuck are you doing listening to this old cowboy shit, dude? We need you rocking in the space rock band,'” Pearson says with a chuckle. But by that point, he’d learned to recognize the psychedelic nature of not just rock music, but of traditional forms too — country, blues, and gospel.
“I realized this is psychedelic music,” Pearson says. “Someone like Roy Orbison, he had a voice that could just take you somewhere. What he could do with a tune, just the melody and his voice, is beyond My Bloody Valentine’s sonic landscape.”
Returning to Lift to Experience in 2016, which marked the 15th anniversary of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, Pearson brought this new understanding with him as he reunited with Young and Brown.
“It’s like visiting an old lover that you haven’t seen in a while,” Pearson says of returning to the record, likening the record to an old flame you imagined spending the rest of your life with. He hears the record differently now, not only recognizing its content, but recognizing the young men who made it.
“Looking back, we’re definitely more compassionate to our younger selves,” Pearson says. “We’re all better players now, I know that. Andy’s drumming is even more realized; he was 21 when he recorded that record. I had just turned 25 — I wrote those songs at 24. These are young boys. They just really loved music. It was all we were about, and coming from conflicted world views. [We were] pretty lost. Once you start questioning everything, you question the text, then immediately your entire worldview and life is in jeopardy.”
He hasn’t spent the intervening years finding answers to his questions. If anything, he’s even more bewildered now. But ultimately Lift to Experience’s The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads was never really about finding the promised land; it was about the search for it.
“Yeah, I mean that stuff’s never stopped,” Pearson says. “I’m definitely a believer in Nietzsche’s eternal occurrence. It’s a constant, maybe more specific or intricate to those things, but the need for transcendence is still just as relevant to me as it was then.” words / j woodbury