Out With: Sonic Boom

For the latest installment of “Out With” we were fortunate to sit down with musician, producer, and founding member of the legendary British band Spacemen 3, Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom). Peter invited us to his house in Sintra, where we discussed his life in Portugal, his newfound love of gardening, why he doesn’t see himself as a rockstar, and experimental treatments for mental health.

Peter is wearing our Recycled Nylon Windbreaker Charcoal and Oversized Shirt Blue Stripes.

The interview was recorded and edited for clarity.

FN: You currently live in Sintra – it’s probably the only place around the Lisbon area that gets bad weather when everywhere else is sunny. Is there, like, a homesickness factor playing into it?

SB: No, but I like the mixed thing—the weather interaction with the mountain. It is just a stunningly beautiful phenomenon. People talk about the cliché that Sintra is a microclimate, but it has probably a dozen microclimates. And when you drive over Malveira da Serra, you go through like seven different types of ecosystems on that journey. It’s stunning. Show me anywhere else in the world like it.


FN: Has your experience living here in Portugal, specifically in Sintra, influenced the type of music you do?

SB: Oh, yeah. One of the reasons I wanted to come here was that I wanted to be surrounded by nature. For the first few years, I would get up in the mornings and drive around, exploring the green tips, and seeing what I could bring back to our garden. It changed me. I never did gardening or anything like that my whole life. But then I realized what I could grow here—bananas, sugar cane, medronho, pomegranates, figs.

FN: Yes, I heard you became a gardening enthusiast. Does that work for you as a kind of meditation?

SB: Yeah. And I find when I’m doing sort of mindless gardening, the creativity flows. I go into some sort of trance. I never intend to do it; I’m just doing stuff in the garden, and then I can’t stop. I get creatively inspired by it. Now it’s a bit of a mess everywhere because last year we were away touring with the Panda Bear and Sonic Boom Reset album. It was intense being in London, Paris, Berlin, or New York. I’ve been doing this for years, but I find it hard to be in those places now. Coming back to Portugal, as soon as you touch down, it’s a different feeling.


FN: Are you involved with any Portuguese artists or bands?

SB: No. You know, one of my big problems is I speak a little bit of Portuguese, but it’s fucking hard for me to understand the lyrics. I’ve done some remixes for Portuguese bands, but smaller ones. But if I can help someone, I’ll try to do it.


FN: I know you have been involved in several projects in the last few decades but I noticed a 30-year gap between Sonic Boom albums. Is there any reason why you stopped?

SB: I don’t feel  I need to keep putting out records unless I have something different and new to say. I don’t like repeating myself. That’s why I’m into doing production and working with various artists. It could be a punk band like Iceage or a rock band like Beach House or MGMT. It’s nice the different disciplines and what I learn from other people. It doesn’t even have to be music or fashion. Sometimes the way people think in different disciplines is applicable across other areas.


FN: You seem like a pretty laid-back guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Did you have a phase of being more like a rock star type?

SB: No. See, I don’t believe in that. I think it’s real bullshit to put yourself on a pedestal and to think you’re special. You’re different. I mean, you’re lucky. I would go to a city like Los Angeles—bands used to hate Los Angeles because it’s impossible to get a grip on it in any short period. But then I had people who would say, “Oh, you can stay with me,” and they would show me the spots. I had an interaction with traveling through that was magical. As a musician, people have endless love for what you do and are endlessly generous. I’ve been really lucky.


FN: People feel very connected to musicians without even knowing them. Music is probably the most intimate type of art.

SB: It is. Not everyone does it for everyone, but for some people, it’s just… And for me, it’s just magical. I mean, it’s kind of like drugs a little bit. It’s just a wonderful experience. All music is about conversation, but the best stuff came from a place of obsession. And people in bands are difficult. They’re unusual characters. These are off-the-wall characters. But what they pull back into our reality from their maybe slightly fucked up lives is just stunning. People relate to it, even though they don’t live their lives that way. The common human experience is somehow universal. But it takes sort of holy fools to pull it out of the ether. I have this theory that there’s a reason why the words “musician” and “magician” aren’t that different. Conjuring spells.


FN: Apart from music, you’ve also become an advocate for mental health and experimental treatments. Is that something that has always been important to you, or is it a more recent focus?

SB: I think society has many problems, and most behaviors are learned from parents. The way to break the cycle is to fix people’s mental health because functional people have functional children. Education and parenting critically need changing. I’m not a parent or an educator, but it’s clear those are the things that need addressing. For our Reset album, we decided to give a large chunk of the royalties to MAPS, who fix people with MDMA therapy and have had unparalleled results. MAPS is based in San Francisco but operates all over America. Rick Doblin, who leads it, is dedicated to helping people, and the results they’ve had are stunning.

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