Spoon interviewed: "You don’t know where the good stuff comes from, so you can’t count on it ever coming back."
“When we parted ways at the end of the last Spoon tour we didn’t really say much to each other,” admits Britt Daniel, frontman of the Texas-based quintet, Spoon. Four years ago, they released their last album Transference, which, thanks to timing and Metacritic, won them the Artist of the Decade award. Looking back now, it must have felt like an aperture beaming through a moment of traumatic flux. “We needed a break,” explains Daniel. “We needed a break from each other, from the pattern of doing Spoon over and over again.”
From where I stand, this approach improves Spoon’s appeal.
As early proponents of indie-rock, Spoon have a lot to answer for. If it weren’t for them, everything we adore about this kind of music; the taut tempered drumming, the echoing piano stabs, the disorderly jangly songs, that are both experimental and accessible, would have a wide oozing black hole in its backstory. The descriptor, “influential,” may well be a word used too freely in music today, but Spoon’s entire discography is the affirmation of their status as pioneering pillars of the indie-rock canon.
Cut to August 5, 2014, the release date of their eighth album, They Want My Soul. The songs demolish in a flash -- in less than 36 minutes – spiriting away any wall of denial their cult following might have been building for years. Sure, it arrives with expectations running high, but in truth it’s almost sickeningly overburdened with fantastic songs, and just listening to it you get the feeling that Spoon know they struck on something fresh and powerful. It’s about scooping up a spoonful of nostalgia, since they leave an impression that’s grown more pronounced and more obvious with time.
Co-produced by Joe Chiccarelli (Morrissey) and Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips) – the band baits with some newfound distorted layered hooks that reel inward with infectious intensity. There’s a more significant, underlying commonality Spoon reach here – they take solace in their progress as a band, because they know that no matter how far you’re able to look backwards, time just keeps inevitably moving forward.
In any case, it’s more than a return to form. It’s a strong album with a complex emotional undertow, a production masterpiece and a stone to break that heart right open reminding you that, although frustration, prejudice and love are momentary, we will always find the spirit to move on.
Daniel and I chat about the break, their biggest strength as a band, and of course - getting stoned and listening to records.
It’s clear: They have indie-souls to save.
People are going mad because this is the longest break Spoon have taken. Do you find four years is a long time?
It seems like too long for me, but compared to a lot of bands it’s typical. I wish it had been shorter but I had other things to do.
Do you feel like you had to get away for your own artistic vitality?
We did feel at the end of the last record that we needed a break, we needed a break from each other, from the pattern of doing Spoon over and over again, we had made a lot of records in a relatively short period of time.
I wonder how it feels returning with a new Spoon album whilst this generation gobbles up as much as they can click on? Do you feel like the scene has changed at all?
Not enough for me! Every now and then I would meet people in Austin or LA or New York and they would ask me if the band had broken up and that was never the case. I actually did some things to make people understand that we weren’t breaking up, like I posted messages on our website and stuff. It’s confusing for some people, especially when you start another band [Divine Fits] and you’re gone for so long.
So what was the catalyst for this record then?
When we parted ways at the end of the last Spoon tour we didn’t really say much to each other, but within a year all of that had calmed down and everybody was pretty cool with each other again. It was around the time when I was starting my other band, Divine Fits, and I just said to them that as soon as I’m done with this new project let’s make another record so it was always expected for us. Into about three months of Divine Fits touring, I said to them why don’t you get together and write some music without me, and then I’ll sing on top of it which is something we’ve never done before. One of those songs ended up being “Outlier.”
The best thing about that track is you retain your classic rock nervy signifiers – particularly during your chant
You know, they handed me a Hard Drive that had music they had written up and I really liked two of them. There was a point where I had written all the vocals for it and the producer mentioned something about the song – and I was like ‘don’t you love that one I think it’s fantastic’ which I felt I could say because I didn’t write the music, and all he said was - well it’s got a lot of “promise”. [laughs] He lives by certain rules and I tried to do what he said.
Do you feel you’ve gotten to a place of comfort that allows you to follow your natural instincts when writing?
I still doubt sometimes when there are parts of the process that are more gut wrenching than others. The thing is, once I know something is good, it usually is and I don’t really change my mind. It was that way 15 years ago, it was that way seven years ago and it was that way last year. You don’t know where the good stuff comes from, so you can’t count on it ever coming back.
I also think one of your biggest strengths as a band is that you aren’t too concerned with trying to reinvent yourselves from record to record, and that in a lot of ways lets you become more and more yourselves
Do the Rolling Stones reinvent themselves? Do the Ramones reinvent themselves? I mean I guess they went through a disco period, but they found something they liked and stuck with it. I didn’t think they were ever too intentional.
Yeah because for the listener that’s completely transparent. Do you find that your influences are the same as when you started or have things shifted over the years?
Oh yeah they shift for sure, but when we first started out I loved The Pixies, The Cure, The Beatles and nothings gonna change that.
If I remember correctly, you once mentioned The Kinks too
Yeah and that’s another one I came around to later in life.
It got me thinking about the rocky relationship between Ray and Dave from The Kinks actually, granted they are brothers, but you and Jim Eno are one of the most overlooked creative partnerships around
Well it’s something I know how to do and something we’re used to. Jim is not a songwriter, but he is a good sounding board.
Talking about collaboration, how was it working with Dave Fridmann and seeing how your songs took shape?
I loved working with him, he’s a really lovely guy, but I wouldn’t say it was the most immediate natural fit, because we’re sort of known for being quite sparse and minimal and he’s all about maxing everything out and letting everything bleed together.
What were some of the new things you tried on this album?
I hadn’t thought about that! I really felt that if we didn’t come up with a really good one this time then why do it you know? I’ve never felt that before. I put a lot of pressure on myself to come up with a record that was beyond question great, and that’s a tall order, but I feel like we got it.
About seven years ago I heard a version of “New York Kiss” and I’m so beyond ecstatic to see it on this record
Yeah it was written a while ago, back in 2004 or something when we were recording for Gimme Fiction and Jim and I didn’t agree on how to do it, it was a hard one to get right!
It’s great that the album ends on an uplifting note too
Yeah we ended a lot of the records with the soft songs and this is a good change.
When it hit, “Inside Out”, it made me listen to the lyrics which unless someone says - here’s a person who speaks in poems you must listen to his lyrics - is rare. It suggested frustration, while the music sounded pleasant - who are you referring to?
[Laughs] You know there are a lot of “holy rollers” out there; I grew up with some of them. There were a lot of very religious people that seemed like it was just a way of showing you’re better than someone and it felt like competition. People are willing to fall on the floor and roll around and prove a point you know?
Do you ever hold yourself back when commenting on certain things?
It depends on the situation but yeah of course there are times when I hold my tongue – I’ve found that’s required. Generally I wanna get along with everyone. It’s never come easy to me to be political in music.
You involve the listener with your narrative, particularly because you cover universal themes like bullying and heartbreak, but on “Do You” it sounds like a song marking a transition too – when you say, “Do you run when it’s just getting good?” is that autobiographical?
I feel like the character in that song is inviting in the person who he is talking to and challenging them at the same time. You can’t really tell which one is which and that’s what I like about that ambiguity, both parts are there and so often in relationships that’s the case too.
Who are “They”?
Religious pretenders, manipulators, educated folk singers.
Educated folk singers?
I’m sure you’ve heard a few of them on the radio.
I’m sure I’m going to bump into one when I leave my house now
And they lack soul do they not?
Poor sods, it reminds me of that line you sang in “Lines in a Suit” on Girls Can Tell, you pointed out a society that cubicles themselves in a 9-5 - do you ever listen back to your albums?
Yeah! A few months right after they done and then it slips away, but occasionally I do and I really like them.
How do you prefer to listen to your music – what’s your preference?
It helps to smoke weed first.
Perfect, so what’s the best album that you’ve heard when you’re stoned?
I used to smoke out and listen to Revolver on headphones, that kind of experience. Headphones really help.
Ah! Because “tomorrow never knows.”
They Want My Soul is available to buy now in all good record stores.
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