Formed in 1993, Spoon have slowly developed into one of the finest alt-rock bands from America. Known for their incredible consistency, they dipped their toes in rock, pop, and even disco over the course of nine studio albums. This year they released one of their best yet, the eclectic Hot Thoughts on Matador, a label that released their very first album back in 1996. Although a band with a big cult following in the UK, they’ve never played Brighton before, which they’ll be doing this autumn as part of a European tour. Guitarist, singer and main songwriter Britt Daniel took some time out to chat with Brightonsfinest.
Where are you today?
I’m in Austin, it’s beautiful. There’s a lot of good weather. Sometimes, it’s a bit hot.
You’re back with Matador, the label you were first signed to. How did you hook up with them again?
I liked them personally, and I love the label and its history. It may be my favourite American record label ever. So, we were honestly heartbroken and, commercially it didn’t work well, the first time around. We got along with them, but everyone involved was disappointed in how that record sold, and knew that economically it wasn’t working. We moved on. It took a little bit longer before we got a foothold, but eventually we did.
This time around we are in a different place, they are in a different place, in this big Beggars system (Matador are part of the Beggars group of labels, that also includes XL and 4AD). We always stayed friends with them. Gerard, who runs the label, lives in Austin, and I see him here all the time. We just thought we would give it a shot.
It feels like this is your most eclectic record yet…
It may be. We’ve never done a song like ‘Us’ which is based around saxophones. Never done a song like ‘Pink Up’. For us, they are pretty out there tunes, that sit aside pop songs like ‘Hot Thoughts’ and ‘Can I Sit Next To You’. I guess we’ve made a few records, more White Album-ish records that go to a lot of different places. But this might be the most White Album of all.
How does a typical Spoon song come about?
Sometimes I’ll make a demo that is good enough that we build on top of that, and that becomes what the record is. Sometimes I’ll write on acoustic guitar, although on a record like this it didn’t really feel like an acoustic guitar record to me. We didn’t want to make an earthy, rustic record. I would get together with Alex (Fischel, guitar/keys), with some chords that have good melody and, maybe, half the lyrics. ‘So, how can we change it up so it feels more like the sound we want to have on this record?’ He’s just a whizz at keyboards, and after a couple of hours the acoustic guitar is gone, and it’s got a totally different texture to it.
Tell me about one of my favourites on the album, ‘Do I Have To Talk You Into It’…
I wrote that on piano, and then I got together with Alex and we had a bunch of loops that we had made from a bunch of other people’s records, and some I made on a drum machine. We played the song to several of those beats. ‘How does it sound on this beat, or that beat’? The heavy, big drum sound was the one we dug the most.
And ‘Tear It Down’?
I wrote it with that gal, L.P. (Laura Pergolizzi). Do you know her? She’s a recording artist in her own right, and actually she’s had a big hit since she and I worked together, a number one song (‘Lost On You’) across some countries in Europe. She came over to my house, and had a melody for a chorus, and we worked backwards from there. I came up with some words, and she had a word that rhymed with ‘down’, and then I had ‘tear it down’. ‘What are we tearing down?’ I said, ‘We’re tearing down a wall’. ‘That could be topical’! For half a second we stopped, and said, ‘Do we really want to do that’? And had a little debate. ‘Do we want to have a song that seems timely in that way?’ My concern was that I knew the record wouldn’t be out for another year or so – I hadn’t started recording, we were still in the writing phase – and by the time it came out that lyric would seem outdated. Like a lot of people in America, we didn’t think that this Trump thing could become a presidency. Unfortunately, we were wrong. Anyway, we decided to go ahead with it, and be damned with it. The song worked out well, at least!
What about Sharon Van Etten, who sings on ‘First Caress’?
We met by random, she was playing at one club in Berlin, and I was playing at another club in Berlin, in 2014. We both got taken to the same bar by different people, and we met that night, and stayed in touch. I wanted some female vocals on this record. I wanted that vibe, and she’s got such a great voice. We’ve been talking about writing a song together again.
Spoon has been going since 1993, and you and Jim Eno (drums, keys) are still there. But it took a while to gain some traction?
We’ve been helped by the fact that people can go out and find us, thanks to the internet. When we started there were these gatekeepers. If your song wasn’t on commercial radio or on MTV people weren’t going to know about your band. At least, not a lot of people. We were aided greatly by the fact that people can find out about music in other ways. America is a big country. It took a long time of touring, going out and trying not to lose money. But now America has done well for us.
Tell me about your musical inspirations?
Round about the time I picked up a guitar I was listening to a lot of The Cure, Julian Cope, a lot of classic rock like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Pixies. When I was younger than that I always wanted to make records. ‘That sounds like a cool job’. I didn’t know how I was going to go about doing that… somewhere along the line I realised I had to, you know, play something! It was weird. It was an afterthought. I was always into singing, but at some point I realised that if I am going to write these songs, I would have to with an instrument! When I was 15 I finally picked up a guitar.