Music interview – Britt Daniel of Spoon: ‘It’s a dark state of affairs that we’re in now’

Spoon. Picture: Zackery Michael
Spoon. Picture: Zackery Michael
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A much-lauded run of albums have marked Spoon out as one of the most consistently impressive American indie rock bands of the last 20 years.

Singer Britt Daniel remembers their third album as the point at which everything clicked into place for the Texas quartet.

“After we put out A Series of Sneaks, which was our second record, when we started working on the songs for the next one I went through this phase where I listened to a lot of Supremes, Motown, Marvin Gaye – a lot of oldies radio, basically,” he says. “I knew I loved that music but I became consciously aware of how much that music had an effect on me in ways that for instance we had been trying to be inspired by on the record before, which was mostly Gang of Four and Wire, and may not have.

“I started thinking ‘Why do we have this rule that we are just guitar-bass-drums? That we don’t really play around with keyboards and don’t mess with reverb, everything is just super-dry. Why do we have these rules because these records that I love do all these things?’

“So I started reassessing the big picture and that ended up being our record Girls Can Tell which I think was the quickest involvement of the band over our history.”

For Daniel, songs have to meet a high quality threshold to make it on to a Spoon record. “There’s a lot of songs that we work on then realise ‘It’s not really doing it for me’. So they have to be good in a lot of different moods for a period of time before we really run with them.”

Spoon. Picture: Zackery Michael

Spoon. Picture: Zackery Michael

The band’s ninth album, Hot Thoughts, became their most successful internationally. A diverse collection of songs, produced by Dave Fridmann (whose past clients include The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Tame Impala and The Cribs), its mood was influenced by David Bowie’s 1979 album Lodger.

“Part of the background to that is you sleep at Dave’s studio,” Daniel explains. “It used to be a farmhouse, you’re out in the middle of the woods, and there’s a studio area and a common area. In the common area there’s not like a regular modern stereo system or anything like that, it’s just a jam-box which has a CD player on it. In order to listen to music you’ve got to burn CDs. That’s a process so we had a very limited number of CDs and one of the six that we had up there was Lodger. We did end up listening to it over and over again.

“It’s actually not even my favourite of the three ‘Berlin’ records. It is definitely a mood and it’s far-out. Maybe it’s his record that has the most far-out ideas but also manages to be catchy in a lot of places. It’s definitely a weird one.”

The funky strut Do I Have To Talk You Into It bears some of the hallmarks of Prince, a long-time inspiration for Daniel. “He passed away while we were making the record,” the 47-year-old Texan remembers. “The day he died we were in the studio and I found out on the way to the studio so it was a hard day and I ended up, as one does when someone of that magnitude passes on, just poring over all the music we had of his and re-living it.

I found out that Prince had died when I was on the way to the studio, so it was a hard day and I ended up, as one does when someone of that magnitude passes on, just poring over all the music we had of his and re-living it.

Britt Daniel

“I reached out and found all these CDs from the vault, bootleg CDs, so it ended up being quite an inspiration for the rest of the record. We were still working on it for another four months or so after that.”

The song Tear It Down is one of Daniel’s rare ventures into politics. He admits he felt compelled to say something about the state of modern America. “It was a lyric that came up by accident but once me and a co-writer came up with it we thought ‘Do we run with this or do we not?’ And we said ‘Yeah, we should’. It’s a dark state of affairs that we’re in now and it’s a lot darker even now than it was when I wrote the song. Then Donald Trump was just a candidate, he hadn’t even won the Republican nomination yet, and it does deserve commenting on.”

Though the album format itself may have come into question in a pick-and-mix era of downloading and streaming, Daniel remains convinced it has a place as an art form. “The biggest, grandest statement one can make is this thing called a record or an album that holds a place of identity in the listener’s mind,” he says. “When you say Plastic Ono Band you know that conjures up some moods, it conjures up some sounds, it conjures up what those songs have meant to you when you were listening to them and what they must have meant to John Lennon when he writing them, it’s a statement.”

A sense of progression between records is “something that we shoot for”, Daniel says. “I think we’ve been more successful sometimes than others but we’re always thinking about it. Going back to that record Girls Can Tell, we knew that was a departure and ever since then we’ve always tried to think ‘What can we do next?’ If we feel like a song is sounding like something we’ve done before or going in that territory we’ll either drop it or kick it into a different realm if we can.”

Spoon play at Brudenell Social Club on Sunday June 3. www.spoontheband.com