Webcuts recently caught Spoon at the Primavera Festival in Barcelona on the weekend, wowing a crowd of Spaniards with their solid mid-afternoon set. Their latest album, Transference, seemed to show the band finding new ways to tie their own shoelaces, searching out their own “Mystery Zone” or what Britt Daniel will later say in the interview “we gotta try to please ourselves first”. Notable for being our first interview where the band asks us the questions, Spoon have perhaps realised there’s more to making music than just pleasing yourself. You’ve still got to please your Mom too…
Before knocking back the sangria in sunny Spain, Spoon were in Australia knocking back the beers and taking the traveling Transference roadshow to the distant corners of the globe. Ever welcome in our company, Britt Daniel and Jim Eno sat down to talk the art of transferring with Chris Berkley of Static.
Welcome back to Australia, Britt and Jim from Spoon. Bashing down the beers there. It’s a day off in Spoon-land, which means you do interviews. I hate to see what a day on is then.
Britt: You know, they ask us to do it, we say yeah. We’re trying to play ball. The choice was to do all these interviews on the day of the show and that would’ve just been… they wanted us to fly from Brisbane and then do four interviews and a performance and then do the sound check and then do the show, and we said “can we maybe move some of that stuff around a little bit?”.
Ok. You’re seeing a different side of Australia this time around, too, because you’re doing these regional shows. You’re seeing the heartland. How’s it been, Jim?
Jim: It’s been alright, yeah. I mean, festivals themselves are hard. You’re playing a stage and there are five bands. The kids are way up front to see the headliner. It’s during the day. There are a lot of factors.
Britt: It’s just a different experience from playing your own shows in a rock club at night with the sound bouncing around the room. Sometimes those festival shows are good. They’ve got their own advantages. You get to see a bunch of bands you wouldn’t normally get to see. You get to play in front of a bunch of people that wouldn’t normally come see you.
Does it feel sometimes that it’s a hard-won campaign doing that stuff? I’m guessing back when things were blossoming for Spoon, after the release of Girls Can Tell, a lot of that got attributed to you changing record labels but you must’ve spent a lot of time on the road back then as well, winning people over.
Jim: Well, we spent a lot of time on the road before Girls Can Tell came out but there weren’t a lot of people at our shows to win over I guess. It’s just that people hadn’t really heard of us.
Britt: So, what do you think about the new record? Do you like it?
Yeah. Have you been getting some negative feedback, Britt?
Britt: Mmm. Just from my Mom. My Mom says it’s a little ‘metal‘.
A little what??
Britt: Metal. I don’t know. It’s something she just picked up on. She had her radar on. She discovered that we were veering towards metal, in her opinion.
She wasn’t forthcoming on why that was metal?
Britt: Well, she doesn’t really understand what metal is. Would your Mom know what metal is? If she would, maybe she knows more about music than my Mom.
I think her idea of metal would be Kiss.
Britt: Yeah, my Mom’s idea is Kiss. Anything with loud guitars. That’s kinda metal.
Jim: Did she say which song was metal or anything?
Britt: No. She just said to my brother she was worried because we were getting a little ‘metal’.
Jim: I love how you hear stuff through your brother a lot, you know.
Does she not give you direct feedback normally?
Britt: Not really, no. But definitely the feedback is intended for me, but she won’t say it directly to me. You know how that is with parents? You find out about things through your siblings?
There must be a lot more parental pride in what Spoon do these days? It must be nice to go to them and say “Look we debuted at number 4 on the Billboard charts“. Do they recognise things like that?
Britt: Yeah, they think that’s cool.
Jim: (To Britt) Your parents will go to shows.
Britt: Yeah, they go to the shows.
Are they the Moms and Dads that are standing up the back with their fingers in their ears or are they down the front?
Britt: They’re wherever we can get them tickets (laughs). Usually they’re pretty sweet tickets, pretty sweet seats in the VIP area, somewhere where they can sit down.
Have they always gone to Spoon shows? Have you got family that will keep going every time around, Jim?
Jim: My family does, yeah. I grew up in Rhode Island, so in the Boston area I have a lot of family. I mean my family have been going to shows since 1996 or so.
So they’re number 1 ticket holders?
Jim: Yeah, yeah, they’re been doing it for a while.
Are they interested in finding out things like that Metacritic roundup? That was a nice thing to say that you were the most well-reviewed band of the last decade.
Britt: My Mom has a google search out for me, so anytime my name comes up anywhere on the internet in a new setting she gets word of it to her inbox.
Jim: That’s impressive your Mom set that up.
Britt: It’s impressive that she set it up, but it’s not much fun that she has it set up.
Jim: Does she forward you stuff?
Britt: She forwards me stuff and lots of time she knows what we’re doing, she knows what’s going on before I know. She’ll say ‘I heard that you added this show, or this show’. But you don’t want your Mom having that kind of access into your life.
And it also means if you get arrested your Mom’s going to know about it, so you’re going to have to behave yourself on the road.
How’s the new record been going over live?
Britt: Oh, people love it.
All the metal fans love it, right.
Britt: Yeah. (laughs)
Is it ever a worry for you guys to translate songs on record into a live setting?
Britt: No, we know what we’re doing. We’re good at it. We’ve been doing this a long time. We’re never worried. We never worry about anything.
For Transference it seems there’s always been a pretty restless spirit about what Spoon do. But this time round especially, did you go out of your way in the studio to keep it not quite well-rounded? I’ve heard some of the songs literally made it onto the record in their own demo form. Were you trying to keep things a bit more rough and ready?
Britt: Yeah, we like it rough and ready. We’d made a record, the one before, where we’d spent a lot of time in the studio and this time we wanted to do it a different way. Not working with the same producer the whole time, not slogging, we wanted something that sounded a little more spontaneous. A lot of the songs are demos, songs we recorded on cassette in the practice space that we had no idea they were going to end up on the record. It’s that kinda thing where you don’t know. You think you’re just laying the groundwork but you happen upon something that’s kinda magic, for lack of a better word. Those are the types of recordings we wanted to use on this album.
Is it harder the bigger a band gets, the more luxuries that get afforded them. So you could take 12 months in a studio making a record if you wanted to. Is it hard to say no to that stuff?
Britt: Sometimes it helps to have a guideline or some limitations because we could end up spend two years in the studio if we wanted to.
Jim: Do you mean like setting deadlines?
Britt: Deadlines or like we’re only going to do it on 8 tracks or we’re only going to….
Where do you stand on the Brian Eno thing of picking up a different card (Eno’s Oblique Strategies)and having to play a song that way? It’s almost like playing party games in the studio.
Jim: I don’t think we’ve ever used that. “Make it sound more blue”. That’s one of them.
Even when the songs were done and dusted, was it hard convincing people, a track like “Mystery Zone” which cuts off abruptly on the CD version, was it hard telling people that’s the way it was supposed to be?
Britt: That’s never seemed too weird to me. It seems like I’ve heard a lot of songs that cut off abruptly, but for some reason I hear back that’s so weird.
Jim: And everyone points to that one, yeah.
Britt: But we don’t really try to convince people about anything. We just put it on the record and either they buy it or they don’t. They like it or they don’t. Really, we gotta try to please ourselves first. That’s the only way we can know whether what we’re doing is any good.
How is the working relationship that you two have these days?
Britt: We have a lot of sleepovers. (laughs)
You agree on most things, Jim?
Jim: Yeah, we do. Yeah.
Are you the one brain by now?
Britt: No, I think it’s a good thing to not be of one brain. There’s been lots of times that Jim wouldn’t have thought of and vice versa.
Jim: I think it’s the way with the band too, with Eric and Rob. It’s like anyone can sorta bring things up.
Britt: Those situations where everybody is so precious about their ideas being accepted or not accepted. I think that‘s a dangerous little world to live in if you’re trying to make something creative. You gotta be willing to put out ideas and willing for someone to say “I don’t like that one” or “I don’t get it” or whatever.
You recorded a Damned cover around the same time as you did the record. Which you’ve been doing in the live shows. So if Transference is metal, is the goth years of Spoon coming up?
Britt: Yeah. I like that Arp Solina. I wanna use that more and more. That’s the sound of that song, the keyboard sound you hear. That’s the keyboard The Cure would always use, or Joy Division would always use. That’s the sound of goth, I guess.
Is that the excuse then for doing this song? To be able to employ that on a Spoon song?
Jim: We’ve used that a few times.
Britt: But this is its most prominent use. That is the sound on that one.
And what do your folks think of the Damned cover?
Britt: They haven’t said anything. She’s probably read about, but she hasn’t said anything. I’ll ask my brother…
First broadcast on Static on 13/05/10. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).