With each successive release, the Austin, Texas group refashions their sound in a way that always manages to be fresh and exciting, while building on the taut garage rock style that first caught our attention.
In March, Spoon released their ninth studio album, Hot Thoughts, and a world tour in support of that record brings them to the Palace Theatre for two sold-out shows this weekend. Ahead of those highly anticipated shows, we were able to chat with Spoon frontman Britt Daniel about his band’s return to Matador Records, the 10th anniversary reissue of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the similarities he sees between Austin and Minneapolis, and his admiration for Prince.
City Pages: You’re a huge Prince fan, and parts of Hot Thoughts were inspired by him. How did Prince influence and inspire these new songs?
Britt Daniel: He’s somebody that I’ve been listening to and referencing since long before the band started. And probably every record has some Prince in it. We were in the middle of recording when he died. I was on the way to the studio that day when I heard. I walked in, and everybody was just shaking their heads. Everyone was pretty broken up about it. It was hard to say anything. It was a really tough day. We toyed with the idea of recording a Prince song very briefly, but then I got in the car to go grab some coffee. And when I got in the car, “Sometimes It Snows In April” came on the radio and I just lost it. That song was emotional to me back when it came out. It’s an emotional song anyway. But especially that day. After I heard that, I just drove on. I didn’t come back to the studio.
CP: What is it specifically about Prince’s work and his sound that has resonated with you over the years?
BD: When I was 11-years-old I got my first Prince tape. I got 1999. And the thing that stood out for me was the lyrics, specifically the dirty lyrics. That was a thrill, when I was 11 years old. I had never heard anybody sing like that on a record. I would play “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” over and over again, as long as I played it quiet or my mom wasn’t home.
CP: Yeah, it was the same case for me with “Darling Nikki.”
BD: Yeah. These are songs with provocative lyrics, but they are also just great songs. “Darling Nikki” is a knock out.
CP: Was Prince one of the first musicians who inspired you to say, ‘I want to do something like that,’ or did you have your mind set on being a musician prior to hearing his music?
BD: I wanted to make records already. I fantasized about it in a very nebulous way. I didn’t know what that meant, or how you get there. I wasn’t really concerned with how to get there, I just figured that at some point I’d figure it out. I just knew that would be the greatest job in the world to be able to make records. I’m sure he helped me along the way, but even before I was 11 I was obsessed with records.
CP: You returned to Matador for Hot Thoughts, your first record with them since your debut, Telephono. What were the circumstances behind the move back to Matador?
BD: We’d always been in good touch with them, and we finished the record and didn’t owe anybody a record. We didn’t have a contract. Our manager went out, and we knew there would be some interested parties. And Matador ended up coming to the plate and being very interested, and honestly they made the most compelling argument. They are in a different place now than when we worked with them the first time. They have this huge, amazing – yet still independent – parent family, and we can sell a few records and fill a few seats ourselves now. But the first time we worked together, we could do neither. Our first record with them sold about 2,000 copies, and that was back in the ‘90s. [laughs] So that didn’t hold a lot of water.
CP: It’s got to be a nice feeling to have the career come full circle with them.
BD: Yeah. We always liked them. The first time that we ever got to decide what label we were going to put a record out on, we had a lot of labels that were interested. We went out and visited with Warner Brothers, Interscope, Geffen, but we went with Matador because we liked the people the most and we liked their records the most. I was bummed that we couldn’t keep working together because we couldn’t make the business work. To have the chance to do that again is a thrill, for sure. It’s a trip to be in meetings with these guys that I was in meetings with twenty years ago. It’s cool, I like it a lot.
CP: There’s a bit of a lineup shakeup as well, with Alex Fischel joining the band [replacing longtime guitarist/keyboardist Eric Harvey]. How has he fit into the dynamic of the group and what has he been able to inject into the band’s sound?
BD: I think you’ll know once you see us live. He’s just an amazing player. A good bit of the sound of this record is due to the way that Alex plays the keyboard. It’s a rock record, but it’s a rock record that doesn’t really lean on guitars too heavily. There’s a lot of keys. And he’s just an outstanding player, and a really creative guy. It’s been amazing.
CP: There’s a definite political bent to the new song, “Tear It Down.” Were you hesitant at all to make a statement like that, or does the current political climate just naturally seep into your work?
BD: The lyric came about sort of by accident. It came about by rhyming. I wrote it with this friend of mine, LP, and when we came up with that lyric it was by accident. And we immediately thought that people are going to take this as being quite topical. We realized after the fact that this fits in with what’s going on in the world. We thought about it for a second, but then we just felt that it was fine. Let’s do it that way. My only concern was I thought that by the time the record came out, it wouldn’t be an issue anymore. He [Trump] hadn’t even won the nomination at that point. I didn’t think that there was any way that this could actually happen. So I thought it would be old news, but we just went for it anyway. It felt right.
CP: How has working with [producer] Dave Fridmann helped you capture the sounds and ideas that you’ve got in your head?
BD: He can do anything. He’s a great guy to work with, just on a personal level. But if you listen to Transference, for instance, which is one that we produced ourselves, and compare that to the last two records, there’s a massive difference in sonics and size of the sounds. We always shied away from going big, we thought that big sounding records often seemed to be made for the radio and cookie cutter. So that kind of turned us off, we were more into the sound of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, which sounded more accidental or more soulful. More genuine. That’s the thing. We wanted it to sound genuine, and the big records didn’t sound genuine to us. But Dave has a way to make a record big, it’s a big sound, but it still sounds like the wheels are coming off. It sounds dangerous, still.
CP: You’re putting out a 10th anniversary reissue of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. How quickly did that decade fly by for you? And what do you think when looking back on that time and that particular record?
BD: It was a high point, for sure. It was the first time that we had ever really gotten a song on the radio. I mean, we had some little successes, but every record from the start of that decade, every record got bigger and bigger and bigger. Some cool things happened on that one. We got played on the radio, we went on Saturday Night Live, we played some very big shows. It just kind of felt like we were firing on all cylinders. It’s a good record. I listened to it pretty extensively when we remastered it, and I hadn’t sat down and listened to it all the way through in a long time. And I immediately wrote to Laura at Merge and said “Damn, this is a good record.” And she said, “You’re right. It is.”
CP: Your record covers have always been very striking and stylish. Like you’re holding a work of art in your hands before you even hear a note on the album. How important is that visual art aspect of the band’s aesthetic to you? And what are you trying to convey through your album art?
BD: It’s massively important. To use the Prince example, when he was making all of those great albums for Warner Brothers the album art was just top notch. To me, it helps paint the impression you have of the entire album as a whole. The covers for Sign O’ The Times, Parade, 1999, or Dirty Mind, they were all just so good. It was something that they clearly put some time and energy into. But you see the album covers for Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, or Emancipation, and there were some good songs on those records, but it feels a little dinky. It doesn’t carry the same weight. And when you do think about an album, part of your brain is picturing the album art. It’s important to me. We do put a lot of effort into it, and a lot of time. Maybe more time than we should.
CP: You’ve been in the music business now for well over two decades. How have you seen it change, and what direction do you see it going in in the future?
BD: I’m not too good about predicting the future. [laughs] The music industry was declining as we were heading up, so I didn’t really mind the changes, you know. But it’s massively different. At this point, every time we put out a record, it’s a totally different marketplace. Two records ago, there was no streaming. A record ago, us and the record label had a lot of discussions about not allowing the record to stream, or windowing it, where it would only be for sale for a while and a bit later be available for streaming. But I just don’t think you can do that at this point, now with this new record. It’s changing massively every time. I don’t think I’m opening anybody’s eyes to anything new, that’s just my experience.
CP: You’ve been playing the Twin Cities for many years. Do you find some similarities between Austin and Minneapolis, two cities that both have music pulsing at their heart?
BD: Yeah, for sure. They are both university towns, and there’s a lot of soul in both cities. It’s not L.A., it’s not New York, it’s not even Chicago. It’s sort of a more manageable town that somehow has an insanely active music scene. The last time that I was there was when the Revolution played those shows at First Ave. I went there last summer for that. It was amazing.
CP: I heard that you opened for Prince once. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
BD: I wish I had more of a story for you. Yeah, we played a show in Portugal where it was us, the National, and Prince. Kind of a cool lineup. An unusual lineup. But by the time we got off stage, they were starting to rope off the backstage, we weren’t allowed anywhere near it by the time Prince showed up. So, I never got to meet him. I did get to watch from very, very close, right in front of the stage. It was a spiritual night. People were feeling it.
With: Twin Peaks
Where: Palace Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Fri. Sept. 15
Tickets: Sold out