Spoon are in Cambridge for the final night of the UK leg of their worldwide tour promoting latest album Hot Thoughts. Louder Than War’s Naomi Dryden-Smith had a chat with singer Britt Daniel to talk about the tour, the album and what’s next.
Louder Than War: Whereabouts are you on the tour?
Britt Daniel: We’ve been doing shows and touring since March – but this run is maybe two and a half weeks in Europe and we’re about a week in. This time around we’ve done Brighton, Liverpool and Cambridge, and last time we were here in June we were in Manchester, London and Glasgow.
How did you get involved in music in the first place?
Do you mean besides just being passionate about music, besides loving it? Mostly I just do the band at this point but I’ve done a soundtrack, I’ve done a little bit of producing. But my first band was a cover band in High School when I was 17 – we were just doing covers, but at the end of it before we broke up and went to college we wrote some songs. Then I had a couple of bands in Austin before Spoon started, and the one right before Spoon had Jim our drummer in it – it was called The Alien Beats.
I hate this question, but I am interested because when I first came across Spoon, being a Cure/Pixies fan, I had been recommended your music and I was listening out intently for those – I’m interested to know what you were listening to when you were a kid and what you think permeates your music.
When I was a kid I was listening to a lot of radio, when I was a kid when I finally got a clock radio in my room. That was a big moment for me because then I could escape to my room and have something to occupy my time. So I just listened to Top 40 radio, which at that time was not terrible – I mean there was some bad stuff but I’m really good with the current music from when I was 7 to 12, I knew everything that was happening. Then in High School I got into The Cure – it was right when Standing On A Beach came out, their greatest hits, so that was sort of a good jumping off point for a lot of people I think – and Depeche Mode, and Julian Cope, and Wire, and the Velvet Underground – some US college rock but mostly it was British rock. Yes, you’ve got a very British sound, I thought you were British when I first heard you. Yeah, people have said that, yeah. And then by the time I was in my last year in High School the Pixies put out Doolittle and that was it, they were absolutely my favourite band, I just absolutely loved them. That was more the college rock sound – it was sort of American college rock versus British rock.
What was the music situation in Temple, Texas in your teen years?
I was in a pretty small town about an hour north of Austin. If you wanted to see a show you had to go down to Austin, so that didn’t really happen until I was 16 and got a car – and even then I was still pushing boundaries. But we would find out about music, MTV had a Sunday night programme that played alternative music, and we would get NME in our local bookstore and would go down to the Austin where they had good record stores, I guess that’s how we found out about music. But there were things that we missed – like I didn’t understand till I was in college that Lou Reed was actually IN the Velvet Underground – that was never explained to me in Temple, I knew who Lou Reed was, I didn’t really like him that much and then I loved the Velvet Underground, and then when New York came out I was like wow, yeah, it’s the same guy!
I read somewhere you were looking at doing some solo stuff, is that old news, is that not happening?
I don’t have any plans to do any solo stuff right now. There have been times when, especially around the Gimme Fiction era, I was doing solo shows at that time as it was just an easy way to travel – I could just say can you give me a show in say San Francisco in two weeks and then I’d have my trip paid for, you know? That was kind of what I was doing, and then also Jim and I were disagreeing about some things – there was a song called New York Kiss which came out on our record before last, we just couldn’t agree on the kick drum bit – I wanted it to be a full on dance number but he didn’t want to do that, he thought that was lame, so I said okay I’ll put that on my solo record. I would play that song at solo shows and people asked where it would go, I said “my solo record”, but I never got around to that. After Transference I thought again about doing a solo record but then I thought I’d really just prefer to put together another band, rather than do it all by myself.
When does this tour end? Does it get cramped on this tour bus?
There’s things I like about the bus – when the engine’s on there’s a much better vibe. We’ll go all over Europe in it – tonight we get the ferry across to Calais and we’ll be in Amsterdam by tomorrow. This run is finished on 18 Nov – we’ll do Amsterdam, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and then go home for a week and we’ll do some more shows in the US. But when we’ll stop touring on this record I don’t know – maybe next summer.
How’s the album been received?
It’s been reviewed very well, haha. I genuinely think it’s great. I’m going to shoot the first three songs tonight, are you going to play any of the first four songs in the first three? We’re playing Do I Have To Talk You Into It First – why? It’s easier for shooting when it’s not a song that you really really like, I’m going to be jigging about. Actually it adds to the experience. How do you feel about photographers? You mean being up front? I like it, it doesn’t bother me at all. They used to flash, and that didn’t bother me either but it bothered Jim. It doesn’t really bother me at all, I feel like oh, someone gives a shit. Because sometimes we turn up at some cities and there are no photographers there at all – I’m guessing there’ll probably be just one tonight, that’s my guess. A lot of American bands are putting a huge amount of restrictions on photographers – Killers won’t even have any, they only have their own and won’t let anybody shoot at all- or bands put out really restrictive contracts. And is that a new thing, has it got worse recently? I’m blaming Taylor Swift. Really, it starts with her? Yes, it’s coming from America – so even British bands with American PR are putting out these contracts. I’m not really sure what their angle on that is unless it’s that they just don’t want photos from up close, I’m really not sure I get it at all.
The album seems to be a bit of a shift – do you see yourselves evolving?
It’s a very keyboard-heavy record, it doesn’t have as many guitars as usual and if anything we just intuitively went toward a less earthy sound, less rustic and more futuristic kind of sound. But yeah, I feel like, when I finished it (I don’t listen to the record very often anymore, if I do I listen to a song or something) but right when the record was finished I was listening to it a lot and I felt really really proud of it and I felt like it was new territory for us.
There aren’t gaps between the songs, it’s very much a continuous body of work – obviously, that’s deliberate?
I always feel like albums are a body of work for most artists, and I’ve always like the trick of songs bleeding into each other so if you can get away with it and if it makes sense, it’s a plus for the album experience.
Do you think in terms of vinyl, two sides, or just one continuous series of songs?
I usually do think about one long thing, maybe that’s because I listened to CDs for so long. CDs were the main way I listened to music from when I was 19. I’d still buy vinyl, I have a lot of vinyl, but I’ve never really thought of it as side 1/side 2. Sometimes we do the order and someone says you need to put a break in there between songs 4 and 5 or 5 and 6, and it’s then something I really have to think about.
What kind of stuff are you listening to at the moment?
I like The OCs quite a bit, I like everything Hamilton Leithauser does, he’s such a great singer and great songwriter. As far as pop music, those singles by the Weekend from this last record I thought were terrific, that I Feel It Coming song is awesome.
Do you do anything outside of music that you think adds to your music life, is there anything you like to do that isn’t directly music?
It all feels pretty related to music, and even if I go see a movie sometimes I’m writing down ideas. I need another hobby! It’s just been, I’m pretty focused, it feels like it’s always intense and I don’t feel like I’ve had a break in a long time. I have a brother and a mum, I don’t have kids or a wife or anything. That would be one way to make it a little less intense! Or not, actually! Yeah right, that would definitely share the focus a bit!
I saw that your Cramps cover is used on the recent Poltergeist film and another song was on the OC TV show, what’s that like, having your music in that kind of media, and what does it do? Does it have an effect?
I think it does reach people, especially the OC soundtrack, a lot of people were listening to that. They put The Way We Get By on that, I think, and a lot of people did find out about us that way. But yeah, I’m cool with it. I would love to see a real piece of art use one of our songs, like a Coen Brothers film. I don’t mind TV shows and movies using songs at all, in the world that we live in. it’s a way that we can reach people and it’s a way that supports what we do.
Which song do you think really captures the essence of the band, and which song do you most like playing live?
I love playing Inside Out the best, I’m not sure that it captures the essence but it’s probably my favourite one that we’ve done for a bit. On Hot Thoughts, I really like Do I Have To Talk You Into It – that’s the first one that I thought “That’s done”. We finished pretty early on, at one point we thought we’d finished the record and I went and took a few days off from it and came back and listened and I said “no, we not finished, we have so much more work to do”. But that is the one song that I thought that’s the belle of the ball, that’s done and we can now start working on these other ones.
Do you have a main writer or is it collaborative?
I do most of the writing and every now and then every now and then I’ll co-write a song with somebody – but most of the songs on Hot Thoughts are mine.
Do you have any observations on the US at the moment, Hollywood, Trump, things that are going on at the moment?
I don’t think that there are any fans of the President on this bus. Hollywood – it’s weird, right? In general, I think it’s a good thing when women are able to speak out about oppression and especially sexual violence and sexual predators, there’s no room for that. But it’s a little concerning to me the way that it’s happening, and the fact that these people are being tried without…. In general I think it’s a good thing but there’s got to be, I don’t know, it just seems like we’re moving very fast on this.
I’ve been playing your music to my kids because they follow what I’m doing, I explained where the name Spoon came from* and I’ve been asked to ask you what is your favourite spoon?
I don’t have one! I guess a good ice cream spoon. **
*The band’s name is taken from the name of a song by Can, from the film Jagged Edge
** Good answer
Listen: Do I Have To Talk You Into It:
Featured image © Zackery Michael. All words/other photos by Naomi Dryden-Smith. You can find more of Naomi’s work for Louder Than War here, and she (occasionally) tweets as @nomeshome. Also on Facebook and Instagram. Naomi’s Photography portfolio can be found here
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