Talk Talk: A Conversation With Spoon's Britt Daniel and Jim Eno
Here's something leftover from our Virgin Festival coverage. I had a few minutes to chat with Britt Daniel and Jim Eno of Spoon after their (admittedly) lackluster set at Pimlico and was too lazy to transcribe it after the fact. So why not save it for the end of the year, since Spoon will most certainly be featured on many of my year-end lists?
This year's excellent "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" l likely served as the band's introduction to most of the public, but Spoon has been churning out consistently great albums since the mid-'90s. An ill-fated dalliance with major label stardom at the tail end of the alternative boom stopped the band in its tracks (Spoon signed to Elektra only to have their A&R representative bail on them immediately after inking them; Spoon was dumped from the label soon after), but four subsequent albums on indie powerhouse Merge have provided plenty of momentum. The jagged guitars on those early albums have mostly given way to hypnotic piano which often serves as the centerpiece to the band's hypnotic, often-funky offerings. After the jump, read about Spoon's thoughts on changing its sound, when it's acceptable to "sell out" and what the term "indie rock" means.
David Malitz: The first time I saw you guys was at the 9:30 Club in the fall of 1998, you were opening for Harvey Danger, it was right after all the Elektra stuff went down...
Britt Daniel: I remember that show! They had to move the stage way up...
DM: You broke a string, seemed to be in a generally bad mood, but now, 10 years later, you have a top 10 record, you're playing these festivals, did you ever think this would happen?
Britt Daniel: Yes.
Jim Eno: No.
Britt Daniel: I expected it should have happened in 98. Well, no. I mean...
Jim Eno: After that (the Elektra ordeal) happened I didn't think it would.
Britt Daniel: Yeah after that happened we were all like, eh...
Jim Eno: But after "Girls Can Tell"? I thought it would happen.
DM: There was definitely a change in sound from "Soft Effects"/"A Series of Sneaks" up to "Girls Can Tell," what was the impetus for that, moving away from the guitar to the more rhythmic and piano stuff?
Britt Daniel: For a large part I decided I was sick and tired of hearing records that had distorted rhythm guitar on them because it was such a, I don't know, "alt-rock" sound that you heard everywhere and also it just took up so much space in the recordings, in the tracks, that I just really wanted to avoid that. That was a big part of it. We also just kind of grew up and realized that there is such a thing as good reverb and there is such a thing as good piano sounds and before that we were all like, "No reverb!"
Jim Eno: (to Britt) Did you start writing on piano more?
Britt Daniel: Yeah, I started writing on piano.
DM: Do you still like those old records?
Britt Daniel: Yeah. I like "Series of Sneaks" and "Soft Effects." A lot.
Jim Eno: Not "Telephono," though?
Britt Daniel: Hey, I didn't say anything. (Laughs) But I'm curious, when I broke the string during that show, did I change my own string?
DM: No, you ended the set.
Britt Daniel: We didn't have a roadie, and I didn't have a backup guitar...
DM: You said there was only one song left, so...
Jim Eno: And we were a three-piece, right? Brutal.
DM: I imagine every time you finish a record you're happy with it and think it's great, but with this one did it feel especially great?
Jim Eno: Personally I don't know if I've ever felt that right after we've finished a record just because you're so involved in it. At least I'm too close to it to know.
Britt Daniel: Well I did!
Jim Eno: Yeah, he did.
Britt Daniel: I thought it was awesome. And I don't usually. I'm usually pretty insecure.
DM: I'd guess after listening you find little things you'd like to change but this time you thought you pretty much nailed it?
Britt Daniel: I didn't feel like I "nailed it" I just felt like every song on there was really good and did its own thing and that overall it was really solid and really special. A lot more than the last one. And I think there are some great things on the last one.
DM: The album is 10 songs, 33 minutes, it's very concise, like records used to be. Do you subscribe to less is more sometimes?
Jim Eno: Well we almost had 11 on there, right?
Britt Daniel: Yeah. I just believe in quality. If we had 50, 55 minutes of songs that were that good, then that would be awesome. At the last minute, yeah, we had 11 songs, we were actually thinking of putting "Book Our Right" on there, that was 12 songs. We could have put "My First Time" but at the last minute we cut it down to 10 and thought this is the best summation of everything we've done. It's high quality the whole way through.
DM: Do you have a favorite? I can tell you mine.
Jim Eno: Let's hear yours first.
DM: "Black Like Me."
Jim Eno: That's mine too!
Britt Daniel: I like that one.
DM: It sounded good today. What did you think of today's set?
Britt Daniel: Uh, I was pretty lousy.
DM: It seemed a little off. Are you used to playing these huge festivals yet?
Britt Daniel: Yes.
DM: Just wasn't happening today? During "Cherry Bomb" you didn't even play guitar because it wasn't in tune.
Britt Daniel: It was totally out of tune. We had some tuning issues and distractions during the show.
DM: Every show can't be a great one, do you feel like it's better to have an off show at a festival where you're playing in front of thousands of people who could be new fans or when you're playing a club show in front of your fans there are there to see you? I guess you can't really worry about that.
Jim Eno: It's better to have a bad practice than a bad show.
Britt Daniel: I can't beat myself up too much about it. I was pretty bummed right after the show and then...
Jim Eno: It was good, man. We've had a lot worse.
Britt Daniel: I feel like we've done great things. I feel like at this point I'm pleased with what we've done it's sort of like this more content feeling in general than we used to have.
DM: Did I see that you guys are going to be on the sort-of "Now That's What I Call Indie Rock!" compilation?
Britt Daniel: Yeah.
DM: And you guys have had your songs in commercials and I suppose after the whole Elektra disaster you have a different angle on the whole "keeping it real"-ness of the industry. I'm from D.C., so I grew up with the whole Dischord thing so maybe it's more ingrained in me. But do you feel like it's even a topic worth discussing these days or is it really one of the only ways to get your songs out there, to make a living as a musician?
Britt Daniel: Commercials?
DM: Just licensing in general? Commercials, "The O.C.," compilations...
Britt Daniel: I feel like they're all different. The compilation is, you're putting yourself on a record with bands like Bright Eyes and Sonic Youth and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs...
DM: If Sonic Youth does it, it can't be that bad.
Britt Daniel: Well it's that I have no problem with that association, you know? Most movies I find out what they're all about but I think there's only been one or two times where a movie or TV show as turned down like, "I don't want to do that." That, I don't have a problem with. It's the commercials that you really have to think more about it.
DM: Was it a car commercial for "I Turn My Camera On"?
Britt Daniel: Yeah.
DM: So what made that one acceptable? Is it just, "OK, that check is big enough to let us record our next album as freely as we want to make a great record."
Britt Daniel: It's not just that but that obviously is a big part of it. We were also offered a Hummer commercial and we basically, yeah, turned that down.
Jim Eno: Quoted our way out of it.
Britt Daniel: And there are certain things like the U.S. Army or the GOP that we would never do.
DM: What about the whole "indie rock" thing? It seems like it's become a catch-all qualifier these days, sort of like alternative was back in the '90s. You guys are on Merge, so I guess it still applies to you, but does the term even mean anything any more?
Britt Daniel: I doubt many bands think about it. It's just weird that that's a genre, you know. It used to be they used to have names for the musical trends like "new wave" or "punk" but now it's "alternative" and alternative to what? And eventually the alternative becomes big business. And then "indie" and eventually bands that are on major labels are considered indie. That's kind of weird, I wish they'd use more descriptive terms.
Jim Eno: I like what you used to say, though, about how indie used to mean a work ethic. As far as not really caring about the product and stuff like that. That seems to be different now, doesn't it?
Britt Daniel: You mean I used to have a problem with bands...
Jim Eno: No, you were like, "I don't like that term" because it usually means a slacker-type approach to recording and presenting your product.
Britt Daniel: Yeah, yeah.
Jim Eno: That seemed to tie in with the independent part of it.
Britt Daniel: Yeah, it used to seem like you throwing the term "indie rock" around meant junior leagues. Not really up to snuff with the big boys. Which I resented. Because I feel like we work harder than almost anybody on our records.
DM: One thing I think you guys do better than most bands is funkiness. And that's a dangerous territory to tread for a lot of bands because it can come off sounding phony so how do you make sure that it sounds real.
Britt Daniel: I don't know. Don't do anything silly.
DM: You guys look like Reservoir Dogs casual up there today, everyone in their sunglasses.
Britt Daniel: It was bright.
DM: Yeah, you couldn't see your tuner, what it was telling you.
Jim Eno: Yeah, thanks for bringing that up!
By David Malitz |
December 19, 2007; 8:48 AM ET
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