Spoon are back, and their tenth studio album ‘Lucifer On the Sofa’ represents some of the band’s finest work to date. A rock ‘n’ roll purist’s dream record, it is classic with bursts of inspired experimentation and energy.
For the Texan band, it also signifies a back to basics, marking the return to their hometown Austin. With the majority of songs written and recorded over the past two years, both in and out of lockdown, they also document a key period in the band’s career, cementing an important shift, where new ambition and creative direction meet and are defined.
The shift is consistently there throughout, and it creates a unique, complex richness in sound. Intimate and polished in some areas, it is complemented by a raw, first-take sound on other tracks.
Spoon’s return to stage and studio is a true cause for celebration. Having returned to the UK in April, where they played a few shows, they also went to Europe to play, before returning to the US to deliver a string of live dates.
Clash caught up with frontman and visionary Britt Daniel to get his perspective on the band’s latest recording project and career.
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Before we start talking about the album, I wish to touch on those wild US live dates the band have been playing. Tell me about some of the highlights.
Virginia is the best show we've done so far. There was just a magical quality in the air, where everything fell into place. Everything was easy, everything was super-loose. Boston was amazing, because the crowd was absolutely manic, they were over the top. We went away backstage before the encore to figure out what we were gonna play for the last songs. I know what's happening out in the crowd in this sort of situation; they're all discussing how good they think we are as a band, and backstage we’ll be talking about them as well.
Congratulations on ‘Lucifer On the Sofa’, it is such a terrific record, you must be proud of it. How would you describe the journey of making it?
It's very rock ‘n’ roll. I am happy with it, and I did enjoy making it. Trying to think of those records we've made that I didn't enjoy making, 'They Want My Soul' was a little tricky, we went through two different producers on that one, there was a bit of instability. There was a time where we had recorded about half of the record, I felt like I didn’t have any more songs, I felt a bit out on a limb on that one. But this record felt good, we went through 42 songs, and I had come up with 10 that ended up there.
A good number did end up there, and a lot of them we just worked on forever. But then we didn't end up recording all of them, as we had a lot to choose from, and if you have that many songs, and you have as much time as we did, you’re in a good position. We weren't planning to take that much time to make a record, but certain things happened (the Covid pandemic), and certain live events came off. With some people, maybe more time doesn’t equal a quality record, and with some people it helps, with us it helped.
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42 songs definitely is a lot, how did you end up determining, selecting the songs you wanted on the record?
We would just keep coming back to ones that we were excited about, and then we would get to a certain point, where we would know it was right. With a song like 'The Hardest Cut' we just felt so good about it. You just get this feeling that something is undeniable, and then until you get the feeling that something's undeniable, we either keep working on it, or throw it aside.
I wanted to ask you about that one. It’s the type of song that many people connect with. How did it come together?
Yeah, it was a song that felt pretty good. Alex came up with some chords, and I thought the chords were good. I said, let's put it to this vibe, this beat. I always wanted to do a song like 'Run Run Run' by the WHO and have that drum approach. We played the chords to the beat, it felt really good, and then by accident, I picked up a guitar that was tuned to a drop D, and I came up with this riff that you hear at the beginning of the song, and we just felt that it worked well. It’s all a matter of us looking at each other going 'okay, that is undeniable'.
You mentioned the musical influence of The Who, what other bands inspired this record?
We thought about Creedence Clearwater Revival quite a bit. We just had this unspoken blueprint. I had my thoughts about what a rock ‘n’ roll record means, which I'm sure they all get to, but you are not going to hear a synthesizer on a CCR record. So with those things, every now and then something would come up like that, then we would push it in another direction, and push it more back towards the unspoken blueprint.
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Lyrically, how do you like to work when you write new material? Do they come in last or can they come in at any given point of the songwriting process?
Lots of times I'll have lyrics going in a notebook, and I don't know where they're gonna go. Then, when we come up with some music, I might go through a few of my favourite recent bits and say, does this fit? I might try singing it with those words, and sometimes it doesn't work. With a song like ‘The Hardest Cut’ they were written to the music, and they just came really fast, I didn't have the words ahead of time. When you're in the middle of writing a record, you just take any method that will get you to the place you prefer.
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That makes total creative sense. Would you say your lyrics are inspired by prose or poetry, or does something else tend to inspire you?
Maybe unconsciously, we might be influenced by a lot of lyrics, every now and then I get in the spirit of things, I feel like it's time to write, and I don't generally do it after reading poetry. But something happens, whether it's a first thought in the morning.
Actually, one of the best times is when you have jetlag, there's just something about jetlag, and I've gotten the best lyrics that way, because your body is in one mode, and your brain is in another mode. Something about that state produces a relaxation, but also your mind is fermenting these thoughts at the same time.
That is truly fascinating. As a rock ‘n’ roll record this one sounds so together. One thing is aiming for greatness, another thing is to achieve it, how did you approach the scale of your ambition?
Not many great rock ‘n’ roll records are being made at this point, and I thought let's make one. When we were doing interviews on the last one record, and I would throw this idea out there, when we were in group interviews, it was about how we had taken a lot of the songs from my thoughts, and in our live set we made them more of a band thing, and more of a rock thing for lack of a better word. It made sense to make a more straightforward rock ‘n’ roll record, and nobody complained, nobody argued.
Eventually, in the summer of 2018, we were on this long summer tour, where we did talk about it more directly, and we talked about where we wanted to make the record, which was Austin, and how that would be. The last two records we made with Dave Friedman, who is a lovely, lovely person, one of the greatest producers ever. We were in his studio, which is out in the woods, and it's a very isolated experience. You're there alone, 20 miles from the nearest coffee shop or bar, it's just different worlds.
It has been a long process. Looking at this period in its entirety, is it possible to pick a standalone moment?
I was coming up with the ideas for the record, one of them was to use 'Held'. That's a song that we used to play in the 2000s, we just started playing it one day. Because sometimes what we do is just playing covers, we jam for lack of a better word to get going. I'm talking about a day where you're trying to figure things out, work on new songs, or look for new directions. On one of those days, I said let’s play ‘Held’, we haven't played it for a while. I used to play guitar on it, and then moved over to bass. It didn’t feel like an exercise, it felt like we could actually do this one. Our performances on guitar and drums gave it a unique sound.
Spoon’s career in music is remarkable, and you continue to write and record excellent music. What ambitions do you have? What have you found to be most special about being in this band?
I want to make a perfect record. It'd be great to have a hit at some point. Maybe that means a song that the algorithm gravitates towards, one that’s legitimately, genuinely me. I like doing shows, and I like making records. A big part of this is hanging out with my buddies, who are in this band. When I think about what the last few years have been like, it's mostly about the good times I've had with my friends and crew in this band. There were a few amazing shows. It's a good way to spend your daily life.
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'Lucifer On The Sofa' is out now.
Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Rachel Lipsitz