Spoon: “There Aren’t Enough Great Rock-And-Roll Records Being Made & That’s What We Wanted To Make”

Spoon are entering their fourth decade as a band by releasing their 10th studio album. Those are some big numbers, and it’s a testament to the Austin band’s ability to adapt and evolve over the years.

That’s from a twofold standpoint, as well: Change has come from both within Spoon’s personnel and their multifaceted stylistic approach for their latest LP. All of that is on display on said 10th album, Lucifer on the Sofa. On the former, guitarist Gerardo Larios and bassist Ben Trokan are making their official debuts on record with the band. As for the latter, Lucifer sees the quintet turning to the throes of classic rock from the ’60s and ’70s, giving it both a 2022 kickstart and a quintessential Spoon skewering for good measure.

With the release of Lucifer on the Sofa, Music Feeds hopped onto a Zoom call with the band’s co-founder and lead singer Britt Daniel to discuss the new make of Spoon, their cult fandom and how they almost ended up in a Hummer commercial.

Music Feeds: Lucifer, even before its release, had been labelled the most time-consuming record Spoon have ever put out. Its stop-start process was largely due to the pandemic, but also due to logistics surrounding the band members and their locations. Across this nearly three-year process, was there ever a point where you genuinely thought the album wouldn’t see the light of day?

Britt Daniel: It never quite got to that point, but I will say that there was definitely a period where I was really frustrated we couldn’t get together. Especially because I felt like, before lockdown, we were pretty close to being done. I’d love to have put out a record in 2018, like a year after [previous album, 2017’s] Hot Thoughts. That’s literally what we were shooting for! Then one thing after another came up, so things started coming up even before lockdown. I held to hope by knowing things were eventually going to come. I was just frustrated with how long it was taking. [laughs]

MF: Given how far back the trajectory of Lucifer on the Sofa stretches, what is the oldest song that made it onto the record?

BD: That’s ‘Satellite’. That one we’ve been playing live since 2014. We actually recorded it twice before this album. We recorded it for [eighth album, 2014’s] They Want My Soul at Dave Fridmann’s studio. I wrote it around the same time as ‘Inside Out’, and they had a lot of the same themes as one another – even some of the same lyrics, as well. I remember bringing it to Dave and saying, “Okay, here’s another one.” He made the same observation that they had the same lyrics as the other one. I was like, “that’s just where my head’s at.”

MF: How similar are the version you recorded for They Want My Soul and the version that ended up on Lucifer on the Sofa?

BD: We’re definitely playing it a lot better. That’s the main thing that sticks out to me. When we recorded it the first time, we hadn’t really honed in on it yet. We wanted it to be done. We did a version a few years later, trying it out again, and we just felt it wasn’t quite right yet. We played it live for so long, that we really got it to come together at some point. It’s probably – actually, I can say, definitely – it’s the song that we played live for the longest period of time before getting the album version done.

MF: What would you say are the key differences between the writing and creating of Hot Thoughts and Lucifer on the Sofa – outside of the obvious contextual impacts of the pandemic?

BD: The first thing that comes to mind was that we really got our live show together. We toured a lot between that last record and this one, and while we were doing so we were noticing that the versions of the Hot Thoughts songs we were playing seemed even better than the album versions. We played ‘I Ain’t the One’ on The Late Late Show, and as we walked off, I remember thinking, “Well, fuck, I wish we’d had that version on the record.” [laughs] So, we kind of learned from that. Instead of making the record in a way where we’re kind of writing it and recording at the same time, figuring out what the songs are in the studio, we’d get together in the room. The MO was like, “let’s play off each other. Let’s do it kind of like we’re doing it here on the road.” I think we also just decided that there aren’t enough great rock-and-roll records being made – and that’s what we wanted to make. [laughs]

MF: Was Lucifer on the Sofa written knowing it would be the title track? Where did that phrase stem from? It’s a very evocative title.

BD: That phrase came up when I was writing the lyrics for that song. Sometimes, lyrics take a second to come. Every now and then, though, you get lucky and they come really fast. That one came fast, and I had way more than I needed. In fact, both Alex [Fischel, guitarist/keyboardist] and Jim [Eno, drummer] made me cut out several sections of it. [laughs] Well, they didn’t make me, but they convinced me to. But yeah, when I wrote that lyric I thought it was creepy. I loved it. I thought it was, like you said, evocative. I quickly figured out that the Lucifer on the sofa is another side of me. It’s the character I can become when I’m not at my best, and it’s the character that can bring about a lack of motivation and self-indulgence. Nasty things can happen when you’re Lucifer on the sofa. [laughs] As I grow older, I try to get to see that character less and less. Sometimes, though, he still comes around – and the song is about dealing with him.

MF: There’s a really interesting mix of players in this current line-up of Spoon. Let’s take a look at Gerardo Larios and Ben Krokan, who are both making their debuts on Lucifer. What was it like to have fresh blood in the studio, as it were?

BD: I mean, let me put it this way: We’ve never had a guitar solo before. We’ve never even had a solo on any song like the one on ‘The Hardest Cut’. That’s because we’ve never had Gerardo in the band. Even if I had been able to think of that kind of solo, I would not have been able to play it. When we were recording it, I kind of steered him – I was like, “Do some [Kinks guitarist] Dave Davies for us.” That’s not my forte – I’ve got a good right hand, and I can play good rhythm and kind-of lead, but I’m not a monster lead guitar player like he is.

Benny has some real credentials to his name, too. He played with Charles Bradley; he played with Sharon Jones; he played with Lee Fields. He’s got some serious cred in terms of like being a real in-the-pocket player. Even outside of soul music, he also played in a rock band called Robbers On High Street. He really has an approach to bass that we’ve never had in this band before. That’s all been good to have in the fold. I mean, more than anything, we invite guys into the band based on their personalities and then we kind of hope for the best. We’re usually pretty lucky. [laughs]

MF: Was that the case with Alex Fischel? This year marks a full decade of the two of you working together – the Divine Fits album came out in 2012, and then a year or so later he was brought into Spoon as a multi-instrumentalist. How has your creative relationship developed over the last 10 years?

BD: I always thought that Alex was wise beyond his years. When I first met him, I think he was maybe 21. I met his dad around that time, and I’m like, “I just can’t believe this.” This dude is 21, and already so wise and also so talented. We’ve got a good thing going on, I think. We co-wrote a lot of the songs on this record.

He’s a guy you can just bring into any situation and he can make something happen, either on guitar or keyboards. That’s pretty crazy, and it’s pretty great too. I call him the vibe guy. [laughs]

MF: And finally, of course, we can’t talk about Spoon without talking about Jim Eno – he’s been through every single iteration of the band with you over nearly 30 years. It feels right to ask the same question that is asked of any long-standing couple: What’s your secret?

BD: [laughs] I think our secret is knowing when to keep pushing and knowing when to stop. Other than the very first one [1996’s Telephono], we’ve never put out a record that I had any regrets about. I do know a lot of people who’ve put out records and didn’t want to hear it come on the radio because it embarrassed them, or they didn’t want to play it for people because it made them squeamish, or there was something they didn’t like about it. I don’t know why, but Jim and I have just never had that experience. We always just kept working on a record until it sounded fucking fantastic to us. It’s just kind of an internal thing – you just know when it’s right.

MF: The longevity of the band has inevitably lead to a lot of fandom around the band. It’s the classic cult following thing – those that are dedicated are really dedicated. You have podcasters like those behind I Turn My Podcast On, and YouTubers like Mic The Snare, who break down a lot of the band’s sound and thematic structures. Some musicians have bad reactions to that sort of thing – what’s your take on it?

BD: It doesn’t weird me out at all. I actually feel like I can relate, because there’s definitely bands and albums that I have felt that level of obsessed with. I like reading and watching that kind of level of intensity or detail about my favourite bands. I kinda just feel lucky that there’s these people that get it, y’know? I haven’t heard about the Mic The Snare channel that you mentioned, but I did do a lot of interviews with that podcast guy, Tyler [Darling]. He’s great – he’s actually a pretty damn good journalist.

MF: Along with decades of touring and the consistent output of new records, Spoon has also featured a lot in movies and television. Stranger Than Fiction, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Simpsons, The O.C., Shameless… that’s just some of the places your songs have ended up. What’s the most peculiar offer you’ve gotten to license a Spoon song for something?

BD: Yeah, there was a time right before [fifth album, 2005’s] Gimme Fiction came out, and we’d done a video for the song ‘I Turn My Camera On’. I went to LA to work with the director and editor in an editing bay, which was in this, like, big complex that had a lot of different editing bays. While we’re in the process of working on the video, I heard another of my songs coming from down the hall. It was the song ‘Small Stakes’. I was like, “What the fuck is that?” I go down the hall there, and the door was open so I poked my head in. I could see these two guys in the bay and I was like, “Hey guys, that’s my song.” [laughs] “What’d you do? What’s going on?” They were very nice, turned out. They told me that they were working on a Hummer commercial.

They’re like, “Don’t you think this is great?” I didn’t know what to make of it. Eventually, they did formally reach out once they’d finished a cut of the video for the commercial, and asked us if they could have it.

That’s one of the few times that we said no – it just didn’t feel right at that moment. I didn’t want to do it, but other things have obviously come our way since.

MF: While we’re on the topic: Who played the tambourine on ‘Small Stakes’? That one is a real hard-hitter.

BD: That’s me! [plays air tambourine, laughs] That’s a good one, I agree.

‘Lucifer On the Sofa’ is out now.

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