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SPOON Inside their Hot Thoughts

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Whether they intended it or not, Texan rockers Spoon have made a play for the big time on ninth album Hot Thoughts. One of the most consistent bands in rock music, Spoon rarely fail to impress, and it will be interesting to see how a more electronic Spoon is received by the public at large (we think it’s going to be big). HARVEY RAE had a chat with drummer and in house studio technician Jim Eno about their most ambitious record to date.

Hi Jim, where are you talking to us from today? 

I’m in Austin, where we are doing some rehearsals, getting ready to go out on the road.

Congratulations on your latest album Hot Thoughts, it seems to be a step in terms of a fuller sound. From your point of view, how is this one different to previous albums?

I feel like it’s more futuristic. At least how we think the future will be. That’s what it feels like to me. When you have like a song like First Caress, with those crazy glided keyboards [and] WhisperI’lllistentohearit, you know, those sound adventurous to me.

I feel like it sounds bigger. I feels like a logical next step on from [last album] They Want My Soul, but yeah, it’s just bigger in all the synths all those elements you’ve been developing for a long time have gone to the next level…

Wow. Awesome. Why do you think, I’m just curious real quick, why you think it’s bigger? Is it because maybe there’s more keyboard on it or something?

Yeah, maybe. That felt like something that you were playing with and did some really fun stuff on They Want My Soul, heard that on tracks like New York Kiss. But this album just, maybe this is stadium Spoon, I’m not quite sure what it is? It does sound bigger though, from the moment you put it on…

Oh that’s cool. That’s really good to hear. One thing that is definitely different is Alex [Fischel, keys and guitar] is taking a lot bigger role on this record. He’s amazing at coming up with parts. He wrote a lot of First Caress, so I feel like him being our secret weapon is contributing a lot to the progression of the sound.

I’ve kind of felt that about the last album, when he came across from Divine Fits to Spoon, that you could really feel his influence in there straight away. And not only has Alex firmed up as a permanent Spoon member, and come into his own as you mentioned, but you’ve lost Eric Harvey [former guitarist] recently who’s been with you there for a long time. What happened with Eric leaving the band?

Oh, I think that it was just sort of time to part ways. And that’s pretty much it, you know. I mean, we love him. He’s playing with Hamilton now.

He’s playing with Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen fame? I didn’t know that. I’ve spoke to Eric before as well and I’m glad to hear the love affair isn’t totally over. I hadn’t read anything about what or why you might have split ways, so I was curious to find out more…

Yeah, he’s playing with Hamilton Leithauser now. Which is cool.

I feel like this album hinges on the title track and first single, Hot Thoughts, in a way I can’t remember a Spoon album doing before, where the first track, and it’s the single, and it’s just so important to the record, but perhaps you’ve never really  had a single quite like this one. I can’t help but think late 70s Stones, Some Girls era, what were you guys thinking when you were making that track?

Britt [Daniel, frontman and songwriter] was listening to a lot of different stuff. To me the thing that really captured me about this song, was just the vocal delivery and performance. But also the harmony line I think is awesome, how it starts off with the harmony and the verses have that great, you know .. It’s sort of like a menacing feel to it. I don’t know how to describe it. And also, when that chorus kicks in, it’s the first time we’ve ever used an instrument called the Celeste, which is like a belled piano. I feel like that, along with the guitar, feels bizarre but in a really menacing way.

Another interesting point, and I guess this goes hand-in-hand with Alex stepping up his role and becoming more important, and again is a logical progression from They Want My Soul, is that you’ve got Dave Fridmann producing the whole album. I remember talking to you around the release of They Want My Soul; you talked about what a massive sea change that was for you as the in house producer of the band, to work with a guy like Dave Fridmann. I remember you were in awe of the way he worked, and it feels like this record you’ve been kind of able to take that relationship and really push it to the next level. A little, as I said, like the relationship with Alex has evolved. It’s like you’ve really grown comfortable with one another. Would that be fair to say?

Yeah, that sounds great. I couldn’t have said it better. But I feel like I’m still in awe of him. I mean, I learn a lot when I watch him work. He’s a great engineer, but he’s also a great producer in that he can see where he’s taking the track. So he has this road map, which is just great.

Give us an example of how his role was different this time around and why it’s grown…

If you look at like a song like Pink Up, we were working on it and we’d show it to Dave, and he’s like, “Ok let’s do this. Let’s everyone go into the live room and pick out an instrument that is speaking to you, a percussion instrument that’s speaking to you. And then I’m going to play the track through the headphones and you guys play along, ok?” And we’re like, “You know, this sounds like a drum circle or something. How good is this going to be?” But we’re all having a really good time, and we go into the control room and it sounds sort of like a chaotic mess, and Dave’s like, “Ok, I’m going to call out over the headphones who plays with who, and you guys just stop playing and only the people I say go ahead and play.” So we would be playing and he would be like “Ok Alex alone,” and Alex is on the little bongos; and then he’d be like, “Ok Britt and Jim,” and I was on the toms and Britt was on like shakers or tambourine. So then what he would do, is he would have all these different pieces and he’s like, “Ok, give me like an hour,” and we went and grabbed a beer or something, and come back and he like staged like this masterpiece of percussion [laughs]. His first shot was pretty amazing. We worked on it from there, but yeah, it was pretty great.

I know this is Britt’s terrain really, but I also get the impression when I speak to you that you have a fairly good grasp of everything that’s going on in Spoon, and I  want to ask about the lyrics overall on the record. Do you know if Britt went into writing this record with anything particularly on his mind – or even for yourself, looking back on the lyrics for the album, do you notice a thread running through it?

Ah boy, I don’t know. Britt and I have a pretty close relationship but I don’t usually ask him about stuff like that and I wish I had more information for you. When it comes to my and his relationship with lyrics a lot of the times it will be like, “Hey Britt I really like this, this verse on the demo; I really love this line, so don’t change it.” Because a lot of times I’ll get the next demo and it won’t have this line that I really loved in it and he’s like, “You should have told me!” I try to point out specific things that I really, really love about the lyrics.

Fair enough, and that’s an interesting insight in its own right. I guess even as very old friends that could be a bit of an awkward conversation in a way. Like, “Britt, tell me exactly what you were thinking about when you wrote Hot Thoughts,” that could be awkward…

Right, right [laughs]. I mean there’s also stuff like where maybe he doesn’t like a certain lyric or maybe a certain section, and I may really like it and I will like basically write him an email on what it means to me. You know, like this is why I like it and this is why I think it works. Different people are going to have different interpretations of the lyrics, that’s what makes it fun. Someone may relate to this line that was never intended to have that meaning but it related to you in a certain way.

That leads into my next question, in a way. I always saw you beyond being the drummer, as being the producer in the band in many ways, now that you’re working with these bigger name producers, as a band on a more regular basis, how has that affected your kind of role and your creativity in the process?

Well, I mean, we have always used an outside producer except for one record. So you know it’s only been a collaboration between me, Britt and some other producer as like a co-producer kind of role. It basically changes from record to record. Our first records were produced by John Croslin; and then Mike McCarthy, a good friend of ours, produced a bunch of them; and then we did a song with Jon Brion; and now Dave Fridmann, and there’s a lot of people we’ve worked with and we have our system down and we have our roles. So I feel like maybe one of the reasons why you can see Dave Fridmann’s role affecting this record more, which I actually agree with, is the comfort level has come. We all understand we work really well together and we all appreciate what each person brings and maybe that helps with the production side.

You’ve returned to Matador for this album and I don’t think there’s ever an album where we are not having a chat about Spoon’s record label situation. I mean there’s been a pretty long and chequered history with record labels and you’ve come full circle by releasing this one with Matador – why are you so often changing labels between records, more so than other bands, do you think?

I mean first we were on Matador, and then we were on a label that dropped us (Elektra). Then we were on Merge for a long time, but the way we structure things is, we tend to sign one record deals with labels and we tend to finish the record and figure out where we are going to put it out. So that’s basically what we’re doing, is we’re evaluating what the best place for it is. We felt like Loma Vista was great for They Want My Soul, there was a lot of passion there. But when this new record came out, we started sending it around to people, and Matador, there was no comparison on their enthusiasm, and we were friends with these guys since 1995, and they also are a much different label than they were ten years ago. They’re very integrated with Beggars; they’re very good at communicating; they have a great team. They have a great international team too, and it seemed like the best option for this record.

I mentioned back at the start of the interview that I’m a little bit sad Spoon aren’t coming to Perth on the current Australian tour, but I’m hoping this is just a short stop over and we can expect you back for a full tour once the album has dropped for what I think are probably going to be some big shows. How is the band stepping it up on stage and making the show even bigger again in line with the sound of the new record?

Well first thing is we will definitely come back. We love going to Australia, it’s one of our favourite places to visit and to play. I mean, we’ve always had really good support there. We will be in Perth on this record. And to be honest, on production, we haven’t really figured that out just yet. On the proper tour, we’re still getting all our stuff dialed in, but when it comes to like stage design and everything like that, we’re still looking at things. I’m pretty excited about playing the new songs live. They’re sounding great in rehearsal so far. What it comes down to live is, ok, there are twenty different keyboard tracks on here, what are the important ones and how are we going to play them, you know? But we we don’t, we don’t play with (backing) tracks. So everything you hear live is us playing.

True? Fascinating, it’s going to be a really fascinating record to see live, and I really do think this one’s going to go well for you. I feel like I say that with every album…

Awesome. We look forward to coming out there and thanks for your support, really appreciate it.