June 10, 2005
When Spoon singer-songwriter Britt Daniels began writing songs for the band’s latest album “Gimme Fiction,” he was already focused on the end. As in The End. “I was thinking about the apocalypse,” he said. “There are a lot of people in Texas and in the Bible Belt who believe in it. They have this approach that it’s going to happen in our lifetimes anyway, so why even try to preserve the environment and work towards peace?”
Those are depressing thoughts from a musician whose band has anything but dark days ahead. Unceremoniously dropped from Elektra Records just a few weeks after releasing “A Series of Sneaks” in 1998, Spoon rebounded, signing with Merge Records and releasing a string of critically-lauded rock albums a few years later. Now, as Spoon embarks on a nationwide tour supporting its anticipated new album, the band has become much more than a Wilco-esque comeback story. It’s now an established group making music on its own terms.
Recorded between July and September last year, “Gimme Fiction” has the same stark, stripped-down sound and vague, semi-autobiographical lyrics that made the band’s last two albums, 2001’s “Girls Can Tell” and 2002’s “Kill the Moonlight” so popular. Streamlined arrangements of piano, bass, guitar and drums barrel ahead on the album’s 11 tracks. Daniels, the main songwriter, Jim Eno, his primary collaborator and drummer, and engineer Mike McCarthy (who worked on the last three albums) once again distill pop music to its basics, removing impurities to deliver a more potent punch.
“Britt’s told me many times that Jim and his’ goal is to write the perfect three-minute pop song,” said Martin Hall, Merge Record’s publicity director.
Many songs on the album also tweak the Spoon formula just enough to add some dark new thrills, without upsetting the group’s minimalist aesthetic. Tracks like “My Mathematical Mind” which opens with a sample of a whirring tape recorder, sound a bit looser with the addition of more feedback and effects. It also includes a solo from Daniels, something the self-confessed average guitar player has shied away from in the past.
“We were touring with the Fiery Furnaces a couple of year ago and we had been covering ‘Roller Coaster’ by the 13th Floor Elevators,” he said. “I was trying to add some notes to the song, and I wasn’t very good at it. I don’t know scales and stuff like that. But the Matt Friedberger, he guitarist from the Fiery Furnaces, just told me to stop thinking about it and just feel it. And I remember after one night I did it right and he said I was feeling it. After that, I just started doing that with a lot of tunes.”
It’s an important shift for Daniels, because Spoon’s well-earned reputation for being a band of perfectionists goes back to the beginning. Before the band was formed, Daniels and Eno played together in a country/rockabilly group in Austin called The Alien Beats. Eno’s precise drumming impressed the budding singer and guitarist. But when Daniels decided to form the rock band that would eventually become Spoon, he made the drummer audition again to make sure he fit in with his new concept.
“It was a pretty intense audition,” says Eno. “He wanted me to check out weird style and make me do some rudiments and things. It was pretty ridiculous, but I think I passed.”
That striving for perfection carries over into the studio. Because Spoon does most of its recording, including all of “Gimme Fiction,” at Eno’s personal one-room studio in Austin, the band doesn’t have to worry about wasting precious time. They can be deliberate and picky.
“The good side is you have infinite recording time,” said Eno. “And the bad news is you have infinite recording time. That’s why the new album didn’t come out earlier. It wasn’t ready.”
That extra work is paying off for the band, which has seen its profile rise over the year without the benefit of a hit radio single or MTV airplay. According to Hall, the group’s last record, “Kill the Moonlight,” sold about 80,000 copies. A week after being released, “Gimme Fiction” shipped roughly 90,000 copies. But Daniels claims to be oblivious to increased attention or expectations. Spoon just wants to make good pop songs.
“I don’t really know what other people’s expectations are and I don’t really care,” he said. “The thing I feel pressure about is I don’t want to put out a record that has filler in it or that I’m not thrilled to listen to. And it’s not easy to write that record. It’s very easy to write a bunch of songs that are so-so, songs that don’t have a lot of potential.”