Spoon has carved out a comfortable niche for themselves in the rock music world.
The Austin, Texas-bred band has achieved an enviable mixture of critical praise and commercial success, each of the group’s records outselling its predecessor while earning rave reviews, and the band maintaining its omnipresent coolness.
On acclaimed releases such as Kill The Moonlight, Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon cranked out a stellar batch of wiry, angular tunes—sometimes sparse, sometimes weird, but always engaging.
After the tour supporting Transference (2010), which entered the Billboard charts at number four, Spoon took an extended hiatus, each of the members going their separate ways to engage in personal side projects, including leader Britt Daniel’s foray with Divine Fits.
The band eventually reconvened to create They Want My Soul, released in August 2014. Featuring new full-time member Alex Fischel on guitar and keyboards, They Want My Soul flashes more of the quirk and quality that fans have come to expect from Spoon, with several tracks offering surprising musical excursions.
Recently, Spoon embarked on a spring/summer tour, which finds the group visiting Brooklyn for a pair of June performances. Multi-instrumentalist Eric Harvey phoned me during a break in the tour to discuss the making of They Want My Soul, the band’s hiatus, and other topics.
How’s this leg of the tour going so far?
So far, so good. We did a festival in Dallas, then went to Austin to rehearse for a couple of days. Next we did a festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama—on the beach, which was really beautiful. Then we played in Oklahoma City, which was kind of our first regular show. For some reason in Oklahoma City, we feel we always do really well there. The crowd is always really energetic and stoked.
It sounds like they love their Spoon in Oklahoma.
I guess. I think they do it for everyone, though. I think the fans are grateful when people come through there, as I’m not sure all bands make it a tour destination.
This is the time of year for all of the outdoor festivals, which Spoon is playing a bunch of. How does the band enjoy playing those large outdoor shows, in addition to your own gigs?
Sometimes they’re great, and sometimes they’re just a logistical nightmare. It depends on how well-organized the festival is. There’s usually a little bit of stress because you don’t get a soundcheck, and you have 15 minutes to set everything up. Usually when something goes wrong onstage, it’ll go wrong in front of 20,000 people. (Laughs)
Spoon is now officially a five-piece band. In concert, how does that give you added flexibility for recreating the sound that you want onstage?
It’s a lot better for me. For a long time, I was kind of responsible for making a lot of the sounds. If it wasn’t guitar, bass or drums, I had to be the one doing it. Which I always enjoyed, wearing different hats—switching from guitar to keys, playing with sound effects, and sometimes I’m like a human sequencer up there. But it’s nice to be able to share those duties with Alex, for sure. There’s a lot more sound now. There were certain sacrifices that we had to make before that we don’t have to make now.
It seems that at least once per album, Spoon throws a real musical curveball into the mix. On the latest record, that song is “Inside Out”—it has a dreamy, almost trip-hop vibe.
That song happened when we were talking about doing something with programmed beats, after listening to a Dr. Dre song. As far as the dreamy stuff, that song started as a straight-up piano ballad. Over the course of working on the album track, it turned into this dreamy thing. We had a bunch of solo parts that we weren’t really sure what to do with at first, but the dreamy harp solo really stuck. That was one of those songs where it was very simple, and in order for it to be great, something really special has to happen. And I think in the case of that song, it did.
When Spoon is making an album, do the versions of your songs change quite a bit throughout the recording process?
Yes. They get turned inside out, going from an initial idea to a finished product. They get played half a dozen different ways and with different rhythms, keys, and arrangements. Very few things happen spontaneously. Although some of it is just about playing the song, rather than talking about it all the time. (Laughs)
There are some bands that just kind of jam. But when Spoon sits down to rehearse, we talk about the song when we’re working on it. The kind of sound we have, there’s a certain attention to detail and we sit there and analyze the minutia. It’s like a formula, but it’s not because we’re trying to [always] do the same thing. We’re trying to figure out something new and different that’s still within the rock discipline, which you can’t veer too much from, otherwise you’re not playing rock music anymore.
There’s a lot of interesting work that goes into the making of songs. But what we come up with is usually pretty good, so we’ll keep doing it that way. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say.
For They Want My Soul, you worked with two different big-name producers, Dave Fridmann and Joe Chiccarelli, which could have gotten a little messy. Talk about how that process went.
Originally Dave was just brought in to mix, so having two different producers was not the original plan. The original plan was just to do it with Joe. Britt had worked with him on a Divine Fits single. In 2013, the band was working together for basically one week each month. At a certain point we went out to L.A. and started recording at Sunset Sound, then we went back to Austin and did a lot of overdubbing and whatnot.
When you’re doing a Spoon record, you end up co-producing with Britt and Jim [Eno, drummer] because they’re always listed as producers. And I think there was a kind of misunderstanding between the vision that Joe had for the record and the vision that Britt and Jim had for the record. I think Joe had this idea that he wanted to give the band a different, thicker sound. And I think it was kind of at odds with what Britt wanted, sound-wise and production-wise. So we basically did the first half of the record with Joe, and then went to mix it with Dave, and then Dave said if we wanted someone to record the second half of the record, he’d do it. And I think something just clicked with Dave. I really like him. Britt and Jim seemed to get along with him real well. We’re going back to do more stuff with Dave at the end of June.
Did you record any material during those sessions that didn’t make it on They Want My Soul?
There were other songs from those sessions, but they never really got finished. I can’t really see them seeing them the light of day, at least not without a lot of work. (Laughs) We do have a single coming out, a Cramps cover, which is in that new Poltergeist movie.
There’s generally a lot of “space” in Spoon’s songs—the tunes aren’t overly dense, and there’s plenty of room for individual elements to shine, whether it’s a guitar lick or your keyboard work, or Britt’s vocal. Has that always been a goal?
I guess. That appears to be Britt’s goal. I’ve been learning the language of Spoon for the last 10 years. There’s a certain point where it kind of clicks and you get it. There was a time when we’d be working on a song, and we’d hear a mix, and Britt would be like, “That’s it—that’s the final mix!” And you’d be like, “Really?! It’s done?” (Laughs) But I’ve definitely learned a lot working with these guys the last 10 years. I speak the language now.
After the Transference album, the band took a bit of a hiatus before reconvening to work on They Want My Soul. Was there any point when you thought Spoon might not continue?
We were doing a European tour for Transference and Britt said, “I think this band should go away for a while.” I didn’t think that the band wouldn’t get back together. But for me, having a full-time gig with Spoon from 2004 to 2010, for that to stop was strange. It definitely makes you think about the longevity of being in a rock band.
How did you personally spend your time during that break, Eric?
I did a solo album, which I put out in 2012. I did some producing around Texas, recording small bands in home studios. I’m also an artist and graphic designer. I had gotten spoiled making a pretty good living being a full-time musician, then I took a few steps back and had a bit of a reality check in terms of how hard it is to make it in whatever creative endeavor you’re involved with. But it was a great learning experience. I’m glad I made my solo record. I learned a lot from it.
Did that time away from Spoon reenergize the band, and did you guys return more focused?
It’s hard to say. It definitely reenergized us, but there was a little bit of anxiety there because I hadn’t really seen or talked to the other guys that much in the space of a couple of years. And Spoon started working on a new record around the time I was in the middle of a big breakup, and it was kind of a stressful time. There were a lot of changes going on, we got a new band member.
In my life, there were a lot of things that had been the same for a while, but then they weren’t. There were a lot of changes, but I think the place we’re at now feels pretty good to me. The band definitely feels stronger; I feel like our live shows are really great. Who knows what the future will bring, but I definitely feel like we’re in a good place right now.
Spoon will perform two shows in Brooklyn, NY—June 16 at Kings Theatre and June 17 at The Wick. They Want My Soul is available now on Loma Vista Recordings. For more information, go to spoontheband.com.