Spoon Was Not Made for These Times

Thinking those Hot Thoughts.
Thinking those Hot Thoughts. Zackery Michael
Spoon is a band that yearns for the past.

The Austin, Texas, quartet’s craving for another time doesn't manifest itself like an old man telling unruly youths to get off his lawn. They are far too cool for that. Rather, you can hear it in lead singer and songwriter Britt Daniel’s wish that one day “they’ll start to make shirts that fit right” from the track “The Fitted Shirt” on the band's third album, 2001’s Girls Can Tell.

Nostalgic yearnings reappear on the opening lines of “I Summon You,” a standout track from 2005’s Gimme Fiction. Daniel chimes, “Remember the weight of the world / It's the sound that we used to buy / On cassette and 45.”

There are also the obscure covers in Spoon’s discography, such as “I Just Don’t Understand” from 2014’s They Want My Soul. They support the theory that the 46-year-old musician reminisces about the past in order to create some of the best music of the last three decades.

Drummer Jim Eno won’t entertain this supposition about his bandmate’s handiwork. He also won’t deny that Hot Thoughts, the group’s ninth album, was influenced by legendary greats — particularly Devo, David Bowie, and Prince. It is the sexiest and most adventurous music the band has made to date.

Eno spoke with Phoenix New Times by phone from Texas about what he's nostalgic for, creating songs with a message, and why you never hear stories about him and Daniel fighting. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

New Times: If there is a theme I have detected in Spoon’s music, it’s a sense of longing for when music and materials were better constructed. Are you and the band drawn to a time when things were not so easily disposable? Have we collectively lowered our standards a bit?
Jim Eno: I don’t know what has influenced the lyrics. As a band, we wish people still bought records like they used to. For us, the record is a very exciting art form. It’s a collection of songs that take a snapshot of a certain time in a band’s career. I find that to be a very powerful thing.

The fact that music is moving toward a singles-driven type of environment is not how we want it to go. That being said, we are not going to change things. What we have to do now is figure out how to play in this new sandbox. We are going to keep trying to put together the best collection of songs we can.

We are nostalgic for the time when people would buy a vinyl record, open up the gatefold, look at the artwork, and read the credits as they were listening as opposed to hearing the single on an internet radio station. I don’t know if that answers your question, but our feeling is that we are going to keep trying to still play in this art form we love.

How are you finding new ways to play in that sandbox?
If you look back into the '90s and 2000s, the really big acts have had songs on the radio. We have had little radio success. I feel that triple-A radio has really embraced us, but when you look at commercial alternative radio, we are actually starting to get traction in there. That is pretty exciting for us, but we have been trying to do that for our entire career.

I feel like the new part of it is listeners are now drawn to a radio-driven style, but it is with respect to playlists. We want to have as many people as possible hear our music. If there are avenues on Apple Music or Spotify we have to use in order for people to hear us, we’re going to try to do it as long as it does not artistically compromise us. We made the record we wanted to make. It is there for everyone. You can get it on those streaming services. Hopefully, people are listening to the record from top to bottom.

click to enlarge Spoon will not get off your lawn. - ZACKERY MICHAEL
Spoon will not get off your lawn.
Zackery Michael
I am probably off on this, but I’ve always felt like Spoon makes records that set a mood rather than send a message. Maybe I am reading the wrong reviews, but I’ve never read one that says, “This is Spoon’s most personal album to date.” Has creating a certain feeling been the way the band has wanted to connect to listeners?
I think that is an adequate perspective. If we do want to make a statement, we want to have the listener discover it. When it comes to Britt’s lyrics, he is not one to be incredibly literal and beat someone over the head with them.

“Don’t Make Me A Target” and “The Underdog” had a message. “Tear It Down” has a message, but it can be taken a lot of different ways.

When Britt was writing the lyrics for “Tear It Down,” it was before the Republican primaries. He was concerned the lyric would be obsolete as opposed to being a mantra. We all thought Trump would be a passing shit-stain in history. We never thought anything would come of that, but unfortunately, we were wrong. Now it’s a song about tearing down a wall.

Of all the songs on Hot Thoughts, that is the one I knew exactly Britt was talking about.
That lyric didn’t come first. I think he was trying to find something in the chorus and was like, “Hey, this sounds cool. Let me figure out the ramifications of this. What would you tear down?” He came up that lyric and thought about what it would mean after the fact. I feel like it wasn’t conceived as a protest song.

You always hear about how great songs are born out of conflict among bandmates. You don’t hear about that with your band. Do you ever fight or is it something you never feel the need to talk about?
[laughs] I feel like we have been together for such a long time that we know what our roles are. I’m not a songwriter, so there is never going to be a time when I say, “I want my song on a Spoon record.”

We have conflicts when it comes to how we approach a song or what an arrangement is, but we all work really well together and respect each other enough to see each other’s point. At the end of the day, it has to be a great song. We all have to be happy with it.

Spoon is scheduled to perform with The Shins on Tuesday, October 3, at Comerica Theatre. Tickets start at $39 and can be purchased through their website.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil