Just 12 months ago, Spoon fans had plenty of reasons to worry about the band’s future. After 20 years together – and a decade-long stretch of near-flawless releases – the Austin, Texas foursome broke apart to pursue a range of separate projects.
Most notably, frontman and songwriter Britt Daniel teamed up with Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs fame) to create Divine Fits. Not only did that group’s debut album of 2012, A Thing Called Divine Fits,prove Daniel could make excellent records without Spoon, but witnessing Divine Fits live, it was clear he relished this new project. Meanwhile, Daniel’s longtime Spoon sideman, drummer Jim Eno, comfortably settled into the role of record producer, working with the likes of !!! and The Preatures.
Thankfully, all doomsday speculation was put to bed when Spoon – now a five-piece – dropped the new single ‘Rent I Pay’ last June. Then came album number eight, They Want My Soul, which showcased a band back at peak strength.
“I made it my thing,” says Daniel, “when we got back together this time: ‘I don’t want to do anything that’s not fun, I don’t want to do anything that’s not creative.’ That frame of mind was the biggest aim in putting the band back together. It’s worked well. I like the way the record turned out a lot.”
Whenever the members of an established band start messing about with side projects, it’s met with more than a touch of scrutiny. Selfishly, we fans would prefer musicians to stay focused on that which we’ve come to love and depend on. This reaction neglects the liberating potential that comes from experimenting with something different. For instance, while Divine Fits seemed like a distraction at first, the band’s debut was undeniably a collection of bristling rock songs. On top of this, Daniel’s time with Divine Fits reignited his enthusiasm for playing with Spoon.
“The very end of [Spoon’s seventh album] Transference,I could tell that everybody wasn’t as excited,” he says. “I think we toured too long on that record. It didn’t want to be toured as long as we did. If anything, playing with Divine Fits just made me more eager to work with the Spoon guys again. Because I had so much fun with Divine Fits, I saw how great it was to play with people where everyone was excited about it.”
Over the course of their career, Spoon have earned a reputation as critical darlings. Each of their releases from 2001’s Girls Can Tell onwards has received lofty praise from contemporary music commentators. It only takes a quick browse through 2014 ‘best of’ lists to recognise They Want My Soul has secured the band’s impressive critical standing.
Critical opinions are somewhat arbitrary, but garnering unanimous praise is still a mighty achievement. Despite this, Daniel pays no mind to what’s written about the band. “I just think that makes you crazy, reading that stuff,” he says. “I think that the best way for a musician or a songwriter to develop is to go down your own path. When you read those reviews, whether they’re positive or negative, they do get into your brain and make you think about the way you’re writing songs. Whether it’s someone saying that, ‘He does this part well, he does this part shit’ – I don’t need that kind of conflicting information. I’d rather just figure it out for myself.”
Of course, what’s of greater significance than a star rating is the music itself. They Want My Soul is distinguished by a muscular sonic quality (thanks to the input of producers Dave Fridmann and Joe Chiccarelli) and a slew of Daniel’s most immediate and concise compositions. It’s interesting to note that the record’s predecessor, 2010’s Transference, was rather murky and experimental. Although there’s a marked contrast between the two, Daniel wasn’t monitoring how these new songs would correspond to the band’s earlier work.
“All I’m trying to do is just come up with songs that I like,” he says. “Writing songs is such a process, and you go through so many that you discard or are not going to be useful, so all I’m doing is… I want to find that batch of them that I feel really, really solid about – like, ‘I know that’s a solid song.’ And that’s hard enough without trying to make a grand statement.”
Evidently, Daniel’s primary objective is to write quality tunes. However, he doesn’t pretend to be completely disinterested in how the Spoon fan base reacts. “I’m just trying to make something that I feel good about, but then once it’s done, shit yeah I want people to like it. But I have no control over it. I’d rather just make it myself and then put it out there and hopefully it captures somebody’s imagination and somebody likes it.”
On They Want My Soul, he’s accomplished this task. Spoon have spent the last nine months on the road and next week they’ll kick off an Australian tour. By the looks of things, the enthusiasm recovered while making They Want My Soul remains in effect.
“These songs are fun to play live,” Daniel says. “I love touring. Touring is the easy part for me. You don’t have to think too hard. It’s just pure fun.”