Forget everything you know about Spoon. Alright, maybe not everything. They’re still proudly keeping Texas weird.
They still feature vocalist/guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, as they’ve done for the entirety of their 24-year lifespan. They’re also still very much in the business of making catchy, bold songs that flirt between avant-garde and accessible. The main difference is that, for their ninth studio album Hot Thoughts, Spoon have pushed the proverbial envelope as far as it will go on their most experimental release to date.
“I think that it was really across the board to take this album in the direction that we did,” says Alex Fischel, the band’s keyboardist and guitarist. “It definitely helped having [producer Dave] Fridmann on board. I think that we approached this record sort of as a response or a reaction to what we did on [2014 album] They Want My Soul. ‘OK, we did that. Now what?’ Our response to that materialised in a way that was a lot more experimental than perhaps we initially anticipated. It’s definitely off the beaten path from what Spoon has done in the past. It was an exciting record to make, and I think that’s why.”
Hot Thoughts is also notable for being the band’s first album in 15 years not to feature Eric Harvey, who played with Spoon for 13 years across four studio albums. Harvey quietly departed not long after touring ended for They Want My Soul, leaving Spoon to continue on as a four-piece completed by bassist Rob Pope.
“It’s not like it wasn’t public information – it was going to come up eventually,” says Fischel. “It’s honestly all good. Eric is playing in Hamilton Leithauser’s band now, and we’ve got a new guy that we’re touring with. His name is Gerardo [Larios], and we met him because Jim was recording him in Austin. We got together to see if the vibe was right and we’ve been playing together ever since.”
Fischel is the most recent person to officially join the Spoon lineup – he entered the fold in 2013, having previously worked with Daniel in the band Divine Fits. Hot Thoughts marks his second album as part of Spoon, and with Harvey gone it was up to him to step up to the plate and play a bigger part in the creative process. Although there was some initial reticence, Fischel definitely feels more at home now than he did at first.
“With the last record, I was definitely scoping the landscape in terms of my own role in the band,” he says. “I definitely felt comfortable to voice my opinion and things like that, but it was definitely a developmental period for me. You spend more time with people in a group and you get a better idea of how they work and how you work with them. Making this album, it was mostly just the four of us, so it definitely felt as though I was stepping up a lot more … I wrote my first song for the band on this record – I wrote ‘First Caress’ with Britt – and I felt a lot more involved.”
Hot Thoughts explores elements of Krautrock, artsy dance rhythms and even a hint of free-form jazz toward the end. It ends up perhaps the furthest removed from any one Spoon record to date: even the album’s press material says this is the first Spoon record to not feature a single acoustic guitar on any of the tracks. According to Fischel, however, the game plan wasn’t to tear down the foundations of the band’s sound bit by bit – at least, not at first.
“There’s a song on the record called ‘I Ain’t The One’ which actually started on the acoustic guitar,” he says. “It kind of sounded like a Johnny Cash song. We toyed around with it, and then decided to see what it would sound like if we moved it over to the Rhodes and sped it up a little. The tone of the organ actually made it darker and a little bit scarier, if that makes any sense. Once we found that, we kind of ran with it.
“It wasn’t like we made a hard and fast rule of ‘no acoustic guitars’. There weren’t really any rules for that matter. We spend a lot of time together, so I think we were kind of intuitively going for the same thing. It just sort of happened that way.”
Less than a week after Hot Thoughts hits the shelves, Spoon will be in Australia for a whirlwind promotional run that includes two headlining shows in Sydney and Melbourne. “This will be my third tour of Australia,” says Fischel. “I came over with Divine Fits in 2013, and Spoon did a tour in 2015. We’re really looking forward to it.
“We’ve kind of just been going through the new stuff and seeing what works live, and what we’re confident enough to pull off. That’s going to be a big part of the show. We might also be playing some songs off [2010 album] Transference that we haven’t played before. We didn’t really get around to it on the last tour, so we’ll see what happens.”
[Spoon photo by Zackery Michael]