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Spoon’s Back for Another Dance With the Devil

Frontman Britt Daniel talks about the legendary Austin band’s return to touring, the future of rock, and their latest project, the remix LP ‘Lucifer on the Moon’

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Throughout the nearly three decades of Spoon’s existence, frontman Britt Daniel has seen a variety of words attached to his band. In the early days, it was “Pixies”—a reference to the groundbreaking Boston quartet who Spoon’s first albums drew comparisons to. At one point years later, the word became “minimal.” (Daniel admits he loved that one.)

But if there’s one word that’s followed Spoon around for the past 10 years or so, it’s “consistent.” It’s as though it’s impossible to write about the band without using the word. And while there are worse things you could call a musician, the term can feel a little hollow divorced from context.

“We talk about Prince from 1980 to 1987—he was consistently amazing,” Daniel says via Zoom. “Then maybe in the last few records he put out were consistently not so good. So consistent doesn’t really mean anything in itself, standing on its own. Does it?”

Luckily for Spoon, they’ve typically fallen on the former side of that equation. That includes their 10th studio album, Lucifer on the Sofa, released in February through Matador Records. Perhaps their best album in over a decade, Sofa found the band tapping into a reliable formula, eschewing studio wizardry and delivering an uninhibited rock record that sacrificed none of the nuance of its predecessor, 2017’s Hot Thoughts.

But just because Spoon’s reliable doesn’t mean they’re not capable of still surprising. In fact, early next month, they return with one of their biggest surprises yet: a remix album that finds legendary dub producer Adrian Sherwood deconstructing Spoon’s latest LP. Billed as the “anti-gravity” companion to Sofa, Lucifer on the Moon reimagines songs like “Held” and “The Hardest Cut,” halving their time and blowing out Daniel’s vocals with ping-ponging tape delay and reverb. By dialing up the bass and adding instrumentation to songs like “On the Radio” and “The Devil & Mister Jones,” Sherwood’s able to unlock hidden elements and present the tracks in an entirely new light. Think Mad Professor by way of Austin City Limits.

For the 51-year-old Daniel, Lucifer on the Moon was partly a chance to revisit the way he used to consume music, visiting record stores to buy 12-inch singles complete with remixes and alternate takes. “If you can do it well, then you enjoy listening to this version of the album, maybe in a different setting,” he says. “Or maybe if you’re just a big fan of the original album, you will enjoy hearing different interpretations of the songs or bits of the songs that were left off the original recording.”

Daniel connected with The Ringer earlier this month to talk about Lucifer on the Moon, Spoon’s return to the road in a post-COVID world, and how he feels about yet another word that gets used all too frequently with regard to his band.

There’s nothing really like Lucifer on the Moon in Spoon’s catalog. Why did you think this was the right move to revisit an album, and why now?

Well, it happened by accident. There was never an intention to go out and make a Part 2 to Lucifer on the Sofa. It was more like: As soon as you get done making a record, the label and management always want more content, right? Or they want B sides, or they want remixes. If we were going to rework a song in some way or another, it ending up like something that I thought was artful, or something that I would enjoy listening to.

So we tried to think of people who would handle this process in a less computer-made way. Maybe someone who would be interested in adding to the song with more instruments or with analog treatments. Adrian Sherwood was on the top of the list. And he was down to do a song or two. So we gave him the whole album. He picked two songs. I gave him some very minimal directions, and he turned in these treatments that were just out of sight. And he clearly had gone through the tracks and found little mysteries, things that we hadn’t used. Then he added a whole lot of stuff on his own.

I loved it. We got those mixes and we just kept going. We said, “Let’s do two more.” And then later, I didn’t hear from him for a while, and he says, “OK, I finished up. I did the rest of the songs.” I didn’t even ask him to. He just was like, “I want to make sure we get the whole album done.” And then we had an album. So it was a whole other thing. It wasn’t just a remix. It was, “What are we going to do with this?” Let’s put out an album.

Was there anything specific about these songs that lent themselves to this approach? Would this have worked as well with something like Hot Thoughts or another project?

I will say that with this: Over the years, especially around the time of Transference and the next couple albums, I started collecting some studio gear, collected a lot of pedals. I got to know how to use some of that stuff. But in the end, I don’t think that’s what makes music work. It’s sort of a bow that you tie at the end.

As I was working on the songs [for Lucifer on the Sofa], “I’m just going to completely ignore all of that stuff.” That’s one of the rules: “You’re not allowed to try to make a song work because of some piece of gear.” Instead, it’s going to be about the rhythm. It’s going to be about the syllables, the words, the melodies and chords. That often just meant starting with an acoustic guitar. And that’s where the song went. I hadn’t done it like that in a while.

And I think for that reason, this record works particularly well as a ... what would you call it? A reconstruction record. Because it had never really gone through those steps of someone sitting down and just really trying to use the studio as an instrument. That’s what Adrian did. That’s what he’s always been good at.

What do you think specifically he was able to bring out of these songs?

He brought out some rhythms that we would never use. He did that a lot. He would halve the time, or he would make the bass line be much groovier than it had been. And when you do big-picture stuff like that, the songs could take on completely different forms.

What is your relationship with dub music?

Well, I like it. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert. But when we were working on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, my producer Mike McCarthy recommended I listen to a lot of King Tubby. And there was this King Tubby album that had just come out called King Tubby’s in Fine Style. I guess it influenced Ga Ga Ga quite a bit. That was the first time that we took a step into that world.

It’s interesting to hear you say that because listening to that record years ago, it always felt like that was a subtle influence on that record—the bass lines and some of the production choices.

A little bit. Yeah.

Switching gears, how has it been getting back out on the road the past year or so?

Well, it’s as fun as it always was. And at first I was concerned that it wouldn’t be. I’d heard some early reports from friends of mine who were out on tour and what tour life was like. And right when people went out, there were a lot of different protocols that people were using to stay safe. And not only for the audience, but for the band and the way the bands would travel. We did go through some of that for a while.

What I discovered was, as long as you’re still out there making music every night, you’re still playing in front of a lot of people who are having this collective experience of the joy of music, for lack of a better way of putting it, that’s the most important thing. I get to hang out with my buddies. We’re a crew. That part was the same. Now it’s getting to where it feels pretty normal. But to be able to do shows again was a really emotional experience—to be able to just see shows again.

I understand that touring Hot Thoughts affected the way you wrote for Lucifer on the Sofa—that performing the more studio-based stuff for Hot Thoughts made the band want to build songs through repetition and rehearsal. After touring Lucifer, did these songs actually feel different in that regard? And did playing these songs night after night reveal anything unique about what you might want to do going forward?

It was an easier record to just jump in with. With Hot Thoughts, we had made those songs in the studio. I think there were maybe two or three that we actually played with [producer] Dave Fridmann present, and we would home in on things. But honing in on things in the studio is a different situation—with a producer watching and with finite time—from working out songs on your own for a while.

But those songs, we ended up having to figure out how we were going to play them, [like] “I Ain’t the One”? Not only do we not know how to play it, but how do we present it? We would end up coming up with these versions of the songs that I thought were often better.

What did it reveal about this record? That the songs were more ready to go. There was one song, “Lucifer on the Sofa,” that was more of a studio creation. It happens to be the one that Dave Fridmann remotely produced. And that one has a lot of horns and a lot more production on it. It’s the last song on the album. And that’s the one that we transformed a bit back to that playbook. I like playing that one a lot. It’s different from the album version. It’s more of just a band song than a horns and full-on production.

Spoon records are typically universally adored, and Lucifer on the Sofa was certainly no different. Did anything about this feel different to you? Do you pay attention to the reaction to the records?

I don’t read the reviews for the most part. But I might look at how many stars we got. Seemed like we got a lot of stars. Every now and then I’ll read something. If someone points out, “We need a pull quote. Check this out,” I’ll read the review. But it just seems like it’s not beneficial. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s not a good place. It’s not artistically wise for me to get bogged down in that stuff.

There was a time where I got maybe a little too into reading the reviews. And it’s like, “Oh. So I did this. Oh, interesting. OK.” And then it makes me think about how I do the art. And for the most part, I haven’t found that helpful. But I thought the record seemed like it ... There were a lot of stars and it seemed like it did well. Talking about critically, it seems like it did even better than the last couple.

In an interview you did with Spin earlier this year, you were asked what the story of Lucifer on the Sofa is. And you said, “The story is there’s not enough great rock ’n’ roll records being made.” So my question to you is, why do you think that is the case?

I do think there’s great rock ’n’ roll records being made. Maybe I’m just not hearing them. That’s very likely.

Do you think perhaps it’s a case of rock not being as big of an industry priority?

There are times when real rock is a priority and is part of the focus of the culture, and sometimes it’s not. I remember a moment in the late ’90s where what passed for rock and alternative was Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit, Slipknot. And it was a pretty low moment.

I felt like there was no way that Spoon could exist in that time and place. It made sense that 2,000 copies of A Series of Sneaks were bought, when you look at what people really want to listen to. But it came around.

What would it take for it to come around again?

It depends a lot on the gatekeepers. And right now the gatekeeper seems to be what’s on the front page of Spotify and Apple Music, right? But I don’t know. It seems like when things get stale enough, eventually something breaks through and that model goes away.

There’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot as a music writer, and I’m curious about how you feel about it: the word “indie” and how it’s applied to bands like Spoon. It’s something I’ve been trying to avoid in my writing because it can feel like a lazy catchall, to an extent. This far into your career with everything the band’s been through, with where you sit, where the industry sits, does the word “indie” mean anything to you?

It amuses me when I see it as a description of music. It always has. I remember the first time I heard the term, I was pretty confused by what that meant. When someone asked me, “Do you like indie rock?” And I was like, “Whoa. Wait. Wait. Yeah. I like some songs. I like some bands that are on independent labels, yeah.” But I could tell that this person was using it as a genre description. And it’s still used that way. I get it, but I don’t. I get it, but it does feel a little lazy. Well, I wish another word had been the thing all along. Punk is a pretty good name. Hip-hop is a good name. Indie, I don’t know. What does it mean?

It could be worse. Could be emo.

So emo bands hate it, huh? Do they hate being called emo?

They absolutely despise it.

All right. But even that seems more honestly descriptive, if it really means that the music is emotional.

I think at one point, the term may have made sense, but in 2022 it’s lost a bit of meaning. How do you group a band like Spoon in with any number of people in their bedrooms that are making slightly rock-oriented, heavily produced music. I don’t know what connective tissue there is.

I don’t either. To me, it always felt like it was a junior league’s description. We always considered ourselves a rock band. But it seemed like we weren’t lumped in with rock because it was like, “You’re not quite at that level yet.” That’s almost what it seemed like it was telling me. And now if you look at these DSPs, there’s a section for rock music, there’s a section for alternative music, there’s a section for indie music. Now what’s the difference between indie and alternative? I don’t know.

Once you start selling or streaming a certain number, then do you move into alternative? And then you start streaming another number you move into [another category]?

Before we wrap up, I wanted to go back to that Spin interview one more time. In it, you said, “Is there going to be another Spoon record? I don’t know.” Have you given any more thoughts to that in the seven months or so since that interview?

I’ve given thought to it. But I’m no nearer to a conclusion. I’m certainly having fun out here. I’ll put it this way: I’ve been too busy to really get a solid feeling for where my head is at with what I want to do next. And I’m about to get a break, so ask me in six weeks.

Well, a sub-question of that, and more personally for me. Will we ever get another Divine Fits record?

I’d like to. I certainly love those guys. And I look back at that moment with a lot of fondness. We played with Dan [Boeckner]. Of course, Alex [Fischel] plays in Spoon now. And then we played a show with Dan where he came up and did a couple songs with Spoon in New York. Two or three songs, it was just fantastic. And you couldn’t ask for a more lovely person, more charming, and just great guy to hang out with and a great musician.

And then I saw Sam [Brown] last month in Columbus. Had a great time with him. I think it could happen. We certainly all really are fond of each other. And that record, I think, was pretty good. I haven’t listened to it all the way through in a sec. But every time I hear a song I’m like, “Oh, wow. That was me. Yeah, that was good.”

Last question I wanted to ask you: Since you’re such a Prince fan, which classic Prince album do you think would make for the best dub version?

Let’s see. I think it probably would have to be 1999. I don’t know. Well, first of all, those songs are so long. And it’s the one that’s most like a dub record, maybe. There’s just a lot of instrumental sections.

Good answer.

What about you?

I was trying to think of what a dub version of “If I Was Your Girlfriend” sounded like last night. Sign o’ the Times probably, on the whole, wouldn’t make for that. But I think “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend” could work really well.

I’d love to hear that. Maybe we’ll get it. They seem to be open to messing with the catalog.

Seems like they’re not being as precious as they once were, right?

Although I just heard that they denied Sinead O’Connor the ability to use [“Nothing Compares 2 U” in a new documentary]. I hate that. I’ll go on the record and say that sucked.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.