In a whirlwind European promotional tour leading up to the release of their ninth album Hot Thoughts, that had them play an intimate show at the 100 Club in London before setting their sights on Australia for shows in Melbourne and Sydney, Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Alex Fischel found time to sit down with Chris Berkley of Static to talk about all things new and hot.
Does Australia feel like a home away from home right now?
B: It does a bit. This is my seventh time here, and I was in Melbourne for a month in 2015 where I started writing the songs on this new album.
I figure we can call ‘Hot Thoughts’ the Aussie record, right? Can you remember the songs that were written there?
B: It’s a long process writing songs. I wouldn’t say any of them were finished there, but a few of them got their start. “Can I Sit Next To You”, “Tear It Down” kinda got a start there, “Hot Thoughts” got a bit of start there. I started working on some lyrics there. The thing about songs is that every now and then you get really lucky and you write one in an afternoon. But a lot of times you’re working on them over a month’s period of time, or a year.
Has that always been the case, or has it gotten longer for you as Spoon has gone on?
B: It’s probably gotten a little bit longer, but I think even Leonard Cohen took several years to write songs.
I feel like there must be a lot of permutations of songs before they come out?
There’s lots of demos made, different arrangements. We’ve got the Motown version of this, the Fleetwood Mac version of that.
Have you found when a new Spoon album drops, are fans and critics quick to swoop on the so-called “different songs” first? Do people zero in on what they think might be different about each record, or make proclamations that they’ve ditched guitars or this is your disco-funk album?
B: Usually they’ll ask me. “What’s different about this album?”
A: A lot of people are saying there are no guitars.
B: I feel like I get these impossible to answer questions constantly.
A: What did you set out to do on this one? Well, we set out to make a good record.
B: What do you think sounds new? It sounds like you’ve got something in mind?
It seems to me that Hot Thoughts feels like an album of two halves, in that “Pink Up” rounds out the first half of the album and then goes into a vibraphone and maraccas groove. You’ve got the whole dreamscape-backed vocals thing gong on, and then the second half of the record also winds up with the song “Us” which is an even deeper jazz odyssey with sketches of Spoon. Did you those two songs land in your lap and you thought, well, we need to include them in some way?
B: I knew as we were putting the album together that those were songs that would given the record some depth. They’re not pop songs, they’re not even busk-able. They’re different for us. They’re new ground. I just figured they would make the record richer.
A: I think they work as nice punctuation for each side when listening to it on a vinyl LP. It’s a nice way to round out each side.
Both of those songs feel to me like the kinda things you might do in a soundcheck
B: Those are two songs we can’t play yet.
A: For us specifically we’d need a sax player
B: We’ve got live versions of all the songs on the rest of the songs on the record but not those two yet. We want to.
On the flipside, the song “Shotgun” has a glam-disco intro really reminds me of “I Was Made For Loving You” by Kiss.
B: I really like that song.
There’s all these hallmarks that end up on a Spoon record, “First Caress” has this hip-swagger to it. Can you knock these ones out in your sleep?
B: Alex wrote “First Caress”.
A: I wrote part of it. I wrote the music and you flushed the melody out and wrote the lyrics.
B: But yeah, maybe it comes naturally to Alex to write with some swagger.
A: The music that I like the most is the music that has that rhythmic feel to it and makes you feel something carnal.
You’ve only been in the band a few years Alex, do you find yourself writing in mindset for Spoon?
A: I guess it has informed me just because I spend all my time around these guys pretty much so naturally it has occurred that a song I wrote would lend itself to Spoon.
The other person that seems an important component of Hot Thoughts is Dave Fridmann the producer, because you used him for part of the last album They Want My Soul, and liked him so much you went back for the full treatment this time around.
B: He’s great. We’d work with some producers who were talented, but shall I say a little challenged, personality-wise. We worked some producers who were easy to get along with, but weren’t able to contribute too much. This guy brings the whole package. He’s really good. He makes you feel like you’re on track while you’re in the studio and that’s very important.
Quite fearless as well, and not commercial minded as I understand. For a guy who’s obviously made some important albums and albums that have been successful, he’s still got quite an eccentric nature about the way a song should sound or be put together.
B: Exactly. The first half of the last record was made with a producer who was constantly thinking about commerce. That was much on his mind, if not mostly. We mixed that half with Dave and then the second half with Dave, and it was interesting to work with a guy who was the opposite. If anything, he wants to throw sand in the works.
Probably literally sometimes. He’s probably got an array of instruments to use. He must’ve been luxuriating in a song like “Us” then.
B: Yeah, I know he liked that one. He steered the direction of “Pink Up” quite a bit as well. His fingerprints are all over the album.
Did having those kind of songs on there also spur you on to write, lyrically, in a different way? It’s a bit of saucier record, opening with the words “hot thoughts are on my mind”.
B: Yeah. I think it was about time we took that turn (laughs). That’s relatable right? I feel like most human beings can understand? It was a thing where I had that title and I’m sure where I had the title from, but it was in my notebook for a while and was like, that’s going to be a song. Finally one night I was working on a track I had instrumentation for didn’t have words and it all came together quite quickly once I put the two together.
The other line on the record which is getting a lot of attention is “Coconut milk, coconut water”. Was that not in your notebook but a shopping list and you mixed the two up?
B: I honestly don’t know how that came up. It might’ve been a spur of the moment thing. The line is about that kinda transition thing you get in relationships sometimes where you’re “I’ll let you have that one”. “Coconut milk, coconut water / You still like to tell me they’re the same and who I am to say”. I might know I’m right, but sure.
I reckon that was a Melbourne influence for sure. Melbourne hipsters drink coconut water.
B: Right, but do they drink coconut milk?
You’ll find out when you get there.
Interview broadcast on Static on 23rd March 2017. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).