Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Spoon – the Gimme Fiction interview

Gimme Fiction is the sound of a band that has been playing for over a decade, and knows exactly what it wants to do, and how that should sound. It’s not a straightforward affair – there are some songs that stretch the boundaries of what you might expect, for example the Prince style funk of I Turn My Camera On. It’s a song worth talking about, in terms of its genesis, being so different from the other tracks on the album. “Britt had a demo CD of the song,” explains Eno, “and we were on tour somewhere. I popped it on in the van and we were listening to it, and I was hearing this Prince dance-thing, you know – with the up-beat hi-hat and real funky feel to it. We tried it a couple of different ways, but that worked the best. With the vocal melody, that was already there. The falsetto vocals were already there, which maybe made me think of that kind of rythmic pattern at the start. It’s hard to explain how the ideas come about. Sometimes you hear something, and realise that a certain approach will work really well. I think, with that song, Britt originally wanted to do it as a rock song, but the other approach really worked well”.

An interesting, and positive review in The Onion suggested of Gimme Fiction that “it torpedoes the often-justifiable notion that Spoon’s music feels like it was made with safety in mind, and that its far-and-wide excursions are just that–temporary steps away from a safe, solid path”. It’s a quote that I put to Eno, wondering whether there are times when the clear idea and sound the band have in mind limits them? To put it another way, has there ever been a cool jam in the studio that is just too far away from what Spoon sound like to include on a record? Eno, politely but firmly dismisses the suggestion: “That’s never happened. It’s more of an open environment in the studio. We’ll try really hard to have varied songs on the record. Because of that, there’s nothing really off limits for the record. [pauses] Maybe polka [laughs] but maybe we could make that work somehow – I don’t know. Anything is approachable. To us, that makes records interesting, where it’s not just the same production style, the same rythm etc”.

Listening to Spoon you’d be hard pushed to pinpoint their hometown as Austin, Texas (though only Daniel is actually from Texas – Eno is originally from Rhode Island). Instead you’re likely to hear glimpses of bands like the Kinks, the Beatles, the Clash, Bowie or even The Jam. In short, all British bands (though we’ll respectfully accept the suggestion that the Beatles were in effect Irish). Eno nods vigorously at the suggestion of these influences – which in itself is refereshing, avoiding the worn out line ‘we don’t really have any influences’ used by bands afraid of history. “I think it comes down to, not where we’re from, but, what type of music we listen to. That’s always going to come out in your playing and your writing. When it comes to local music influences, I don’t have them. The Beatles, the Kinks, the Stones, they were global – you hear them everywhere in the States. I started playing drums to the Smiths, the Cure, and early REM. That colllege scene in the early ’80s. Britt’s a big Iggy Pop fan and Bowie. We share a lot of influences”.

It’s worth, at this stage, pointing out where our conversation takes place. The band have arrived in Bologna as part of their European tour. It is some shock for the band, who have toured Europe rarely, that they’ve arrived in a decidedly autumnal Italy where the rain seems like it will never stop, and the air inside the club is ‘fresh’ to say the least. Eno is courteous and professional, but there are times when you wonder whether this veteran wonders whether it’s all worth it. He is married, and touring playing to smallish audiences in far off places takes its toll. “Unfortunately we don’t do a lot of writing while we’re on the road. We’re travelling, spending days doing interviews,” he laughs, stoic in the face of a seeming futility. “Europe for us can be fairly isolating. I don’t speak multiple languages and stuff. It comes to a point where it gets really hard”. He’s almost embarassed when I ask him if the band experience a culture shock, coming to Europe. “This is going to sound really bad, but no. For me, I barely know what country I’m in most of the time [laughs]. We do twelve shows in a row with no days off – the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, so really you get confused. We’ve toured a lot, and we’ve learned that while everyone says you’ve got to keep touring, that’s how you build your base, there comes a point when it makes no sense to continue touring. We discovered that pretty early on in our career. There were places where we’d play to fifteen people, then the next time through to 25, then 28 [laughs]. We’ve recognised that we have to identify those points when they happen, and then stop and go into the studio”.

At the same time, on this miserable rainy day, when this interviewer can’t wait to get back home, where, unlike the club, we’re not waiting for November to start turning on the heating, Eno is wary of sounding arrogant. After all, Spoon are here to play for people. In fact, while waiting for the band, two bedraggled German fans appear at the club searching for news about the gig and the band. “We play in front of a lot of people back at home, but here it feels like we’re being launched back into 1996, so it is hard,” he tries to explain.”It’s a privilege to do music though, and we’re not doing door-to-door sales of vaccum cleaners in Italy – we’re in a band, and this is what we do, and it’s a privilege to do it. We have to keep a perspective on things. For example, last night there weren’t a lot of people there, but we played a great show and worked well together as a band, so…”

There is, while talking to Eno, a sense that there will be changes afoot in the Spoon camp once the touring obligations are done with. Already there’s a new track recorded (with McCarthy again), My First Time Volume 3, which, along with their back catalogue, will be released through i-tunes. He’s enthusiastic about it, “it’s a cool song and we had a lot of fun doing it. It may make it’s way onto the next album, we don’t know yet. I’m building a new studio and so hopefully it’ll be ready by December, and then we can go in and do some stuff.We’re hopefully not going to tour so much, unless something crazy happens. So we could put out a record in an eighteen months schedule, or twenty months as Britt points out [laughs]”. It may be wishful thinking though, as with virtually no pause the US tour is announced to start just one week after their European tour finishes (which in turn is one week after their australian tour finished). While the band have their eyes fixed clearly on the future, their is a certain ‘crest of a wave’ sensation, that, for the media and the record company, Gimme Fiction is a high point and must be taken advantage of ruthlessly.

I’m still curious though, as to whether the band see this dilemma relating to their sound. Eno is thoughtful before responding to every question, except when I ask him who he would like Spoon to work with in the future. There’s no hesitation, and while he denies that the Spoon ‘sound’ is an issue, it’s interesting to hear his candidate and the reasons why: “I’d say Flood [Producer who has worked with U2, Depeche Mode, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nine Inch Nails, to name but a few]. He seems to me like a guy who takes chances. A guy who takes artists in a different direction, like when he worked with PJ Harvey. That was a good example, how that record sounds very exciting and very different to what she was doing before. It would be good to do something different, and to step away from the comfort zone. We want to get away from this three year cycle of making records.”

It’s an intriguing idea, a collaboration between artists with clear ideas and experience. James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem once remarked “most bands will never be great because they don't even ask themselves why they're bothering until it's too late”. Eno, and one suspects Daniel also, is clear about what Spoon do, and why: “We we’re touring Europe the last time [in their own right – they’ve also toured Europe recently supporting Interpol], and as I mentioned it can be quite an isolating time, so I started listening to a lot of the music I grew up on during these long journeys, bands like the Smiths, and started thinking at the same time about the places where I was when I first heard the songs etc. And I started thinking about the 50 to 60 people we’d be playing to every night, and these people who may not even speak the same language, who are getting the same sort of emotional response from these songs that we make back in Austin, that I got when I was growing up. So they might listen to Sister Jack ten years from now and remember hearing it here in Bologna at this specific time [cold and wet as it is], which is incredibly deep and rewarding when you think about it. It’s a privilege to make music, and to have people get emotion out of stuff that we do”.

Gimme Fiction is vintage Spoon, and a brilliant place to start for anyone new to the band. Don’t expect it to be the last chapter, though.

Spoon’s official site

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