It’s almost a cliche how positive Spoon’s reviews are, you could easily think their full name is Spoon 8/10. According to Metacritic, they’re the most acclaimed band of the decade. Not Radiohead, not Arcade Fire, not Kanye or Kendrick Lamar – the band that has the most positive reviews over the past 10 years is Spoon.
But the Texas-based group are no studio hermits and once again they’re on the road, playing festivals and gigs across Europe, including three shows in the UK in June, before returning again in November. They were last in the UK in March playing an intimate gig at London’s 100 Club to showcase their latest album, Hot Thoughts, produced by the renowned Dave Fridmann. Ahead of their latest shows, I spoke to bassist Rob Pope.
You’ve been in Spoon for 10 years now – how does that feel, are you part of the furniture now?
It feels that way you know. It’s kind of crazy to think it’s been 10 years. I think I’m probably like a well-worn-in couch.
What’s the plan for the tour, will you be playing a lot of the new stuff from Hot Thoughts?
We really want to focus on a lot of stuff from the new record and a handful of stuff from the last couple of records.
Was there a reason you played the 100 Club when you were last in London to showcase the new album, it was an intimate show. Was it a conscious effort to avoid the bigger venus?
We didn’t want to go anywhere too big, especially before the record came out. The 100 Club is a legendary place, it was very cool. I spent so much time there just looking at picture to see who’d been there before … We wanted to play a smaller show. A few of the guys had been over here doing press and then all of us came over the last few days and we were doing some video shoots and loads and loads of interviews, so we wanted to put a show in there because that’s what we enjoy the most. The gig was fun. It had been a little while since we played a big loud rock’n’roll show. So it was a blast.
I spoke to someone who was at the 100 Club gig and they said they’d seen loads of old friends in the audience that they hadn’t seen for years. Are you aware of the fan base being so loyal?
We see a lot of the same people all over the world – returning customers as you will. It’s pretty remarkable that people have stuck with us and that so many people have come to so many shows over the years.
You must be on the road for most of the summer with festivals etc – will you ever see home again?
I don’t know, it seems like we’re going to be on tour for ever. That’s what it’s looking like. We’re staying busy until the end of the year.
Is playing live still what it’s all about for the band? Do you still get the same buzz from touring as you did when you first started out?
It’s still a blast – I just have to take care of myself a little bit better of myself than I did when I was 18 – I can’t stay out as late and I can’t drink as much, sleep is becoming a more important.
Is there a pressure with putting an album out as Spoon? It’s almost a cliche how reliably positive your reviews are. Do you always feel as though every album has to achieve the same critical acclaim as the last? Do you find that restrictive?
We’re always trying to make the best record that we can at the time. Of course it weighs in what people are saying about our band, but we try not to think about it too much and just make the highest quality record that we can. We’ve been lucky that we’ve been doing that consistently for a long time. We see certain reviews – I try not to read all of them – we’re aware of it but I don’t think it puts a ton of pressure on us. We’ve got pretty good at making these records at this point. It doesn’t weigh too heavily on us.
Do you all write together?
Britt [Daniel] is the primary songwriter and sometimes he’ll present us with ideas or ask for a contribution, or we work on songs all together, but it really does change from song to song; there’s no real formula to it. He may bring something in that feels really complete, or he may bring in just one little part and then we all hash it out and try to build a song out of that. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Since I’ve been in the band, so much of the new material we work on gets made in the recording studio, which is quite a luxury.
There’s a much more synth sound to the new album. Did you deliberately move away from guitars.
One of the last songs we recorded for our last album was Inside Out, and that songs has no guitars in it, it’s got a heavy drum beat in it, but it’s very lush: synthesisers and pretty stuff happening. I think when Britt started writing for this record he kind of had that in mind, I think it was his favourite song off the last record and he wanted to continue down that direction. We just wanted to make it sound a touch more futuristic and, you know, we’ve done a lot of guitar records. I’m still in love with guitar and always will be, so I don’t think we’re ruling anything out for the future, but this is the direction we want to head in right now.
Did Dave Fridmann influence that approach as the producer?
He was great, he’s got a lot of great ideas and he’s always looking for non-traditional ideas, so I think guitars at this point may be fairly traditional for him. So, he’s looking for sounds that are wild and maybe something you haven’t heard before on a Spoon record.
What about the level of fame you have, you’re pretty much indie-music superstars appearing on shows like Saturday Night Live. But maybe there’s not the same level of consciousness among the wider public enjoyed by a band like, say, Arcade Fire, who receive the same level of critical acclaim. Is that a conscious decision that the band have cultivated?
I think there’s a little bit of intent behind it, but I’d take the Arcade Fire thing if it was offered to us, sure. They’ve done a lovely job of maintaining their own personalities and they’re great people. As long as we’re not having to change what we’re doing in order to sell more tickets or sell more records, I don’t think we’d ever feel comfortable doing that. There’s only a certain amount of things that we do to promote or records.
Adam Buxton supported you at the 100 Club gig, how did that come about?
He’s been a friend for such a long time. We learned about him probably back in 2007, he had made his own video for one of the songs on our record Ga Ga Ga Ga called Don’t Make Me A Target and a friend of ours who worked at Matador Records clued us into him and said: ‘You guys should know this guy’, and he started coming out to gigs whenever we were in London around that time and we just became friendly with him. When we were talking about who was going to support us at the 100 Club – for whatever reason there wasn’t room for another band – so Adam reached out and said: ‘I could introduce you guys and do a little bit before’. It worked out great, he’s hilarious.
I need to ask you about Trump. Any American who sets foot outside America has to be asked about Trump …
I’ve been trying to tune out of the news …
Tear It Down, one reviewer said it could possibly be seen as a message against Trump’s wall. Was someone reading too much into it?
I think Britt had written that and when he wrote that lyric it was long before the election. I remember being in the studio many time and we’d all be looking at our phones reading the news, and being so perplexed by what was happening in American culture and specifically by the things that Trump was saying and the fact that he was potentially going to be running for President – that was so shocking for us – months before the election. I think Britt had thrown that lyric in there not really thinking it would apply when the record came out, but here we are, sadly.
Do you see yourselves as being more involved in what is being referred to in America as ‘the resistance’. Your Twitter account is often retweeting anti-Trump messages or hopeful messages about defeating right-wing ideology. Do you see Spoon as being a political band?
I think it’s important for us to have a voice. If we can influence some people, even if it just makes them vote next time, or whatever it may be, I think it’s important for us to do that. It’s not too difficult, there’s a lot of people who pay attention to what we do, if people don’t like our messages that’s OK, there are plenty of other bands out there in the world.
Do you think it’s the role of a band, if you have a big audience, to be politically active, to share your political views. Should more bands be doing this?
I have always appreciated it when bands are political. When I was a kid, my favourite band growing up was Public Enemy, and what was so appealing about that band was how radical were the messages they were talking about. As a white kid growing up in Kansas, it was mind-blowing. So I’ve always been influenced by groups who are political.
Are you still based in Texas?
I’m living in Massachusetts, I’ve been moving all over, but the band is still based in Austin, Texas. A couple of the guys are living there. A couple of the guys are in California. So we all gather in Austin, that’s where band practice takes place. The last album was recorded in Austin and a lot at Dave Fridmann’s place outside Buffalo, New York. It just requires a lot of planning, we’re kind of a commuter group.
Spoon are playing The Forum in London on 30th June and here are their tour dates for June & November.
Tues 27th MANCHESTER, Gorilla
Wed 28th GLASGOW, The Arts School
Fri 30th LONDON, The Forum
Mon 6th Brighton, Concorde 2
Tues 7th Liverpool, Arts Club
Thurs 9th Cambridge, The Junction
Interview with Spoon by Craig Scott & photography by Rachel Lipsitz