IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Spoon’s Britt Daniel is serious about music

‘When we’re recording, I always dress up’ says the alt rock frontman
/ Source: The Associated Press

For Spoon frontman Britt Daniel, rock ’n’ roll is serious business.

The singer-guitarist-songwriter says his years intently listening to radio hits were like “extensive research.” Knowing from the beginning that he cared most about music, he set out with realistic, step-by-step ambitions.

Now, he even treats the studio like an office.

“When we’re recording, I always dress up,” Daniel said in an interview during the recent South by Southwest music festival. “I always liked that because it makes me feel like we’re getting jazzed up to do something. It’s not like being in your grubbies.”

Along with Daniel’s intensity, Spoon’s trajectory — both popularly and artistically — has steadily climbed. With each new disc, their album sales have risen (2005’s “Gimme Fiction” made it to the top 50 on the Billboard charts) and critics have fawned over the band’s stripped-down grooves.

Rolling Stone has called Daniel “diabolically talented,” and Time magazine has referred to Spoon as “chronically underrated.”

But increasing numbers are rating Spoon highly.

When more than 1,400 bands invaded Austin last week, Spoon was still one of the biggest draws in their hometown. After 16 years here, Daniel moved to Portland, Ore., six months ago, but the band might still own Austin more than any other act — a high achievement given the city’s vibrant music scene.

This was further confirmed last week when they won four awards at the Austin Music Awards, including best band. Daniel says any success for Spoon stems from determination and a professional approach.

“Along the way, most bands or songwriters lose it for good or for a period of time, so I’m always really aware of that,” he says. “I’m trying not to give myself a break.

“I just don’t think you can make records easily and have them be great. It’s a process. You’ve got to get really lucky all the time or you’ve got to work like mad.”

Still the next big thing
Spoon — a four-piece founded by Daniel and drummer Jim Eno — is working on its sixth album, which Daniel hopes will be recorded with a little more spontaneity than previous well-planned efforts.

The group formed in the early ’90s and were soon hyped as the “next-big-thing” in indie rock. After their 1996 debut “Telephono” on hip label Matador, they were signed by major label Elektra.

Though their lone release for Elektra, “A Series of Sneaks,” was acclaimed and led to frequent comparisons to the Pixies, the label dumped Spoon, leading to some hard feelings. The band responded with an EP titled “The Agony of Laffitte,” referring to Elektra A&R man Ron Laffitte.

Spoon then returned to indie land at Merge Records and began honing a sparse sound forged on the 2001 album “Girls Can Tell.”

“I like sparseness,” Daniel says. “There’s something about that minimalist feel that can make something have an immediate impact and make it unique. I’ll probably always work with that formula, I just don’t know how.”

After years of struggle filled with the pressures of hype and industry disorder, things were turning around. Press coverage increased, more people showed up for concerts and the band could find their album when they walked into a record store.

“This band had existed without very much positive encouragement for a long, long time,” Daniel says. But after “Girls Can Tell,” Daniel says it was their first glimpse of “this isn’t a disaster.”

Spoon perfected their pared-down sound on 2002’s “Kill the Moonlight,” a near perfect disc of late-night cool. Mixing piano chords, guitar riffs, handclaps, “ooo’s” and “ahh’s,” it was their most cohesive and acclaimed record yet.

While “Gimme Fiction” continued that trend with songs like “I Turn My Camera On” (a falsetto-rich groove that Prince surely hit himself for not writing first), it also suggested new directions like the blissfully condensed “Sister Jack.”

On the album’s opener, “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” Daniel sings with typical self-awareness:

“I got a feelin’ and then it got to me/ it took its time working into my soul/ I got to believe it comes from rock and roll.”

With several new songs to work on for the next record, it’s time for what he calls the “trenchwork” of songwriting — staying focused on the one thing that can make a song special.

Back to the office.