Spoon: Further On Down the Road
Matt Inman | January 13, 2018
Britt Daniel is at home in Austin, Texas, attempting to relax during a short respite in the midst of a busy summer on the road. The Spoon frontman and songwriter is as affable in conversation as one would expect from his rollicking onstage and in-studio persona. “Three whole days,” he jokes of his brief vacation before surveying the near quarter-century of success and occasional missteps since the Austin-based outfit formed in the Texas capitol.
Spoon have long since climbed to the upper echelon of indie-rock royalty and, in many ways, are survivors of the blogger boom that dominated critics’ lists a decade ago. They are also the rare breed of band that found widespread fame in the early-to-mid-aughts and have continued to put out quality and boundary-pushing material, including this year’s Hot Thoughts—an engaging collection that ranges from catchy hooks to ethereal soundscapes—which finds the band continuing the growth they displayed with 2014’s critically acclaimed They Want My Soul. In somewhat of a homecoming move for the group, another indie stalwart, Matador Records, the first label to house Spoon’s music when they released their debut Telephono in 1996, put out their new album.
Their renewed partnership with Matador, with whom they’ve remained friends over the two ensuing decades, isn’t the result of warm and fuzzy memories. In fact, the early era of Spoon held some stretches that the band might rather forget entirely. Just a few years after their promising introductory record, the members found themselves at a point where they weren’t sure they would ever record another note of music.
“We were fabulously unsuccessful for the first couple of records,” admits Daniel. “Something had to change.”
“We felt incredibly lucky that we had this chance to be on one of our favorite labels,” adds drummer Jim Eno who, along with Daniel, has been the band’s only other constant member since its inception. “We also knew that we were going to do this as long as we can—we just didn’t know how long that would be. We figured we would keep trying and, if people liked our music, that would be great. Unfortunately, in those early years, no one really listened to us.”
Spoon quickly followed their debut album with an EP, Soft Effects, which honed in on a bit more of the band’s unique flavor of indie-rock. But finding a voice doesn’t necessarily translate to finding an audience, and though Spoon soon signed to a major label, their career was nearly derailed before it could even gain steam. Simply put, their first record with Elektra, 1998’s A Series of Sneaks, was a commercial flop, at least as far as their new partners were concerned. The label quickly dropped the band, following the departure of their A&R advocate Ron Laffitte—a wholly disheartening incident that the band took as abandonment and to which they later responded with a two-sided single featuring the punnily titled tracks “The Agony of Laffitte” and “Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now.”
“I was pretty bummed out when we left Matador and made a record for this major label,” Daniel says. “And we were not doing it naively—we knew all of the pitfalls, or at least a lot of them, that could arise. We were pretty wary of that situation, and somehow it turned out worse than we could have pictured. We really felt like we’d been run through the ringer.”
The band even started questioning their future. “We didn’t know if anyone would want to put out our music again,” Eno admits.
“I definitely thought that it was not only possible, but likely, that we wouldn’t be able to keep making records,” Daniel says. “For some reason, we didn’t quit and start over with new people, or with a new band name. If we had been smart, that’s probably what we would have done.”