Spoon dishes it out again


June 10, 2005


Plenty of bands are drawing inspiration from the fertile post-punk period of the late '70s and early '80s, but most take their cue from groove-oriented groups such as Joy Division, the Cure and Gang of Four. Austin, Texas-based Spoon traces its roots to a different sound from those times, forwarding the melodic art-punk of the Buzz-cocks and the evocative but minimalist sounds of Wire.

On its last two albums -- 2002's "Kill the Moonlight" and the new "Gimme Fiction," both on Merge -- guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Britt Daniel has honed the art of creating moody but consistently tuneful vignettes, emphasizing small but dramatic moments such as a rattling tambourine, an insistent piano or a fractured guitar line, much as Wire did. Spoon has covered that band's "Lowdown," and the title of its 1999 album, "A Series of Sneaks," seemed to be a nod to the Wire EP "A Serious of Snakes."

"Believe it or not, it wasn't," Daniel said recently. "It was something my girlfriend at the time came up with. I was always playing tricks on her, and she said my whole life was a series of sneaks. Maybe because I had heard it before, it stuck with me. But that is honestly how I came up with it."

While Daniel grants the Wire influence, he said he gets tired of comparisons: "When someone in 2005 asks me about the Pixies, I really think, as much as I love the Pixies, that we are making records that don't sound much like them at all." And indeed, Spoon is charting a path unlike any other on the current rock scene.



  • 9 p.m. Saturday
  • Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield
  • Tickets: $18 in advance, $20 day of the show (18-over show)
  • (773) 472-0449

  • Daniel has a flair for crafting direct and powerful hooks that are paired with oblique and elliptical lyrics, creating a sense of mystery in Spoon's best songs and providing new discoveries for the listener with every spin. The band's leader has said that most of his songs are inspired by the emotions of particular events in his life, but he takes an impressionistic approach when writing the lyrics.

    "I'd rather do that than hit people over the head with it," Daniel said. "My favorite movies are the ones where you have to use a little bit of brain power and figure out what is going on. To me, 'I Summon You' [from the new disc] was kind of a heartfelt song about feeling pretty lonely and broken up, but I didn't want to get to the chorus and say, 'I feel lonely and broken up.' It feels much more natural and cooler to say something that goes against the grain but still expresses what happened."

    "The law enforcement's impressed you've survived to this age / Strapped-up soldiers / They'll lock you in a cage without goodbye / For a nickel bribe," Daniel sings.

    "'I Summon You' has this legalese that, to me, is funny," the songwriter said. "I don't know if anyone else sees that, but to me, it was a way of softening the blow."

    Spoon's songs evolve in the studio as Daniel draws input from producer Mike McCarthy and his fellow musicians, especially his key collaborator, drummer Jim Eno.

    "With this record, most of the songs were basically me and Jim recording, and we'd bring in different people for different songs," Daniel said.

    "There was a lyric in 'The Delicate Place' that Jim really didn't like, and I was kind of on the fence about it, so we eventually took it out. He's a tough cookie; he definitely challenges me. He challenges the way I thought the song was going to sound. At the end of 'The Way We Get By' [from 'Kill the Moonlight'], Jim made that song. Initially, I was thinking of this Kinks-esque pop song, which would've been fine, but he made it this half-time thing that made it way more rock 'n' roll, a lot less bouncy and a lot more enduring.

    "Sometimes when he wants to send a song in a different direction, I might feel like it's not working in that way," Daniel concluded. "It's difficult but probably more rewarding in the end."

    Working at its home studio in Austin, Spoon entered the recording process with the goal of making "Gimme Fiction" more of a groove record, but the process took the album in another direction entirely.

    "Originally, I remember writing an e-mail to Mike McCarthy and Jim the drummer telling them that I wanted the whole record to be dance music," Daniel said. "That clearly didn't happen. I remember thinking that when we started 'Kill the Moonlight,' I wanted it to be a guitar record. Just having those ideas doesn't often translate once you start working.

    "I think when I wrote that e-mail [about 'Gimme Fiction'], I wanted a whole record of 'Rock the Casbah' [by the Clash]. I just love that song and can never get enough of it. But that is certainly not how the record turned out -- I think it is more of a rock record than the last one. More guitars and more ... I don't know how to describe it other than 'more rock.'"


    Also on the Wire tip, Minneapolis-based Words On Music (www.words-on-music.com) has released a striking tribute, compiling 19 diverse bands from Germany, Spain, England, Canada and the U.S. producing radically different but consistently interesting covers of Wire's 1978 single, "Outdoor Miner." In fact, this is the second such project Wire has inspired -- following the 1998 tribute disc "Dugga Dugga Dugga," which found 14 bands all covering Wire's "Drill'-- a striking testament to these art-punks' enduring influence.

    With impressionist lyrics about an insect called the serpentine miner chewing up the greenery of the English countryside, "Outdoor Miner" is a most unlikely pop song, but its layered melodies and insistent rhythm make it a classic nonetheless.

    Among the standout covers on "A Houseguest's Wish: Translations of Wire's 'Outdoor Miner'" are a shoegazer/Britpop version by the late, lamented Lush, a stark acoustic rendition by Adam Franklin (former leader of Swervedriver) and a swirling ambient take from Flying Saucer Attack. But the fun is really in hearing how one basic text can be subject to 19 completely different readings.

    Alas, the word from Wire itself -- which rocked with a vengeance on 2003's furious "Send"-- is that guitarist Bruce Gilbert has quit the group, leaving its current status uncertain. Of course, the band has already broken up, reunited, broken up again and come together once more since its original formation in London in 1976, so fans shouldn't necessarily despair quite yet.