By James Olson
CALGARY – Spoon have been on an upward trajectory during their quarter century long career. The last four records released by the Austin based indie/art rock unit have been critical and commercial successes with Spoon’s fan base steadily increasing since the release of 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Speaking with drummer and core member Jim Eno on the phone in his hotel room on a tour stop in Toronto, the band’s latest album Hot Thoughts served as the centerpiece of our conversation. Willfully experimental with an emphasis on synth and keyboard driven songwriting, Hot Thoughts can be viewed as a microcosm for everything that has allowed Spoon to flourish creatively, maintain longevity, and succeed on their own terms.
The distinctively different and varied sound of Hot Thoughts is tightly connected to Spoon’s previous album They Want My Soul (2014) in a number of ways. Eno identifies They Want My Soul highlight track “Inside Out” as a throughline to the sounds and ideas that the band would explore in greater depth on Hot Thoughts. On what is an otherwise streamlined and precise pop/rock record punctuated by crisp guitar work and restrained percussion, “Inside Out” stands out as a keyboard and effects heavy cosmic ballad. “You can kind of hear us building from there, building from that song” Eno says “You can hear that in songs like ‘I Ain’t the One,’ ‘Pink Up,’ and a little bit on ‘First Caress.’ While it wasn’t really conscious you can look at it now and see it was a sort of progression.”
Eno emphasizes that Spoon is always trying to “discover new, stylized approaches that make the song stand on their own,” with the greater goal to never repeat themselves; especially after releasing nine albums. The addition of keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel in 2013 has opened up the band to a greater number of opportunities as songwriters and performers. Fischel’s influence can be felt throughout Hot Thoughts. “He’s a great keyboard player and he opens up a whole new sonic palette for us” Eno explains “It used to be that Britt would come up and have to play the keyboard part for us, now Alex is like a hook generator. He generates great ideas and great melodic parts to the songs.” “I Ain’t the One” morphed from an acoustic number into a dark pop number with a haunting synth lead thanks to collaboration between Fischel and vocalist/guitarist Britt Daniel. Elsewhere, Fischel wrote the entirety of the music for the bouncing, groove leaden “First Caress.”
Spoon joined forces with producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Sleater-Kinney) for a second time to Hot Thoughts to life. Fridmann has been not only an excellent producer and engineer for the band, Eno identifies him as a valued collaborator. Eno vividly recalls Fridmann’s input on the track “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” as a prime example of the producer’s innovative and at times peculiar recording techniques. “That song [has] two major sections and we knew we needed some sound to bridge section one and section two” Eno explains “So Dave told us to go out and grab any pedal that we thought would be exciting and to make sure that we got ten of them. We brought in ten and Dave hooked them all up and somehow came up with that crazy sound that bridges the two sections together.”
Eno has described Spoon’s music as psychedelic on a number occasions, a term that Eno is inclined to use in a very broad sense when it comes to the band’s body of work. Studio effects, reverb, guitar effects, and experimental song structures all makeup Eno’s qualification for Spoon’s off kilter sound. “ I feel when you listen to something like The Soft Bulletin [by the Flaming Lips] you hear so many different sounds and otherworldly sonic events. That’s sort of what I’m talking about as a listener when you’re listening to a 3 minute song you want things to keep your interest” says Eno “That’s one thing Dave [Fridmann] is really great at in a studio is creating certain moments that keep you interested and keep things surprising and unexpected.”
Spoon’s music has been used in a variety of TV shows and movies, most recently an instrumental version of “The Underdog” can be heard in the superhero blockbuster Spider-Man: Homecoming. There is indeed a cinematic quality to the band’s music that Eno says comes from a need for dramatic moments within their songs. “When you’re making music for a record you have to figure out a way to get a listener’s attention. Often someone is listening to your stuff with earbuds on a subway for example. It’s obviously different from playing a live show where you have the energy of the crowd and the four walls of the venue” says Eno. Eno name drops “Can I Sit Next You” as a specific example of the band’s desire to create surprises and unexpected moments for the listener. This standout track off of Hot Thoughts features an instantly memorable and ethereal string solo halfway through the song that Eno calls a real moment of payoff for the song and for the listener.
Reflecting on the band’s 25 year long career, Eno emphasizes that the band has learned to never take anything for granted and to always be pushing themselves in new and exciting directions as musicians and songwriters. “Everything that we’ve done we’ve worked really hard to achieve and we get fans slowly but we keep getting more fans. That being said we would like to have more people hear our music. We would like to hear more of our songs on the radio, we’re not opposed to that. We’re constantly trying to find new ways to get new fans and get people to hear our music because we believe in it and we only put stuff out that we think is great. Hopefully more people will check us out” says Eno. Eno agrees that the band’s last two records are likely their strongest to date and expresses excitement at what the future holds for their tenth record.
Eno and Daniels have been the only core members of Spoon. While Eno can’t specify what exactly has allowed the band to last for so long he expresses tremendous gratitude at the opportunities that this creative partnership with Daniel has afforded him. “For me I’m just happy to be in a band that has amazing songs that’s putting out great records. That’s all I can really hope for. I’m honored to play on Britt’s songs. They’re exciting to me. I think a band works when it has great songs. That’s what I feel this band is about.”
Spoon perform at Winspear Centre (Edmonton), MacEwan Hall (Calgary) on August 31 and Malkin Bowl (Vancouver) on September 2.Hot Thoughts, MacEwan Hall, spoon