Britt Daniel on the thrill of hearing Spoon remixed
The Austin rocker talks about working with dub legend Adrian Sherwood and the reinventions of 'Lucifer on the Moon'
by Annie Zaleski
Britt Daniel of Spoon performs at the Intersect Music Festival. Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images
Spoon has never shied away from deconstruction. In their nearly three decades together, the Austin-formed band has become known for changing up its sound from album to album. The grungy, wiry indie of 1996's Telephono gave way to minimalist mod-rock with a touch of artsy classic rock (2001's Girls Can Tell); groove-heavy, R&B-inflected pop (2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga); and electronic-tinged rock (2017's Hot Thoughts). Along the way, Spoon have also reconfigured their lineup multiple times, with vocalist/guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno remaining the lone original members. This risk-taking deconstruction (and subsequent reconstruction) helps account for Spoon's creative endurance-and its staying power.
The new Lucifer on the Moon (out this Friday, November 4) is another singular release. Featuring remixes by On-U Sound founder and dub legend Adrian Sherwood, the full-length is a radical reworking of Spoon's most recent album, Lucifer on the Sofa, released this past February. In Sherwood's hands, the spectral, turbulent rock of that album gets a total makeover with dubby beats, blurred-out psychedelic drifts, disorienting effects, and vocal phase-shifting. It works as a headphones album-and as something to blast out of a stereo.
"We've had experience with remixes throughout the years," says Daniel, speaking by phone earlier this week. "Some of them have been good. Some of them have been not so good. And the ones that I tend to not like as much seem to be very computer-y. I knew that if we wanted to do something more analog, then Adrian would be the right kind of guy."
Spoon initially enlisted Sherwood to rework just two songs on Lucifer on the Sofa. When Daniel heard the results, he was floored and "flipped out," he says. "I sent the songs to my record label and manager and the rest of my bandmates. And I was like, 'Can you believe this? This is so good.' And then we figured out ways to keep doing more."
Adrian Sherwood. Harry Borden
Lucifer on the Sofa was ideal for these kinds of reconstructions because of Daniel's songwriting approach. While the frontman has recently taken to looking for unique sounds by building tracks from his accumulated gear, he constructed the songs on Sofa "sort of in an old-fashioned way," using just an acoustic guitar and his voice. "I knew that if I [didn't] use that crutch of technology, and instead made the songs work just with an acoustic guitar and singing, sort of busking style... if they could hold up like that, then that was the kind of song I wanted to put on the record," Daniel says.
Spoon continued that organic approach in the studio. "When we made the record, it really was not focused on studio gimmickry, the way that the last few have been," Daniel says. "It was very much a band-playing-in-a-room album. When Adrian got a hold of the tracks, that was really the first time that the studio became more of an instrument."
The band gave Sherwood the entire Lucifer on the Sofa multi-track tapes, meaning the remixer had access to sounds and ideas Spoon didn't use on the original album. In some cases, Sherwood teased out existing influences-"Wild' is now even more reminiscent of Screamadelica-era Primal Scream-while others songs develop a new aesthetic. "On the Radio" evolved from a brisk song driven by urgent piano into something languid and woozy, propelled by lonely harmonica and tar-bubbled grooves. "Feels Alright" maintains its taut rhythmic foundation and an insistent acoustic riff, but adds on echoing vocals and emphasizes a graceful string part.
Spoon. Olivia Wolf
Listening to the album, it's obvious how much care the remixer took with Spoon's source material. Unsurprisingly, Daniel describes him as an open-minded and creative collaborator: "He found all these little bits and used them." Sherwood also augmented what was already there, enlisting contributions from musicians such as bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Keith LeBlanc, both veterans of Sugar Hill Records' early '80s in-house rhythm section. Daniel cites flute flourishes added to "My Babe" and a brief spoken-word moment from Spoon guitarist/keyboardist Gerardo Larios at the end of "Devil & Mister Jones" as unexpected bonuses. "It really delighted me to hear those amazing musicians add things to these songs that I never would have thought of doing."
Daniel says Spoon has toyed with working some of these reworked songs into rehearsal, though the band hasn't played any of them live yet. And it remains to be seen whether Sherwood's Lucifer dubs might impact the direction or sound of future Spoon music. But Daniel isn't ruling anything out.
"You're giving me that idea right now," he says. "Maybe we should have Adrian produce. He's produced a lot of records."
Lucifer on the Moon will be released on Friday, November 4. Lucifer on the Sofa is now available.