Ten years and still making music

Britt Daniel, frontman and lead songwriter for Spoon, exudes cool. From the way he sings to the clothes he wears, Daniel is a combination of Kerouac and Costello. And he’s able to pull it off. Moreover, his personal cool spills into his band’s songs. Spoon’s catalog is filled with singles that are cut and dry without ever sounding flat; that move and shake without ever sounding calculated. Where the drums drive and connect, the vocals punch and fade. Where the piano stomps and pulls, the bass and percussion fill-in. Spoon, at its best, is a band that merges the La’s with the Supremes, yet still manages to sound current and new.

With his band about to hit the decade mark, Daniel still wants more.

“I want it to get bigger,” he said. “I just want the sound to get bigger, to reach more people, and I want our records to get better. I don’t feel like we’ve made ‘the one’ yet.”

While critics and fans would argue (pointing directly at either Kill the Moonlight, Girls Can Tell or A Series of Sneaks – take your pick), Daniel stands his ground.

“I haven’t heard it yet. And sometimes I just don’t think we’re that good. It’s like, I hear something like Prince’s ‘1999,’ and I think, that, that’s it, that’s great. And I want to get there. I want to write something that good,” he said.

For Daniel and his band, at this point in their career, all things are possible. Commercially, they are more popular than ever. Yet their music still rings true with both a dedicated fan base and critics across the globe. Their albums appear at the top of nearly every end-of-the-year poll and they are now able to sell-out theaters on both sides of the Atlantic.

So how does Daniel keep himself in check?

“You know, this last week, I rented out a rehearsal space, to practice and to try and write some new material. And it just wasn’t happening. I was walking out every day, frustrated, thinking that I sucked. It can be so hard sometimes, to stay on top of it. To try and write something that you’re proud of. You’ve got to keep a sharp edge,” he said.

Spoon is a band notorious for being a “studio” band. Songs are built from scratch, constructed and then torn back down. What eventually emerges never sounds like what the band began with. As a result, nothing that they write ever sounds the same. And while they’re undoubtedly a rock band on stage, in the studio they are more like scientists.

“It’s mainly just Jim [Eno] and I. He’s got his studio and we just hammer away in it until we come up with something that sounds good to us,” Daniel said.

After the last three records however, Daniel and the band are looking for a change.

“We’re talking about maybe just working on recording one song at a time. Like, we write a song as a band, work on it for two days and then record it. Then it’s done. And then we just move on to another song. And after doing that 10 times, we’ve got another album,” he said.

Along with the new change in music comes a change in scenery as well. In this case, Daniel’s move to Portland.

“I just couldn’t stand living in my apartment in Austin anymore. I had been there forever. It was this tiny studio and I just got tired of coming back to it after the tours. So I moved up here. It’s not like I have anything against Austin; I might be back there in nine months. But I’m going to try it out here for a while and see how it goes,” he said.

Right now, for Daniel, it’s going well. He played a sold-out solo show at Dante’s in late August. It was just him, an acoustic guitar and a boom box. Throwing out rarities, favorites spanning Spoon’s entire back catalog and the occasional Julian Cope or Kinks cover, Daniel kept a packed crowd’s attention for nearly 90 minutes.

“It was a good show, it was fun. And yeah, I thought: maybe I should play here first before making up my mind on whether or not I was going to stay. And it went well. It was cool,” he said, smiling.

Cool. The perfect word. A word that, in the context of Spoon, still has meaning and relevance. A word that when Daniel, alone at the microphone, sings, “We could go kick out some doors together, stay out ’till morning, sharp as knives,” still rings true.