Those who have followed Spoon over their nine-album, almost 25-year career know that expectations when it comes to the Austin quartet are foolish things.
Not that you shouldn’t always expect them to bring it, expect them to please, but that when it comes to guessing what direction they’ll take you in — or rather, take themselves in — that’s pure folly.
Take their latest release Hot Thoughts, for example. It finds them pushing the psych factor, going spacier, noisier, while also embracing the dancier, more electro side of themselves.
It closes with a five-minute jazz odyssey instrumental called Us, and hell, one of the best tracks, Shotgun, sounds like Kiss’s Dynasty disco anthem I Was Made For Lovin’ You.
The whole thing is weird, wonderful and so unlike anything else they’ve delivered, while still sounding like a Spoon record.
While many bands say it, they are one of those acts content to keep moving forward, following their own muse, with each of those recordings standing alone as its own statement.
“Yeah, exactly,” says drummer Jim Eno with a laugh. “I don’t know what to add to that.”
So there you go. Nothing more to say. We can all move on with our …
“I do feel like on this record, though, this is something we’ve been talking about but we sort of figured it out after the record was done — if you look at the last record there’s a song called Inside Out,” he says, referring to 2014’s They Want My Soul. “That song was the last song that we recorded, it’s our favourite on the record, and if you look at the trajectory from that record to this record that is a song that you can think of handing off a feel and a sonic palette to the Hot Thoughts record …
“Looking back that was the direction that made sense for us.”
So they followed it.
The foursome — Eno, guitarist-vocalist Britt Daniel, keyboardist Alex Fischel and bassist Rob Pope – headed back into the studio again with noted producer Dave Friddman, who has more than one masterpiece under his belt, having helmed seminal works by such acts as Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Sparklehorse and Sleater-Kinney.
Eno, a producer himself, doesn’t downplay Friddman’s role in the last two recordings.
“I feel like he’s an additional band member,” he says calling him a “calming presence” in the studio. “And his sounds are amazing. And he has a lot of really great ideas, too, things that we wouldn’t have thought of.
“When you have nine records, you definitely don’t want to repeat yourself so we talk about, ‘Well, let’s try to do something a little different here, let’s try a different sound,’ and Dave’s a perfect guy to do that with.”
Eno points to Friddman’s “love of distortion and big sound” which he brought to the table in his New York State Tarbox Road Studios.
“I feel like if you listen to (our) last two records they got bigger and tougher and sonically better,” he says.
And now they’ve been unleashed into the wild, with the band having toured Europe heavily — Eno was in London when we chatted — before attacking North America, including an anticipated Mac Hall date Thursday, Aug. 31.
The drummer admits that the songs, which they’re scattering liberally throughout their sets, have also changed considerably since their creation — perhaps a little less out-there, and a little more straight-up.
“I feel like they’re definitely popping as rock songs,” he says. “If you take a song like I Ain’t the One, we’re playing that, when the drums kick in, you know, we’re kicking that in hard.”
He continues. “What we do in the studio is we record a lot of the parts and edit and record again and so we haven’t played these songs out live before we record them, and they always take on a life of their own once we tour on them.”
Perhaps that’s the biggest reason that one of his pet projects when he’s not out on the road or in the studio with Spoon is recording bands for Spotify Sessions — where he takes an act passing through Austin and records them in live form.
Over the years he’s recorded everyone from The Shins and Father John Misty to Alejandro Escovedo and his own mates in Spoon.
“What I’m doing,” he says, “is capturing these songs from a touring band.”
Which, as he noted, are in constant flux.
Something he’s learned a great deal about over these past nine albums and almost 25 years.
Spoon performs Thursday, Aug. 31 at McEwan Hall. For tickets please click here.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.com. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.