I turn my camera on, but Britt Daniel does not.
The Spoon frontman’s publicist insisted upon a Zoom interview, so I’m momentarily thrown when I realize the next 24 minutes and 46 seconds will be spent interviewing someone embodied only by an ominous black box labelled ‘BRITT DANIEL,’ that faintly flashes every time his gravelly drawl breaks the silence like some sort of Texan HAL 9000.
Unnervingly, Britt Daniel can see me, but I can’t see him.
“Have you been to the Calgary Folk Fest before?” a voice breaking through the ether asks. “It looks like a good one.”
I stutter out an answer in the affirmative, still slightly stunned from the absurdity of the scenario, composing myself enough to ask if Daniel’s been to Calgary before.
Daniel says he thinks so, before we roll on into a more pointed discussion of Spoon’s 10th studio album, Lucifer on the Sofa, released earlier this year.
Preoccupied, however, Daniel soon returns to his own previous line of questioning, interjecting, “We played at MacEwan Hall in 2017. I had to know.”
Briefly, I imagine Daniel situated in an underground bunker, a hidden archive of Spoon’s entire career, a time capsule of gig posters and tour riders – is that the reason for the one-sided cloak-and-dagger Zoom exchange?
Still, the subterranean visual is fitting, as Lucifer on the Sofais its own time capsule of sorts, an album four years in the making, with some songs taking nearly a decade before seeing the light of day. An album that began in the beforetimes, came to screeching halt, and picked up again post lockdown, with an entirely new scene to set.
Lucifer on the Sofa is grittier, darker, and more vulnerable than past efforts from the band, but possibly their most quintessentially rock ‘n’ roll album to date.
Having started the recording process back in 2019, lockdown meant that what would normally be a communal effort for Spoon was now more individually collaborative, with Daniel and drummer Jim Eno sending each other their solo recordings and letting producers weigh in remotely.
“It’s a record that took much longer than we intended for it to take, and that we wanted for it to take, but it was sort of out of our hands. And because of that, the writing is from all over the map,” says Daniel.
Despite the lengthy and disjointed recording process, the band opted to open Lucifer on the Sofa not with an original they’d spent the last four years perfecting, but with a cover of American lo-fi country act Smog’s song, Held.
“The fact that it was a cover wasn’t part of the decision, it was all about setting a scene. I feel like that first song on a record, the first few songs on a record — but especially the first one — kind of paints a picture. It really sets the agenda for what the record is. And we could have started this record out with the last song on it, Lucifer on the Sofa — that’s the one song that has horns on it and it’s sort of more experimental. But if we’d started the record with that song, people would not be writing about how it’s a rock ‘n’ roll record,” says Daniel.
“I particularly like the beginning of that track, Held, how it has those sounds, the conversations that are happening in the studio. I just felt like when I put that up front first, I was like, ‘Wow, OK, that kind of sets the scene for what this record’s about.’
“It’s a record that’s kind of made in a scrappy fashion, and where we were really kind of getting back to the band playing together in a room, and what that sounded like, and things that happen when a band is really playing together, rather than a record just being pieced together and produced. I thought that told the story a little bit, so up it went to song No. 1.”
It’s apparent that theme as concept is always front of mind for Daniel — even when considering songs unwritten or albums unrecorded.
When asked what’s on the horizon as the band wraps up their tour this November, he’s as enigmatic as the black box still flashing at me every time he speaks.
“I don’t know, making a really quiet record or something? Yeah, a record of ballads or, I don’t know, recorded in a church around one microphone or something. I do love those kinds of records that it’s all about vibe, and it’s all about sticking with one thing. I always think of those early Cure records like Seventeen Secondswhere a mood is established at the top, and you just go all the way through it. You’re in that mood. This is the concept, here are the colours we have to work with. Maybe something like that.”
In the present, however, Lucifer on the Sofa revisits feelings of isolation, nostalgia and a solitary reckoning with oneself.
The most recent single, My Babe, one of the oldest songs on the record, is a punched-up ballad featuring a subtle barroom piano twang, and pared down, pleading vocals.
“I like that one a lot. It’s the one that, when we were out touring before the record came out, when we would play that song, people would kind of go nuts. Sometimes you play a brand new song and people will look like they don’t know where they are. It’s kind of rolling over them and they’re not really sure how to accept it. But that one always had a really great reaction. And people even started writing into the band about it, like, ‘Where can I get this song?’ I think we kinda knew it was one we should feature.”
Wild, the second single, and subsequent four-track remixed EP, was originally composed in 2015 during a four-hour songwriting collaboration with Bleachers frontman and wunderkind producer, Jack Antonoff.
“It was a song that was great, I knew it was good, but there were no words, there was no vocal melody. And I kept coming back to it, you know, once a year or so, and trying to put something on top of it. And it didn’t work for a long time until finally, during the pandemic, one day, I just said, ‘I’m gonna sit here and I’m gonna make this work,’ ” says Daniel.
The result is a desperately needed, hope-filled, slow build for a weary world. A song for the road, and arguably one of the most viscerally reactive tracks on the album.
Being on the road, and subsequently touring, offers an enduring catharsis for Daniel.
“It’s a great time to get some thoughts out, right? I think I wrote two or three songs from Girls Can Tellon the highway between Austin and Omaha, where I kept going to that year, driving back and forth. But yeah, this time especially was great because when I started getting out on the road in 2020, I’d just been locked up, so I just felt like, ‘Wow, you can actually see the big, wide world still exists – and here’s proof of it,’ you know? It helps with everything.
“It’s one of my favourite things to be on that bus and waking up in a new town. The whole thing is so packed with essential things you’ve got to do, like find a place to shower, find a place to have lunch, and find a coffee, do your sound check. That’s kind of like, a full day.
“Meanwhile, knowing in the back of your head that there’s going to be a party that night. It’s kind of a nice, little way to look at life for a couple weeks. So, I love it,” says Daniel.
“So, I’m really looking forward to this festival. I’m taking your word for it that it’s gonna be cool.”
Spoon perform Saturday, July 23 on the Mainstage of Prince’s Island Park as part of the Calgary Folk Music Festival. For tickets and more in formation please go to calgaryfolkfest.com.