A Conversation with Britt Daniel 

Spoon Frontman Talks New Record and PDX Pop Now!

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WE TALKED with Britt Daniel of Spoon, who's playing a solo set on Thursday, October 29, as part of a PDX Pop Now! benefit. He told us about his interaction with the festival, about living in Portland, and a few shadowy details about the upcoming Spoon record.

MERCURY: First off, what made you want to get involved with PDX Pop Now! and do the fundraiser?

BRITT DANIEL: Well, they asked me to do the [Make it Pop! fundraiser in April 2009]. They might have asked me before, but they definitely asked me this last year, and I couldn't do it 'cause Spoon was recording and I wasn't gonna be in town, but I said I would have loved to... I said I couldn't, but let's do something later in the fall.

PDX Pop Now! is in its sixth year, and you've lived in Portland for some time. What was your first encounter with it?

I haven't actually been to one because every time it's happened I've been out of town. But I know what it is, I've had a lot of friends that have gone to it, I know some of the bands who've played. I mean I know what it is, and just thought it was a great thing. So I was disappointed I couldn't play it.

Have you encountered anything like it in other cities?

No, not that I know of. A free festival where it's all ages? No. It's a good cause.

What approach are you taking for this solo show? At a solo show at the Wonder Ballroom for MusicfestNW 2008, and another at Dante's [August 2006], you played some Spoon songs and some others.... And you had a CD player going with some drumbeats.

Yeah, I haven't figured out how I'm gonna do the CD player. I mean, it helps because sometimes just playing an acoustic guitar for a whole whatever—40 minutes or an hour—it can be monotonous if you're not John Lennon or something. So I use it for that, but I feel like it's kind of an old trick at this point. I don't know, I haven't figured it out. I do have a lot of new songs. I just finished a record, so I guess it could be a chance to play those, you know, for the first time.

Are these new Spoon songs?

Mm-hmm.

And the record's done?

It's done.

Wow, cool... can you tell me a little bit about that?

Sure, I can tell you what I know.

Does it have a name yet?

No, we haven't really settled on anything.

Do you know when it's going to be out?

No. No, I'll tell you what I know.

Where was it recorded?

We recorded a lot of the basic tracks in New York and a lot of it in Portland at my house.

Is this the first time Spoon has recorded in Portland?

Yes.

Are you trying to get them to move here?

Well, yeah, I'm succeeding one by one. Rob [Pope, bassist] is moving up there, and I know Jim [Eno, drummer/producer] would like to, I don't know if he can, 'cause he's got a studio in Austin, but he actually did look for houses or studio space in Portland once, last year.

Where are you now?

I'm in New Orleans.

What are you doing there?

We're gonna be doing some publicity photos for the record, and we like New Orleans, so we've gotta all get together somewhere.

Are there new songs in particular you're looking forward to showing off for the first time?

Yeah, there's a new song called "Before Destruction" that I don't think I've ever played solo—or, I've never played it live at all, and it's gonna be the first song on the record. And you know, that'll be cool... I mean, some of the Spoon songs we have played as a band, some of the new songs for the record we have played as a band, but it'll be the first time to play them alone.

Are you tempted to bring any guests with you onstage? I remember Janet Weiss drummed at one of your solo shows?

I'm tempted, I've gotta see if I can make it happen. I get back in town about five or six days before the show, so if I can pull something together, I'll try.

PDX Pop has that local sense of community, and you're at a more national or international level. Are you able to keep a connection with the Portland scene on a local level?

Well, I mean, I go to a lot of shows in Portland. I know a few things about the Portland music scene just from going to a lot of shows, I've played a lot of shows in Portland—maybe not as many as, I don't know, the Shins—but throughout the years we have, and then I certainly have played a few since I moved here. But I mean to me the connection that I have is I think it's cool, it's a great concept, you know? There certainly was nothing even remotely like that when I was underage, where a lot of kids could get together and do something for free. Especially something of such high quality, to see so many high-quality bands. And you know, you just kind of forget, once you get over 18 and then over 21, that whole issue of actually getting in and being allowed in was a big deal, you know?

Yeah, there was one place in my hometown when I was growing up. And when you're that age, sometimes the place you have to go to is the place you hate the most. And this is totally hypothetical, but do you think kids in Portland are relatively spoiled? When you pursue something, it becomes that much more important to you, and here it's much easier for kids to see a show than when I was underage.

No, I think the connection people have with the music is probably just as strong. I think that connection is pure and if you're that kind of person, it's either there or it isn't there.

It seems like teenage years are when music starts becoming really important. You think that has to do with hormones or something?

I don't know, I think it has to do with them getting more in touch with themselves and seeing how things affect them and allowing for things to affect them. I think there's a somewhat spiritual connection you can make with music, and you start to figure that out around that age.

Do you remember having one of those moments growing up?

Yeah, I mean, I definitely know that putting on a record and sitting in front of one of the speakers was a place where I could feel, like I could get lost in it, and I could not be bored and I could be wrapped up in that feeling. That wasn't something you could get from watching Scooby-Doo.

Was there a record in particular?

No. Well, there were a lot of records. I mean, I think my very first favorite band that I decided on my own that "this is my favorite band" was the Bee Gees. The first record I remember telling my dad to play a lot was the theme to 2001. And I also liked "You Can't Always Get What You Want" because it had that boys choir at the beginning. I don't know why the boys choir just pulled me.

Are you gonna put one of those on a Spoon record?

I don't know, I don't know if I could top the way that was done. It seems kind of over the top to use a boys choir, right? But for some reason if you're the first rock 'n' roll band to do it, it's kinda cool.

Yeah, I don't know why that song works so well—it shouldn't. Are there any other tricks on the new album? Anything unusual that you haven't done before?

There's not a lot of tricks. I think it's kind of a... I don't know, I really don't wanna say, because my impression of it is bound to be different from other people's. But I think it's the anti-tricks record.

Was a lot of it done live in the studio?

A little bit, some of it started out as just demos and then we just recorded on top of the demos and then there were definitely some songs we did live. There's a song we recorded, where the best version we ever did was when we were recording at Lola's Room at the Crystal Ballroom, and we never topped it, so we just used that.

Have you ever been tempted to join another band, or start another?

Why, are you starting one? Yeah, I mean, I do, I think about that stuff a lot, I just get wrapped up in projects. I just gotta decide that's what I wanna do because, I don't know, I took on this other band's record this last year and that kind of took me out of the Spoon world for like four months and then I felt really compelled to get my act together.

Was that the White Rabbits record?

Yeah. I felt quite behind. So yeah, it's a matter of getting time.

Would you ever produce another band's album again?

Yeah, if they're as good as the White Rabbits.

Any Portland bands you'd love to produce?

Uh, well, I'd love to produce Quasi. Maybe most of all, just because I love them. It'd be a fun hang. And they're a great band... I've been listening to them for years. I don't think they need me as a producer, though. Have you heard of this band called Waiting to Fuck?

No.

It's this band that I saw their name and I knew they were playing a couple shows and I was so intrigued by the name I've been trying to see them ever since. But I haven't seen the name come up again. We actually tried to book them to open a Spoon show, but nobody could find them. Simply based on the name.

Yeah, that sounds like a dangerous Google. And this show, it's not only a great way to raise money for PDX Pop Now!, but also keep it in people's minds during the off-season. It happens in the summer and then goes away for a while...

Yeah, it is a good little reminder isn't it?

But when are things gonna start happening with Spoon again?

Well, I think we're gonna play... I would guess we're gonna play a show in Portland before the end of the year. And once the record comes out, which is gonna be sometime early next year, then things will start getting wild again.

Will you be laying low in Portland until then?

I don't know, maybe I'll start another band... what do you think?

Sounds good! It could play PDX Pop Now! next year.

Yeah! I like it.

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