In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the loud music and hard rockin' has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Spoon frontman Britt Daniel.
1: Can you name the two Democratic presidential hopefuls who are fans of Spoon?
“The ones I know are Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke.”
“I get a kick out of it! With Beto, we played at one of his benefit rallies last year and met him onstage. When he was running for Senate in Texas, in a debate against his evil troll Republican opponent Ted Cruz, he said that Ted Cruz was working for the clampdown – so we took that as our cue and covered The Clash’s ‘Clampdown’. Mayor Pete [Buttigieg] played our song ‘The Way We Get By’ on piano and that blew my mind. It was cool because it was when he was going through his first peak and people were first finding out about him and somebody posted this viral video of him playing our song, so it was nice timing.”
Which of the Democratic presidential candidates do you think will be able to take on Trump?
“They all could take on Trump. I’m not someone who thinks Trump is automatically going to win – I think he’s going to be out in 2020. I like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren – there are so many good candidates.”
2: Name the David Bowie track you covered with Sleater-Kinney and The Thermals on New Year’s Eve 2016.
“I bought Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ album when it came out but when I was around 20 years old, his back catalogue was reissued and I listened to ‘Ziggy Stardust’ etc for the first time – it was the second half of ‘Low’ which really got me.”
You’ve worked a lot with Janet Weiss, former member of Sleater-Kinney…
“I first met Janet when I was wearing a tie every day to temp in a banking job in New York City. The CMJ music festival was being held at that time and during my lunch break, I went down from the 42nd floor of this bank to their headquarters and ran into Janet. She looked at my outfit and said: ‘What are you doing? What’s happening here?!’. She’d never met me before but knew smart clothes weren’t my vibe. She said I was crazy – I told her I was just paying bills. When I moved to Portland years later, we started hanging out and I recorded a single for her ‘Wild Flag’ band, and we’ve been good friends since.”
3: In 2015, which Spoon track did Stephen King name as his favourite song of the year?
‘I Summon You’.
“That was a thrill for sure and 13 year old Britt was an avid reader of Stephen King so that really did mean something. I’ve never met him but I’d love to.”
4: Spoon were ranked on Metacritic as the top overall artist of the 2000s. But can you name which bands placed second or third?
“Makes sense! In the ‘90s, we were fabulously unsuccessful. Each time we put out a record, there was a lot of build-up and excitement on our part and then the wheels would fall off. When the 2000s came around, the music business seemed to fall apart but we started taking off.
The first record we put out in the 2000s [‘Girls Can Tell’] was the first time we made money on a record, the next [‘Kill the Moonlight’] charted a little bit and we started playing bigger rooms. The next went Top 20, the one after that was in the Top Five. Some bands who start out at the top don’t appreciate all the steps between playing in your living room and having their faces on magazine covers.”
What were the most surreal moments that were happening during that time? Magazine profiles depict you shotgunning beers with Drew Barrymore…
“I don’t remember that well – maybe I’d shotgunned a few too many beers! I remember she was around a couple of times. There were things I never thought would happen – like playing Madison Square Garden and Saturday Night Live – especially considering how long it took us to be successful.”
5: Which 2010 indie album were you offered the opportunity to produce?
“Bradford [Cox, Deerhunter] toured with us during ‘Transference’. We became good friends and he asked me to produce the next Deerhunter record. I went ‘Fuck, yes!’. He then said: ‘I think it should be you and Kim Deal producing’. I was like ‘Wow! Kim Deal’s been behind a lot of great records – and we’ve hung out before and she’s great’. But then Deerhunter’s manager asked my manager how much I should be paid and said something way over the top as a starting point. Didn’t ask me first! He asked me: ‘Does $4000 sound alright?’ and I said yes. Even though I thought it was a bit low, Bradford’s a friend. Turns out he meant $4000 per song! When I heard Bradford couldn’t afford that, I didn’t understand what was happening but said: ‘Hey, I’ll do it for free’. But by then, he’d already started working with producer Ben Allen. Honestly I can’t imagine how I would have done that record any better than it turned out. I’ve produced records like the White Rabbits’ ‘It’s Frightening’ – but ‘Halcyon Digest’ is definitely the one that got away!”
6: Before Spoon, you worked on video games and are credited on some Wing Commander titles. Can you name the character Mark Hamill plays in the series?
“(Laughs) No! And I worked on it for ages! Fuck! I don’t think I can remember. Can you give me a hint?”
The surname is the same as a former British prime minister…
“Let’s see – is it Colonel Christopher Blair?”
“Oh holy shit! Thanks for the hint! I was thinking: it wasn’t Thatcher, it wasn’t Churchill, how many prime ministers’ names do I know?!”
“The Mark Hamill one was one of the first actual home games that had Hollywood actors and was filmed on a real set. It felt like you were in a movie. I worked in games right after I graduated high school and it was probably the best job I had. Going to work every day and coming up with sounds for lasers and spaceships and World War II fighter planes was pretty cool!”
7: Spoon covered ‘See My Friends’ with Ray Davies of The Kinks for his 2010 album of the same name. Name two other guests who appeared on it.
CORRECT. Among others, you could have also had: Jon Bon Jovi, Mumford & Sons, Paloma Faith, Black Francis, Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and Billy Corgan.
“That was a dream come true. I got into The Kinks late – around the time we were making ‘Girls Can Tell’. I knew a few tunes but I’d somehow missed ‘Face to Face’, ‘Village Green’, ‘Arthur’ and ‘Something Else’ until late into the game. And it really influenced my songwriting. Anyway, I got asked to interview an idol for Spin and picked Ray Davies and it seemed to go well. A couple of months later, he asked if we wanted to play on this album. We went to [Davies’ London studio] Konk and it was crazy. He was super nice. We unfortunately only got to work with him for one day and I wish that song had turned out better but it was just done quick and he had this one idea he wanted to run with. But it was a day I’ll never forget.”
How would you have liked it to sound?
“Maybe a little more earthy. The Kinks did such a gnarly recording of that song. It’s not what you’d call hi-fi but the version we did with him, he wanted to change it. He understandably wanted all the songs to be markedly different from how they were the first time. But it was just a little too slick because we were only in there for a day and didn’t get to put our fingers on it much.”
8: You appeared in Veronica Mars in 2006 singing Elvis Costello’s ‘Veronica’. Can you name the song you follow on karaoke night?
“(Laughs) No I can’t! I’m not going to get this one!”
WRONG. You follow somebody murdering ‘All Out Of Love’ by Air Supply.
“Well I guess I got the better song! One of the producers on the show, Rob Thomas – not the Matchbox Twenty guy – was from Austin and a Spoon fan and got in touch to ask if I wanted to do karaoke. And it was a blast! It was a thrill to be a part of it. He got in touch with me later for another role on some other show – but there was something about it that I didn’t gravitate towards.”
9: Which character’s party mix does ‘The Underdog’ appear on in the 2008 monster movie Cloverfield?
“Oh, I don’t know!”
WRONG. It was Rob’s party mix.
“I didn’t know that at all!”
Where’s the most unusual place you’ve heard your music played?
“I could have sworn that I heard one of our songs on the Super Bowl – we’ve definitely been on NFL football.”
10: Who did Uri Geller once claim his famous spoon-bending powers were given to him by?
“Hmmmmn, I don’t know. Can I guess God?”
WRONG. It was aliens.
“Aliens were my second guess! OK, well that makes sense! Should have known!”
In 1993, you were in a band named The Alien Beats…
“It was in my last year of university and I’d been in short-lived bands in Austin before that. We’d always play the shit gigs like Monday night at the metal bar. It got frustrating playing this pop music – not too dissimilar to Spoon – that didn’t go down well. The only thing that seemed to go over well in Austin were if you were a white guy trying to rip off Stevie Ray Vaughn and take it to another level of whiteness. If you were me trying to sound like Julian Cope and Wire, you couldn’t get a gig. Somebody I DJ-d with at the college radio station asked me if I wanted to be in a country band – I said no. (Laughs) Then thought about for a week and said ‘Maybe this is exactly what I need to do!’ It was just about doing something for a year before we graduated – and it was a hoot.”
What’s been your worst ever gig then?
“When we were promoting [Spoon album] ‘Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’ we played at a Bennigan’s for a radio event. That was a bummer. It wasn’t a good vibe. It’s a chain restaurant, so it’s the equivalent of us setting up in the corner of a Nando’s!”
The verdict: 6/10
“I feel like you threw in some trick questions right at the end. I don’t know anything about spoon-bending but I’ll study up for the next time!”
‘Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon’ is out now