For decades, Spoon, one of Austin’s most prominent and acclaimed rock groups, has consistently doled out taut, sharp records brimming with inventive, rock-reeled hooks. The band, perhaps more than many, continues to prove rock ’n’ roll a fertile ground for invention; its newest album, 2017’s Hot Thoughts, finds Spoon exploring with synths. I talked with drummer Jim Eno about Hot Thoughts, Austin, and playfulness.
What’s been the best day of 2018 so far? We had a show in Washington, D.C, and played the 9:30 Club. This band, White Reaper, opened, and it was a really great show. We had a massive balloon drop, and it was interesting because the way the A/C worked, it blew all the balloons onstage, and everything kept coming onstage.
How does this tour feel, bringing this record to life? It feels great. We are playing the best shows, and we have the best band that we’ve had since Spoon has been around. The songs are sounding really good live; they’re sounding more tough, more rock ’n’ roll, more in your face. Plus, we’ve been playing them for an entire year; we’re very dialed in, and we’re playing really well together right now.
What was the process of developing the synth sounds for Hot Thoughts? We worked with [producer] Dave Fridmann a bit again, and Britt [Daniel] and Alex [Fischel] worked a lot on the sounds on the demos. We really worked hard in layering and coming up with unique synth sounds, and I feel like we just pushed forward until we got sounds that were unique and interesting and sounded like they were from the future.
Why did it take a bit of time to create this new one? It normally takes a bit of time to do a record. We tend to write a lot on the road. We’re usually very busy on the road, and to write you have to sort of get away to get in that headspace. We need some downtime for the writing process to start; I think it was three years — three years is a little bit hard when you tour for a year and a half of it, you know? I feel like we had a little bit of downtime, and Britt worked a lot on demo-ing, and he would pull Alex and me and rest of band in whenever it was ready. We started recording with Dave, two weeks maybe in Fredonia, NY, and came back to Austin, and just repeat that, throughout 2016. We were working pretty straight during that time.
Do you spend a lot of time in Austin these days, and do you feel like the city still speaks to you and your music even as it’s changed? I do. Britt lives in L.A. and Austin, maybe 50/50 … I mean, there’s still a lot of really great bands in Austin. I try to go to shows and keep up on things. There are a lot of great bands — Sweet Spirit, A Giant Dog. There’s a lot of really good Latin and hip-hop and going on. I’m a member of sort of a musicians’ nonprofit called Black Fret, and I try to keep in the Austin scene, and it’s very, very vibrant and creative. It’s a different city; it’s much more expensive than when we started; but it’s really, really great music.
What are your three favorite places to eat in Austin? Oh, boy; I would say, there’s a restaurant called Uchiko that I really love going to, and let’s see; for barbecue it would be Franklin Barbecue, and Mexican — boy, that’s a tough one. I go to a place called Maudie’s a lot. It’s near my studio, and it’s fast, and it’s pretty good.
Does the phrase “indie rock” mean anything to you these days? [Laughs.] We have never really been a fan of that term. When that term came about, what “indie” meant was sort of like a slacker mentality; you do 10-20 percent onstage and you’re fine with it ’cause it’s indie rock, dude. We work really hard and only put out songs that we feel are great. Does it mean independent labels? It doesn’t mean that anymore, either. We’re a rock ’n’ roll band; we’re not an indie-rock band. We’re just a rock ’n’ roll band.
I feel like the songs are tight, not a lot of fat. Is it hard work to tighten the songs to that degree? We don’t like a lot of fat to be on the song, and there’s a lot of discussion about that when we record and work on songs. We look for things that keep you interested and interesting sounds, and we go back through and ask, “Is this working; is this needed?” It does take a lot of time in order to get that — it could take many, many tries to find the sound or the feeling we’re going for, and we definitely don’t release anything until we feel it’s really good.
Did you try any new rhythmic sensibilities for this record? My favorite song on it, “Pink Up,” reminds me of Can’s Ege Bamyasi a bit … I appreciate that, but I don’t really think that’s what we were thinking. For that song we initially had a beat programmed in, and Dave basically wanted us to try all sorts of acoustic instruments. He said, “Everyone go out, use the live room, and pick an instrument that is talking to you — shakers, tambourines, and toms.” Dave recorded 30 minutes, cut all the pieces together, and sketched out this idea of the songs. We added that sort-of kick drum, which made it a dance-y song all the way through — which gave it that dance element. I can’t take credit for any of that, but that’s why Dave is great to work with. For “Pink Up” he really went all out.
That sounds so playful! Exactly, exactly … On that end, it definitely shows in the studio if you’re having a good time. That is one thing that we try to do in the studio, have fun, and because that allows you to be creative and try different things, you may stumble on something you hadn’t, and that’s great.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about Spoon, or what are mysterious things casual fans won’t perceive? We whip these songs up and we work super-fast, we have a high attention to detail, and we really work to try to make everything the best it can be. I don’t know if that’s common knowledge or not, though.
Spoon plays with opener White Reaper Thursday, January 18, 8 p.m., at The Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.). Call (805) 963-4408 or go here for more information.