Spoon - “Lines in the Suit” (Live)
Pitchfork: Do you have a favorite song you’ve written?
BD: Um…no…probably not…for a long time, I’d say “Lines in the Suit” was my favorite song. I don’t really know anymore.
I really wanted to post a live version of Britt’s (former) favorite song, so here you go. (It was surprisingly hard to find a decent one: come on, YouTube!) The key to this song is the harmonies, a relative rarity in Spoon songs. Check out the album version if you want to hear them a little clearer.
Anyway, this is really just a segue to my next post, which is going to be about clothes. I’m not sure if this song has much to say about clothes, but the title makes me think of a man in a pinstripe suit. “The Man,” maybe, judging from the lyrics.
Spoon - “Fitted Shirt” (Live)
AVC: Let’s talk about the Spoon dress code.
BD: Is there a dress code? Well, let’s just say I never thought it was cool to wear shorts onstage.
AVC: But you also get dressed up to record?
BD: Not every day, but yeah, sometimes that gets me in a good mood. Mike McCarthy is really the one that started that. He would show up for even our daily sessions wearing nice slacks and a tucked-in shirt and a nice coat and nice shoes, and it felt like we were going to work, you know, like we were being pro. It just made it a little more Motown-era or something. And then I started copying him.
AVC: When you first started playing, you used to wear sunglasses onstage. Was that because you were uncomfortable in front of an audience?
BD: Actually, I think I wore sunglasses because I thought it was cool, and then I realized that it’s not the only way to be cool. Of course, I still wear them if we’re outside and it’s real bright. But I think I saw Ben [Hotchkiss] from The Real Heroes, and he was in a band called The Duckhills where he wore sunglasses onstage. I thought, “Wow, this guy looks awesome.” It made a big impression. And of course, I was really into Lou Reed.
Part of Spoon’s coolness is that they are total pros. My wife (who gets all the credit for introducing me to Spoon, and who is an even bigger fan than I am, and who should probably be writing this blog herself, except she’s too cool; she’s like Spoon in that way) says: “it is a job to them, but it’s never just a job… I mean maybe it’s dumb to compliment a band for doing their job, but I think it sets them apart. Spoon is no bullshit, basically, which you can’t say about a lot of bands.” I think this helps to explain a part of Spoon’s aesthetic. They always seem like they are working really hard to put out the best possible product, they take what they are doing seriously: and so they dress up for work. But, in another way, Spoon’s sartorial distinction also has to do with emulating the people they respect: their longtime producer, Mike McCarthy, Motown-era musicians, Lou Reed. Either way, they always look real cool, but in an understated, non-ostentatious way: total pros.
Spoon - “Me and the Bean” (Live, Sidehackers cover)
Part of being a cool band is being part of a scene, and Spoon is part of one of the best: the Austin Texas rock scene is famous for its coolness. (I wouldn’t know: I’ve never been to Texas, never heard of King Kong, as they say*.) Spoon pays their respect to the scene in numerous ways, but one of the most significant is their cover of “Me and the Bean” by John Clayton, of the relatively unknown Austin band The Sidehackers. (At least, relatively unknown in the sense that trying to search for them on the internet turns up nothing outside of their association with Spoon. In addition to writing this song, Clayton also plays on some Kill the Moonlight tracks.) “Me and the Bean,” in spite of not being written by Britt, has the signature “Spoon sound” (most reviewers of Girls Can Tell failed to notice that it wasn’t a Spoon original), and has become a staple of their live shows: they opened many nights on their most recent tour with it. They played it last March at Radio City Music Hall, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen; unfortunately I can’t find any video of that one. This one is from a few nights previous, and it’s pretty great.
*The song in the linked clip, “Eddie’s Ragga,” is another tribute to the scene: the titular Eddie is Eddie Robert from the band I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, which also comes from Austin.
Mac McCaughan - “Anything You Want” (Spoon cover)
Of course, there are many scenes, and respect flows both ways: here’s Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, owner of Merge Records, which has put out every Spoon album since 2000(I’ll get into the label trials-and-tribulations of their early years on Thursday), covering a song from Girls Can Tell.
Spoon - “Jonathon Fisk”
Another interesting thing about being part of a scene: they have a tendency of bringing things full-circle. Imagine your middle-school tormenter starts showing up at your shows, years later: what do you do? Well, if you are Britt Daniel, you write a badass song about him.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Jonathan Fisk,” the one about the bully. Did you get beaten up as a little kid?
Well, I didn’t have the excuse of being a little kid. I was more like a thirteen year old, fourteen year old. It didn’t happen all the time, but, yeah, that is based on a real dude who would harass me on the way home from school in middle school.
Did you ever get revenge?
Yes. He came to all of our shows for about two or three years. And one of his main complaints with me as a kid was that the music that I listened to was wimpy or indicative of me being a fairy.
But now he’s a fan?
Well, I haven’t seen him in a while. But he definitely was a fan. He chilled out. You know, people grow up. I’m sure I wasn’t the most mature little thirteen year old. But I didn’t go out and beat people up because they didn’t listen to Ozzy Osbourne either.
Spoon - “Paper Tiger” (Live)
I was going to post this song as an example of the minimalist aesthetic that characterizes Kill the Moonlight, but it turns out this live version is not that minimal! Oh well, you can listen to the album version and compare. This live version gives a nice example of how Britt plays guitar, though: he doesn’t tend to strum, or solo, or do any of the things that characterize rock rhythm and/or lead guitar playing. I mean, he does do though things, sometimes: but more typically he bangs, and squeals, and does sort of loud atmospheric stuff where you are just kind of like “what exactly is he doing?” But it tends to be perfect. I think Britt is criminally underrated as a guitar player. But I’ll save my rant about Spoon being underrated for the end of the week, when I cover Transference.
Bright Eyes / Britt Daniel - “Let the Distance Bring Us Together”
Homer: So, I realized that being with my family is more important than being cool.
Bart: Dad, what you just said was powerfully uncool.
Homer: You know what the song says: “It’s hip to be square”.
Lisa: That song is so lame.
Homer: So lame that it’s… cool?
Marge: Am I cool, kids?
Marge: Good. I’m glad. And that’s what makes me cool, not caring, right?
Marge: Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we’ve tried everything here.
Homer: Wait, Marge. Maybe if you’re truly cool, you don’t need to be told you’re cool.
Bart: Well, sure you do.
Lisa: How else would you know? The Simpsons, Episode 3F21, “Homerpalooza”*
I was very surprised to learn that Britt was a Bright Eyes fan. It’s not that I don’t like Bright Eyes, I do, but I’m actually a little embarrassed about it: if there’s an antithesis to the Spoon brand of “cool”, I think it might have to be Bright Eyes, especially the early (and best) Bright Eyes with its overwrought, painfully earnest approach. But there Britt was, in the hipster-lion’s-den that is Pitchfork, professing his fandom not just once but twice. (The second link is worth clicking on: it’s Britt’s top 10 albums of the 2000s, including Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.) Britt and Conor Oberst (aka Bright Eyes) even collaborated on a split EP, which has a song from each, plus two they supposedly wrote together.The one by Britt, “You Get Yours”, sounds a lot like Spoon. So does this one (the one in this post), I think. The other songs sound more like Bright Eyes, but the whole EP is pretty interesting, from the songwriting-collaboration standpoint. Plus the songs are just good.
*Simpsons quote via Subtly Simpsons. But while I was looking for it I found this, which is kind of amazing. Especially this.
Spoon - “Jealousy”
For my last post today (most likely; I might find something to say about “Everything Hits at Once”. I really ought to.) I’m just going to point you to the Love Ways EP (2000), Spoon’s first release on Merge (though it was actually recorded after Girls Can Tell). You should check it out: it’s kind of weird (as evidenced in this video), but it’s really well-crafted (like this song for example, dare I say, is rather Beatles-esque?); my take on the record is that Spoon wanted to play with genre and see how stylistically different they could make five songs. It turns out that they can make them very different indeed.
I wrote a bit about my favorite song on the album, “Chips and Dip”, last week on my personal tumblr, complete with eminently rebloggable audio file, if that’s your thing.