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by Greg Phillips
SPOON GIG REVIEW by Elyce Phillips

Texan rock troubadours Spoon were recently in Australia playing tracks from their new studio album Hot Thoughts to full houses nationwide. It’s an album which had its beginnings in Melbourne Australia. Lead singer Britt Daniel rented a property in suburban Collingwood a couple of years ago, took the cap off a pen and began writing down song ideas. OK,  it may have been a laptop or dictaphone, whatever the tools may have been but it was during a three week period before the rest of the band landed in Australian to tour that Britt had compiled enough material to begin the band’s ninth album. Fast forward two years, the album is out and AM editor Greg Phillips is chatting with Spoon drummer Jim Eno about the record and in particular his drum parts.

It seems to me that with each Spoon album, going back the last 4 or 5 albums at least, that there has been a tremendous growth for the band. It’s like you took it up a notch each time. Is there ever a discussion about the kind of album you are going to make before you begin writing or recording?
Well thanks for that. We try to step it up when we put out records so I appreciate that. Sometimes we have had conversations but once you start working on the songs, it never ends up working out how you envisioned because really it is based on the songs. With this record, it’s sort of a continuation of some of things we were trying to do on They Want My Soul. If you listen to Inside Out, that’s the last song we recorded and it was our favourite one to record, we love playing it live and if you were to look at a jumping off point for this record, it would probably be that song. Sonically, this one feels like it is coming from a place like that.

A lot of these songs were written by Britt here in Melbourne when he rented a place for a few weeks before you got here. Did that make sense to the other band members, him coming here early. Is that something Britt usually does, travels to a spot to write songs?
I feel like he has been doing that on all  of our records except for maybe the first two. He will just go and find a place to write where he can limit the distractions from people he knows or certain obligations. So we had time in Australia and he came out early to Melbourne writing. I feel like a lot of the songs started here in Australia.

IMG_9998So how did he present those songs to the band? How complete were they in regard to verse chorus, melody?
It’s different based on each song. I feel like there’s a couple of ways it happens. One of them would be a fully flushed out demo that sounds really good and we don’t have to do too much to it. I would say that one would be … Can I Sit Next To You … that’s how that one came to us. We were like, wow this is great, let’s start recording it. It didn’t need anything from an arrangement standpoint. There are other songs like Whisper I’lllistentohearit … the second half of that he brought in. We tried it as a band and then tried to come up with an arrangement for that. It all depends on where he’s at with things, if he’s making good progress.

Do you generally jam songs out?
Not really. Many times we won’t even play the songs until we get into the studio. So a song like Do I Have To Talk You Into It, we played it a couple of times but didn’t try it out at shows. We got into the studio and tracked rhythm sections and tried to build it up from there, a traditional multi track approach.

There are a couple songs which are real mood pieces rather than traditionally structured songs. Pink Up and Us … were they created in the studio? How much improv was involved?
Pink Up was something that Britt was working on and it was a funny one because it just kept getting longer. Usually you think of bands cutting parts down but we extended it and added an outro, then added an outro to the outro. We just kept building on that one. With the song Us … the way that worked is … Britt had a song he wanted a sax on as an intro. He found this sax player through Alex. The sax player listened to the track once and he played it all the way through. Britt was like, no I just want it on the intro and asked for one more track and he did a harmony and a counter part to it. It was about a 30 minute session. Britt was blown away by it and he turned off all the music on it and just listened to the saxes and thought, wow this is much better than what was there. We could make a song staring with this and it would be something really different for us.

OriginalPhoto-476828745.044784You make great use of percussion to enhance drums on a couple tracks. Hot Thoughts sounds like it has some kind of glockenspiel and on Pink Up. there’s the tambourine or shakers or whatever you’re using. Do you generally have a whole bunch of hand percussion in the studio?
On Hot Thoughts that’s actually a celeste, like a mini piano but with bells. Britt has one of those in his home studio in LA and that was one of the first things he added to the chorus to make it a chorus part on Hot Thoughts. It’s a great sound. It’s the first time we have used that on a Spoon recording. On Pink Up, the idea for adding organic percussion came from our producer Dave Fridmann. We had a Linn Drum programmed on that track where we tuned the toms to the key of the song. We were psyched about it and we went in to work on Pink Up with Dave and he said why doesn’t everyone go into the live room and pick up a percussion instrument that is speaking to them. I played some tom stuff. Britt had shakers, Rob had tambourine and Alex had bongos and we were literally playing the track altogether at the same time. Then Dave would say OK, Alex play alone or Britt play with Rob, Jim play with Britt and Alex. He would call out all of these combinations to get these different feels. Then he edited it up and took about 30 minutes and a lot of the structure of the percussion was pretty much what Dave had done in those 30 minutes.

Has your drum kit changed for this tour and the new songs?
It’s pretty much the same but I have added an SPD sample pad. I used to have a snare trigger and like a trigger rod that would go on my hi hat stand because I would pretty much only trigger one sound. Then the snare trigger was for songs like Don’t You Ever, for which we had snaps and Inside Outside has a drum machine snare with it. On this album, songs like Hot Thoughts, I actually play the pads that has those sampled sounds on them. For Can I Sit Next To You, I have some backward hi hat and claps, so I go back and forth between the kit and the pad on that tune.

What does your kit consist of?
A rack, floor, kick, 2 crashes. I dropped my ride because I’d never use it. Just two cymbals and hi hat, that’s pretty much it, with the SPD pad.

Listening to the last few albums, your hi hats seem to stand out to me…
I never do 16th notes on the hi hat. I think on this record at the end of Tear It Down, it is the first time we have ever had 16th notes on a hi hat. I think we like to have our hi hats loud. I think that is one thing that differentiates us. I am usually  a pretty straight ahead drummer, just trying to keep time. The other thing I do is when I play hi hats, I think it is important to make every hit the same. I record bands and I know a lot of drummers like to accent certain beats of the hi hat, usually on the kick and snare. I feel like it is better to have it super consistent, almost drum machine like.

Did you have drummer heroes when you were growing up?
I didn’t start playing drums until my junior year in university but I knew I always wanted to play. When I started to play drums I was really into The Smiths, early REM, early U2, The Cure, Talking Heads. I guess, looking for a thread, they are very simple drummers that just play the song. I have always felt that as a drummer, that is my job.

In an interview at Ohio University of Media couple years ago, you tell the guy about the band’s lowest point, the 8 track tape machine where the tape snaps and you splice it back together at the wrong position and you lose the song. What do you consider the band’s highest point to be so far?
Probably the thing I feel most proud of in our career would be playing Saturday Night Live. I don’t know if it was a high point because that would imply that everything after that was downhill but I don’t feel that way. I just feel that was a pinnacle. Growing up watching that show, knowing the history of the show and then actually playing it, I would never in a million years think that I would play Saturday Night Live.

The other interesting thing which came out of that interview was the amount of recording tips that you offered, things that you learned by working with different studio guys and different acts.  How influential have those incidental tips been to the progression of Spoon?
I feel like all that stuff helps. I feel like when you work a lot in the studio and you work with people like Dave Fridmann, it is almost like going to a master class in recording. You can ask questions and he’s super open to answering questions and you become a recording team, where we all come up with interesting ideas to make sounds different and interesting. When you get nine albums deep it is tough not to reproduce yourself. In the studio you are looking to … hook this thing up a little differently or let’s do this another way because we have never done it before.

spoon observatory-4

What are some drum recording tips you have learned over the years?
Less cymbals! I am not a fan of overdubbing cymbals but I feel like when you hit a cymbal it should make a statement. On some Spoon songs I don’t even hit cymbals but when you do, it should make a statement. I think that helps if you barely play them. The other thing I like to do when I have a fill I like for a song, I move that fill forward, elaborating a bit more on the fill as the tune goes on. Maybe you’ll do the same fill 3 times in a song but it gets slightly different and busier as the song goes along.

spoon-hotthoughts_1800xAfter you leave Australia what happens?
We’re going to be on the road a lot. Touring the States a couple of times. Hopefully back here again. We love coming here so hopefully it will be soon. Pretty much we’ll be out there promoting this record.

Any studio production work for you this year?
No I have put most of it off for now but there’s this band, Chk Chk Chk that you might know and I am working with Raphael who is their bass payer and guitar player. We have 5 songs done in a new project he and I are doing.  I am mixing that and hopefully it will be out soon. He’s writing some great songs.

Hot Thoughts is out now




Spoon at the Croxton Bandroom
March 18,2017
Review by Elyce Phillips

It feels like longer than two years since Spoon last graced our shores, and the packed crowd at the Croxton Bandroom was eager to hear how Hot Thoughts stacked up live. Singer Britt Daniel was in good spirits, reminiscing about previous Melbourne shows at The Forum and Billboard, and throwing Don’t You Evah into the setlist when a punter called out for it.

The bright spots in the night all came from the new album. Tracks like Hot Thoughts, Can I Sit Next To You and Do I Have To Talk You Into It stood out as fresh and exciting against the familiar riffs of the band’s older work. Producer Dave Fridmann’s influence can be felt here – the songs are lusher, without losing the precision and simplicity that makes up Spoon’s sound.

It was a well-balanced setlist, placing the best of the new against some deeper cuts and old favourites like The Underdog. My Mathematical Mind was a surprisingly low-energy choice as a closer, ending the show on a more sober note than expected.  This, however, is a small gripe in what was a great gig from the ever-consistent Spoon.

Hot Thoughts
Inside Out
I Turn My Camera On
Don’t You Evah
The Beast And Dragon, Adored
I Saw The Light
Do You
Do I Have To Talk You Into It
First Caress
The Underdog
Can I Sit Next To You
Rainy Taxi
Small Stakes

I Ain’t The One
Got Nuffin
My Mathematical Mind

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