For nearly three decades, Spoon has been quietly building one of modern rock’s most robust discographies. Over the years the Austin outfit, founded by frontman Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, has put out multiple alternative hits, including “Inside Out,” “Sister Jack,” “The Underdog” and “Do You,” and scored a handful of Top 5 albums on the Billboard rock charts.
Released in February, the band’s first studio album in five years, “Lucifer on the Sofa,” seems a solid Grammy contender in the alternative and rock categories. Coming off a North American tour and ahead of the release of companion remix album “Lucifer on the Moon” (featuring “Sofa” songs reworked by Adrian Sherwood), Daniel spoke with Variety about the state of rock in 2022, the problems with touring during COVID and why he mourns the golden age of radio.
“Lucifer on the Sofa” is one of your rawest, most straightahead albums. Was there a particular mission statement going into making it?
The mission statement was to have fun making it — to have kind of a party as you’re making it. To not write the songs in the studio, to hash them out ahead of time and then hit the record button. Another big thing is that when I was writing the songs and figuring out what worked, I tried not to lean on technology. So it was all about if I can make a song work as a sort of busking into a little handheld recorder, just acoustic guitar and vocals. If I could get that to work, then that was the starting point. A lot of times before it was like, “Use this bit of studio gear and create this cool sound and maybe this vibrato or tremolo will create a rhythm that you can use as your foundation and build up a track that way.” And that’s one way of making music, but this time it was just more about the rhythm, the syllables, the chords, the melodies.
You’ve said the song “On the Radio” is about how when you were a kid, you felt like the voices on the radio were talking to you. Do you think we’ve lost some of the magic of music curation with streaming, where everything feels so algorithmic?
Maybe a little bit, yeah. The song is about how radio made me feel good. When I was lonely, it comforted me a bit and gave me evidence that there was an outside world where people were interacting and life was still happening out there. There was also a sense of community, knowing that that song is coming on in everybody’s car — or clock radio — right now. There was a shared experience, and I used to talk to my friends about what happened on the radio as a kid.
I don’t know if you get that from streaming, when there’s not a person on the other end doing something consciously. Not to knock streaming — there’s good things about it. The thing I like about the digital world is I can be at a bar and Shazam a song and when I come home, that song is on my computer. That’s kind of amazing.
As a band who has weathered the landscape for almost 30 years now, what do you think about the state of rock music in 2022?
A lot of people love rock music. People go to rock shows to experience real music and real songs that means something to them, and that’s always going to be powerful. I still see a lot of kids that get excited about playing about bands playing instruments, and that’s how they want to do it. That’s how they want to reach people, and that will never go away.
A lot of people consider Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” to be the first rock song to hit No. 1 in over a decade.
I keep hearing — especially when I talk to journalists — that guitar music is on its way back. Especially British journalists. There’s certainly no lack of great rock music being made.
I get the sense you don’t care about trends in music, or follow the Billboard charts.
What are you listening to?
There’s this new guy called Theo Lawrence. He lives in France but he plays country music and comes to Austin to do residencies. I’m kind of obsessed with his record “Sauce Piquante” right now. There’s a guy in Austin called Andrew Cashen who plays with A Giant Dog and he just put out a solo record that’s fantastic. The Fontaines D.C. record is amazing. The Big Thief album from this year is amazing. The Jack White record is really good. The songs I’ve heard from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs record are fantastic.
It seems like touring used to be the only way some bands could turn a profit, but recently artists have had to cancel tours (or start GoFundMe pages) because they’re too expensive now. Meanwhile, Harry Styles is selling out 15 nights at Madison Square Garden. What’s touring like nowadays for a band like Spoon?
Yeah, things are good for Harry, right? That doesn’t sound so bad. But I don’t think anybody who’s ever played MSG is going to be in the category we’re talking about where they’re struggling. I will say that it’s harder to turn a profit. The expenses are through the roof, sometimes doubling and tripling what they used to cost a year ago even. It’s pretty nuts. If you’re taking a bus or truck on your tour, and [gas] doubles in cost, then that’s something you gotta consider. It ain’t easy at this moment.
Spoon has been overlooked by the Grammys in the past. Is this the year?
Sometimes great albums get celebrated. Sometimes great bands get celebrated.
Do you care about the Grammys?
Sure. I don’t always watch, but I’m not gonna act like it wouldn’t register. It’d be pretty cool. The most important thing is the music, but we work on an album for months and months, and to be honest, we don’t think about pleasing anyone but ourselves because that’s the only truth we know. But once it’s out, fuck yeah, I’d rather people like it than not. I know we’ve done great work, and if other people get it, that’s great. Do you vote for the Grammys?
No, I don’t. Maybe one day.
Oh, that’s too bad [laughs]. Gotta get you in there, man.