By Dan Cava
July 14, 2017
Spoon plays rock ‘n’ roll. Their music has been described as minimalist, but I think “essentialist” is a better word. Every part of a Spoon song seems distilled. The drums are definitive, the kind of backbeats that can loop into eternity without getting stale. The basslines are clever, punchy, groovy, but never flashy. The guitars sound like actual instruments plugged into actual amps, a novelty in modern rock. We can hear picks moving across strings, and the distortion seems to come more from urgency than effects. And lead singer Britt Daniels’ voice feels assembled from the best parts of the last five decades of rock music: the swagger of the 80s, the urgency of the 90s, the rasp of the 00s, and the melodies of the 2010s.
Their newest album marks another high point in their already critically adored career. Hot Thoughts evolves into Spoon’s sound into a set of varied and expansive sonics that somehow never loses that four-guys-in-a-room feeling. The ability to turn “simple” into “soundscapes” serves them well in their often sold-out live shows. Spoon is heading through Charlotte on Tuesday with The New Pornographers. As the band began its 2017 tour, we caught up with Spoon bass player Rob Pope over the phone. While discussing Hot Thoughts, we talked about the experience of playing on Ellen, about being an analog band in a social media age, and a few of Rob’s favorite things.
CLTure: You’re on tour now, right? In Mexico City?
Rob Pope: Yeah, we’re just getting started. We were in LA yesterday; we played on The Ellen Degeneres Show. We’ll do a show next week where the tour starts in Alabama and then head up your way.
CLTure: Playing in Mexico City, playing on TV, and playing amphitheatre shows like Charlotte – those seem like very different settings. How does the venue affect the way you approach the performance?
Rob Pope: It’s weird. It’s taken a little bit of adjusting. I think our songs work in all of those environments. We really just try to connect with the people who are there the best way we can. Sometimes that works great, sometimes that doesn’t. The television shows are a little weirder, because there’s a lot of stares and a lot of people that don’t know you at all.
CLTure: That’s an interesting collision: the Ellen crowd and Spoon.
Rob Pope: Yeah, but that’s why you do it! We’re trying to get our songs in the ears of some new people. My mom was so excited when I told her we going to be playing on Ellen! She’s a fan, but that was probably more validating for her than anything we’ve ever done. [laughs]
CLTure: What does it mean to be a working band right now in the ever-changing music industry, with all the different distribution channels: TV, tours, selling versus steaming, social media, etc?
Rob Pope: It’s evolved quite a bit since I started playing music. It’s pretty wild. We’re still a little old school in a way. We don’t want to overload people. Like, it’s not really us to post seven pictures on Instragram everyday. We want to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are smart enough to discover us in a cool way, rather than it being shoved down their throats. But there are so many opportunities and so many outlets there were just not around five years ago. Britt could probably guest on a podcast every single day.
CLTure: Spoon definitely has a sonic neighborhood, but there’s some real exploration on Hot Thoughts.
Rob Pope: We kinda wanted to steer away from acoustic piano and acoustic guitar, and use some stuff that’s maybe a little more futuristic, a little more abrasive, in the listener’s face a little more. But maintaining the elements of Spoon songs and stuff we enjoyed from our last record, They Want My Soul. The last song we recorded for that one was a song called “Inside Out.”
CLTure: Great song. It’s a very spacious song.
Rob Pope: It was this lush, stringy thing with a hip-hop beat behind it. They are bunch of weird keyboard solos and strings. It turned out so great, and that sound felt like the jumping-off point for what we were going to do next.
Britt is the primary songwriter, so what he brings to the table is going to have his stamp on it. [Our sound] is something that comes pretty naturally to us, but to be honest we’re always trying to fuck the system a little. “That’s what we would have done five years ago, so let’s do something else.”
CLTure: 2016 was a doozy of a year, and you guys wrote this album during election season. Britt wrote “Tear it Down,” which sounds like a response to Trump.
There were many, many discussions [about politics] because we spent a lot of 2016 in the recording studio. We were all in tight space, receiving all of the bizarre news together. Britt came in with that song early on, long before Trump could actually pull that thing off. Everybody was sort of like, “oh yeah, that lyric isn’t gonna mean anything by the time the record comes out.” And…here we are.
Okay, a couple of fun lightning round questions:
CLTure: What are you listening to right now?
Rob Pope: I’m listening to a band from the UK called Palm Honey. They just put out a four song EP [Tucked Into the Electronic Wave] that’s mind blowing. No one in America knows who they are.
CLTure: Favorite old movie?
Rob Pope: I could watch The Shining every day of my life.
CLTure: What are you reading now?
Rob Pope: I’m reading Johnny Marr’s autobiography [Set The Boy Free]. Just started on it; I’m on page two. I’ve got a lot of work to do.
CLTure: Do you have a favorite author?
Rob Pope: You know George Saunders? I read a lot of his books. I also re-read a lot of his books. That guy is very, very funny.
*Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed.
Spoon will be in Charlotte on July 18 with The New Pornographers. Check out the remaining 2017 tour dates.