With Spoon only reaching that upper tier of commercially successful indie rock bands in the past couple years, it’s easy to forget that they’ve been at it since the mid 90s. Calling their new album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga a career best isn’t just saying it’s ousted the song that got them on The OC, it’s saying they’ve topped a catalog of great records that spans over a decade. Fortunately, they’re hitting Rockefeller Park July 11, the day after the record drops, to play those new songs. And best of all, it’s free. Drummer Jim Eno sat down with us to talk about how it all came together. The L: I’ve read about the new album in some places that it’s a departure, and in other places that it’s a return to form, and I can’t really make sense out of either of those descriptions. I was wondering where you’d place it with respect to your others.
Jim Eno: I know, it’s a cop out, but I almost think it’s like a morphing of Gimme Fiction and Kill the Moonlight. We used a lot of different instruments and have a lot more noises on it — more along Kill the Moonlight. But it’s building off Britt [Daniel’s] songwriting from Gimme Fiction, which I think is getting better and better.
The L: I found it interesting to hear that you guys were working with Jon Brion, because he’s known for big, lush, orchestral arrangements, and you guys are known as this really minimalist band. It seemed like a weird combination.
JE: He kept saying throughout the recording sessions, “I just want to make sure it still sounds like Spoon.” He’s a great producer because he has this ability to throw out a ton of ideas, yet he doesn’t take it personally if an idea’s not working and we need to move on. He’s a producer’s producer. In other words, he can just throw out musical ideas: he came up with the whole horn section on ‘The Underdog’ and was just flying by the seat of his pants. It was very humbling for me.
The L: Britt will always comment that he’s in favor of downloading music, and does it himself. But from a recent standpoint, you guys have had people hearing your album for two months before they were intended to.
JE: That’s unfortunate. We go through a lot of discussions and planning on how the record’s going to be released, so we wish it didn’t leak two months before. But also, it’s a really, really good record. If it leaks, maybe people will get excited about it. We think about creating a sort of grassroots [movement] — if people hear it and feel like they’ve discovered something, then maybe they’ll be more passionate and pass it around more. And if someone goes to a show and buys a t-shirt, then we’ve pretty much made our money back.
The L: It’s funny to hear you say that, because it seems to me like that would have been the model for Spoon two albums ago. But now you’ve gotten this crossover success that not a lot of bands on indie labels do. And yet, you guys have been around for so much longer and it’s been this gradual upswing rather than the kind of overnight success story you see a lot now. I’m wondering how you think Spoon would have fared if you had come onto the scene five years after you did.
JE: I look back at our entire career and I really wouldn’t change anything. People talk about getting dropped by a label and stuff like that, but there were some definite things that made us work harder and realize that it’s really us controlling our destiny. You can’t put that in anyone else’s hands. We realized that no one was going to give us five dollars to make our record — we had to fund it ourselves. That’s when we started putting together our studio. Having our own studio is such a luxury for us. We can make the record and shop it around, or we can make the record and not have any outside influence from a record company, which is really important.
The L: In the New Yorker profile that ran a few weeks ago, there was one weird thing that stuck out to me: they noted that you use a metronome when you’re playing live.
JE: But I don’t. There’s a certain metronome where you program in tempos, like twenty of them. We used to have some issues where — based on energy, or how many beers I drank, or whatever — the song may be either fast or slow. So I basically look at the lights on the metronome and kick the song off, so every night, I’ll be kicking the song off at the same tempo. They actually e-mailed me to ask me that question. I said, well, there’s no way the audience could hear my metronome, which he said, in the New Yorker piece, that he could. But it’s physically impossible. It comes down to me wanting to have the best performance I possibly can. And kicking a song off at the tempo you practice it at and kicking it off consistently, night after night, makes us more solid.
The L: I feel like some bands are intent on a kind of organic mindset, but there’s definitely something to be said for clarity. You’ve really made that a hallmark of your sound.
JE: I think it is fairly organic, because if you were to listen to our live recordings, I’ll kick a song off and then I’ll be speeding up the first three seconds anyway. It does move around based on the vibe of the audience or how we’re feeling. It’s going to be really good to play these new songs live. We’ve been doing it for months now, but the record isn’t really out officially. That’s sort of what makes it all worth it: if the songs work well live. As opposed to when we’re playing the new songs and everyone just wants to hear ‘The Way We Get By.’ •