Britt Daniel Speaks the Truth
When you grow mighty tall, like Britt Daniel, people are bound to start taking swipes at your kneecaps. It’s all part of the rock & roll beast: Success spawns jealousy; jealousy inspires jealous people to talk trash. Or maybe jealousy has nothing to do with it. Either way, the water-cooler word on Daniel is that he can be, uh, not pleasant. So, when the 6-foot-1 singer-songwriter-producer and all-around mastermind behind Austin’s band of the moment, Spoon, took a break from contemplating the suburban Atlanta scenery rolling past his tour bus, I decided to get straight to it. “I’ve had a number of people — anytime I bring up Spoon, I’m always like, ‘You know, I really like Spoon . . . blah, blah, blah,’ and people are like, ‘Britt Daniel is such an asshole.’ ” Unforgivably long pause. “What’s up with that?” I continue. “I think that’s a rude question,” Daniel says, flat out. “You think it’s a rude question? It’s all perception; it’s not saying that you are.” “Right. Well, I think that anybody who knows me knows that I’m not an asshole.” He’s probably right; that was a rude question, and ultimately an irrelevant one, at least in the face of the band’s latest release, Gimme Fiction. If being called an asshole by player haters is the price one pays for making an album that places Daniel & Co. — co-founder/co-producer/drummer Jim Eno, bassist Josh Zarbo, and keyboardist Eric Harvey — in a rarefied space shared most obviously with Wilco, where’s the shame? Not that comparing someone to Wilco isn’t getting as trite as comparing someone to Radiohead, but the similarities, in this case, are inescapable. Both camps maintain loyalists in the indie realm while rapidly accumulating mainstream success. Both tried major labels that quickly dropped them for turning in albums that supposedly weren’t worthy, only to see those albums resurface to critical acclaim. (A Series of Sneaks is to Spoon what Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is to Wilco — more or less.) Both have released a string of three near-flawless albums (Spoon’s Gimme Fiction, Kill the Moonlight and Girls Can Tell; Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth)that are Rock Band 101 lessons for how to experiment and grow without forgoing your identity. Both are tinkerers on a quest for the perfect album. And — bottom line — both have the same manager. “I guess I see some similarities,” Daniel admits. “I mean, I’m not really . . . I don’t know how to compare our records to theirs but, uh, I do want to make records that are all about consistency through and through . . . in terms of there being quality songs from beginning to end rather than just a few good ones and then a bunch of filler. It’s really about albums for us.” Gimme Fiction is no exception. Like Wilco’s recent albums, it amalgamates a variety of genres — Motown, new wave, punk — to create a unified sound that is wholly original, yet feels timeless. Daniel, shaped in part by a moderately religious upbringing in the central Texas town of Temple and a neurologist father with a propensity for buying guitars despite never learning to play them, busts out Princelike falsettos delivered with a Jagger-esque, hands-on-hips bravado. Meanwhile, the rest of the guys make the most of their supporting roles. Opener “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” a song Daniel insists is not about Dungeons & Dragons, is “one of [his] fa-vorite Spoon moments,” thanks in part to its flurry of guitar squelches that evoke the whammy-bar static Jeff Tweedy sprays throughout A Ghost Is Born. From there, Daniel introduces listeners to Monsieur Valentine, an imagined Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde theater actor who quite possibly represents the contrast between Daniel the performer and Daniel the person — he’s heady like that. Also, as with many a post-9/11 album, there’s a track, anchored by a swirling pi-ano that’s ostensibly a rant against the Bush administration. Though, no surprise, the prickly singer will neither confirm nor deny. You be the judge: “And I’m looking through you/Riding the brakes/Bringing about the apocalypse/Is not considered cool/Considered cool.” Bush-bashing or not, the attention to detail and craft on Gimme Fiction is what Daniel hopes listeners tune into. He says he labored long and hard, approached every recording situation from a variety of angles, deconstructed and reassembled his songs more than a grease monkey on speed messes with a car’s engine. “Everything about making a record is like, okay, so are you gonna approach this song, you know, with a roomy drum sound? Are you gonna have a drum machine? You know?” Daniel says. “And every single instrument, and every single take, is all about deciding whether this is the right thing for this song. Or you could just be really sloppy and just put down the first idea. Sometimes you get lucky that way.” Spoon plays the Avalon Hollywood on Tuesday, June 21.
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