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A Phoner With Spoon

Absolutely everything went wrong with this interview. Britt Daniel and I played e-mail tag until we finally got it together to meet at an Irving Plaza Guided by Voices show for which Spoon was opening. I sent the final confirmation e-mail and I got no reply. Huh? The last few e-mails seemed so definite. I was pissed. I thought, once again, in classic rock and roll tradition, I’m getting a snow-job from a lead singer on one of his little whims. Just great.

I had tickets so I went anyway. There he was. Britt Daniel. Blonde hair flapping all over the place rockin’ out in true form, hunky as ever in that all-American kind of way. I knew all the lyrics. I noticed much of the sold-out audience knew them too. Girls Can Tell is still on my rotation. Still pissed, I managed to enjoy the whole show even though said hunk blew me off.

Afterwards, I watch GbV. What can I say? Bob Pollard hadn’t looked this good in two years and the leg kicks were higher than ever. As he gave the front row beer from the band’s cooler, I looked over to the V.I.P. area where bands, managers, journalists, invited groupies etc. hang out. Since there was no interview being conducted, I wasn’t invited. There was Britt. I frowned and watched the end of the GbV show and bolted.

The following day there’s an e-mail from Britt. The bastard is e-mailing me to tell me how sorry he is he couldn’t do the interview  I say to myself lighting a cigarette and almost chose to ignore it. But I can’t. It reads something like, “Where were you? I searched the whole V.I.P. area for you.” Needless to say, this wasn’t a good omen for things to come. We manage to put together a phoner and it gets worse.

I call Britt’s number – no girls, I’m not giving it out – and he picks up. The first thing I notice is that he’s not as laid back a rocker as I imagined… that is, most of the time they’re really mellow on the phone. But with the history of Britt having to explain his ex-relationship with Elektra I figure he’s had it with those questions and is on guard. Trying to feel him out, I talk about the show. He seems flattered but is still a little stiff but cool nonetheless. We talk for about twenty minutes when I notice my tape recorder had died sometime into the interview and I can’t exactly stop everything to figure it all out. After all, I’d fucked up already, not getting the interview at the show to begin with. Britt’s going to think I’m a moron.

I grab a pen and start writing longhand, which I haven’t done since high school.

It’s an interesting thing, I tell him, that they released three albums on different labels. There is a silence that screams back-off-bitch coming through the phone and I’m worried that I’ve made a big mistake. He’s come off, so far, as a brooding and intellectual, as opposed to the usual drunken slurring-every-word lead singer in most bands. He rationally says, “We weren’t sure we were a band anymore after Sneaks. Merge (owned and operated by Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance) was the only label who would talk to us. We couldn’t even get a small indie to listen to Girls Can Tell!”  Huh?  Am I hearing right?  One of the best albums of the year and they couldn’t find a label?

Clearly, he had every right to be cantankerous. For a quick account, with A Series of Sneaks (1998) Elektra Records (Spoon’s label at the time) decided to drop the group less than four months after the album’s release. Elektra’s shitty maneuvering of Spoon led to 1999’s “The Agony of Lafitte” and “Lafitte Don’t Fail Me Now” single, a two-song fuck you written about former A&R rep Ron Lafitte and Elektra prez Sylvia Rhone. (Daniel asks, “Are you honest with anyone?” on “Lafitte Don’t Fail Me Now.”). When I asked about those songs, Britt says they were borne out of humor. They were driving somewhere and started making up amusing songs about Lafitte, their abandonner, and thought them too good to not put out. And for the record, Lafitte was never fired. “He quit,” says Daniel conclusively. The sting, I surmised, still lingers like a bad breakup from a lover you really trusted.

Like I said, I didn’t want to get into the Elektra thing, but it’s going to a place that I think is important that every band should hear, not to mention serious music lovers. “I want to be top 40. I want everyone to hear our songs. But that’s not going to happen. You’re not going to hear Spoon on the radio because Merge doesn’t owe radio-stations any favors and vice versa.”

When he started that statement I was terrified he was talking about selling out, but he wasn’t. If you listen to Spoon’s soulful album, Costello – Gaye – Beatles inspired and more, you know it’s never going to be on the charts with Britney because it’s not simple and inane enough. It’s complicated, conscientious, deep and full of regret and longing. And it rocks. He simply wants more people to listen to his music – and it’s sad to both he and I that they won’t. Luckily, even though stinky Electra fucked them over, Girls Can Tell has been their most successful album to date. He’s never been more proud of anything else he’d written in the past. And they’re thrilled with Merge.

The message I got from Britt was that so much of music is manufactured to the point that the music is almost secondary. If you look at the charts, you will understand. Where’s the music for people who  rock? Where’s the music for people over 15? Why doesn’t MTV show music videos anymore but have lame game shows and seven dorks living together getting filmed for the masses? Without the public using their imagination when they hear music, they are forced to recognize fashion, product placement, and the latest hair styles. Video killed the radio star? VIDEO KILLED MUSIC.

Britt’s a thoughtful person, guarded through experience, but smart and extraordinary capable. The future of Spoon was established with Girls Can Tell. For all the stupid things that went wrong in getting this interview, I don’t think I could have ever learned more about the seedy side of the biz and what perseverance really means. And the heartache that comes with clawing your way up those charts and into the blood of people who actually like music. Spoon has arrived.

Girls can tell? This one can.

-Ty Wenzel

Q&A with Britt Daniel

WHEN WERE YOU THE HAPPIEST? March 1996 (an enigmatic answer indeed)

WHEN WERE YOU THE SADDEST? middle school was pretty bleak

WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE WRITER? Sean Dineen, Gerard Cosloy

WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE BAND? The Clash

WHAT’S THE TRAIT YOU MOST LIKE ABOUT YOURSELF? quick to forgive

WHAT’S THE TRAIT YOU LIKE LEAST ABOUT YOURSELF? terrible with names

WHO DO YOU ADMIRE MOST IN THE WORLD? Bill Murray

IF YOU COULD HAVE DRINKS WITH THREE PEOPLE WHO WOULD THEY BE?

Bush Jr, GG Allin, OJ

WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE ABOUT YOUR APPEARANCE IF YOU COULD? I wish I had happier eyes

WHICH TALENT WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO HAVE? Ally Sheedy

WHAT’S YOUR MOST TREASURED POSSESSION? http://www.spoontheband.com/watchcam%20info.htm

WHAT’S THE QUALITY YOU LIKE MOST IN A MAN? humility

WHAT’S THE QUALITY YOU LIKE MOST IN A WOMAN? same

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO DIE? killed by kindness

DO YOU HAVE A MOTTO YOU LIVE BY? no

DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE? of course

 

photo: npr.org

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