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Thursday, April 1,2010

Consistency and innovation feed Spoon’s indie rock success

By David Accomazzo

Austin, Texas, indie rockers Spoon have flown under the radar for most of their nearly 15-year career, garnering an underground following but only emerging onto the above-ground scene after several poppy cuts from 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga wedged into radio rotation.

But fame is a funny thing. Spoon’s catalog is consistent in that many of their albums arguably contain a potential hit. Their seven albums, spanning from 1996’s Telephono to 2010’s Transference, share much in common. Each album, though laced with trademarks of Spoon’s sound, such as driving, rhythmic guitars coupled with simple, danceable drum beats and somewhat esoteric lyrics, has a quality that it alone possesses, which gives it that uniquely easy-to-cherish quality that so many artists strive for but which Spoon appears to achieve effortlessly. Spoon has produced a body of work that, flippant Wilco comparisons aside, doesn’t sound like anyone else, but manages to consistently sound like Spoon and Spoon alone.

Keyboardist Eric Harvey attributes this consistency to old-fashioned elbow grease courtesy of the group’s remaining founding members, singer/guitarist Brit Daniels and drummer Jim Eno.

“It’s the hard work and tenacity of Brit and Jim, to a large degree, because these guys have been doing this for like 15 years, and they’ve always focused on putting out a record every couple years and making it as good as they can,” Harvey says. “There’s a certain sort of steady growth to that pattern in the quality of the records.”

Harvey is a relative newcomer, having joined Spoon in 2004. Harvey says he was living in the same apartment complex as the band. Spoon’s former bass player Josh Zarbo, a friend of Harvey’s, introduced him to the group. One thing led to another, and Harvey ended up joining.

“You know, Austin is a pretty small town. Five, six years ago it felt a lot smaller, and I just happened to kind of know those guys. If you’re a musician in Austin, at some point you sort of network in with pretty much everybody,” he says.

And over those five years, Harvey had the opportuni ty to participate in Spoon’s subtle genesis. The new album is a prototypical new Spoon album. Transference contains all the tools, and the rocking simplicity of singer/guitarist Brit Daniels’ songwriting is there — yet it represents a different direction from their previous work. It sounds more like Spoon’s 2001 breakthrough album Girls Can Tell than 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Where Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga contained tightly constructed, deliberately produced songs that made it onto radio and a movie soundtrack, Transference is more of a collection of creative breaths exhaled by the band over a period of time, giving the album a loose, improvised feel that contrasts with the uniform consistency of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

“On the last record, we kind of hunkered down in Austin and sort of made it all at once in one long stretch,” Harvey says. “This time it was broken up a little bit more in different cities in different times. [Lead singer/guitarist] Brit Daniels did a lot of the work. ... He’s always had kind of a home studio, but lately it’s gotten quite a bit more sophisticated, so, he’s able to do things at his house that are more album quality. So he’d do demos at home, and we’d meet up either in Texas, or sometimes we’d all go to Portland, and we’d rehearse there for maybe a week or so. We did a lot of recording in Brooklyn at the Rare Book Room with this guy Nicolas [Vernhes], so sometimes we’d do a short tour and try some new songs while we were on the road, and then we’d go straight to record them.”

The result is that some of the songs on the album have a jam-session rawness to them, while others display the studio attention so prevalent on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. “Trouble Comes Running” is about as un-produced a song as you’ll hear from a band with a record deal (“The first sketch of that song became the final product,” Harvey says), and “Written in Reverse” contains carefully orchestrated interplay between the dissonant keyboard parts and sporadic bursts of bass notes along with Eno’s steady drumming and Daniels’ crafty guitar lines. While Transference might come as an unpleasant surprise to mainstream-leaning fans introduced to Spoon by Gimme Fiction or Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, it might be one of the best albums the group has ever made.

“There’s certainly a lot of different songs from the last record. They’re a little bit more introspective,” Harvey says. “I feel a good word to describe them ... a little bit more elusive. Some of the songs on the last record, they were instantly accessible. There’s still a lot of weird songs on the last record, but it was sort of an instance of more crowd pleasers, like songs like ‘The Underdog,’ and on this record, the songs, some of them are kind of longer, some of them don’t really go to as many places.

“Some of the lyrical ideas are a little bit more abstract, so I think it’s a little bit more of the kind of record you have to sit down and think about a little bit.”

Your band doesn’t exist for 15 years without winning a few accolades, either. An unusual one came earlier this year as online review aggregator Metacritic.com named Spoon the best-reviewed band of the decade, an award Harvey says came as a pleasant surprise, especially considering the competition (namely Radiohead, the White Stripes and Bob Dylan, to name a few).

Harvey seems excited by the prospect of touring with the new songs, many of which were honed on the road before recording anyways.

“I’m really starting to get into ‘Who Makes Your Money’ and ‘Nobody Gets Me But You,’ which I think were at one point two songs I was kind of on the fence about, but now I’m really digging them … these science projects,” he says.

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On the Bill:

Spoon plays the Ogden Theater on Monday, April 5, and Tuesday, April 6. Doors at 7 p.m. Must be 16 to enter. Deerhunter, Micachu, and the Shapes open. Tickets are $25. 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-830-2525.

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