If you’re unaware, Spoon are far more than a band named after the commonly used kitchen utensil. Since their inception in 1993, the Austin indie-rockers have released eight genre hopping albums, with their output throughout the 2000’s being considered as the most consistent of any band from that decade, and are a formidable live act to be reckoned with. In anticipation of the release of their upcoming ninth album Hot Thoughts and a run of shows in Australia next week, we sat down for a chat with bassist and multi-instrumentalist Rob Pope about the new album, South by Southwest, the importance of groove, and why we can hopefully expect to see Spoon again a lot sooner than we might have thought.
You guys are currently sound checking for the first show of a three night residency in Austin as part of South By Southwest. Can you tell us a little about that?
Well, our record comes out on Friday, and we wanted to do something cool for South by Southwest, so we’ve put together these three nights at what used to be Emo’s – which is kind of a legendary venue in Austin – and we managed to curate a different lineup for every show leading up to Friday. We actually play really late – we don’t play till one in the morning, so it’ll be a bit of an endurance test, but it’s going to be wild man!
Spoon are originally from Austin, so you guys are basically stalwarts of the scene there. I did a little bit of research, and found a picture way back from 1997 of you playing at Emo’s in your other band, The Middle Kids.
Yeah, I’ve played there many, many, many, many times; probably a dozen times with that band and at least six or seven times with Spoon, so now it’ll be another three times with them. It’s a great spot.
You’re obviously well acquainted with it then! From what you’ve seen, how has the musical culture of Austin and SXSW evolved over the past twenty years?
It’s been crazy to see how it’s blown up over the years. The first SXSW I came to was in 1998, almost nineteen years ago, and back then it was mainly contained to one street at nighttime, with maybe one hundred bands playing each festival. Now there’s music from like eleven in the morning till two in the morning for a whole week, all over the place – you can’t even compare them anymore. I’ve probably been to about twelve or thirteen over the years, and every year it keeps getting bigger; like, now you’ve got bands playing in hotel lobbies and shit like that. It’s wild.
The new LP Hot Thoughts comes out on Friday, and it’s also the second Spoon album to be produced in conjunction with Dave Friddman (The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Tame Impala), who has a pretty unique production style that we heard a lot across your last album (2014’s They Want My Soul). Were things different this time around?
We definitely used Dave a lot more. After we finished They Want My Soul and started talking about this new record, he was very into the idea of us coming up and staying in his studio in New York while we tracked everything, so yeah, Dave’s stamp is definitely bigger on this new record. I think he produced about half the songs on They Want My Soul, and for Hot Thoughts he produced the entire record and mixed everything.
From what I’ve heard of Hot Thoughts so far, it seems to have prominently featured bass, particularly on the live version of ‘I Ain’t the One,’ on James Corden the other night, and –
That’s funny you should say that, because the studio version of ‘I Ain’t The One’ doesn’t actually have any bass on it! I guess we never felt like it needed it. Then when we went to play it live, we realised I would’ve just stood there and not done anything, so we worked out a live version that’s far more energetic and has a lot more bass in it, but on the album its super stripped back.
Is that common for you guys to recreate the songs for a live setting?
Well yeah, when we’re in the mindset of making a record we really just focus on making a cool sounding record. We try not to think about playing the songs live until we have to, then we can try make them as good as we can for that setting… but yeah, that song in particular, (‘I Ain’t The One’) that live version is smoking right now; it turned into something with quite a lot of groove, it’s really really good.
Speaking of groove, two of the other songs we’ve heard so far – ‘Hot Thoughts’ and ‘Can I Sit Next To You’ feature a lot of emphasis on the groove from yourself and Jim (Eno, drummer). In a multi-instrumental band that often has a lot going on at once, how important is it to interact and lock in as a rhythm section?
Me and Jim have been playing together for eleven years now, so I guess we kind of just know each other, always communicating, nodding to each other, sending each other looks up on stage. It’s our aim to have the tightest rhythm section possible for the song regardless of what the other guys are doing – we definitely aim to make the bones of the song strong.
What’s your favourite moment on the new record?
My favourite song right now is ‘Talk You Into It’ – you haven’t heard that one yet, but I think you’ll really like it! It’s got a really great groove, and the lyrics and vocal delivery are really interesting, so that one’s my current favourite – but that might change next week.
Can you let me in on some of the gear you guys use in the band? Do you tend to favour vintage instruments and analog sounds, or do you go for the MIDI/Pro Tools approach when you record?
It’s a bit of both in the studio, but personally I tend to go as analog as possible – I feel it’s more fun that way. I tour around with a 1960’s Fender bass, and every time I take it out, people go “You take that on tour!?!” and I’m like “Yeah, of course I do, it sounds awesome!”. But yeah, there’s definitely a lot of old gear on stage when we play live.
I’ve previously read that you were a fan of Spoon before you joined them in 2007. What’s it like to be in that situation?
I’d seen them probably three or four times, so it was definitely cool, but it wasn’t like I was a massive fan following them around, you know? They were certainly on my radar, and I felt like they were always making really cool records, so when the opportunity came around to try out for the band and work with them it was great. Britt (Daniel, vocals+guitar) and Jim have been at it for a very long time now, and they seem to get better with every record, which is amazing; it’s nice to be around people like that.
I honestly can’t imagine anything more daunting! Was there one song in particular you really liked that you were super scared of screwing up onstage?
(laughs) It was actually really exciting! I came into the band about a third of the way through recording of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga back in 2007, so we had a lot of studio time together, which I think was a good way to get to know everyone, and a far better situation than having to go and learn 40 songs and then suddenly we’re all living on a tour bus together.
You’re coming to Australia on a mini-tour to play the Croxton Bandroom in Melbourne and the Metro Theatre in Sydney next week. How do our crowds compare to that of overseas crowds? And can the rest of Australia expect to see Spoon soon?
We’ve always loved playing down under, it’s always such a good time, and unfortunately it seems like most bands – ourselves included – put out a record, then go and tour America, then Europe, then maybe go to Japan, THEN go to Australia. This time around, we were like ‘We’re putting out a record then we’re fucking going to Australia.’ But we’ll be coming back again soon – we can’t stay away.
I’m sure the rest of us all are glad to hear that! Just two final questions, what was your favourite release from 2016, and what’s the album you’re most looking forward to hearing in 2017?
The record I probably listened to the most… I know it’s one people talk about a lot of the time, but that final David Bowie album Blackstar… I listened to that probably a thousand times last year. It’s such an amazing record, regardless of the fact that we lost him, it was just such a brilliant, amazing, artistic punch in the gut. I don’t know what I’m looking forward to this year – what’s coming out soon? I suppose our record! We’ve been talking about it forever, and everyone’s finally going to hear it this week, so I’m looking forward to not having to talk about a record that people don’t know about yet!