Spoon Charts Its Own Course

Back-to-back Top 10 albums haven't changed its approach

Spoon is the Pete Rose of Indie Rock: consistently strong performers year after year, album after album, show after show. The Austin-based quartet founded by singer/guitarist Britt Daniel has been forcing its will on discerning listeners for more than 15 years now, a slow build that culminated in its last two albums — 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and this year's Transference — debuting in the Top 10 on the Billboard charts.

While Daniel's minimalist fetish was taken to its apex on the “glassy” Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the “uglier” Transference (more on that later) remains yet another testament to the band's longstanding (some say stubborn) dedication to simple, stripped-down songcraft. Take “The Mystery Zone,” an addictive six-minute groove that features all of the band's signature elements: taut, spiky guitar riffs; a driving, elemental rhythm section anchored by longtime drummer Jim Eno; and a cryptic Daniel lyric that manages to be both personal and universal: “Make us a house/Some far away town/Where nobody will know us well/Where your dad's not around.”

CityBeat recently stole a few minutes with bassist Rob Pope, a relative Spoon newcomer (he joined in 2006 after his previous band, The Get Up Kids, imploded) who thinks Arcade Fire are sweethearts and who used to do his laundry at Sudsy Malone's.

CityBeat: You guys are opening several shows for Arcade Fire on this tour. How will that be different? I can't really remember you opening for another band.
Rob Pope
: We haven't done a lot of support tours. We've done shows with (Arcade Fire) in the past, we've done shows with them in Australia opening up for them, and they're great people. We were kind of planning a tour at the same time and this opportunity came up and it was kind of a no-brainer for us. They're being sweethearts about it, so it's gonna be a fun time.

CB: Yeah, it's not like you're opening for Bon Jovi or something.
: (Laughs) We've turned down a lot of support tours, I'll say that. We prefer playing the small clubs where there are ceilings and walls. But it should be a good learning experience for us to be playing arenas and amphitheaters.

CB: It's funny because the first time I saw Spoon was 10 or 12 years ago at a small club here called Sudsy Malone's. 
Yeah, I did my laundry there.

CB: Did The Get Up Kids play there?
No, we played at Bogart's across the street, but I used to always go over there and do my laundry and have a beer in the afternoon.

CB: Let's talk about Transference. Britt has called it — I forget the exact word — “tougher” or “rougher”?
He calls it “ugly.” In the beginning stages of working on the record when it was kind of apparent what it was sounding like, he was like, “I just want to make sure it's 'uglier' than the last record.” Not in a way that he wants to turn people off from it but in a way that's more in your face. It makes you think a little more. Yeah, “tougher” sounding. The word he's been using for the last record is “glassy.”

CB: Is the songwriting process largely driven by Britt?
He writes the songs and a lot of the stuff you hear on the record is demos of his that we've built on or stripped away from or took to a studio and added to. There are a handful of songs on there that are more like traditional band tracks that we all went into the studio and tracked that way. The way Britt will approach it is that he will come up with a demo on his own typically and bring it to us and we'll hash it out and try to get a good feel for the song and attempt it numerous different ways to see what's working. Sometimes with great results and sometimes with mixed results.

CB: It's kind of funny — and heartening — to see the band on the Billboard charts. Given the fractured state of the music scene, do you think Billboard has much of an impact anymore?
I don't know. I would think that people who work in the music industry think that it's important. I guess it's kind of like a badge of honor if your record debuts in the Top 10. And it's impressive for us. We were totally shocked when Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga came out and was No. 10. (Transference debuted at No. 4.) We weren't expecting it. We were kind of like, “Oh, wow.” But it hasn't really changed the way we approach the band in any way.

SPOON plays the Madison Theater Tuesday with Pomegranates. Go here for ticket and venue details.