Spoon: On 'Transference,' And The Slow Build To Success The band is a bit of a rarity in rock music — both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. But it took the better part of two decades to get there. Founders Jim Eno and Britt Daniel talk about their upcoming album, Transference.
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Spoon: A Slow Build To Success

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Spoon: A Slow Build To Success

Spoon: A Slow Build To Success

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(Soundbite of music)

GUY RAZ, host:

The band Spoon is a bit of a rarity in rock music, both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. But it took more than a decade for Spoon to get there. The band came together in Austin, Texas in 1993, and five years later they signed on with a major label, Elektra.

But in the sea of alternative acts of the day, Spoon wasn't really able to stand out enough - at least for the label - and after one record, Elektra dropped the band. Now, that's usually where the story ends for most rock acts.

(Soundbite of song, "The Underdog")

Mr. BRITT DANIEL (Lead Singer, Spoon): (Singing) You got no fears of the underdog, that's why you will not survive.

RAZ: In Spoon's case, though, they carried on and signed with a smaller label, Merge Records. And by 2000, the band finally started getting some serious attention.

(Soundbite of song, "Take the Fifth")

Mr. DANIEL: (Singing) But I'll take the fifth, I'll take the fifth, oh.

RAZ: But it still took seven more years before Spoon would land on Billboard's Top 10. And with most of the band members now hovering around the age of 40, Spoon has now become one of the hottest names in music. Their latest record was released on Tuesday. It's called "Transference."

(Soundbite of song, "Written in Reverse")

Mr. DANIEL: (Singing) And I'm writing in reverse, you know it could be worse. I'm not standing here. I'm not standing here.

RAZ: We sat down with the guys who founded the band - front man Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno. And Daniel told me this record is really a throwback to their early sound.

Mr. DANIEL: I think we were just feeling our way as we went along. And we definitely didn't know how we wanted to make it when we started it. We did something what we end up normally doing - we started recording a couple of songs very early with another producer and then we discarded them. That seems to always happen. And then we recorded a couple with our long-time producer, Mike McCarthy - didn't like the way they were sounding necessarily.

Mr. JIM ENO (Drummer, Spoon): And the other thing is Mike, you know, had a couple other projects, right, and we, you know, wanted to make progress on our record, too. So...

Mr. DANIEL: Yeah, he's a very busy man.

Mr. ENO: Yeah. So, we felt like, you know, we're not going to sit around for three months. We're going to try to make progress on this thing.

Mr. DANIEL: I just remember at one point where we tried to record this one song "Trouble Comes Running" a couple of times and just weren't really getting a spirited take. And nothing was beating this cassette version that we had done in a practice space. When we recorded that, we were just trying to keep track of our progress, you know, learning the song. But we just never got a take as good again.

And I just remembered saying, you know, guys, we should maybe just use that cassette.

(Soundbite of song, "Trouble Comes Running")

RAZ: You guys eventually just produced it on your own. This is the first time you guys have produced one of your albums without a producer. I've read that you wanted this album to be uglier. What did you mean by that?

Mr. DANIEL: When you're working with another producer, you're trying to please two different aesthetics. You know, the band and the producers, and that's a great way to make a record. You can come up with a lot of things that you wouldn't have thought of on your own. But there's another way of making it, which is just to kind of be hardcore and just do it exactly the way one entity wants to do it.

And that's kind of the way I felt in the long run where I felt like we should do this record. And, you know, if that meant that it was somewhat more amateurish, then that was fine. You know, I wanted to live with those kind of bits of humanity.

(Soundbite of song, "Trouble Comes Running")

Mr. DANIEL: (Singing) I got taken away by a heavenly hoax, to a heavenly place. I been running with...

RAZ: There's a song on the record The Guardian newspaper in Britain wrote about, "Mystery Zone," which sounds like the song you two have been hoping to stumble over for the past decade, sort of this epic sound without being bombastic, those are the words of The Guardian.

Mr. DANIEL: I hadn't heard that yet. I don't think we've ever been accused of being bombastic. I'd like to get bombastic some time. We just never have gone there, I guess.

(Soundbite of song, "Mystery Zone")

Mr. DANIEL: (Singing) Well, times that we met, we'll go back, we'll go back there. The mystery zone, ooh, to the mystery zone...

RAZ: There's a song on this record that it discovers as a kind of a ballad. I think that's not necessarily the best way to describe it but it's a beautiful song, "Good Night Laura." And I'm wondering if you guys can talk about that song. Because it seems to me that anyone listening to your music for the past 10 years or longer would hear that song, "Goodnight Laura," and say, this is not a Spoon song.

Mr. DANIEL: Sort of a lullaby, right? Yeah. Some of my favorite songs have always been those kind that are kind of comforting songs, like, "Don't Worry, Baby," by the Beach Boys, you know? That's not the kind of song that gets written enough where, you know, it's just like, you know, that appreciation of love, you know, and someone making things all right.

(Soundbite of song, "Goodnight Laura")

Mr. DANIEL: (Singing) Goodnight, Laura. Don't you know, you've been awake so now it's time for sleeping. Good night, Laura, close your eyes. Your worries are meant to stop for now. You know they're not for keeping. If you want to fall asleep, be very still. And you close your eyes and slow yourself and let the worry leave you. And let go of it all just for this evening. All right...

RAZ: I want to ask you guys a question, not about this album, but about your career. And I want to start with you, Jim Eno. You and Britt Daniel co-founded this band in the early '90s when you were, obviously, much younger. Your last record in 2007 made it to number 10 on the Billboard charts, which is pretty extraordinary. Jim Eno, how different do you think your lives would have been if this success happened when you guys were in your 20s?

Mr. ENO: I don't know. I mean...

Mr. DANIEL: Jim, you wouldn't be alive anymore, you wild man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ENO: True. That's true. Yeah. I don't know. Maybe we would take everything for granted or something, you know?

Mr. DANIEL: Yeah, I see that happen a lot.

Mr. ENO: I mean, you'd start believing the hype or something. I don't know. I personally don't take anything for granted because it's been so long, you know?

Mr. DANIEL: I think, yeah, because it was a slow build and we would see very small steps of increased success along the way that we kind of got a kick out of each one of them. And, you know, I have seen a lot of bands that would come right of the gate, sell, you know, whatever, a couple hundred thousand records with their first record or a million, you know, and you see them on stage maybe six months later and they seemed bored and they don't feel like...they're like, yes, we are this great and we don't need to prove it to anybody, you know?

RAZ: And you guys sort of feel like you still have to prove it every time.

Mr. DANIEL: Oh, yeah. Don't I?

Mr. ENO: Yeah. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Britt Daniel and Jim Eno are founding members of the band Spoon. Their new record is called "Transference."

Britt, Jim, thanks and good luck.

Mr. DANIEL: Thanks for having us.

Mr. ENO: Yeah. Thank you.

Mr. DANIEL: It's really nice to talk to you.

(Soundbite of song, "Nobody Gets Me But You")

Mr. DANIEL: (Singing) Nobody gets what I'm saying. Must be some way to convey, but no one else remembers my name, just the parts that I play. Nobody gets...

RAZ: You can hear full-length versions of a few tracks off Spoon's new album at our Web site. That's nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Nobody Gets Me But You")

Mr. DANIEL: (Singing) Nobody gets me but you. No one gets what I'm doing. Everyone else seems...

RAZ: And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Thanks for listening and have a great night.

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