Interview: Spoon

With a new album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga just released, Chimpomatic favourites Spoon continue to evolve. BC caught up with drummer and producer Jim Eno to talk about recording the new album, out of date Wikipedia entries and his lack of tight jeans.

Chimpomatic: So where are we speaking to you from today?

Jim Eno: I'm in Seattle. We played a show here a couple of nights ago and I'm hanging out here with the family and then we're playing Lollapalooza on Thursday.

Chimpomatic: So how far into your tour are you?

Jim Eno: Well this summer's is like a lot of one off shows, a lot of festivals and stuff like that. September is when we're starting the US stuff.

Chimpomatic: OK great , well thanks for giving us this time. I've got a whole bunch of questions here, but whether we get through them all we'll see. If you could just start with some basics about how you and Britt met and how Spoon was conceived?

Jim Eno: I met Britt when we in a band together before Spoon called "The Alien Beats" - a rockabilly sort of country band. Britt played bass, I played drums. We had a guitar player, and when that band broke up Britt said he was writing songs and he wanted to know if I would check them out. He had probably like five songs that ended up on our first record. I knew when he started playing these songs that he was a badass... so to speak.

Chimpomatic: And where did the name Spoon come from?

Jim Eno: I think we had a show lined up for a Friday or Saturday night and the night before we needed to come up with a name. We threw a bunch of names about and Britt had gone through his record collection and 'Spoon' came from the band Can. They had a song called Spoon and I thin their publishing company is called Spoon.

Chimpomatic: That's pretty rock 'n' roll to come up with a name the night before the show.

Jim Eno: Yeah, so it has nothing to do with the utensil or anything.

Chimpomatic: The new album - which is fantastic by the way - how do you see this one compared to your previous records?

Jim Eno: I don't know, I think from my standpoint it feels somewhere between Kill The Moonlight and Gimme Fiction. Kill The Moonlight was fairly experimental and had a lot of cool different sounds, so I think this one's between those two. Britt continues to amaze me with respect for writing great songs, and I'm really excited about the songs on this record too.

Chimpomatic: Yeah, he's writing really well at the moment. You had quite a big gap between Kill The Moonlight and Gimme Fiction and this one has been relatively hot on the heels of Gimme Fiction, so you're all obviously in a very creative place right now.

Jim Eno: Yeah, we wanted to try to brake that three year cycle. It took three years to put out Gimme Fiction, so we consciously really tried to use all our downtime to work on the stuff and tried to schedule things so we could get it out in two years. I think it was two years and a couple of months. We didn't quite make the two year mark.

Chimpomatic: From your first record up to this new one, you can really see a process of refinement – like Telephono is a lot rawer, with kind of punk influences, and then through the course of the albums it's become kind of... not really focused, but just polished I guess. Do you see yourself and the band becoming closer to a certain kind of ideal?

Jim Eno: I don't know if it's that. When we work on a record we pretty much work on every song individually and really tried to make it stand on its own. But the other thing we try to do is, we try not to repeat ourselves – even though we do have our own sound. We're constantly looking for new ways to approach songs arrangement-wise and try to make things a little different for our fans. Like you'll get something like Cherry Bomb that is definitely different, like a sort of Motown / Supremes vibe.

Chimpomatic: The band's sound has obviously expanded with this record. There are some different instruments gong on, with the saxophone and the great guitar on Japanese Cigarette Case.

Jim Eno: Yeah, that little flamenco guitar we had.

Chimpomatic: Yeah, it's fantastic.

Jim Eno: There's a Japanese koto on that song and I think one of the other songs. Trying to switch it up a bit, because as Britt is still the songwriter and singer it's still going to sound like Spoon. We try and head in a lot of different places.

Chimpomatic: And apart from drumming you take on production duties?

Jim Eno: Yeah, the production is mostly mike McCarthy - who is the chief engineer - but Britt has a lot to do with production, and I'm sort of the third guy there that sort of builds up the team so to speak.

Chimpomatic: And is that you on Don't You Evah, when Britt's asking to record the talkback?

Jim Eno: Yeah that's me.

Chimpomatic: What that all about?

Jim Eno: We tend to leave a mic in the live room, so that any little noise or sound or conversations are actually recorded - and then when someone in the control room is speaking back to Britt, that's the talkback – so we wanted to record that. So Britt said it once, and then he just tried to say it a lot of ways. It just of became that every overdub he did he'd say the same again.

Chimpomatic: One of the most successful songs on the album is the Ghost Of You Lingers. I'm sorry that I've picked that one as it doesn't have any drumming on it.

Jim Eno: Oh, I don't care. Maybe it's better because of that.

Chimpomatic: Oh, I don't know... I wouldn't say that, obviously. It really stands out from other songs Spoon have made in terms of it's hollowness and sort of gothic emptiness.

Jim Eno: I love it because it is such a curveball. It doesn't sound like anything we've done before. I was in an interview the other day where Britt was talking about it, where he said he sometimes just plays around and says “OK, I'm just to practice on the piano a bit, and play around before I start writing some songs”. That's what he was doing and he came up with the basic piano line – the “ga ga ga ga ga”, which is where the title of the record came from by the way

Chimpomatic: Ah, that was one of my other questions.

Jim Eno: Yeah, the working title for Ghost of You Lingers was Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga because of the sound the piano makes. So he was sort of just practicing and, you know, probably went into a space that didn't really feel like he was writing and that was that. That's when you come up with cool things, that's where that song came from.

Chimpomatic: Do you like listening to your own records, do you find yourself putting a Spoon album on?

Jim Eno: Actually, very rarely. I usually find myself listening to them maybe six months to a year after we do them.

Chimpomatic: I suppose you get too close to them during the recording?

Jim Eno: Yeah, really close to it. But then also if we're going to start working up one of the songs to play live I'll listen back to it a few time to hear what I played. I tend to like them more after I've got a bit of distance.

Chimpomatic: Do you have a particular favourite Spoon album?

Jim Eno: I would say this new one is probably close to my favourite, but a close second to Gimme Fiction. I think the reason is that when we were working on that, I just think that as Britt was writing songs he kept one-upping himself in my opinion. I would get I Turn My Camera On, then I'd get Summon You, then I'd get Beast & Dragon. I'd be like “Wow what's he going to come up with next”. A lot of the reasons why I like records is situational.

Chimpomatic: And what's the band's relationship like with technology. You use loops and keyboards and things like that but you seem to have resisted too much of a reliance on technology.

Jim Eno: With respect to recording?

Chimpomatic: With respect to recording and just different ways of producing sounds. You and Britt sound like you're both very much into the attention to detail.

Jim Eno: Yeah, we definitely are – but we tend to like the constraints that old technology force on you. We like to still use tape – we like the sound of it – and when you have to record on tape we like the idea that you have to play it back too. We don't do a lot of editing when it comes to the performances. You can definitely hear that on this record. You know, you hear little mistakes here and there and just, you know, we like keeping mistakes in there.

Chimpomatic: I read on Wikipedia today that you moonlight as a microchip designer?

Jim Eno: Yeah... I'd been doing that up until about a year ago. I think someone needs to update Wikipedia. I don't know if I'm allowed to do that or not...

Chimpomatic: So you've packed in the microchip thing have you?

Jim Eno: Yeah, I was with a start-up and then about a year ago – three weeks before we started the recording with the new record - the company went out of business. I looked at it as a sign.

Chimpomatic: So you're plowing all your efforts into Spoon now?

Jim Eno: Exactly.

Chimpomatic: I know Britt's got a solo album coming out at some point soon, what other projects have the other band member like yourself got on the horizon?

Jim Eno: Well, I run the recoding studio where we record with Spoon, so I tend to record bands here and there when I'm not on tour. Rob our bass player lives in Kansas and he is involved in a few companies, like he owns a bar, stuff like that. I think Eric is working on some solo stuff too.

Chimpomatic: Putting Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga into a bit of context, I think this has been one of the best years for music that I can remember. A lot of good bands have been coming out with follow up records, like Wilco, The National, Arcade Fire, Bright Eyes – what do you think of the company you keep this year?

Jim Eno: Yeah, I think some really great records have come out too. I mean my two favourites right now are probably that LCD Soundsystem record and also the Feist record.

Chimpomatic: I think LCD Soundsystem album is threatening to be the record of the year for me so far.

Jim Eno: Yeah, that's a really great record.

Chimpomatic: What are your other favourites, in general.

Jim Eno: Lets see. I like the Arcade Fire too. I've just been getting an older kick right now – listening to allot of Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers. As far as the latest stuff, I would say Feist – I like all her stuff.

Chimpomatic: I was on your website today and you've got a cool film of some backstage footage of The Underdog. Where was that recorded?

Jim Eno: Letterman, on the Letterman show.

Chimpomatic: Oh, was that the Letterman show? There was no information on the site about what it was.

Jim Eno: Yeah, that was the David Letterman show. We basically put up a camera on the drum riser, right before we filmed that. You can see at the very end of the video David Letterman comes over and shakes Britt's hand.

Chimpomatic: I could see someone coming over, and I wasn't quite sure who that was. We don't really get that much Letterman over here.

Jim Eno: We didn't really want to advertise that to much really, because they'd probably want to make us take it down.

Chimpomatic: And that song particularly, The Underdog, seems like a really good song to play live with all the saxophones and stuff. Do you have any particular favourite tracks that you really like playing live?

Jim Eno: Yeah, that one's a really fun one. And it's also interesting because we tend to make records in the studio... and then figure out how we're going to play them live you know? I think that one's going over really well, but that one was tough one to get going at first just because, how are we doing to do the horn part? Horns and keyboards tend to sound really cheesy, so Eric's doing a sort of piano type-thing for that number.

Chimpomatic: It seems like a real crowd lifter.

Jim Eno: Yeah, people are really getting into that. You know we recorded the record and then Merge requires five months for set up so we wondered how people are going to take the record, but people are really getting into it.

Chimpomatic: And the new songs are going down well live are they?

Jim Eno: Yeah, yeah. We're doing a lot of new ones, which is good.

Chimpomatic: And I suppose you find everyone knows the words, as most people have probably had the album for years what with downloading and stuff.

Jim Eno: Yeah, it leaked two months before it came out. People started knowing the words even before it came out which was weird.

Chimpomatic: And how do you feel about that? You can't really stop it can you.

Jim Eno: It's something that's unfortunate, but if you put out a good record it shouldn't really hurt you. For us, all the comments about the record were very positive, so... And if someone goes to a show and buys a t-shirt, then we're doing OK.

Chimpomatic: What do you feel about playing festivals, compared to smaller club gigs?

Jim Eno: Festivals are OK. The thing I like about festivals is that you can see a lot of bands that you might not be able to see. We tour so much that I'm hardly ever home when these bands come to Austin. I saw Feist at Bonnaroo for the first time which was really great. But playing outside in 100 degree weather in front of a lot of people can sometimes not be not very rock and roll. I think we still prefer to play in clubs.

Chimpomatic: As a fan I still prefer to see bands in clubs I think. You're playing two quite intimate venues in London this month – Cargo and the Borderline.

Jim Eno: That's right.

Chimpomatic: They're great venues. Last time we saw you, you were in a much bigger venue - in Koko, in 2005 I think. Have you scaled that down on purpose, or are those just the venues that were available?

Jim Eno: I think we were looking at this week as a smaller promo-type week, and then we're probably going to come back either in November, January or February and do a proper show. But, I guess the first show sold out so we added that second one.

Chimpomatic: What's your fan base like in London, or in Great Britain?

Jim Eno: Very small.

Chimpomatic: Very small? I'm surprised.

Jim Eno: We don't sell very many records over there.

Chimpomatic: Really?

Jim Eno: We sold 46,000 records in our first week in the States and I think we sold 400 in the UK.

Chimpomatic: That's shocking. Has that got anything to do with your change of label? You used to be on Matador.

Jim Eno: I don't know what it is you know. Yeah we were on Matador, but we sold less than 400 in our first week for Gimme Fiction. For some reason the UK fans haven't really embraced us too much, I don't know what it is. Maybe we're old, who knows.

Chimpomatic: I'll see what I can do about that.

Jim Eno: My trousers aren't tight enough.

Chimpomatic: Yeah, that's true. That one of the reasons.... well not your trousers as such, but a lot of the bands that are really big in London do tend to go for that fashion look and it tends to get incredibly boring after a while. When I look through my favourite bands there's a common denominator with clothes going on ...that they just wear whatever they want.

Jim Eno: Exactly. I mean we love it over there, and we would really to love to play bigger places and everything. Hopefully it'll happen some time. You know, it just hasn't really happened and maybe it's just a lot slower than it happened in the states. But, we've been over there since 1996 – that's the first time we went over.

Chimpomatic: Apart from the US, what's the other biggest country that has embraced Spoon?

Jim Eno: I think Australia is probably next We do pretty well over there, they have that nationwide radio station Triple J, so we tend to get some good radio play there.

Chimpomatic: You hear a lot of good things about the Merge label – although they don't put anything out over here. A lot of the artists on there seem to have a real strong affection for it. Why is this? They seem to really hold their artists and treat them very well.

Jim Eno: They're a very small company, yet they can sell records. I think the Arcade Fire sold 95,000 records their first week. They can sell records, but they're music fans – they do it for the right reasons. They're not like a major that would propose things that are, you know – fairly ridiculous. They look out for their artists.

Chimpomatic: OK, just to finish off with a few short questions – some more general things. What's the best film you've seen recently?

Jim Eno: Best film?

Chimpomatic: Yeah, the most recent film.

Jim Eno: Let's see, I think the best thing I've seen recently – I don't watch too many films, but I've been trying to get into some DVDs recently – either Hustle and Flow, that was pretty good. Or, I've been watching that, I forget the name but it's the Radiohead documentary... sort of a documentary.

Chimpomatic: Meeting People Is Easy?

Jim Eno: Exactly. That one.

Chimpomatic: What about books?

Jim Eno: Books? Lets see, right now I'm reading The Road by, it's uh, who is it by again – I have it right here. I'm about half way through, it's Cormack McCarthy. It's about a father and son, who basically get caught up in a nuclear, I guess holocaust. It's a really heartwarming book so far, about a father's love for his son.

Chimpomatic: My next question was what's the best gig you saw recently, but I presume you just  answered that, when you said you saw Feist at the festival.

Jim Eno: Yeah, I would say Feist was probably up there.

Chimpomatic: And TV shows? They say that TV is the new cinema – are you in to TV shows?

Jim Eno: Yeah, Lets see. I've been into... one thing I do on my iPod is I download both the Colbert Report and the Jon Stewart show. They're both just sort of liberal satire shows. But every time I go on iTunes it just downloads the latest episode of that.

Chimpomatic: And finally, do you think Girls Can Tell if you Give Them Fiction?

Jim Eno: Ha!.....Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga?


Merge Records
Chimpomatic Review: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Chimpomatic Review: Koko, London
Chimpomatic Review: Gimme Fiction



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