Rock stars for the think­ing per­son, Spoon digs in on their ninth record, Hot Thoughts, their prom­i­nent SXSW res­i­dency, and why we can of­fi­cially call them an Austin-based band again.


SPOON IS THE KIND OF BAND THAT PEO­PLE KEEP DIS­COV­ER­ING, even though the Austin group started 24 years ago. So what keeps an in­die-rock band grow­ing and thriv­ing on its smooth ride to­ward a quar­ter-cen­tury mark?

Just lis­ten to their ninth al­bum, Hot Thoughts, which drops March 17 on Mata­dor Records. The 10-song record is a sonic play­ground. It’s Spoon’s first al­bum since 2014’s crit­i­cal smash, They Want My Soul, which de­buted at No. 4 on the Bill­board 200 (just as 2010’s Trans­fer­ence did be­fore that), and it makes per­fect sense as the next step in the band’s steady, two-decade evo­lu­tion from scrappy Austin mu­si­cians to in­die-rock gods. It’s why South by South­west in­vited them to hold a three-night res­i­dency this year, a first for the 30-year-old fest.

It’s a long way from the early ’90s, when Britt Daniel fled Tem­ple, Texas, at 18 to at­tend UT. “It was where all the cool stuff was hap­pen­ing,” Daniel re­calls. After a stint in the band The Alien Beats with drum­mer Jim Eno (then a mi­crochip de­signer for Mo­torola), the two formed Spoon, re­leas­ing their first ful­l­length al­bum, Tele­phono, on Mata­dor in 1996. The next 20 years saw la­bel and lineup changes (with Daniel and Eno the two main­stays) as each al­bum, start­ing with 2001’s Girls Can Tell, drew more and more com­mer­cial and crit­i­cal suc­cess. The con­sis­tent praise earned Spoon the ti­tle of “top over­all artist of the decade” in 2009 by re­view ag­gre­ga­tor Me­ta­critic.

In all, 2017 is shap­ing up to be a full-cir­cle year for Spoon, from the re­turn to Mata­dor to the SXSW res­i­dency March 14-16 at The Main, the for­mer Emo’s (play­fully be­ing re­ferred to as Eno’s for the shows), where the band played many a gig over the years. Daniel is even call­ing Austin home again for the first time in a decade after liv­ing in Port­land and L.A. While long­time bassist Rob Pope lives in Mas­sachusetts and key­board player/gui­tarist Alex Fis­chel is based in L.A., the brand-new (as in Jan­uary-new) gui­tarist, Ger­ardo Lar­ios, is also an Aus­ti­nite and a long­time friend of Eno’s, who pro­duced Lar­ios’s band Money Chicha. “We’ve once again be­come an Austin-cen­tric band,” says Daniel.

Daniel be­gan work­ing on the tracks that would be­come Hot Thoughts in Jan­uary 2015. “Songs take a long time and a lot of de­vel­op­ing,” says Daniel. His writ­ing process is rooted in the demos he records and shares with Eno and the band. “Every now and then you get lucky, and there’s a song that comes fast and it’s ready to go. More of­ten than not, it morphs a lot un­til you get it to a re­ally good place.”

Asked about his goals for the record, Daniel de­murs. “In­ten­tion is hard to de­fine,” he says. “I know what I’m lis­ten­ing for, and when the band was work­ing to­gether, there were cer­tain sounds that seemed fu­tur­is­tic to me. Like we haven’t done that be­fore, and that’s the stuff we would grav­i­tate to­ward.”

Although founded on the pol­ished, hand­clapped, con­trolled chaos of pre­vi­ous al­bums, Hot Thoughts spins on sonic sur­prises: disco flir­ta­tions, play­ful lay­ers, and less gui­tar (no acous­tic at all), from the epony­mous opener to the clos­ing sound­scape in­stru­men­tal “Us.” The band recorded half of Hot Thoughts at Eno’s home stu­dio, Pub­lic Hi-Fi, and the rest in Cas­sadaga, NY, with pro­ducer Dave Frid­mann, who also co-pro­duced their last al­bum. Says Eno: “Dave’s laid-back and su­per easy to get along with, but he also has amaz­ing ideas. We’ve worked with some pro­duc­ers who feel like it’s their record as op­posed to ours.”

Eno is a suc­cess­ful, sought-after pro­ducer him­self, work­ing with bands such as Phos­pho­res­cent and The Prea­tures; each year he leads a master class of sorts in his stu­dio for a small group of mu­sic pro­duc­tion stu­dents from Ohio Uni­ver­sity. But for him, play­ing the mu­sic live is the real test. “Tour­ing makes ev­ery­thing that you do worth­while,” he says. “You’re in the stu­dio for a re­ally long time to get ev­ery­thing the way you want it. Then you’re play­ing in front of peo­ple, and they’re singing along; it com­pletes the whole cir­cle of do­ing a record.” With new gui­tarist Lar­ios in the fold, Spoon held a sur­prise show in Jan­uary to try out some of Hot Thoughts in front of a sold-out, ex­cited crowd at An­tone’s.

“Once we start play­ing those songs for two months, it will be so much bet­ter,” says Eno. “We were at that point on our last tour where you get to this feel­ing that you’re sim­ply un­stop­pable.”

Daniel’s also spent a good chunk of two decades tour­ing, and is any­thing but road-worn. “I love be­ing on tour; I like that way of life.” It cranks up again with the three SXSW show­cases, which serve as the kick­off for the next tour. It’s a nat­u­ral place for Spoon to start—the band has played the fest many times. “SXSW is a beau­ti­ful chaos,” says Daniel. “I em­brace it. I like that there are more things to do and see than you can pos­si­bly do.”

“Records have al­ways been my deal...It is a thing, it holds a place, and it’s not go­ing any­where. You can al­ways go back to it. That’s the kind of record I want to make: the kind that’s not dis­pos­able.” —Britt Daniel

Daniel, who lives about 10 min­utes from Eno, ac­knowl­edges that SXSW is eas­ier now that Austin is home base again. “I love be­ing here. As soon as I know I’m com­ing back, I start think­ing about what I’m go­ing to eat first.” When record­ing, he and the band eat a lot at Ruby’s BBQ (though he fa­vors the chicken and salad), Maudie’s Tex-Mex, and Madam Mam’s Thai food. For nightlife and live mu­sic, his stand­bys in­clude mar­gar­i­tas at Takoba, honky-tonks The White Horse and Bro­ken Spoke, bars like Ho­tel Ve­gas and Shangri-La, and Red River Dis­trict mu­sic venues Beer­land and Bar­racuda. Fa­vorite lo­cal bands in­clude A Gi­ant Dog and Sweet Spirit.

Eno prefers to stay home with fam­ily, which in­cludes his wife and two chil­dren. A cof­fee man, he hits Fig­ure 8 and Hound­stooth; for tacos it’s El Chilito and Ta­codeli. “I don’t have a lot of free time,” says Eno, who is try­ing to wrap up pro­duc­tion work for acts like The Bright Light So­cial Hour, Walker Lukens, and oth­ers be­fore the tour­ing be­gins. But the for­mer mi­crochip de­signer is not com­plain­ing. “I never thought I’d be do­ing mu­sic as a ca­reer, so any day I can wake up and pay the bills by do­ing mu­sic is a pretty great day for me.”

He and Daniel are also happy—and sur­prised—to be back with Mata­dor, whose three part­ners in­clude friend Ger­ard Cosloy of Austin. “I love those dudes,” says Daniel. “They haven’t done so well fi­nan­cially with Spoon – they’ve lost money on us every time they tried. I hope we’re go­ing to break the cy­cle this time,” he laughs.

For Daniel, the tour­ing, the in­ter­views, even record­ing the ra­dio sta­tion pro­mos—it all comes back to mak­ing records. “Records have al­ways been my deal. That’s why I lis­tened to the Plas­tic Ono Band for the ten-thou­sandth time this morn­ing. It is a thing, it holds a place, and it’s not go­ing any­where. You can al­ways go back to it. That’s the kind of record I want to make: the kind that’s not dis­pos­able. I think that still mat­ters to a lot of peo­ple.”

Ready for the “beau­ti­ful chaos” of SXSW: Spoon mem­bers (ƟƫƨƦ ƥƞƟƭ) Alex Fis­chel, Britt Daniel, Jim Eno, and Rob Pope.

Pre-show back­stage: (ƜƥƨƜƤưƢƬƞ ƟƫƨƦ ƭƨƩ ƫƢƠơƭ) new mem­ber Ger­ardo Lar­ios; bass player Rob Pope; Britt Daniel puts the fin­ish­ing touches on the An­tone’s set list; gui­tarist Alex Fis­chel.

The orig­i­nals: Lead singer and gui­tarist Britt Daniel (ƭƨƩ) and drum­mer Jim Eno (ƚƛƨƯƞ), who founded Spoon 24 years ago, pre­view a few tracks from the new Hot Thoughts al­bum with the band at a sold-out sur­prise show.

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