Ever since their second release a decade and a half ago, Britt Daniel and Spoon have responded to their last album on their newest album. It’s not as though the band does a comparative analysis and conceives a work that thoughtfully departs from its predecessor; it just turns out that way. And that’s certainly the case with Spoon’s seventh full-length, Transference.
“I think it’s a valid consideration that we unconsciously react to the way we feel about the album before,” notes Spoon frontman and songwriter Daniel. “For instance, for Kill the Moonlight, I felt like the one before, Girls Can Tell, was all about traditional songwriting, like oldies radio type[s] of songs. So, for Kill the Moonlight, without really knowing exactly why, I think we gravitated toward the more new wave, weirder, sort of bizarre arrangements and demo-like recording quality.
“When I listen to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, it’s very hi-fi and it’s got kind of a glassiness to it, which worked real well; when that record was done, I couldn’t have been happier about how it sounded. So, we probably reacted a little bit against that to make things a little grittier and uglier. But honestly, we never sit down and say, ‘Let’s make it grittier and uglier.’ We say, ‘What songs do we have, and how do we come up with 10 or 11 that are amazing?’”
Given Spoon’s autonomic last album/next album evolution and the transcendent production sheen of 2007′s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the stripped-down sonics and spartan arrangements of Transference are no surprise. The first order of business in creating an unproduced sound is to jettison the producer, which Daniel accomplished by working without longtime boardsman Mike McCarthy, whose Spoon work dates back to 2000′s Girls Can Tell. Daniel is quick to note that his desire to do something different had nothing to do with any kind of dissatisfaction with McCarthy.
“We made our last four records with Mike McCarthy, and I really liked the way they turned out, especially the last one,” confirms Daniel. “I felt like we knew we could make a good record with him, and we knew if we put in the time and he put in the effort that we’d come up with something good. But I just wanted to make a different-sounding kind of record and, if mistakes were to be made, have them be purely my mistakes.”
Predictably, Transference began with Daniel’s demos, but the curveball this time is that, in several instances, the process ended there as well. Confronted with little pieces of musical time that couldn’t be improved upon through any conceivable studio tinkering, Daniel chose to let them stand just the way he had created them, like the gorgeously stark piano balladry of “Goodnight Laura,” a song that sounds like the best track Paul McCartney never wrote.
“I’ve always demoed songs; it was just that this time we decided that these demos sounded like they could be used,” says Daniel. “I think we said to each other, ‘I don’t know why we would need to re-record them.’ Or in some cases we tried to re-record the songs, like the song ‘Trouble Comes Running.’ The version you’re hearing on the record is one that we recorded in a practice space on cassette when we were trying to figure out how we were going to play it. That was the recording we referenced when we tried to record it again, and we just never beat it. We tried doing it in more hi-fi situations, but it was just a great, spontaneous performance that was golden.”
As raw and immediate as Transference sounds, the album never sounds strident or forced. That may well be the by-product of the more relaxed approach that Daniel and the band (drummer Jim Eno, bassist Rob Pope and multi-instrumentalist Eric Harvey) took to its creation.
The biggest difference was that a lot of it was done alone by me in my basement; maybe a third was done like that, but it was the end third,” says Daniel. “When we record with Mike, it can get kind of intense. For Ga Ga Ga, we were together almost every day, six days a week for the last five months we were working on it. There were times where I felt like I had no idea when it was going to be finished. This time we were recording in different locations, different periods of time and always with time off between them. A little less intense.
As Spoon gear up for what could be their most successful touring year supporting their most well-received album to date, Daniel confesses that, in the handful of pre-tour live dates that the band has done, the anomalies that cropped up during recording are having an impact on their stage presentation as well.
“We played some of the songs out,” says Daniel. “Just a few: ‘Got Nuffin,’ ‘Written in Reverse’ and ‘The Mystery Zone.’ We used to be able to play more of them; then we recorded them, got them sounding like we liked them and now we’re trying to figure out how we play it live in a way that’s as good as the recording, which is kind of an ironic way of thinking about it.”