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Members include Britt Daniel (born in Galveston, TX; son of a neurologist), vocals, guitar; Jim Eno (born in Rhode Island), drums; Andy McGuire (left group, 1996), bass guitar; Greg Wilson (left group, 1996), guitar. Touring members include Eric Friend (joined group, 2001), keyboards; Roman Kuebler (joined group, 2001), bass guitar. Addresses: Record company--Merge Records, P.O. Box 1235, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, fax: (919) 929-4291, phone: (919) 929-0711, website: http://www.mergerecords.com. Website--Spoon Official Website: http://www.spoontheband.com.
Considering all the setbacks experienced by Spoon, it seems surprising that the independent rock band out of Austin, Texas, endured long enough to see the release of their third and most self-assured album to date, 2001's Girls Can Tell. Plagued by an unstable lineup since forming in the early 1990s, the group also fell victim to record label executives who failed to follow through on promises, a record-buying public that appeared uninterested in, or perhaps unaware of, the group's music, and the initial media stigma of sounding much like two of their primary influences--the Pixies and Wire.
While Spoon's previous albums in general fared well among the critics, Girls Can Tell finally established the group as forward-looking purveyors of post-punk music. Some stylistic elements of the Pixies remained, but Spoon also derived equal inspiration from Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, and the classic sounds of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Moreover, the group succeeded in giving the familiar a fresh, modern feel. Spoon frontman and principal songwriter Britt Daniel--who believes that a great guitar riff does not always need to be complicated--opted for simpler lines and experimented with instruments other than guitar. "I'll often write a riff on guitar, but after I've demoed the song, I'll realize the guitar isn't the right instrument for the part," Daniel, who, in addition to guitar, performed on xylophone, harpsichord, and thumb piano for Girls Can Tell, explained to Guitar Player contributor Judah Gold. "A song can really take off in different directions when you switch instruments and perform guitar parts on something else. In some cases, the song will actually work better without the guitar."
Daniel likewise wanted to take more chances in developing lyrics--now more thoughtful, sincere, and mature--for Spoon's music. "I just started listening to records and started thinking, 'You know what? I'm never honest with anything in my lyrics,'" he recalled to Michael Bertin for an interview in the Austin Chronicle. "And I love all of these records where people speak very directly, like Bruce Springsteen, or Jonathan Richman, or Ray Davies.... They show they care and have emotions. When I started realizing that, I decided that we should go for that more--songs like 'Fitted Shirt,' 'Anything You Want.' There are still some vague ones on this album, but there are some where you know what I'm talking about."
However, Daniel was not always so confident about his band's abilities and the future of Spoon as several bad breaks resulted in a mistrust of the music industry. Born in the coastal town of Galveston, Texas, Daniel spent his formative years in Temple, located about an hour's drive north of Austin. Despite living in a community where most youngsters listened to either heavy metal or country, Daniel, thanks to the MTV program 120 Minutes, discovered the Pixies, Julian Cope, and That Petrol Emotion as a teenager. Throughout his childhood, Daniel received doses of classic rock 'n' roll on a daily basis. Daniel's father, a neurologist, loved the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and even collected guitars, though he never really became a practitioner of the instrument himself. But Daniel decided to pick up the instrument in his late teens, reportedly teaching himself to play after his first girlfriend broke up with him when she went away to college.
Spoon Took Form
After graduating from high school, Daniel arrived in Austin in 1989 to attend the University of Texas. He started his first band there in 1990 dubbed Skellington, which rose to local recognition and recorded a handful of cassettes before dissolving in 1992. Daniel earned a radio/television/film degree from the university while learning more about bands such as Wire and the Velvet Underground through working as a disc jockey at the student-run radio station KVRX. Meanwhile, a mutual friend from the station introduced Daniel to a skilled drummer named Jim Eno, a Rhode Island native from North Carolina who had moved from Houston to Austin in 1992 to design microchips for Cadence Designs Systems. With Eno, Daniel played briefly in a country/roots trio called Alien Beats, and later, when Daniel began to write songs, the guitarist reunited musically with Eno for a second time.
Taking a more rock-oriented approach, the pair next enlisted guitarist Greg Wilson and a female bass guitarist named Andy McGuire, then hurriedly adopted the Spoon moniker, the title of a song by the German band Can, to participate in a 1993 competition sponsored by KVRX. Unfortunately, Spoon lost the "battle of the bands" to a group called Mr. Happy and afterwards did not receive an invitation to perform at the 1994 South By Southwest conference. Thus, in protest, the trio staged a show at a nearby punk club, the Pink Flamingo, where Matador Records co-owner Gerard Cosloy happened to be in attendance. Thereafter, word of Spoon, who had recently released their Nefarious EP on Fluffer Records, spread to other labels interested in the rising commercial appeal of alternative rock. Spoon received offers from Geffen, Interscope, and Warner Bros., but ultimately signed a deal in 1995 to record their first full-length set for Matador.
The punkish, driving Telephono, preceded by the seven-inch single "All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed," hit stores in 1996, but already the band's future appeared uncertain. Long before the release of Telephono, Wilson exited the group, then McGuire, viewing Spoon's music as not heavy enough, either left or was fired from the band. Next came a legal battle, in which McGuire's legal representatives claimed the bassist was entitled to a third of Spoon's advance from Matador, as well as album royalties. In the end, McGuire won her case based on an original agreement with her bandmates.
Surprisingly, Spoon's personnel problems failed to disrupt the pursuits of Daniel and Eno. For a time, Austin-based musician and Telephono producer John Croslin filled in as bassist and toured with the band extensively in support of the album. Eventually, Josh Zorbo took over the slot. Still, the album sold a mere 3,000 copies despite shows with established labelmates Pavement and Guided By Voices and a swell of local enthusiasm. Though the music press generally awarded the band favorable reviews, many critics pegged Spoon as a clone of the Pixies. "I thought we were hot sh*t," Daniel told Magnet magazine's Matthew Fritch. "Playing shows in Austin, it was fun and people liked us.... Then Telephono came out and we started touring, and absolutely no one would come see us. All these people had told us that, to some degree, we were going to be successful. And we weren't. In fact, I felt like people really didn't like us, and I wasn't sure what we were doing was good. I wasn't sure whether I liked the record, either."
Signed Deal with Elektra
In the late summer of 1996, Spoon's period of bad luck seemed to end when they met Ron Laffitte, the general manager at the West Coast offices of Elektra Records. Now an A&R person with Capitol Records, Laffitte genuinely enjoyed Spoon's music and believed that Elektra, whose roster then included Ween, Luna, and Stereolab, among others, would provide the perfect environment for a band such as Spoon. Throughout much of 1997, the same year which yielded Spoon's Soft Effects EP on Matador, the band worked on a second album, again with Coslin, entitled A Series of Sneaks. Upon its completion, enthusiastic Elektra executives signed Spoon to a new record deal.
Recorded in several studios in Austin and released in 1998, A Series of Sneaks, a departure from the tense Telephono, contained elements of British post-punk and minimalist rock. At the time, Daniel later noted, he was listening to and learning from records by Wire, Gang of Four, and Public Image Ltd. This time around, Spoon garnered high praises from reviewers. Magnet named A Series of Sneaks one of the best albums of the 1990s, while Raoul Hernandez in the Austin Chronicle judged it as "unquestionably one of the most dangerous weapons in Austin's musical arsenal last year, if not the most lethal."
Resilient Despite Challenges
Unfortunately, the album went largely ignored by radio and record buyers. Just four months after the release of A Series of Sneaks, Laffitte, their greatest ally at Elektra, was fired from the label. Soon thereafter, Elektra decided to drop Spoon, despite the fact that the company's president, Sylvia Rhone, had reassured the group that support for promotions and touring would continue. (Incidentally, later in 1999, Spoon released a single on the Saddle Creek label called "The Agony of Laffitte," featuring the B-side song "Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now.") Thus, by roughly August of 1998, Spoon found themselves again left on their own and embarked on a tour with Creeper Lagoon. Without the proper backing, though, practically no one showed up to see Spoon perform. Nonetheless, the group returned to Austin to commence work on a new set of songs, and by March of 2000, the basic tracks for the album Girls Can Tell were already in order.
Spoon then shopped the album around to various labels before Merge Records, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and run by Superchunk's Mac McCaughan, made the group an offer. "This record is the first one I really like enough to say, 'Okay, we did something that, if we're no longer a band next year, I'm always going to be, 'I really like this one. I think it's really good,'" Daniel said to Bertin about Girls Can Tell, which saw release in February of 2001. "It's something that, at least for me, will stand the test of time." Critics likewise agreed and considered Girls Can Tell Spoon's greatest achievement to date. As Texas Monthly contributor Jason Cohen, speaking of the band's ups and downs and musical growth, concluded, "What doesn't kill Spoon makes it stronger."
by Laura Hightower
Formed group in Austin, TX, 1993; released the Nefarious EP, 1994; signed with Matador Records, 1995; released debut album Telephono, 1996; released Soft Effects EP on Matador, signed with Elektra Records, 1997; released A Series of Sneaks, dropped by Elektra, 1998; signed with Merge Records, released Girls Can Tell, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Nefarious (EP), Fluffer, 1994.
- Telephono Matador, 1996.
- Soft Effects (EP), Matador, 1997.
- A Series of Sneaks Elektra, 1998.
- Girls Can Tell Merge, 2001.
- Austin Chronicle, March 16, 2001.
- Billboard, February 10, 2001.
- Boston Globe, April 12, 2001.
- Guitar Player, August 2001.
- Magnet, June/July 2001.
- Texas Monthly, February 2001.
- Village Voice, January 19-25, 2000; May 15, 2001.
- Matador Records, http://www.matador.recs.com (August 26, 2001).
- Merge Records, http://www.mergerecords.com (August 26, 2001).
- Spoon Official Website, http://www.spoontheband.com (August 26, 2001).
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