Formed in: 1994, Austin, Texas
Key Albums: Kill the Moonlight (2002), Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)
Spoon are a rockband. They have four members. And five letters. And one syllable. They're a group of thirty-something dudes. Playing rock music. Minus an angle. "I think that's why people didn't come to us that fast, at first: because we don't have a gimmick," offers Spoon leader Britt Daniel, who’s commanded the band across their fourteen-year tenure. "We're just a band."
Daniel (born 1971) grew up in Temple, Texas, a tiny town an hour north of Austin’s rock hub. As a record-obsessed teenager, Daniel duly tried has hand at music. His first band, formed at 15, were named The Zygotes, and featured his high-school history teacher on drums.
“He was a very hip guy,” chuckles Daniel. “He was really into finding new music, and was always turning us on to new things. He’d work ways for there to be Ramones songs in his history class. I remember him playing "The KKK Took My Baby Away."”
Moving to Austin to go to school at the University of Texas, Daniel kicked around in a couple combos before forming Spoon with Eno, the band taking their name from a song by krautrock legends Can.
Spoon got their ‘big break’ when Matador Records co-founder Gerard Cosloy saw them playing an “anti-SXSW” show in 1995. "The next year," Daniel recounts, "we played their SXSW showcase, and six months later we hashed out a record for Matador."
BeginningsEven though their first album, 1996’s Telephono, made little splash, the band were wooed to sign with Warner-helmed imprint Elektra. “We had bucketsful of reservations,” says Daniel. “The main thing was that we’d been utterly unsuccessful on Matador. We’d sold, I think, less than 2000 copies of [Telephono], even though there’d been a lot of expectations that we’d do real well. But we got to know [A&R Ron Laffitte], who wanted to sign us, pretty well, we thought. We told him all of our concerns, he listened to them, and then he told us that we would work on these things together.”
Instead, 1998’s A Series Of Sneaks was a disaster, selling even worse than Telephono. So, Spoon’s second record swiftly sunk without a trace, and the band’s A&R vanished along with it.
“I just think of [Spoon’s time with Elektra] as being a very short experience,” Daniel offers. “We made the record and then signed to them, so it was never a question of feeling artistic pressures. We made the record, we signed the deal, the record came out, we were dropped by the label. It was really brief; it couldnt’ve been more than a year, all up. But it was frustrating. The guy that we signed with just became a different person; he didn’t take my phonecalls, and just dropped out of sight when we really needed him. That’s why I was miffed: I wasn’t miffed at the major-label system, I was just miffed at this guy who was really supposed to be our defender, but who basically bailed.”
Not coincidentally, Spoon’s first post-Elektra release was a two-song single, The Agony Of Laffitte b/w Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now. “It was really just funny, moreso than it was an act of vengeance,” shrugs Daniel. “Somebody came up with the song-titles, off-the-cuff, and we thought the titles were so funny we couldn’t just not write the songs. So, we did.”
Yet, despite the laughs gained from lashing out at one’s former employer, Spoon knew that their ‘career’, to that point, had been defined by failure. And Daniel felt adrift. “I was very discouraged,” he confesses. “I didn’t know if I’d be able to continue making music, if anyone would ever want to put out one of our records again. I didn’t know. I felt kinda lost, I started smoking pot, but I just kept writing songs. After a while, I wrote a batch of songs that were, I thought, the best I ever had. If it wasn’t for those songs, we would’ve broken up.”
ArrivalThose songs ended up being Spoon's third album, 2001's Girls Can Tell, a modest success that served as the band's breakthrough. Released by North Carolina's Merge Records, the record was the moment in which Spoon's fortunes started to change.
“I was pinching myself, thinking: things are actually working,” Daniel recalls. “At that point, I wasn’t even thinking of things working out, because they never had. Everything had gone so poorly that, for us, anything good that happened was gravy. If anyone liked us, or bought our records, we were like ‘wow!’ We could make another record. We could go on tour and not lose money. It was awesome.”
“Girls Can Tell was really the first step,” Daniel says. “That was the first time it felt like things were working. We were very surprised at how it did. But, then, [2002’s] Kill The Moonlight did about twice as good as that. And then [2005’s Gimme Fiction] did twice as many records as that. Things just got better and better.”
DevelopmentsAs Spoon got "better and better," they undertook a journey from unloved, vaguely anonymous outfit, to being critical darlings of online publications, to crossing over into the popular consciousness, with television and soundtrack appearances become a recurring norm.
This meant that, for the recording of sixth Spoon record, 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, there were actual expectations. Not least of all Daniel's. "I wanted it to be a little wilder than the last one; dirtier, weirder, more scruffy," Daniel states. "Actually, I wanted it to be way wilder than the last one, but I think it just ended up being a little wilder."
That wildness clearly didn't dent the record's success. In a true sign o' the times, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga debuted in the Billboard Top 10, an almost unheard of level of success for a modest, anonymous rockband recording for an independent label.
In 2008, Spoon staged their own 'mini-festival' in Austin, SPOONX3, and released the EP Got Nuffin. That single marked the first taste of material from the band's seventh record, Transference, which was released early in 2010.
For a band left-for-dead by the major-label system a decade ago, Spoon have undertaken an unlikely journey to commercial success, now holding a place as one of America's most revered alternative acts.