written by Chris Familton
Spoon have been one of the most consistent bands over the last decade with each release slowly growing their audience and receiving greater acclaim from critics. Ahead of their tour of Australia, Spoon’s multi-instrumentalist Eric Harvey called in to chat about their latest album Transference – how it was written, recorded and where it fits into Spoon.
Transference comes as Spoon have well and truly settled into a definitive sound. Theirs is drenched in minimalist sound and instrumental clarity. It slips effortlessly from indie to power pop, post punk to 60s beat. Harvey is quick to explain that the new album wasn’t part of some masterplan or pre-conceived concept.
“I don’t think as a band we ever discussed how the album would sound as a whole. I’m sure Britt [Daniel] thinks about this stuff but when it comes the band working on it together we never sat down and said we were going to make this one rawer, we just worked on it on a song by song basis and what the individual song called for,” Harvey says. Some of the songs on Transference had a stranger edge to them. We wanted them to sound a little darker and a little more stripped down,” he explains.
Look back to when they were first written, there seems to be a variety of ways that the songs germinated and emerged into the world.
“It happens on a song by song basis, Some song we hash out our individual parts at our practice space. We play the song and work out our parts individually until we have it and then we go and record it, mostly live. With other songs that are collaged together there are certain songs that Britt does everything on, maybe just a drum machine, acoustic guitar, vocals and sound effects and Britt does it all at home. We don’t really have any rules about how songs are put together, it just depends what the song calls for,” says Harvey, before adding, “This album happened in different places at different times which maybe gives it that more fractured sound having all these different elements from different times coming together.”
The reduction of Spoon’s sound to its key, essential ingredients is a crucial reason for their success and why their melodies, both vocally and instrumentally, shine through so effectively.
“At this point it feels natural. That was a way of working that I learnt when I joined the band about five years ago. I understood it but it is definitely something that you have to think about. It becomes less of an emotional response and more of an intellectual one. In order to make songs like this you sometimes you have to sit down and make sacrifices – some things that may have felt really good to play or may sound really good, they just aren’t really adding to the song and have to be edited out. Editing is where a lot of our sound comes from,” confesses Harvey.
“When we do these songs live things change a little bit. We’re looking for ways to make things more dramatic or dynamic in a live situation that maybe isn’t as important for the record. The songs are born in the practice space of the studio and when we go out and play them for people they take on a new life. Sometimes they are really close to the record and sometimes they’re quite a bit different, Harvey says.
Have Spoon perfected their sound and hit upon their definitive aural template? Listening to their last few records that could be an easily made assumption but Harvey believes they are still searching for new elements to enhance their Spoonerisms.
“We’re always looking for new sounds. For me – who’s responsible for a lot of sounds – I’m always looking for new ones. There’s a certain palette of classic sounds for guitars and pianos that come to us from bands from the last 60 years but we are also looking for things that we haven’t heard before. That’s what is fun for us – we are balancing the sounds that are familiar and classic and the new sounds that are far out and make you feel like you are breaking new ground. That means that I have no idea what the next record will sound like,” laughs Harvey.
Transference contains some classic Spoon songs that tap into that part of our brain built on memories. By definition, transference is a phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another, specifically linked to one’s childhood. Similarly, Spoon’s music dials into many primal emotions via their use of melody, groove and repetition and maybe that is a key to their success – they remind us of something in the past, a strange familiarity.
This interview first appeared on The Dwarf