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the rapture of britt daniel

by tim mcmahan



April 19
Spoon, The Good Life,
The Oranges
Sokol Underground
13th and Martha
9 p.m.


Lazy-i: April 17, 2001












"I have a pet peeve when something's being said too often about the band," said Spoon lead vocalist Britt Daniel. "Right now, it's 'Spoon, the band that got fucked by Elektra.' That may be so, but our new record is really good. I'd rather talk about the music and what the lyrics mean than about the music business."

Unfortunately, Daniel and his band are as responsible for the unwanted attention as the press. After all, it was Spoon who recorded "The Agony of Laffitte" b/w "Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now," a two-song "concept single" released on Omaha's Saddle Creek Records. The mini epic took on the band's former record label, Elektra, its A&R guy, Ron Laffitte, and collaterally, Elektra chairman Sylvia Rhone. Among the lyrics: "It's like I knew two of you, man/The one before and after we shook hands," the chorus "You're no better than Sylvia." and "Now all I want to know/Are you ever honest with anyone?"

The bitter lament was released in 1999. Since then, Spoon has recovered from unceremoniously being dropped by Elektra only months after their major label debut, A Series of Sneaks, was released.

It's ancient history, really. A new day has dawned for the Austin, Texas, trio that is rising triumphantly from the ashes with their impressive debut on Merge, Girls Can Tell, that SPIN called "pure rock wizardry -- as sinister as it is sweet." The tour that brings them to Omaha's Sokol Underground April 19 features indie rock legends Guided By Voices on most of the dates (Omaha, mysteriously, was not one of them). But despite their newfound glory, that bitter little CD single lives on, if only in the minds of eager music journalists looking for an angle to hang their stories on.




Daniel acknowledged the situation via phone from his Austin home just a couple days before leaving on this tour. "The record and music industry need to be exposed when they're unjust. In that sense, I don't mind talking about it," Daniel said about all the attention over the Elektra split. "That said, I think there are more things to talk about than the gloomy state of the music industry."

Spoon forged its reputation in the '90s as an indie-rock, post-punk band cast in the same mold as The Pixies. These days, however, their sound doesn't bear even the slightest resemblance to those pre-grunge lords of alternative distortion. In fact, on their new CD, Spoon comes off more like a straight-ahead rock band than anything in the cloistered indie music camp, and Daniel couldn't be happier.

"I never was a big fan of indie rock as a genre," he said. "When it came time to record this album, we wanted it to have a '60s flair, to have soul. Compared to Series of Sneaks, I think the songs are more traditional in structure and content, sort of like the Everly Brothers."

The Everly Brothers? I wouldn't go that far. But from the opening track, with its relaxed, chiming keyboards, cool spy guitar and spare kick drum, the focus is solidly on melody and Daniel's distinctively yearning, emotive voice. The arrangements are simple to the point of being stripped down. And throughout the entire CD, it's impossible to deny the obvious influences, including on the Beatle-esque "Lines in the Suit;" the early Cure-ish "Take a Walk," the Zeppelin-lite "Fitted Shirt" and the E. Costello stab "Take the Fifth." Daniel flinched when the vocals on "Anything You Want" were compared to classic Thin Lizzy. "That's not the first time I've heard that comparison," he said, grudgingly.

Call it pop rock for lack of a better term. The music on Girls Can Tell is undeniably sleek, catchy and hip, the perfect soundtrack for a yuppie summer vacation.

"The kind of records I go to time and time again -- the classics -- are the ones you want to sing along to, that through-and-through have solid songs," Daniel said, "like Revolver, where every single song is a solid song. There are some aspects of the record that are innovative, but we're not reinventing the wheel, we just wanted to make a solid album."


"I never was a big fan of indie rock as a genre. When it came time to record this album, we wanted it to have a '60s flair, to have soul."


"By and large, it's a crap shoot -- especially right now -- to try and sign your life away."


Listed in the CD's liner notes, among the industry names, friends and fellow artists, Spoon "sincerely thanks" Omaha, Nebraska. Daniel explained that when the band was touring its first album back in '96, the crowds were sparse and life on the road had become a drag.

"We played Omaha not expecting much after having played Fargo the night before," he said. "To our surprise, all these people showed up. We sang karaoke somewhere downtown and went to a house party after that. We had a great time, and back then that was a rarity."

The band also forged friendships with a number of musicians who play in Saddle Creek Records' stable of bands, including Stephen Pedersen, who at the time was in Cursive and is now in the Chapel Hill band The White Octave. "Omaha is just a great place," Daniel said. "I don't know if people who live there think that, but we always have a good time when we visit. It doesn't have any sort of built-in network of places that makes it a fun city. It's just the kids being original and creative."

When Spoon were looking for someone to release the "Laffitte" single, Saddle Creek Records was an obvious choice. "Robb Nansel and Stephen (Pedersen) told us that we were welcome to put out a record on their label," Daniel said. "We had just come up with the idea for the concept single. At first Robb wanted more songs on it, and that would have made it economically better for the label. But we didn't want to dilute the message, and to his and the people who run the label's credit, they were cool doing just two songs."

The Laffitte single garnered its share of national press, including a sizeable feature in The Village Voice that recapped the band's label debacle and lauded their artistic response, calling it "a balance of compassion and blame and fury and guilt and impatience."

If there's a lesson from the band's experience with Elektra (other than to trust no one), it's that major labels don't guarantee success. Is smaller really better? Since its release earlier this year on the relatively small label Merge -- which was founded by Superchunk's Laura Balance and Mac McCaughan -- Girls Can Tell has easily outsold Spoon's Elektra release.

"Merge has an office of maybe four or five people," Daniel said. "So far we've already sold four times as many copies of Girls Can Tell in six weeks than A Series of Sneaks sold in a year."

After everything Spoon's been through -- their early success on indie label Matador Records, their move to a major, their subsequent fall and their current rebirth, Daniel is hesitant to pass on any advice to the next band that makes its way though the music industry meat grinder.

"Anyone taking advice from me is probably…" he says, trailing off before finishing the sentence. "Look at the bands you admire and look at how they would do things. Look at the bands who's level of success you'd hope to achieve. By and large, it's a crap shoot -- especially right now -- to try and sign your life away."

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Published in The Omaha Weekly April 18, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.