Nip Slips, Donald Duck, and Destitute Summers: Britt Daniel Remembers the Best and Worst of Spoon

“The biggest achievement is that we’ve made nine records and there ain’t a bad one.” Photo: Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Close your eyes and imagine a Spoon Greatest Hits album. What do you see? Is it all nine of Spoon’s albums rubber-banded together with a Post-it on top that says “Spoon’s Greatest Hits”? Yes, correct; that’s also what I see.

Spoon had another idea for their Greatest Hits, however: a slightly tighter 13-track collection titled Everything Hits at Once. (This version will be out July 26 via Matador; the other version is available now as long as you have the albums, a rubber band, and a Post-it.) While Everything Hits at Once is missing, indeed, over 100 of Spoon’s greatest hits (!), the album includes superlative tracks spanning much of the band’s 26-year career. For a closer look at some of the other superlatives that make up Spoon’s long, fruitful history, we sat down with Spoon front man Britt Daniel to talk about the most and least and best and worst.

Best Spoon song

Best in terms of songwriting? Maybe “I Summon You.” I don’t really have an absolute favorite Spoon song, though. Most of them are great. I usually love them or hate them, but most of them I really love.

Worst Spoon song

“The Infinite Pet.” It’s dumb. It was definitely filler, and this is from a band that’s supposed to not have any filler. For whatever reason, Gimme Fiction was a hard record to write songs for. We wanted to put a record out fast, like we did with Girls Can Tell and Kill the Moonlight. It was our design to do that again. Maybe because we’d had our first success with those two records — maybe it was messing with my head — but I couldn’t pull the songs together. Eventually we got them, but it took a while. We were still searching for songs that we loved, and “The Infinite Pet” made it on there. It doesn’t stand on its own two feet too well. It probably could’ve been better done. Maybe it’s the recording. My mom likes it; she told me she loves that one. Well … she’s wrong.

Most surprising use of ‘The Underdog’

I honestly don’t keep track of those things, they slip through my mind. But I feel like it was used in a presidential debate as a bumper. And if it wasn’t, then I’m pretty sure it was used in the Super Bowl. [Editor’s note: We can’t find evidence of either, but we trust you, Britt.]

Most requested song in Spoon’s catalogue that Spoon remembers how to play the least

“Out Go the Lights,” people ask for that all the time. We played it once in Atlanta, or something, right after that record came out. But we just never could play it so good. We tried it at so many rehearsals, I remember, or so many sound checks. But we just couldn’t pull it off. It’s sort of a weird tune; it carries a lot of emotional weight, but it’s kind of slow. It was hard to pull off in a way that felt as powerful as it does on the record.

Worst weather in which Spoon has ever played

There was a show we played in Philly at the Made in America festival and we went onstage, we played maybe two songs, the weather was fine — it might have seemed like tornado weather, where everything is really still and muggy. But there was no rain and we got pulled offstage because they were sure there was going to be some kind of catastrophe. Then it started pouring, and then they put us back onstage while it was pouring.

But the cool thing is, we then slayed. It was like the crowd was rooting for us. But I just remember being drenched, and I was wearing all white. I’m sure my nipples were showing. But the crowd was just going crazy; it was one of the craziest crowds we’ve ever played in front of.

Most exciting Spoon achievement

I mean the biggest achievement is that we’ve made nine records and there ain’t a bad one. I don’t know if that’s the most exciting achievement, but that’s probably the biggest. But there was a time when someone gave me this Donald Duck DVD, and I love Donald Duck. I love how he gets so angry. It just makes my day to see him blow his top. So they gave me a DVD that was all Donald Duck — this is right before the Transference tour — and I was watching all the Donald Ducks, and there was one where he played Radio City Music Hall and I thought to myself, I’m playing Radio City Music Hall next week. Donald Duck played Radio City Music Hall and we’re playing there next week, and we sold it out!

For some reason that was really exciting for me, to be able to play where he played. And I’m sure that cartoon was made in, what, the ’40s? It felt very epic to me, very grand.

Moment when you wanted to quit the most

We finished the first version of Girls Can Tell in May of ’99, and we had maybe ten songs. I think it had the [Ron] Laffitte songs on there. [Editor’s note: Spoon released A Series of Sneaks in 1998 on Elektra Records after being brought to the label by then-Elektra A&R man Ron Laffitte. They were dropped four months after the release, following Laffitte’s exit from the label, leaving them without a home for Girls Can Tell and with a lot of resentment toward Laffitte, which they channeled into several angry songs about him that were released by Saddle Creek on a seven-inch titled “The Agony of Laffitte.”] But I knew it was fucking good. I moved to New York for the summer because I always liked getting out of Austin for the summertime, and I was working temp jobs. Once a week I’d leave my temp job and go somewhere quiet, which was the phone banks at the Marriott in Times Square. They had rows and rows of pay phones because that’s what people did back then. It was a quiet spot, and I would call my lawyer or manager. I remember going there every week, sometimes talking to both of them, and getting progress reports on who was interested in this early version of Girls Can Tell. Nobody was.

The only people that responded to that early version were Gerard [Cosloy] from Matador Records and Mike McCarthy, who ended up becoming our producer for that record. He didn’t do the first version, but then he helped us do the second. The earlier version didn’t have “Everything Hits at Once,” “10:20 AM,” or “Believing Is Art.” And it had different versions of “Anything You Want” and “Take a Walk.” And it had the Laffitte songs on it.

But that might have been the low point. I was definitely destitute. New York summertime working temp jobs sucked. And nobody was digging this record that I knew was the best thing we’d ever done.

Song it took the longest amount of time to finish

“New York Kiss,” because I wrote it back in maybe ’03, ’04, and I tried to get us to record it for Girls Can Tell, and Jim [Eno] and I couldn’t agree on the drums. I thought it should have a four-on-the-floor sort of dance beat … not unh tss but just unh unh unh unh. Like all those great dance songs do. And he didn’t want to do it that way; he wanted it more rock. And I was like, well, maybe we’ll just do it some other time. And eventually we did. But it wasn’t until They Want My Soul. It [ended up being] a combo. It does use some of that kick-drum pattern and some rock.

Song it took the shortest amount of time to finish

Everything we did for that Soft Effects EP was pretty fast because the original idea of that record was that those songs were not gonna be an EP, but B-sides for a single. But then Telephono came out and it didn’t do well at all, so [Matador was] like, “Well, we don’t have any use to put out a single.” So we thought those were just going to be throwaway songs. But I love that EP. It’s still one of my favorite things we’ve ever put out.

But “Mountain to Sound,” for instance, we did that in an afternoon. And we did it with Jim not really even knowing the song. He says when he listens to that song now he can hear in the drums that he didn’t know the song. Like, he can hear that he didn’t know what he was doing. Maybe that’s why it sounds so fuckin’ good. It’s awesome.

Most difficult album to record

Girls Can Tell was the most difficult, sort of because of what I was talking about earlier, that it just took so long to find anyone who was interested. And we — well, Jim had a job, so he wasn’t destitute. But I was destitute, working as a substitute teacher when I could be, and working temp jobs. And we had just been dropped, so it was a tough period. And the record took a long time to make. So time-wise it took a long time to make, but it was also just emotionally difficult. And I think you can hear it in the songs, too. It’s maybe the most vulnerable.

Most surprising success

I guess in a way Transference was a surprise. It’s a pretty ugly record, and when it came out it was big — it was the No. 4 album in the country. For a record that’s that ugly, and that got such mixed reviews, and was so uncommercial, I thought that did pretty well.

Most surprising failure

Telephono, at the time, was surprising to me. That it was a failure. [Editor’s note: The album reportedly sold 3,000 copies.] Now I see why.

Most embarrassing in-concert moment

I kind of feel like anything you do onstage is okay, mistakes are always okay. And I think you also probably know that when you go to a show and you see an obvious flub, or someone forgets the words, or the equipment breaks down, it’s sort of a moment the audience wants to rally around the performer. So I try to keep in mind that everything is game; everything is golden; everything is going to be okay. But, you know. I’ve fallen off of the stage before. It’s not fun when that happens. But none of it is bad.

I banged my head a little bit. But I guess the problem is when you assume that it’s a bad thing; when you assume you’ve blown the show. Then you have it in your mind that you fucked up. You have to learn pretty early on not to fall victim to that.

Most memorable outfit

Our press photos for Transference, I remember, were denied by our publicist. I thought that we looked … well, some photos were more normal than others, but in some of the ones that I picked, I thought we looked totally uncool in a knowing way. And he was like, “No, you just look like you’re wearing grandpa pants. Like, you look like you have Depends on under there, and it’s the way you’re sitting. Everything looks bunched up; everything looks fucked up.” I remember that outfit.

Favorite Spoon lyric

I have a couple. I like “bringing about the apocalypse is not considered cool” [from “My Mathematical Mind”]. And I like “I need a release, the signal’s a cough, but that don’t get me off, I summon you here my love” [from “I Summon You”].

Least Favorite Spoon Lyric

Probably something from “The Infinite Pet.” Actually, the “Infinite Pet” lyrics aren’t that bad. Telephono had some bad lyrics. Maybe “all the negatives have been destroyed,” that’s a pretty bad one. I’m gonna go with that.

Britt Daniel Remembers the Best and Worst of Spoon