Not only is Jim Eno the founding member of legendary band Spoon, he’s a talented producer and drummer too. In 1998, Eno opened a recording studio named Public Hi-Fi, where he’s produced for an array of artists from Lady Gaga to Arcade Fire, even Australia’s The Preatures. It’s a life that he has shaped well for himself – when not on official Spoon duties, he can creatively recline in to other people’s music.
Spoon is in Australia to promote their new album Hot Thoughts. Jim took a moment with The Garb Wire on Wednesday to share some juicy insight into Britt Daniel’s writing style, how he once camped out for The Cure (or was it The Smiths?) and why Hot Thoughts sounds like a futuristic Talking Heads record.
I start the conversation by explaining to Jim that he’s in the hands of an independent style site, so he should feel free to be as candid and foul-mouthed as he likes. To which he immediately replies, “Fuck yeah!” I realise at once that this will be an enjoyable interview.
Spoon’s Britt Daniel (singer/guitarist) and Alex Fischel (keyboards/guitar) are doing in-store appearances this week in Sydney and Melbourne. So I ask Jim what an instore appearance is honestly like for a well-established band like Spoon – what the band gets out of it, asides from the fans lapping it up? “That’s a good point, what does a band get out of it? I dunno. I feel like… why do we do interviews? We do those to let people know about our music. The cool thing about in-stores is that those guys (Britt and Alex) haved worked up reinterpretations of a lot of the songs. They did a different version of Hot Thoughts. They did a different version of [The] Beast and Dragon [, Adored] and Rainy Taxi – there’s a lot of really cool versions that they do, so fans get to see that.”
I ask whether Jim knows if any people are camped out front of Redeye Records while we’re talking mid-afternoon (he later finds out that some of the band’s young fans cut school to see them, so yes) – he doesn’t seem to know, but says that its perfect weather for it.
I ask if he ever camped out for a band in his youth. Enthusiastically, he says “Oh boy, yeah! I did and it was a long time ago. I think I was sleeping out for…it may have been for either The Cure or The Smiths.” I assure him that there is nothing to regret, here. He tells me he saw The Smiths on The Queen is Dead Tour, and that it was amazing.
We move on to Friday night’s instore at Polyester Records, and the fact that Britt laid foundations for the new album in Collingwood (which is right next to Fitzroy). I ask whether the band has a special affinity for Melbourne’s inner north? He laughs, and says, “I don’t think so! One of the things that Britt does is when he starts writing songs for a record he’ll find a place that he wants to hang out, and just kind of hole up in that area and try to start writing.” [TGW Ed: so we ought not get too excited, sigh.] He continues, “I mean he’s done trips to San Diego, the east coast, I think in Connectitut, and also Chicago. I feel like we were doing that last tour of Australia in 2015, and he came over early to start writing.”
“One of the things that Britt does is when he starts writing songs for a record he’ll find a place that he wants to hang out, and just kind of hole up in that area and try to start writing.”
Britt Daniel once described Australia as being like a combination of Texas and England. I ask if Jim he’s able to explain what he thinks that means. He contemplates for a moment, then says, “Hmmm let’s see. Well, I feel like the Texas part of it is probably the friendliness of the people. Everyone just has a pretty good attitude over here, I feel. Everyone’s friendly, everyone’s pretty cool to hang out with, always willing to grab a pint.” I concur, saying “Always”. He agrees, and says “Always” again, then adds, “And you guys talk a little funny, so maybe that’s the English part.
Since Hot Thoughts came out on Friday, I ask Jim about the first thing is he does when a new Spoon album drops.
He tells me that they feel pretty excited about it. “If you think about it, we finished the record in maybe last October or so? Yeah, decades ago in the music business. We’ve been sitting on this thing and really wanting fans to hear it. We haven’t really been playing it for too many people, because you know, there’s always that fear of leaks nowadays. It’s like keeping it on lockdown, and finally having people hear it is great! I also feel like when you are in the studio, you spend so much time working on these songs and we know it’s great, but, there can be a little bit of doubt in your mind – how people are going to receive it – so there’s anticipation, but when you see how people are excited about the record it makes all the hard times in the studio, all the long hours, worthwhile, because what we’re doing really worked, and people really like it. It validates the time and energy that we put in, and it’s awesome.”
“Everyone’s friendly, everyone’s pretty cool to hang out with, always willing to grab a pint.” – Jim Eno, on Australians
With the new album bringing a marked change in direction for the band’s sound, I ask Jim what his part was that change. “I feel like it’s a natural progression. On this record Alex took a much bigger role. Alex is our keyboard player and he also plays guitar. In previous Spoon records before They Want My Soul, every keyboard part had to be played by Britt, and he’s not really a keyboard player, anything that was beyond his ability never ended up on the record. So, with Alex in the band… he’s an amazing keyboard player but he’s also amazing at creating ideas too. As far as the sound goes, if you go back to They Want My Soul, there’s a song called Inside Out – that was the last song that we recorded on that album. So, you can look at Inside Out as a jumping off point for Hot Thoughts. We all really loved the sound of Inside Out. We loved playing it live, so it happened in our subconscious. We never sat around and talked about this. It was sort of a natural progression from Inside Out to Hot Thoughts. You can sort of pull a thread there.”
Even though some of the tracks on Hot Thoughts seem/are definitely disco, I tell Jim that I love how it’s not bubblegum pop – that it has a darkness to it. Jim agrees.
“I feel like we wanted this record to sound futuristic yet menacing, like a future version of The Talking Heads with an added menacing quality to it.”
I ask whether as a producer, if he knows when a project is done, if there is a distinct moment of completion, or whether he has to be told (read: dragged from the desk). He feels it’s different for every song. “On this record we actually mixed a lot of the songs and then had Dave remix the album after we added a few more parts. So those were cases where we thought we were done, but then, we were not done. And, a lot of times, it’s done when it has to be done, due to a deadline. For us, we had to complete the record and then shop it around, so sometimes for us there isn’t a real hard deadline, and that can be hard too. But then it’s like, endless. But we’re never going to put anything out that we’re not super excited about, so we have to work on it, until we get it.
“We’re never going to put anything out that we’re not super excited about, so we have to work on it, until we get it.”
Typically, I can’t resist asking bands about their cover artwork. It’s just a thing. Jim says that Britt’s friend Christine Messersmith was posting watercolor paintings on Instagram and he thought they were really striking, so he reached out to her to talk about doing the cover. When the band decided that Hot Thoughts was a really good record title, it tied in well with the artwork that they wanted to use, so it all came together pretty well.
We move on to talk about Eno’s recording studio, Public Hi-Fi. I ask if it’s a creative sanctuary for him to take a break from Spoon material. “Yeah, I love working on other people’s records. A lot of times with Spoon, if Britt’s off writing or he’s taking a break, then I will set up recording sessions with other bands. It’s just good for me mentally to get the different space. It’s a really creative avenue for me, being in the studio.”
“I love working on other people’s records. If Britt’s off writing or taking a break, then I will set up recording sessions with other bands. It’s… good for me mentally to get the different space. It’s a really creative avenue for me, being in the studio.”
On the time it took the studio took to grow its own legs, Jim says, “It took a while because I had to get it to a point where people would actually want to work there. When I’m on the road, I have one or two people that work out of there. It’s not super busy. I’d like it to be as busy as possible. It’s just a really fun and awesome place to work.
Asides from some pretty big names recording at Public Hi-Fi, we talk about Australian band The Preatures. Jim co-produced their last album with Jack Moffit. He professes his love for the band and tells me that he hung out in LA with Jack and Izzi (Manfredi), who are mixing their next album with Bob Clearmountain. He then says that he’s going to drink with Tom and Luke (Thomas Champion and Luke Davison from The Preatures) later that night, declaring the day officially “Preatures Day”.
On their latest bio, Spoon are described as one of the “most critically acclaimed acts of the first decade, of the new millennium.” Giggling, I ask Jim how much time he thinks was spent on qualifying and narrowing down that statement. He says, “I’ve no idea, there’s probably a lot of revisions there.” But then he tells me about the metacritic article that consolidated all the reviews for the first decade of the naughties, resulting in the band having a really high score. “Spoon happened to have the best review records according to Metacritic from 2000-2010.” Well, okay.
And on that note, one fine Wednesday “Preatures Day” afternoon, we ended the call.
Spoon are: singer/guitarist Britt Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, bassist Rob Pope and Alex Fischel on keyboards and guitar.
Spoon – Sydney & Melbourne Headline Shows
- Thursday 23rd March – Metro Theatre, Sydney
- Saturday 25th March – Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne
Tickets and details via www.frontiertouring.com/spoon
Spoon – Melbourne In-store
- 6pm, Friday 24th March – Polyester Records, Melbourne
Capacity strictly limited – preorder new album on CD or LP either in person at Fitzroy store or online at polyesterrecords.com to be placed on guest list
Polyester Records, 387 Brunswick St, Fitzroy 3065