Spoon’s Britt Daniel explains why they’re releasing a greatest hits album

Britt Daniel, the Austin indie veterans’ frontman, surveys his band’s history ahead of Everything Hits at Once, their quarter-century-spanning retrospective.

June 25, 2019
Spoon’s Britt Daniel explains why they’re releasing a greatest hits album Photo: Oliver Halfin via Matador Records  

Why are Spoon putting out a greatest hits album? It's a valid question, and not one that's necessarily raising an eyebrow at the band's overall pedigree. The Austin indie veterans arguably possess one of the most astoundingly consistent discographies in the last 20 years of rock music, a nearly unstoppable run of albums full of glimmering deep cuts and huge, era-defining singles. But greatest hits albums are also explicitly a thing of the past — a relic from an era in which artists' entire catalogs weren't immediately available with the simple opening of an app, a time in which shelling out $15 for an all-killer-no-filler collection of a band's best work seemed like a worthwhile investment.

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And yet, we have Everything Hits at Once — a collection of highlights from Spoon's output dating back from 2001's Girls Can Tell to their most recent album, 2017's excellent Hot Thoughts, along with one new song, "No Bullets Spent," that's been partially reconstituted from the loosie "Dracula's Cigarette" that was found on the rarities EP Get Nice! from 2007. On the surface, the mere strength of the songs collected on Everything Hits at Once justifies its existence; it's impossible not to run through this compilation without being convinced of Spoon's astounding talent for constructing nervy, whip-smart guitar music.

Wouldn't it have been easier — and, on Spoon's current label Matador's part, more cost-effective — to just make a Spotify playlist? When I pose this line of questioning to Spoon frontman Britt Daniel — a generally affable conversationalist whose method of conversation can nonetheless be as minimalistic as his band's arrangements — during a press day at the Matador offices, he looks a little flummoxed, if not slightly irked.

But he goes on to explain that the idea of Everything Hits at Once had been in discussion since 2005's Gimme Fiction, and that its potential utility is built to last. "Greatest hits records can be an album to themselves," he states, citing the Cure's Standing on a Beach as a sterling example of the form. “That was the first Cure album I ever got. The first New Order record I had was Substance. I don't know, call me old-fashioned. I like the concept of greatest hits records — I've had good experiences with them, and we're making a big deal out of this one."

Read on for our career-spanning conversation about the highs and lows of everything Spoon — including that time that Daniel almost produced a Deerhunter album.

Your discography has a lot of greatest hits contenders. Was it hard paring the songs down to a single release?
My first idea was to do a much bigger one — it was hard for me to narrow 'em down, for one thing and I wanted to do some rarities and B-sides. It was pointed out to me that that approach would be better for people that already know the band, so why not make a single disc that's geared towards people that maybe know a song or two. We struggled to fit all 13 songs on there, which is a lot for a disc. It was about picking the cream of the crop, really.

Why isn't there anything on this album that predates Girls Can Tell?
Those records were definitely not our most popular — they were very unsuccessful [Laughs]. That would happen on a different type of compilation

What's your relationship with nostalgia in general?
We've never done one of those tours around one album — I've never had a desire to and specifically have not wanted to. When you do that, you're looking backwards, and we've always been keen to not be that band that puts out some bad album just so they have an excuse to go tour. We've always wanted to keep adding to the greatest stuff we've done. I got no problem with nostalgia — I just don't feel like indulging it when it comes to my own career.

Spoon's existed for 26 years now.
It's a good way to spend the time, you know? It's what I always wanted to do.

What do you remember about the days when the band was on Elektra?
There weren't a lot of those days — it was pretty short-lived. I remember that once we once the record came out we couldn't reach our A&R guy anymore — never never saw him again. I remember touring. We'd get two nice hotel rooms, which was a big change from where we'd been before. We were losing money on those tours, but Elektra was giving us some some tour support. I remember staying at a lot of Doubletrees and feeling like we were high rollers.

You guys were on a major again for They Want My Soul. Was that a different experience?
I thought they did a good job. I never thought of Loma Vista as a major label because it's run by maybe three or four people in an office behind someone's house in Los Angeles — it's a very nice house — but it's hard to tell these days, everything's so in-between.

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You guys took a long time with that record, and then Hot Thoughts came pretty soon after. Are you back in the groove again with releasing albums at a steadier clip?
I don't know. I mean, I have some songs, we started recording a few to see which would work to close out this compilation. I always wanna put out a record sooner than later.

Were there any times over the band's career where you guys thought about calling it quits?
Yeah, definitely before Girls Can Tell and after the Elektra period. All the records were difficult to make in their own way, but with that one we didn't know if anyone would ever put it out. We made an early version of it and no one was interested. I didn't know what I was going to do instead — I was just doing temp jobs, and it didn't look good. But Girls Can Tell came out, it did not-bad and the next one came out and it did pretty good, and it just kept getting better.

Arguably your career kept rising throughout the 2000s. That's pretty rare.
I've seen bands start out at the top and they don't necessarily appreciate where they're at. The fact that we had toured so long losing money, and all of the other strife we were going through, for it to have turned around... every step along the way, we were like, "Wow, we're selling out Bowery Ballroom, that's a big deal." The next time, it was, "We sold out Roseland Ballroom, that's a big
deal." Then, "We sold out Radio City Music Hall, that's a big deal." Each time, it was exciting for us.

Spoon were also one of the most-synced artists in indie rock throughout the 2000s. Were there any opportunities that you turned down?
We were editing the video for “I Turn My Camera On” in L.A., and then I hear “Small Stakes” down the hall. I said, "That's my song," so I went down there and poked my head in. The door was open, and somebody was cutting a Hummer commercial to it. I was like, "What's going on here?" They did eventually go through the proper channels and try to license it, and I was just like, "No."

There was a period of time in the late 2000s and early 2010s in which a lot of new indie rock bands sounded a lot like Spoon.
People would tell me this band or that band sounded like Spoon, and I'd listen to them and I'd go, "Wait, that's what we sound like? I don't get it." I wasn't angry at anyone for ripping off our sound — I didn't really notice it. There had been several commercials that ripped off "I Turn My Camera On," and we got a settlement because it was just so obvious. I've heard people rip off "The Way We Get By." But I've never heard a band and thought, "That's our sound."

What's your perspective on how indie rock has changed over the last 20 years?
I remember the very first time I heard that term — I'd been pen pals with this guy from Boston who was going to put one of our songs on a compilation he was doing. We wrote back and forth a few times, he wrote me this thing where one of the questions was, "Do you like indie rock?" I was so confused by what that meant. Do I like rock music that's on independent labels? Sure, I like some of 'em. Now, when we hear that term, we know what people are talking about, but it's just such a confusing term because it's about commerce — but they're using it to describe a genre which often doesn't have anything to do with commerce. I don't know — I mean, indie seems like it's anything any band that has guitars that's less popular than Maroon 5.

Well, there are bands that sound like Maroon 5 that are called indie now.
Yeah, because they're not as popular as Maroon 5. Maybe we're talking about rock 'n' roll culture — bands starting in garages with people playing instruments, building their way up. I still like to see that happen, but it doesn't seem like it's happening as often as it used to.

Why do you think that is?
The natural flow of cultural tastes. Right now theres a reaction against it, maybe. I don't know how long it'll last. But there seems to be a market for it still though.

Spoon were ranked on Metacritic as the top overall artist of the 2000s.
We had a good streak. If Transference came out in that decade, we wouldn't have won that.

Why do you think Transference wasn't as well-received as your other albums?
The reviews weren't quite as good — they weren't bad reviews, but it wasn't as universally loved by critics and it didn't sell. I think we had this fantasy that we'd continue to sell as many records as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but it wasn't that kind of record. We wanted to make an ugly record that was based on first takes and demos, and that was where we were at. It's its own thing.

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You took four years to put out the next Spoon record.
I needed a break. I went and did Divine Fits, and we also weren't getting along super well at the end of the Transference tour. We needed to take a break from each other, and we came back and were better than ever.

How important is criticism to you in general?
I've learned to pay less and less attention. At some point I realized that I could read 10 reviews, nine of them glowing and one of them shit-talking with a few bad comments in it, and I only remember the negatives. I don't think it's healthy for my art to read either type of review. That fucks with your art. You really need to be in this place where you're doing it for yourself.

Do you have any regrets?
[Long pause] I wish I would've produced Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest — that record was so good. Bradford Cox asked me to make that record with him, but something happened with my manager at the time where he asked for tons of money and then it didn't happen. I found out that he did that later. But that record turned out so good, I don't know if I could've made it any better.

How have you changed as a songwriter over the years?
I've learned to put more into it. When I first started writing songs, I'd come up with a song as fast as possible so I could play it at the rehearsal, so that we'd have something to play at the hole in the wall on Thursday night. That's how our first album came about. Who's gonna know other than these 60 people we're playing in front of?

How do you think you've changed as a person?
I don't think I've changed much. I didn't have a lot of empathy when I was in high school, but I have it now.

What have you learned about yourself from working as part of a group for this long
Anybody's idea can be great, and you shouldn't bring your ego to that process. That was hard for me to get right at the beginning. It would make me nervous that somebody was coming up with a part — what if it's gonna suck, and how am I gonna deal with telling them that it sucks? That was very early on, basic relationship issues.

Two different politicians running for President have said they're Spoon fans. Does stuff like that ever stop being surreal?
No — the Mayor Pete one was particularly surreal, it blew my mind. Mac from Superchunk sent me that for the first time, he was like, "I'm sure you've seen this but I have to make sure," and I was like, "No, I haven't, wow." Then my inbox just started flooding and phone calls started coming in. It was cool. I get a kick out of it.

Spoon’s Britt Daniel explains why they’re releasing a greatest hits album