“It almost feels like ‘indie’ means ‘real,'” muses Britt Daniel — who, when he isn’t waxing philosophical to reporters, fronts fuzz-rock band Spoon.
In 2003, Daniel told Pitchfork that the catchall term doesn’t always fit. “Everyone has their definition of indie rock and by some definitions, what we do is indie rock,” he said. “I always thought of indie rock as being rock music by bands that were on independent labels, and that’s a great thing. But by definition, it’s not really a genre, it’s just a term of the marketplace.”
By the time he talked to Xpress, the songwriter/producer had given the argument a couple years more thought. “I’ve seen a lot of records get made that aren’t in the indie world,” he says now. “It’s like when a movie is made and the different possible endings are tested on an audience — the [mass-market record industry] gets that kind of feel.”
After all, he speculates, who but the artist making the record is more qualified to decide how it should sound? Control groups be damned — Spoon wants to record in a studio, not a laboratory.
Truth in labeling
Formed a decade ago in Austin, Texas, Spoon hails from an artistically fertile locale. But the band — a collaboration between guitarist Daniel and drummer Jim Eno — has fought for every hard-won success. Their trajectory — like so many groups of their ilk — is a bittersweet climb from obscurity to moderate fan support (and isolated critical approval) to fleeting corporate attention (Spoon’s 1998 album Series of Sneaks was released on Elektra) to the smaller wallet but bigger creative support of a lesser known label (their latest effort, 2005’s Gimme Fiction, is their third on Merge out of Chapel Hill).
In fact, Spoon’s career — more meandering than skyrocketing — is in some ways reminiscent of another band of rockers close to the heart of Asheville audiences: the Archers of Loaf. There’s the rise to insulated fan-fueled fame, the major-label flirtation (Archers were courted by Madonna’s Maverick, but opted out), and the eventual positive press from mainstream media.
It was during the Archers’ mid-’90s peak that the Chapel Hill-based group went on tour with a lesser known supporting band from Austin. You guessed it.
“I remember Eric Johnson being the king of Gallaga,” Daniel recalls. “We played a lot of [clubs] that had that game. I thought I was good at Gallaga, but he could turn the machine over.”
No tales of debauchery, back-stabbing or rock-star antics — Daniel isn’t the type to gossip. “They were just, you know, a solid group.”
Not rewriting rock
The Archers of Loaf — all of whom came from Asheville — called it quits in 1998, seven years after they met in college and, along with groups like Superchunk and Polvo, propelled the Chapel Hill music scene onto the map. But, as with other city-centric scenes (Seattle, Athens), that renaissance in alt-music history dried up.
And here’s where Spoon departs from the path. “Any band should keep going as long as they can keep making very fine records,” is Daniel’s take. Which is why, a decade later, he’s still at it.
Austin has given rise to big names like Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Nanci Griffith and Townes Van Zandt, as well as edgier acts like Poi Dog Pondering and the Bad Livers. In a recent interview with No Depression, though, Austin native Charlie Sexton revealed that his hometown’s roots-heavy scene turned on him when he morphed from blues prodigy to ’80s pop idol.
But Daniel isn’t feeling the same pressure. “We’ve never been expected to sound like an Austin band — except maybe by an audience who’ve never heard us before and only know we’re from Austin.”
On Gimme Fiction, Spoon doesn’t even feel compelled to sound like Spoon all the time. “I Turn My Camera On” is a sexy, funky, falsetto-driven number sure to win neophytes. Various reviewers have pegged the song “throwaway disco” or, more interestingly, “refracted soul” — but no listener can avoid mentioning the danceable number.
“It’s not necessarily representative of what the album is about,” Daniel points out. “But it’s one of the best songs I came up with.
“I never feel like I’m trying to create something new in terms of the long history of rock ‘n’ roll,” he adds. “I don’t think I’m a revolutionary — I just want to try something that’s new to me.”
Spoon plays a 9 p.m. show at the Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.) on Wednesday, Nov. 9. American Music Club opens. Tickets are $18 ($16/advance). 225-5851.