Spoon’s Britt Daniel Discusses ACL, Adrian Sherwood and their new release, Lucifer On The Moon
By Jeff McCord
Spoon wrapped up touring behind their new album, Lucifer On The Sofa, with a rousing finale.
“Six Austin shows,” says Britt Daniel. I caught Britt during some rare downtime, and he recalled the recent blitz centered around their two ACL Fest appearances. [See his backstage ACL Fest interview here.] “We also played New Orleans and Tulsa and Fort Worth. So was it was nuts.”
It’s been many long months and successful months on the road for Spoon, with one exception. While in New York this spring, literally in the car on the way to tape an episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the show’s staff called the band to inform them of their positive COVID tests, forcing them to turn around and quarantine at the hotel. They had to cancel a handful of upcoming shows. Such are the times.
Among their recent blitz, I caught their latest Austin City Limits taping, where the band was in top form in front of a rapturous crowd. After all this time [this was their fifth ACL TV taping], devoid of their usual stage lighting and with cameras in their faces, I wondered: Does Britt find it stressful?
“Doesn’t bother me. Yeah, it felt pretty similar to… you know, that was the third time we played there [ACL Moody] in a week and a half. It’s a slightly different schedule. It was a weird one because there were so many songs from our normal set we couldn’t play. We were playing new songs with the horns we hadn’t played. But yeah, the more you can think of it as a normal show, the better.”
Because the band has been on Austin City Limits so many times before, with those appearances compiled in a recent ‘Best of Spoon’ episode, the band didn’t want to repeat songs previously aired. As a result, the audience was treated to some rarities, including beloved relics like 1998’s “Utilitarian” and “Metal Detektor”.
But with ACL in the rearview, now comes a bit of a slowdown. “We’ve got a few shows in December and we have one show in November. You know, I imagine we’ll do some shows next year, but we don’t have anything on the books yet.”
What they do have on the books, though, is something highly unusual. On November 4th, Spoon will release Lucifer on the Moon, a track-by-track “reconstruction” of their entire 2022 Lucifer album, created by English producer Adrian Sherwood.
Sherwood is a rule-breaker when it comes to making music. His mixes and re-treatments sound like no other. “The one thing I learned early on was you got to have your own sound,” Sherwood told Dubspot Festival goers in 2012. Specializing in reggae and dub music (but by no means sticking to only that genre), Sherwood’s On-U Sound label, which he launched in 1979, presented reggae as if it was mixed by aliens. Bands like African Head Charge and Dub Syndicate were presented in unpredictable fashion; mixes could be jarring; things jumped out at you, while deep bass and subsonic pulses put unprepared speakers through the paces. Sherwood has often told the press he believes himself to be tone-deaf, but I’ve never really bought that. His work is simply too creative and wired in; he clearly has a deep connection to the music.
Yet Sherwood remains a surprising choice for a veteran rock band like Spoon.
The first hint Spoon had something new planned for their fans came late last year, when, prior to Lucifer on the Sofa’s February release, Spoon dropped the single “Wild.” Included was a chopped-up remix by Barbados-born reggae producer and guitarist Dennis Bovell, which mined the song’s deep grooves while interjecting echo-laden scraps of Daniel’s vocals. Everyone loved it but, at the time, there was no real expectation it was anything more than a one-off.
“As soon as you finish a record,” Britt explains, “the label and management and whoever else want bonus material, right? And that could be a B-side. It could be an exclusive track or mix or something, or just a full-on remix. And so we end up doing remixes, a bit. But sometimes they don’t… Sometimes they get out of your hands or someone doesn’t approach it exactly the way you would have thought they were going to. And I was into trying to find some people to work on remixes that would approach it from a less computer-y standpoint, more of a musical analog standpoint. And Dennis and Adrian were at the top of the list.”
Daniel was already a fan of Sherwood’s work. “I was definitely familiar with his stuff and I’ve since gone back and realized, oh yeah, he mixed that and he mixed that, you know, songs that I bought back in the eighties and didn’t realize who was behind the decks. Also Echo Dek was a big one. You know, the Primal Scream record he did [a dub remix of their 1997 album Vanishing Point].”
I asked Britt if he sat alongside Adrian while he made his magic.
“No, never. We’ve spoken on the phone many, many times and there was a lot of back and forth over email and Zoom. But I still haven’t met him! I can’t wait to get to, because I really like the guy.”
So was the intention always for Sherwood to re-do the entire album?
“No! Not at all. We just started off with a couple of mixes, just for the bonus material that we had a need for. We thought we would release it along with singles as B-sides or, there’s always some need for this or that. But after he did the first couple, I was just so blown away. The first two he did were ‘The Devil and Mister Jones’ and ‘Astral Jacket.’ I gave him some general guidelines and he sent us those two mixes. I just said add anything you want, the things that are accomplishable on tape, and don’t do things that wouldn’t be accomplished on tape, and make it as – not modern – as possible. We sent him the whole album. He picked those two tracks, said he thought he had a way in with these. And when I got them back, I immediately sent them to my band and manager and the label and just said, ‘Can you believe this? This is amazing!’”
“But yeah, it was just two songs. And then eventually we said, ‘Well, let’s do a couple more. Do you think you could find a way in with these two?’”
“And then I didn’t hear from him for a while. I think maybe a couple of months went by, and he popped back up. And he says (laughing), ‘By the way, I’ve just mixed the rest of the songs from your record. I just didn’t want to let the opportunity to do every single one of them go by.’ And then we had an album, which we were not expecting. And I said, let’s not piecemeal these over the year. Let’s put them all out at one time and make it a record.”
The result, Lucifer On The Moon, which releases on vinyl and digitally November 4th, careens through Lucifer on the Sofa’s ten tracks on an aural adventure. Diehard Spoon fans are going to love these trippy, dubbed-up new versions, full of musical additions as well as subtractions. Yet others may miss the point. Sherwood’s recreations adhere more to the originals at times, others veer off track, yet Britt’s vocals are uniformly reduced to snippets at best. Yet he clearly loves this accidental new entry to the discography.
Asked for favorites, Britt doesn’t hold back.
“I love ‘The Devil & Mister Jones’, ‘Lucifer on the Sofa’ is another really good one. ‘Astral Jacket’. It’s really good. I could keep going on. ‘My Babe’’s definitely one of my favorites. I love the flute and the cellos that he added. You know, it’s just such a pleasure working with someone who would come up with ideas and performances that I or the band would never have come up with on our own.”