When you get to Britt Daniel's level, it's hard to give a single fuck about an inteview. Time after time, its usually the same old questions by the same group of people from the same outlets on repeat. So when you get an interview request, what's the plan? If you're Britt Daniel from Spoon, then you might improvise.
Britt Daniel sourced questions from names like Hamilton Leithauser (Walkmen), Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), Aziz Ansari, Jim Eno (Spoon), Lovefoxx (CSS), Jason Schwartzman and so many others, and even wrote a set of questions for himself while on a handful of Ambien. Covering his process, Spoon, his personal life and much more, the results of his interview with this all-star cast, the origins of the questions of which were not revealed, are below.
Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces, solo artist, former girlfriend): Do you make demos? I mean beyond just getting something down to remember it. Do you try to make them sound good? If so, do you try and use any of those tracks in the final thing?
Britt Daniel: Yeah, I make a lot of demos and I do put a lot of effort into them. Not to make them sound pro, but to make sure that the song is gonna work as a recorded thing. Sometimes they do get really good and then we base the album recording off the demos. Or start with the demos. “Stay Don’t Go” was a demo, basically… with some new vocals and bass on it.
Sean O’Neal (Music & Pop Culture Writer): What's your beef with Heart? They're a good band with some solid songs. "Barracuda" is fucking great. Seriously, what's your deal?
I don’t care for them at all. Maybe it's the voice? I don't know, people always assume I love the Cars too, and I've never been into the Cars. Well, I like some of the Ben Orr songs.
Lovefoxxx (singer of CSS): That song "The Ghost of You Lingers" is a real trip - it sounds like a person's mental noises about longing for a lover that is gone. When I listen to it on headphones, It takes you thru a spacious parade where different areas on your head are suddenly able to hear - so many layers and points of views but yet lots of negative space. Can you tell me about the making and mixing of this song?
Wait… is this one I wrote on ambien? That’s an intense question.
When I was writing it, it was one of those times when I wasn’t trying to write a song, it was an exercise. I'd been trying to come up with a song all day without luck and eventually I got frustrates and wanted to release some energy. So it started off with me just hammering at a keyboard, intentionally chaotic, intentionally dealing with frustration. And I somehow gravitated to chords that to me sounded vaguely like something off the Solaris soundtrack.
I recorded it and I enjoyed the exercise, but then I forgot about it. I came back to it later and felt like there could actually be something there so I put lyrics down. They were originally mostly syllables… stream of conscious, and the words came later.
As for in the studio… when we finished that one I was really proud of the way it turned out. We recorded the piano track maybe 15 times using different pianos and keyboards with the tape running at different speeds. When it was done it felt like one of the most emotional things I’d done.
When I listen to it I think of recording it in 2006 when Nicole and I had just broken up.
I remember in the mix Mike McCarthy did a lot of tricks with flying faders. Making them jump in unnatural ways.
Britt after writing his questions on Ambien
Eleanor Friedberger: Do you ever write lyrics before music, or does the music always come first? Which songs have started with lyrics?
I usually work on lyrics and music separately and then put them together. Don’t Make Me A Target, Written In Reverse, some of Black Like Me, Something To Look Forward To. All those started with lyrics. Not really any of the new songs, but I had the title for Rent I Pay for years before I wrote the song.
Sabrina Ellis (singer of Sweet Spirit and A Giant Dog): If you could start your music career over, how would you begin and what would you do differently?
It might have been handy to have had a band name that started with “The” in the early 2000s.
Britt Daniel on Ambien: If you could relive any calendar year what would it be and why?
These are stupid questions. I remember when I got to the end of 5th grade, I made a prayer that when I died the first thing that would happen is that I would relive 5th grade.
Bradford Cox (singer for Deerhunter): What is the most important thing a girl can do to maintain character in today's morally-challenged society?
To know herself, like herself and to stick to it.
Britt Daniel on Ambien: How often do you get angry?
All the time but I usually keep cool.
Stephen Patterson (singer, White Rabbits): Is there a method to how you write lyrics?
The best way is when I get in a mood and write down a lot of words but not with the intention of it definitely becoming a song. Took me a long time to figure that out.
Alex Fischel (keys/ gtrs, Spoon): What is one of your least favorite words?
Gerard Cosloy (founder, Matador Records): I’ve got a $5 bet with someone concerning the following: When you’re eating at Chipotle and your own music comes on, my friend claims that you ask the other diners to pipe down until the song’s over. I think that sounds pretty fucking insane. Instead, I believe you politely have a word with whoever’s in charge about getting a discount of some sort.
To tell you the truth I’ve never heard my music in a Chipotle. What a premise though.
Sean O'Neal: If you had to watch one movie over and over for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? And who's making you watch one movie over and over for the rest of your life? What kind of bizarre, movie-based penal system did you land yourself in this time?
That’s good… Chinatown.
Maybe it should be 2001… there are a lot of details along the way and it's long. It works as a mood piece so for that reason maybe it'd stand up to more viewings. It's funny and then very not funny, you know? It's got great music, it's dark and it's beautiful. Then it's hopeful… you know -- it's got everything.
Jim Eno (drummer, Spoon): When Spoon would do a van tour, who would do the lion's share of the driving?
Me of course. Jim you know it's true.
Ok. Jim is right…. I would always say I did the lion share of the driving when in fact I pretty much did whatever I could to get out of driving.
Britt Daniel on Ambien: Would you hug George W. Bush if you met him?
Fuck no! Who asked this question??
Britt Daniel on Ambien: What is the food you eat when you are messed up at the end of the night?
Again why is this important but there are a lot of them. Vanilla ice cream with chocolate is pretty good.
Janet Weiss (drummer, Sleater Kinney): How do you know when a song you are writing is finished?
I get asked this all the time, it's really just about when you can feel great about it on playback.
Britt Daniel on Ambien: Who is your favorite record reviewer?
Heather Phares, she writes for All Music…. she seems to pretty much always get it right.
Hamilton Leithauser (singer – the Walkmen, solo artist): I'll just take a yes/no here...after all these years, do you have a favorite member of Spoon?
Brian Burton (Danger Mouse): What do you do when you don’t want to go on?
I – I always want to go on. I can think of one time in 2002 when I didn’t want to be on tour. Sometimes I hate the part where I have to leave home, but pretty much I love being on tour. But to answer the question, sleep helps.
Late night munchies for Britt
Aziz Ansari (comedian): I can't find my Vitamix blender. Did you steal it? I think you stole it.
I might have stolen it… if this is Rob, I might have stolen it.
Sean Dineen: How many pairs of white pants do you actually own?
Ummm… 2. I got 2 white pairs of pants. White pants are hard to get right… you really notice the fit with white pants
Stephen Patterson: Has touring caused you to be more or less attracted to chain restaurants?
Touring has not affected it whatsoever… Occasionally they're great! I don’t have a problem with the concept. Just because a business has had success and can branch out does that mean it's bad?
Britt Daniel on Ambien: Do you feel any way out of the ordinary?
In general do I feel out of the ordinary? As a human being? It’s hard to imagine being someone else.
Britt Daniel on Ambien: How many records do you make before you just are what you are?
With us, it was two…. we made Telephono first and then with the record that came after, the Soft Effects EP, we became what we are. It’s still one of my favorite records we’ve made.
Alex: On a scale of one to ten how would you rate your last sexual encounter?
It was a 9.
Sean Dineen: Best taco in Texas?
I’m really coming around to Torchy’s but I’m gonna have to stick with Polvos.
Janet Weiss: Does personal suffering make a musician better?
I’m pretty sure it can at times.
Sabrina Ellis: When you write a song about someone, do you let them know?
No I don't think I’ve ever told someone that …. I’ve told other people. Like, 10:20 am is about my grandfather and my dad and my aunt really liked knowing that. But of course he wasn't with us when I wrote it.
Eleanor Friedberger: Do you ever write songs from your dreams?
I feel like I have, yea… There is a song called “Monica.” A song I’ve had for 6 years. She’s a made up person… and I remember I told my girlfriend at the time and she was PISSED I wrote a song that had another girl's name in it. Which was absurd.
Jason Schwartzman (Actor): If you could travel back in time and hand yourself (from then) the latest Spoon record, how do you think you (from the then) would have react to the new songs? Ideally, the 2015 you is in some sort of disguise so that its not a dead give away that you are each other and vice versa.
The old me would have thought who’s this guy that sings like me and who the fuck is the dude that just handed me this genius album.
Jason Schwartzman: Have you ever written a song and then thrown it away because you weren't into it, only to revisit it down the line and have it be one of your favorites?
Yeah, but if I wasn’t into it at one point the song usually needs a new approach or angle. But it happens. New York Kiss was started during Gimme Fiction and then put away for years. Target was also started during Gimme Fiction but we couldn't figure out how to make it work. I knew something was there but it wasn't coming together. Then I listened again a year or so later and it was clear how to make it work.
Kathie (Britt’s Mom): What was your first complete song? Did you record it?
There were 3 or 4 original songs that my first band The Zygotes did, they must have been the first. We recorded them in the summer after I graduated high school in a real studio that had a big 24-track machine and a console and everything, but we were recording our stuff on cassette four-track. It was Little Joe y La Familia's studio, he's from Temple. At first I was disappointed we weren't using the big gear but it was the first time I’d seen a four-track and I was blown away.
Kathie: Do you ever get envious of another song/band? Do you ever hear a new song that drives you nuts because it’s so good?
All the time. And all the time. “Easy Easy” by King Krule was one of the most recent ones. King Kunta did that too. “Love Is To Die” by Warpaint.
Jason Schwartzman: Do you write mostly on piano or guitar? Or neither?
Guitar lately. But good and different sorts of stuff comes out on keyboards, I ought to do that more often. Around Kill The Moonlight I was writing on piano a lot, and those were some good songs. The past few years I was on this kick where I’d record a pretty full music track and then try and sing on top of it. you know, no ideas for vocals as I was making the music. And lotsa times the music was good, but I don’t believe in that way so much right now. It’s harder for me to make a connection and lose myself the way I can if I’m doing something physical , like strumming or hammering on keys. I’ve gotta find that hoodoo trance, and the physical aspect somehow gets me there faster.
Jason Schwartzman: Are there any bands whose new record you will buy the day it comes out without even hearing a single note of music?
I used to do that with Prince for one. Every spring he’d put out a new album and I’d buy it that day. But then Lovesexy put an end to that.
If The La's put out a record I’d buy that no questions asked.
Jason Schwartzman: Do you eat before or after shows?
3 hours before.
Laura (Friend): What is your favorite Spoon record?
Right now it’s Girls Can Tell.
Laura: What is the first Beatles song that meant something to you?
“If I Fell.” That grabbed me, made me feel something real fast.
Laura: Do you have something to do tomorrow?
(exasperated sigh) Yessssss Laura… I have to create.