Britt Daniel flew to Australia before the rest of Texan art-rockers Spoon arrived to kick off their 2015 national tour, which included a Perth Festival date.
The frontman reveals he rented a little place in Melbourne for three weeks, soaking up the vibes of the birthplace of favourite bands, such as AC/DC and Eddy Current Suppression Ring, as he got started on what would become Spoon’s ninth album, Hot Thoughts.
“I had a lovely time while I was there,” Daniel says from his home in Austin, Texas. “I was alone a lot, so I’m sure the feel of the city got into the nooks and crannies of those songs in some way.
“During those three weeks, I started a bunch of songs. I didn’t finish them but I got a lot of things started.”
Spoon spent the next 12 months turning Daniel’s sketches into the dark, sleazy, hypnotic and swaggering songs found on the brilliant Hot Thoughts.
While the frontman wrote on acoustic guitar out of convenience, he says he “didn’t want there to be acoustic guitar songs (on the album), I wanted it to sound more like the future or something”.
There’s not a lot of acoustic guitar on Hot Thoughts, but there is saxophone on instrumental closer Us plus steel drum and vibraphone on the subtly nasty Pink Up.
While the new album is typically experimental, the songs sound vibrant, spacious, sharp and loud. Daniel says that while they may push the envelope stylistically, they finally wanted an album that could compete with commercial radio fodder.
Spoon enlisted indie rock producer David Fridmann (the Flaming Lips, MGMT, Sleater-Kinney), who co-produced their previous album, 2014’s They Want My Soul, to help “us get over the fear of making a big record”.
“He’s a fun person to work with, great human being and brings ideas and pushes things to be different, weird and ugly,” the singer/guitarist says. “I like that about him.
“He brings an outsider’s perspective — that’s a big chunk of it — and he brings a lot of experience.
“But he also brings the technical skills. He has a way of making things loud and impressive in a way that we might have shied away from before.”
Hot Thoughts continues the steady evolution and upward trajectory of Spoon, which released debut album Telephono in 1996, broke through with 2001’s Girls Can Tell and scored their first US Top 10 with 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.
The band hit their first speed hump with 2010 outing Transference, which Daniel readily admits didn’t do too well.
Shortly thereafter, he stepped away from Spoon to form side project Divine Fits with Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs) and record the stunning (and perhaps one-off) 2012 album, A Thing Called Divine Fits.
Daniel says that the last few months of touring Transference with Spoon were “not a lot of fun”.
“Playing with Divine Fits, I realised I had to be in a situation where enjoyment and enjoying being on stage and being around each other is possible.”
In addition to a newly rediscovered focus on fun, Spoon recruited keyboardist/ guitarist Alex Fischel from Divine Fits.
In a shift in band dynamic that has led to the departure of Eric Harvey after 13 years, Fischel wrote some of the songs on the new album with Daniel.
Spoon’s first release on the Matador label since Telephono, Hot Thoughts features Tear It Down — a song which Daniel insists was not about Trump’s wall, but he’ll wear the reference.
“The chorus came about purely as a rhyme, as lyrics sometimes do,” he says.
“Then once it was there, I was like ‘This is applicable, and this is how I feel’. I didn’t intend it, but maybe this is a song about that.
“I wrote that back in February of last year, so at that time he hadn’t even won the nomination. I thought ‘Surely, by the time this record comes out, he will be forgotten, just a very, very bad memory’.
“But that’s not the case, unfortunately, it’s all too relevant.”
Elsewhere, Hot Thoughts carries echoes of sleazy Some Girls-era Rolling Stones, while late album track Shotgun almost threatens to turn into Kiss’ I Was Made for Lovin’ You.
Again, while he says he’s more a fan of the Stones’ Tattoo You, Daniel is happy with the comparisons.
“I’ve always like singers that have got some swagger,” he says, “whether it’s John Lennon or Mick Jagger or Nick Cave or Jack White.
“It’s something I find too lacking these days. I like a singer who’s got some personality and some conviction.”
Spoon play two east-coast shows next week, which Daniel hopes will set the band up for a more extensive national tour.
He says the short visit will be the first time he hasn’t played in Perth during a trip Down Under.
“I did hear that my favourite bar in Perth closed recently,” says Daniel, referring to 60s-style supper club Deville’s Pad, which is now live music venue Badlands Bar. “It’s a shame.”
Hot Thoughts is out March 17.