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Spoon's Britt Daniel talks latest album 'Hot Thoughts' and the band's streaming success

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Musician Britt Daniel of Spoon performs at SXSW.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SXSW
Musician Britt Daniel of Spoon performs at SXSW.

The singer/songwriter says streaming changed the economics of music for the worse, but the band's success always went up while the music biz was going down.

Britt Daniel, frontman and songwriter for the band Spoon, formed the group along with drummer Jim Eno nearly a quarter-century ago. But their new album "Hot Thoughts" is making headlines as the group's most experimental release to date. 

After nine albums, major label success and more than 20 years of touring the world, Spoon is still evolving. With a return to Matador Records, the label that helped invent Spoon's signature alt-pop sound, "Hot Thoughts" deals with freedom of expression. Sex, politics and free-jazz are all driving the record.

No one is saying the group's musical marriage has always been happy. According to Daniel, after getting dropped by Elektra Records, "It might have made a lot more sense to start over — start over with new people, or with a new band name."

But he says not being smart about it and sticking with their vision built their success. Even with the rise of streaming services and free access to records, the band continued to build its fan base with energetic live shows. 

Daniel joined John Horn on the phone from his hometown of Austin, Texas.

Interview highlights:

On musicians pushing themselves artistically through their careers:

If a band is going to exist for a while, or an artist is going to put out record after record after record. what I want to see as a listener is that they're throwing me a left turn every now and then — that they are trying something new, that they are not resting on what they know. When we came up with a song like "Us" for this record, which is a mostly instrumental piece, mostly based on saxophones ... that was something like we'd never done before. When I saw that it could be something we could turn into a song, I jumped at it. I wasn't sure we'd be able to make it into a song, but I think we did.

On the deaths of iconic musicians in 2016, while writing the album:

It was huge for me, personally, when Bowie died. That was right before we started recording; I was in the thick of writing. Then when Prince died, I was going to the studio right when I found out he passed away. You go and you listen to a lot of that artist, just to dive right back in. All those moments that you had previously, as you were growing up or whatever, when you recognized the genius of [a particular] album or song.  It all kind of comes back fresh at that point.

On including the political song "Tear It Down," without knowing the outcome of the 2016 election:

Let them build a wall around us
I don't care I'm gonna tear it down
It's just bricks and ill intentions
They don't stand a chance
I'll tear it down

It was before the primaries were over; it was before Donald Trump was even the Republican candidate. The lyric came about, first of all, because it rhymed. Once it rhymed and we had the lyrics, we thought [it]  could be perceived as really topical ... My concern, though, was that by the time the record came out, Donald Trump would be a long, forgotten stain on history and that [the song] would seem outdated — sort of like a goof. Like, This was a concern but now it's not. But, unfortunately, it is still a concern.

On the rise of streaming services and free access to music:

The way it changed the economics is not positive for bands or recording artists. At the same time, our success always went up as the music biz was going down. There's something to it — the fact that people can more easily find music that they want to hear. When we started out, if you didn't have a video on MTV, or you weren't on a major label, or somehow you weren't played on big radio — [success] just wasn't gonna happen. It would happen in a rare instance. In the 2000s, that's when people could start searching out the music they wanted to hear. We always benefitted from that.

Gigging is still profitable. I think that's why you see records taking longer and longer to make, because people are spending their time touring ... Touring is the most immediately fun; I love it. But the records are the most important thing.

Spoon performs Aug. 6 at the Hollywood Bowl.

To hear the full interview, click the blue bar above.

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