"I wasn't really trying to be obtuse [on our early albums]. But I guess I feel more comfortable about writing lyrics or talking about them now."
Spoon's lanky songsmith Britt Daniel is a study in grasping beyond one's reach. Maybe that's part of the reason Spoon's music has been championed by critics and fans-the latter who like good hooks, the former who often demand that new music challenge the current artistic routines.
Daniel doesn't really concern himself with who likes his band or why, and he's certainly not going to be his own publicist if he can help it.
Our interview began as one of those exciting yet awkward affairs. But very much like Spoon's music, Daniel grew slightly less miserly with his words as we progressed, even opening up a little about his childhood and the challenge of writing music that doesn't suck.
"The very first [record] I can remember putting on was the soundtrack to 2001... because that one had just such a dramatic, um...," he says, neglecting to finish his explanation. "Then I remember I always wanted to hear [the Rolling Stones'] "You Can't Always Get What You Want.' I liked that because of the choir-boy singing.
"After that, I remember the Bee Gees being a big deal to me. That was, like, my first favorite band."
Daniel is relatively quiet. He grew up in Temple, Texas, where his father was a doctor. His choice description of his mother is "a good conversationalist." There, he led his trio from the basements of Austin to become the icon of the city's indie-rock scene. This year, things have exploded, with sold-out shows across the country and overseas in support of their new critically fellated album, Gimme Fiction. They put the record out on their long-time label-North Carolina's Merge Records, which is lapping up the recent success of both Spoon and their Canadian roster-mates, Arcade Fire.
More than one of those dyed-in-the-wool indie-rock loyalists must have wondered recently, What's up with all the pop fans at Spoon shows these days?
"I don't think there are a lot of Christina Aguilera fans coming to our shows," Daniel offered amicably. "What is pop, anyway?"
It's a rhetorical question that Gimme Fiction answers with conviction in a sweeping, stark and quirky-gorgeous collection of songs. Opening with the vaguely gothic (meaning literary, not the make-up and Creepers) and smart "The Beast and Dragon, Adored," Daniel and his "... crew/ one that can slay on cue, and sneeze and sniff" do just that. The rest of the songs build from Dadaist meters, layer on burly pop and melodic progressions that unfurl like royal banners.
It's art-pop with mass appeal from a band formerly loved as much for their obtuseness as for their underdog status. Longtime fans can finally look over at the newcomers and offer a smarmy look that says, "I told you so."
Begun in 1994 by Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, Spoon was a sign of the times for an indie-rock scene in Austin that was peaking.
"At the time... there were a bunch of new bands-everybody was starting a new one," the singer recalls. "It seemed like each week there'd be one or two new bands-good, interesting bands-starting in town. And, of course, everybody knew each other or knew somebody in one or more of those bands. Everyone was going to the record stores and there was a new 'zine every month or so, and they were good, too. It was just a blast. Before that, it seems like no one was doing fanzines.
"It was an inspiring place at the time."
A big-label casualty during the great Alt-Rock Majors Signing Orgy of 1994, Daniel and Eno found a way to turn their mainstream failure into a cult. Which, finally, has lead to mainstream success.
The band's two previous records-Kill the Moonlight and Girls Can Tell-are must-haves among the scuffed-Converse-and-heroin-hair crowd. And the O.C.'s inclusion of "The Way We Get By" (an airy, oxygenated satire of stoner culture) has lured no small amount of mainstream teenybop-pop fans as well.
Daniel is learning to live with it. After a decade of wondering if his time in the limelight had passed, it wouldn't kill him to get some credit, would it?
"I have a friend in Germany who says we're not very popular there, not in the way we are here," he says. "But after seeing us play, she said people she never thought would like us were becoming big fans. So, I don't know. No one type of person seems to be the typical Spoon fan.
"And it's really kinda funny how, after we were on the O.C., our shows started attracting lots and lots of young girls. You know, that's our drummer Jim's demographic. The young ladies really love him, so we've got nothing against a bunch of young girls coming out to our shows just because we're on the O.C."
Those young girls will always have something to relate to with Spoon because of the way Daniel approaches the music. He's not out to write the great novella that fits into a pop song-he's after something less dependent on language.
"The Decemberists-who are amazing-are definitely a band for someone who can appreciate great lyrics," he says. "But I listen to the feeling the music gives me first-the audio, or unspoken message, I guess. Then, if the band's got great lyrics... well, you've got the whole package.
"As long as the lyric isn't so bad that it gets in the way, then it's going to be the music that matters the most."Spoon plays with the American Music Club at 'Canes on Nov. 18. Doors open at 8 p.m. $16-$18. 858-488-1780.