Britt Daniel is one busy man. On the heels of the oodles of critical acclaim he received Spoon’s 2005 effort, Gimme Fiction, he’s in the midst of recording the band’s upcoming album while also helping to score Will Ferrell’s new movie, “Stranger Than Fiction.” Daniel found time to talk to Bullz-Eye about songwriting, his difficulties of growing up and how even the Iraq war can be inspiring…musically, that is.
Bullz-Eye: How is writing a score different than writing a song? Were there any surprising challenges?
Britt Daniel: To me, it was easier. It was a little bit more liberating. Instead of it being this personal thing that’s only for me, a totally new piece of art that comes from nothing, it was sort of looking at what had already been done in the movie and then trying to make some music that complemented it. And not having to deal with words – it just made things easier. I’m not saying it was easy, but it was just like, “Here’s what we’re supposed to do, what’s the mood that we’re supposed to convey?” and then sort of go off in that direction.
BE: So songwriting is more open-ended and a little more difficult?
BD: Yeah, exactly.
BE: You collaborated with Brian Reitzell on the score. How did that come about? What was your method?
BD: It came about because he invited me and asked me to do it and I told him I didn’t really know how to do it, but I’ll come and see if we can do anything together. Basically, we would just watch the movie – the edit to that date – and then he would point out which scenes needed music. We would either try to come up with something on the spot or else I’d bring in a piece of music that I had before, but that I hadn’t had a use for, then we would try to mold that to work for that scene.
BE: How would you describe the three instrumental pieces on the soundtrack?
BD: They’re very different. “Flours” is kind of quiet/romantic. “Writer’s Block” was pretty desolate and moody, and then “Auditor” is just goofy.
BE: I thought (“Auditor”) had a very quirky sound to it.
BD: Not my favorite, but we just came up with a bunch of different ideas and that was one that we threw down. It kind of got out of our hands, because once the movie people heard it they loved it and they wanted that to be in the movie.
BE: You also contributed a new Spoon song, “The Book I Write.” Was it written specifically for the movie, or was it lying around?
BD: Sort of a sketch of it was lying around. We decided that we should have a new Spoon song in there and so then I played Brian some of the sketches of some of the songs that I had been working on. He liked the mood of that one best, but we sort of discussed for a while – “Well, it says ‘The Book I Write’ in there – is that too literal or is that going to be goofy?” – but overall the feel seemed to be the best, so I finished the song and we recorded it.
BE: Yeah I like it – it’s got a good beat and you hit your patented falsetto.
BE: If you don’t mind, I’m going to throw out a few song titles from your catalog, and maybe you can talk about the song a little bit, what inspired it, memories of writing it or whatever.
BE: “My Mathematical Mind”.
BD: I wrote that one when I was on a lonely songwriting trip, when I was working on the songs for Gimme Fiction, I wasn’t getting enough done in Austin and I needed to go away so I could be by myself and totally focus. I went to Galveston and rented this really shitty beach house. And I was down there, eating poorly, trying to write music and it mostly felt like, “What the fuck?”, like it wasn’t working most of the time. Once I left, I ended up with a few songs that I ended up liking somehow. I just didn’t see it at the time. But “My Mathematical Mind” was one that just came up there and it was like, “Let’s just throw this down. I know I’m not going to be able to use it, but let’s just throw this down and put it on tape.” And those are sometimes the best songs, those that you just think like, “Ah, let’s just throw down this stupid idea.”
BE: Well, it turned out great.
BD: Cool, thank you.
BE: “They Never Got You”.
BD: That’s another one I wrote down there. That one was more of a personal tune to me, about what it felt like to me growing up. So I kind of got that lyric going and kind of felt good about that, like it was real and honest, and that it conveyed some of that loneliness. Later, I sort of came upon the bass line that makes it feel more like a groove/soul kind of a song. Once I had those two elements together, it seemed to work.
BE: I wanted to ask you about that. Most bands focus on the higher frequencies; Spoon’s music is especially interesting in the lower frequencies – the deeper piano riff in “My Mathematical Mind” and the bass line in “They Never Got You” come to mind. Is that a focus for you, or does it happen organically?
BD: I guess it happens organically because I’m not even aware of it. (Laughs) I definitely knew that once I had that bass line for “They Never Got You” that that was what was going to make the song work. Up until then, I was like, “That’s good, there’s something happening here but I’m not really sure what. I don’t really know what’s unique about it yet.” But once I got that element, it was the one thing that made me feel like this is going to go somewhere.
BE: That’s what really jumps out at me about Gimme Fiction – just about every song has something really interesting going on in the lower frequencies.
BD: That’s what we shoot for.
BE: Now, for my favorite Spoon song: “The Beast and Dragon, Adored”.
BD: I think that was the last song that I wrote for Gimme Fiction. I was just looking through this art book that my grandmother had from the ‘50s and there were these museum displays of French tapestries and one of them was called Apocalypse: The Beast and Dragon Are Adored. At that time, that was when the Iraq war was starting, and I was watching way too much (CNN) Headline News. It was basically on all the time in my shitty little apartment, and the world was feeling a little bit apocalyptic. This is a very interesting way to go about it because it’s very colorful language – The Beast and Dragon Are Adored.
BE: How about “The Way We Get By”? It’s on the soundtrack as well.
BD: That one came really fast and it was another one of those that was sort of like, “I’ll just throw down and idea. It probably isn’t going to work.” But once I sang that chorus the first time and got it on tape, I kind of knew it was going to be a good one.
BE: That’s the song that I always play for people when I’m trying to get them into Spoon.
BD: Yeah, it’s sort of one of the most immediate tunes.
BE: “I Turn My Camera On”.
BD: That was the second to last song we wrote for Gimme Fiction. That was one of those lyrics that I don’t know where it came from, but it came when I was writing the main thing, kind of freestyling. I didn’t know where it came from or what it meant, but it amused me. Jim (Eno) – the drummer – was the guy that sent it into sort of this dance feel. I didn’t really have that idea for it. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be, but he really sent it off into that direction.
BE: How about one from Girls Can Tell: “Everything Hits at Once”.
BD: I remember thinking that once I had it, that I was really excited about the melody. Like I felt that this was really solid and really – “I know this works” – but I didn’t have a lyric for it. We went through – I don’t know – me and co-producer Mike (McCarthy) went through four or five different choruses trying to come up with one that really stood out and made it a great song. I finally settled on this one and he was like, “Well, it’s not great. It’s not as good as the melody, but it’ll do.”
BE: What’s next for Spoon?
BD: We’re recording another record right now. I’ve been writing it for the last year and we’ve been here in Austin working on it almost nonstop for about two months and we’ve got a long way to go. (Note: The album is tentatively titled Trouble Minx.)
BE: When is it supposedly going to be released?BD: Supposedly April/May/June, something like that. It depends on when we finish it and it depends on what label is going to put it out.