"We don't like rock dudes," exclaims Britt Daniels, guitarist, vocalist and guiding force behind Austin's Spoon. "We like lots of musicians. But the whole 'rock dude' thing, I don't know. These days, it seems like bands do a few cool songs and everybody gets interested in them, and the next thing you know, they're out doing publicity, going to parties, that sort of thing.
"You have to do a lot of that stuff to promote a record," he continues. "But I think so many people get wrapped up in that, and they lose sight of what's really important--like writing some more good songs for the next record."
Thus far, the Spoons--Daniels, drummer Jim Eno and bassist/producer John Croslin, who's temporarily filling in for the recently departed Andy Maguire--haven't had much trouble in that department. Since the players issued their first seven-inch EP, Nefarious, two years ago, they've managed to pen some of the most consistently brainy, catchy alterna-pop this side of the Rio Grande.
Doubters will be turned into believers by Telephono, the trio's brand-spanking-new LP on Matador Records. Rife with convulsive guitar riffs, nervous vocal hooks and mesmerizing harmonies that could set even Bob Dole's feet to tappin', Telephono picks up where seminal new-wave bands such as Wire, the Modern Lovers and the Pixies left off.
The Pixies' peculiar pop rants have made a particularly strong impression on the threesome. In fact, Spoon's keyed-up delivery on numbers like "Not Turning Off" and "Cvantez" has led more than one critic to liken the group to the fabled Beantowners. Daniels, a self-confessed Pixies fan, isn't shaken by the comparison. As he sees it, "That's bound to happen when you're a new band. When you're trying to introduce a band, that's the sort of story you're going to see: 'What do these guys sound like?' And usually, the easiest way of explaining that is by comparing them to other bands.
"Then, once you're Sonic Youth and you've put out twenty or so albums," he goes on, "there'll be other things to talk about. Like, 'Are you going to record your new album on a 16-track as opposed to a 32-track?' or whatever."
That's not to say that Telephono's recording methods should be overlooked. On the contrary, one of the album's strongest selling points is its crisp, professional sound quality. Recorded on an eight-track in Croslin's garage studio in Austin, the disc comes as a welcome relief from the scratchy, lo-fi recordings being pushed by many of today's rising pop faddists. According to Daniels, Croslin "is a total badass. He's an awesome producer. He played an instrumental role in the outcome of the record. He really helped everything come together."
Also contributing to Spoon's brilliant sound is Daniels's guitar, an acoustic that he plugs directly into a Fender amplifier. Using the Fender's distortion controls, the guitarist creates an impressive emulation of an electric instrument. In the beginning, Daniels says, he used the acoustic purely out of necessity. "I used to have two guitars--an acoustic and an electric," he remembers. "Then the neck got bent on the electric, so I started playing my acoustic at shows instead. After that, everybody would come up to me after the show and say, 'Wow! How do you get that sound?'
"Personally, I like the sound," he goes on. "I'm real tired of hearing these huge, Nevermind-esque guitars on pop records. I like the brittle sound the acoustic gives me."
Apparently, so did Gerard Cosloy at Matador Records. Upon hearing the rough mixes of Telephono, he immediately agreed to release the record; the finished product is officially due to hit stores on April 23.
Although Spoon has yet to experience the media hype that goes along with being signed to a high-profile indie label like Matador ("This is the first interview I've done outside of Austin," Daniels concedes), that may well change in the coming months. The group is getting ready to embark on a West Coast tour with labelmates Guided by Voices this month, followed by a European tour slated for later in the year. Meanwhile, "All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed," the trio's latest single, is slowly starting to appear on college-radio playlists across the country.
Does this mean that Daniels fears becoming ensnared in the "rock dude" syndrome he despises? Not at all, he claims. In his words, "I hope we get the attention right now, because I feel like the record we've made is really good. So this is the time to do it. We want to make a go for it now."
After a pause, he adds, "We might put out a worse record next time, and I wouldn't want the attention focused on us then."
Guided by Voices, with V-23 and Spoon. 9:30 p.m. Monday, April 29, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, $8, 1-800-444-SEAT or 294-9281.
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