Spoon’s Britt Daniel On What It Means To Be A Rock Star in 2017

The iconic frontman looks back on a lifetime of music

by Noah Jackson

Britt Daniel is arguably one of the world’s last remaining rock stars. As the frontman of Spoon, one of the most critically and commercially successful indie bands of the early 2000s, Daniel still exudes a sardonic cool in no way tempered by almost two decades in the game. Following the release of Spoon’s ninth studio album, Hot Thoughts, earlier this year, he’s been leading the band on an extensive world tour, cutting a sharp figure with his signature combo of black dress shirt and skinny jeans. A mainstay of the Austin underground scene, Daniel formed Spoon in 1993 with drummer Jim Eno and went on to record hits that soundtracked some of the early 2000s' most iconic teen dramas. “The Way We Get By,” one of the band’s breakout singles, was featured on The O.C. (and Shameless), while other tracks cropped up on Veronica Mars, Chuck, Bones, and Scrubs.

With the band’s 20th anniversary approaching next year, Daniel has seen the music industry shift from the halcyon days of smash CD sales to LimeWire, iTunes, and the current streaming renaissance. At a time when rock has officially been overtaken by hip-hop as America’s most popular genre, we ask him what it means to be a rock star today. 

How’s this tour going?

It’s been good. We go out on legs, and we were in Europe for about a month, and then we just came back, had a few days off, and now we’re back again for a few days. Kind of sick of it. It’s a little easier being in the States though.

After a couple decades in the game, does touring still hold the same allure that it did when you started out, or has it more become just a thing that you do?

I generally enjoy it. I wouldn’t say I enjoy 100 percent of every single moment, but generally, it’s a fun thing for me. It’s a thing I look forward to. 

As a well-established artist who existed in the pre-streaming era, what’s your take on streaming services? Do you think it’s a positive phenomenon, mixed, or wholly negative?

I could make a case for either way. I’m going to say it’s a positive phenomenon. It’s different from when I was growing up, but things change. When I was growing up, I owned, at one point in middle school, five albums on cassette. That was the way you listened to them. The relationship I developed with those albums was pretty intense, you know? I don’t know that that’s going to happen as often anymore. But it’s a good thing when people can hear the music they want to hear, when bands don’t need a gateway like MTV in order to be heard. 

On a personal level, what are your streaming patterns? Do you find that you still listen to records and CDs, or did you move on to digital?

When I’m traveling, when I’m on tour, I do listen to music a lot on my computer. We’ll hook up a Bluetooth speaker when we can. I have a pretty extensive library on my computer. If there’s something I don’t have that I kind of want to check out, I go to Spotify. But I like buying records and CDs. I like the tangible. I like being able to read liner notes. It’s part of the experience. 

What would you say the biggest differences are between marketing an album since your debut?

We used to get a marketing plan handed to us, all about print ads, a quarter-page or a half-page or back-of-the-magazine ads, advertising in weekly papers with the local record store, and I just don’t see that kind of stuff happening. In fact, [with] our last record—not Hot Thoughts, but the one before—we got right up to [the point] before the record was to come out, and I said, "By the way, where’s the advertising plan?" There was no physical advertising plan. It was all online, which was interesting. We did well with it. It’s just a different way of looking at it. I liked being able to pick a bunch of fanzines. People don’t read fanzines like they used to, but that was a cool thing for me, being able to buy a page ad in Stay Free! magazine or whatever. It was very niche marketing. 

You’re a pretty iconic frontman. How would you say the frontmen of rock bands now compare to when you were coming up? Does it take a different caliber of person, and if so, what do you think the major differences are between the people you were coming up with versus young artists who are emerging right now?

Oh, I don’t know. My favorite band, when I was going to college, was the Pixies, and the frontman never really seemed to—he didn’t pander. I saw him sometimes, and he seemed like he was not that thrilled to be up there. But I still love the Pixies. It’s hard to generalize, but unless you’re talking about the extremes... In the ‘60s, you did have James Brown, or you had Mick Jagger—those are almost superhumans. And then you have Prince, a superhuman performer. I’m trying to think if there’s anybody who compares to that these days. Maybe they do, and I just am not aware; maybe it’s some band that I haven’t been exposed to yet. But it does seem like the superhuman performers, they’re going to be hard to come by in any era.

Out of artists coming up right now, is anyone really exciting you?

I really like the band Thee Oh Sees. I go see them any chance I can, and luckily, they seem to play constantly wherever I am. They don’t stop. They’re putting out a record or two or three a year. They don’t really seem to make any concessions to the standards of today’s music industry, which is cool. 

What do you see for the future of Spoon?

We’ve got a lot of shows on our calendar. After that, I don’t know. I think we’ve got to assess; do we make another record? Do we go through that whole process again? Sometimes I just want a break. Sometimes I think it’s cool to just pay someone else to make the record, you know? Which, it’s completely the opposite of everything I’ve ever said, of the way you’ve got to make a great record is you have to be involved with every part of it.

If you weren’t writing records and touring, what do you think you’d be doing? What would you want to be doing?

I’d get a lot more exercise. I like long walks on the beach. I like playing pinball. I like margaritas quite a bit. Probably a lot of that.

So you’d have a Jimmy Buffett-type of lifestyle, then?

[Laughs] Right, we could get that on the beach somewhere. I don’t know, spend more time with my family. That part I haven’t figured out. I’m glad we’re in the part of the process where we’re doing a lot of shows. It’s clear in my head. It’s a lot of fun. Every night is kind of a party. The process of making a record can be—I know nobody wants to hear this—a bit daunting. It’s such a long process. I feel like we really just got out of it, that process. I’m enjoying where I’m at right now.