Having been crowned the frontman of the best band of the new millennium (well, according to reviews aggregator Metacritic), Spoon’s Britt Daniel is starting the decade with a cherry on top. Just look at that borderline-hideous red, dripping cherry on that garish yellow background that ‘graces’ the front of A Thing Called Divine Fits – the debut album from his new project with Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs man Dan Boeckner – the band name bluntly printed across the centre, as if redacting the entire thing,
Then again, it could have been a lot worse. ”I guess the artwork was my idea,” Britt tells me over the phone from his home in Los Angeles, where he moved a year ago. “We had a lot of different band names we were trying to decide on, so I had this great idea to make a bunch of record covers in an afternoon and put all the names on each one, and see which ones felt best.” Apparently, if the mood had struck him differently, we could be here today discussing a thing called Lace Jerks or a thing called Hot Skulls. Lucky break, I guess.
Divine Fits’ debut album sounds exactly like you would expect a collaboration between Daniel and Boeckner to sound; Spoon’s meticulously crafted soundworlds are completely in tact, but they get tarted with some more anthemic choruses and a frenzy of synths. ‘What Gets You Alone’, in particular, most closely resembles Britt’s ‘other’ band, but as soon as Boeckner starts singing, it turns into a totally different beast altogether. “When I wrote the music for that song,” Daniel explains, “I didn’t know that me and Dan were gonna be starting a band. I had tried putting vocals on that song, and I didn’t like what I had been coming up with.” So, in a way, the band’s first completed song was borne out of Britt’s own laziness: “I said ‘OK, I’ll send it to Dan – let him do the hard work!’”
One of the record’s most interesting and intense moments, however, is its sole cover. ‘Shivers’, written by Rowland S. Howard for the nascent Birthday Party, has become the heart and soul of A Thing Called Divine Fits – a two-chord torch song which contains (somewhat disappointingly) the best lyrics Daniel gets to sing on the entire record. It’s an issue he doesn’t seem too fussed by – “I brought that song in because I thought the lyrics were so great. With this song, I felt like it seemed a bit of an unknown gem, that was so great, but so few people knew it. And it turns out a lot of people think that we wrote that song.” So no complaints there, then.
No stranger to covers with his other band, Daniel (along with Spoon) collaborated with Ray Davies, producing one of the sole redeeming moments of the former Kink’s 2010 album, See My Friends. It’s an experience the singer recalls fondly, but apprehensively; “Ray said he wanted to do ‘See My Friends’ with us, but we kinda came in blindly, because I couldn’t come up with a great idea or thrust on how to play it. Y’know,” he deadpans, “it’s OK.” In the wake of the recent trend in tribute record culture – and, indeed, his bandmate’s involvement with Red Hot’s forthcoming Arthur Russell covers album – I ask his opinion of the current trend. “I dunno… Every now and then, there’s a good song on one of them. The problem is that a song could be the greatest song in the world, but you don’t want to cover it because the ultimate version has been done, or everybody knows it.”
Our conversation takes place a couple of days after Divine Fits’ seventh-ever gig; with YouTube footage demonstrating that the audiences are already going crazy for the band, sound unheard. It’s an unusual way to form a band, a fact that isn’t lost on Britt, especially in contrast with Spoon’s formation in 1993 – “we were youngsters,” he jokes. He claims that the situation is a strange one, ”but it’s lucky. That’s the way you want it to be, right?” Yet, after only seven shows, the material from the album has already managed to take on a new life; “We’ve only got thirteen songs, right,” Britt explains “so we have been a little bit conscious of what a short set that is. And I think that any time that we have an opportunity to stretch a song out, we do it. And I think we do it real well – the band is good at playing with each other, and getting something off each other.” One song that remains in tact, however, is the understated album highlight ‘Civilian Stripes’; written by Boeckner, its acoustic throb seems rife for rocking up. Daniel thinks otherwise; “the first time I heard it, I was downstairs watching TV, and Dan was in his room writing the song. From what I could hear between the floor, it was so melancholy and heartbreaking, so when we started playing it, I said ‘We’ve got to keep that feel, because it’s real special.’ We didn’t want to make it a rocker.”
As far as playing shows outside of the US and Canada, however, Britt has, unfortunately, a little less sway. “There’s the notion of a tour,” he tells me vaguely. “Last I heard was that they’re trying to get us over there for November. Every time I go to Europe, it’s winter,” he mock grumbles. Until then, however, us Brits simply have to make do with the taut pop perfection of A Thing Called Divine Fits. Just be grateful you don’t have to rush out and by an album by Lace Jerks.
A Thing Called Divine Fits is available now through Epitaph.