For the better part of two decades, Austin, TX's Britt Daniel has been one of my favorite songwriters, a feeling that's been only bolstered by time and output. His work with Spoon, from 1996's debut Telephono to 2010's Transference, is solid gold--it's catchy as hell, with hard hip swaying rhythms, razor-sharp guitar work (those metallic tones!) and his signature throaty vocals and hyper-personal lyrics. Perhaps best of all, is his band's nonconformity to pop standards and dedication to their form. Every album is reliably great. If Spoon albums don't do well with pre-orders, they should.
Now, for the first time in his career, Daniel has formed a new band, called Divine Fits, a songwriting partnership with another one of indie rock's most distinct voices: Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs (Divine Fits also features New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown). Their debut, A Thing Called Divine Fits, is, as expected, another solid gold effort. It blends the best of Daniel's Spoon style with the keyboards and drum machines that have been central to Boeckner's work.
I caught up with Daniel during a tour stop in Houston, TX, to chat about forming the new group, working with Boeckner and what he's reading these days: Lots of Hemingway. Read below, and listen to our Spotify playlist collecting the best from Divine Fits, plus gems from each member's respective bands.
Hey Britt! How did you hook up with Dan?
I met Dan in 2007 at a Handsome Furs show. I had seen a Handsome Furs video online that I thought was creepy and dark and awesome. He and his wife get killed at the end. I met him by chance, actually; we bumped into each other in the audience after the gig. That was in Portland, Ore. We talked and kept in touch. I asked Handsome Furs to play a few shows with Spoon, then when Spoon played Radio City Music Hall I asked Dan to come play a few songs onstage [with Spoon]. I thought what he did was the real deal.
What about Sam? How did he get involved?
Last summer I was doing some recording on my own with [producer] Mike McCarthy. He asked me to describe the perfect drummer and he was like, “I know who that is! That’s Sam Brown. He’s in Columbus, Ohio, let’s get him down here.” He came down and we played some songs and it went really well. So, when I knew Dan and I were going to get a band together, [Sam] came out to L.A. to see what happened.
When did Divine Fits transform from a few dudes jamming to a real-deal band?
February of last year I asked Dan to be in the band. I did a little recording on my own at first and sent him the music to "What Gets You Alone" and sent it to him and he sang on top of it. So we had that one track when we got together. The rest came after. I would bring in a song, or another would start as a jam in rehearsal. Then we started recording in March and finished in May. We used a backyard studio in L.A. that the drummer from Toto used to own. [Producer] Nick [Launay] does all of his records there.
How did you settle on the name Divine Fits?
We just liked the look and sound of it. I just liked the words to begin with. We had a big list of band names. Naming a band is so much harder than naming an album or naming songs. It’s like putting on a suit that you’ll have to wear for the next five or 10 years. We couldn’t really decide [on the band name], so I started doing album art and putting some of our favorite names on there, and Divine Fits [looked] the best on the album art.
What were some of the other options for the band name?
Lace Jerks. Hot Skull. Little Lula. There were lots.
What does Divine Fits allow you to do that Spoon doesn’t?
The main difference is that I don’t write and sing all the songs. That's fun for me. I do like writing and singing songs, and I get to do a little bit of that, but I also get to let someone else be the front guy and back him up. That’s one of my favorite parts of working on music: Having a song that's almost there, or halfway written, then helping someone get it to the finish line. You don’t have perspective if you started the song yourself. But an outsider can do that. I always wanted to have someone do that for my songs, and I like doing that for other people’s songs.
The music is more psychedelic from your Spoon work, and certainly features more synths. Did you purposefully go in any specific direction musically?
It just kind of happened. Dan has a lot more history with synths. He had a lot of them. He had just bought this drum machine-synth, right before we got together, and he started working on his [Divine Fits] songs. He was staying at my house and working upstairs in the extra room. There wasn’t a lot of gear up there, but he had the drum machine with a fantastic synth bass sound, so he’d write with that. The songs sprang from that.
"Shivers," a cover of Nick Cave's goth ballad, is one of my favorite songs on the album. Why did you choose to cover that song?
The original version is by Boys Next Door, Nick Cave’s first band. I was in Australia and a friend played it for me. It was the first time I heard it and I was just knocked down. Being in Australia you start thinking about things like AC/DC, Nick Cave. For some reason that stuck in my mind. I went through this Nick Cave phase while I was down there for three weeks. My friend was like, "You know what my favorite Nick Cave song, it's this one…" I thought it was one of those rare great songs that I felt we could do something with that the original hadn’t. That we would could do something that would be different from the original but still be really good. So many great songs are just hard to cover. People know them too well, or you just don’t know how to improve on them.
"Like Ice Cream" is my favorite track on the record. Tell me a little about that one...
I wrote an early version of it almost a year and a half ago. It just sat there; I didn’t know how to improve it. I made a new demo and sent it to Sam and he put drums on top of it, and then it started to work. I put roomy background vocals on it and it felt like it had its own thing. It was one of those tunes that took a long time. Sometimes [songs] come right away and other times they have to go through several different versions and formats. Lyrically, that song always felt suggestive to me. There’s something sexual about it.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
"My Love Is Real" is pretty good. It’s all really good. I like it a lot. I get to play bass on a lot of those songs. Live, if I’m going to be singing, [my favorite to play live] is "Would That Not Be Nice."
What’s up with Spoon? Anything new coming up?
Not immediately. I’m going to be touring and doing this whole song and dance for a while.
When you're not working on music, what are you doing for fun?
Drinking margaritas and reading Hemingway. You know, riding in airplanes. I’m reading Hemingway's Sun Also Rises right now. For some reason, I’ve never read that one before.
Have you read A Farewell to Arms? It's possibly the greatest book I've ever read...
No. Maybe in high school. I need to go back and read that one, for sure.