Steely Dan
Danny Clinch

Walter Becker says he and Donald Fagen can "smell" a new Steely Dan album coming, the first since the 2003 Top 10 entry "Everything Must Go."

"It's in the air, it really is," Becker told Billboard during a good-naturedly sarcastic conference call with reporters to advance the group's Mood Swings 2013: 8 Miles To Pancake Day tour. "It's just a smell now. The next thing is then you taste it, then you start to feel it. You know how this goes."

Fagen, meanwhile, noted that the duo does have "some songs, these really good ones that we only half-finished back in, like, 1984 that we keep threatening to work on," to which Becker added, "Actually we did finish a couple of those. We have a bunch of things. Put it this way; any other band in the world would have finished or mixed these old things that were lying around and issued them with a great ta-da fanfare. But we just don't. We don't play it like that, necessarily. It's not the way we roll."

Above: Classic "Reelin' in the Years"

If Becker and Fagen are gearing up to create something new, they say it probably won't happen during the tour. "I have a really hard time writing on the road," said Fagen, who released his fourth solo album, "Sunken Condos," in 2012. "Usually writing is done, whether with Walter or not, it's when I'm really at home and have very little to do. You need to be in a kind of stasis, I think, to do that..or else you're just sleeping. Actually, the time you could be writing songs you're probably sleeping, on the road."

The Mood Swings 2013 tour kicks off July 19 and closes with a six-night run starting Sept. 30 at New York's Beacon Theater. Some show will feature performances of "The Royal Scam," "Aja" or "Gaucho" albums in their entirety, while others have been dubbed Audience Request Nights or Greatest Hits Nights. The trek also marks 20 years since Becker and Fagen regrouped as Steely Dan and began taking the once road-shy group on tour on a regular basis.

"It's great fun to play with a really good band -- that goes without saying, right?" Becker noted. "I think that's the essence of it, right there, for me." Fagen added that "everything has gotten better" since Steely Dan's limited run of touring during the 70s. "Now it's much more fun to play. I'm glad we turned into a big-time touring band later in life. In fact, it's almost like we planned it out that way."

During the chat the duo also shed some light on rapper Kanye West's use of their 1976 hit "Kid Charlemagne" for the track "Champion" from his 2007 album "Graduation" -- revealing that they initially turned down his request for the sample. 

"We usually say yes but we didn't like the general curve of the way that one sounded," Fagen recalled. "We thought it was too repetitive. But then he sent us a handwritten letter, which was so heartfelt that we finally gave in and acceded to his request." 

Becker remembered that West "basically said that ('Champion') is a song that meant a lot to him. It was written about his father and his feelings for his father," though Fagen said "I didn't get that at all from the music." "No," Becker agreed, "I've had occasion to wonder since then whether that's the same Kanye West." "Maybe it was a prank," Fagen concluded.

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