Britt Daniel was well into his thirties when he first got into dub music. In 2006, as his band Spoon was working on their sixth album — and eventual commercial peak — Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, producer Mike McCarthy told Daniel to check out a new compilation, King Tubby’s In Fine Style, by the Jamaican sound engineer and dub pioneer King Tubby.
“That record really had a big impact on the sound of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” the 51-year-old Spoon frontman tells Billboard. “Which is not a dub record. But there are trippy little dub elements all throughout it.”
For instance, “Finer Feelings” opens with a prominent sample from reggae singer Mikey Dread — which Daniel remembers clearing with Dread himself. “He was a real character. Very friendly to me, but at the same time, he seemed to hate lawyers,” Daniel says. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I know you want to do it, but we do have to have something on paper.’ And if it came from the lawyer, he would just say, ‘No, no, no. This isn’t right.’”
In the years since, Spoon fans could be forgiven for not sensing much dub influence in the band’s famously exacting indie-rock hooks. Now, though, comes a fully fledged fusion: on Friday (Nov. 4), the Austin band will release Lucifer on the Moon, their first remix album, which is a song-by-song deconstruction of Spoon’s recent album Lucifer on the Sofa by Adrian Sherwood, the English dub producer and founder of On-U Sound Records. Sherwood turns tightly chiseled rockers like “On the Radio” and “The Hardest Cut” inside out, reimagining them with rattling rhythms, wobbly bass sounds and disorienting waves of vocal echo.
The idea grew out of a routine request from Spoon’s label, Matador, for bonus material from the band, such as B-sides or remixes. Daniel felt bored with cookie-cutter digital reworking. “I wanted to find someone who could do things in a less computer-y and more… musical way?” Daniel explains. “Adrian seemed like the right guy for that.”
He sent Sherwood the album and invited him to remix a few songs. Daniel gave him just a few instructions: “Avoid things that wouldn’t be possible on tape. Add whatever you want to add. Don’t make it computer-y. And the less modern, the better.”
A week later, the Spoon frontman received Sherwood’s dub-inspired remixes of “The Devil & Mister Jones” and “Astral Jacket.” He was blown away. “I was driving around in my car, listening to those mixes over and over again that night. I was very psyched,” Daniel said. “Next we said, ‘Well, maybe we should do one or two more.’ Then we got those done. And then we said, ‘Well, maybe we should do one or two more.’”
Pretty soon, Sherwood had remixed the entire record. Spoon decided to release it as a standalone companion piece to Lucifer on the Sofa, available digitally and on vinyl this week (and on CD in Japan).
If Spoon has a surprising kinship with dub, it derives from the fact that the band has long placed an emphasis on groove and empty space, epitomized in indelible tunes like “I Turn My Camera On” and “Stay Don’t Go.”
“When we started out, it wasn’t like that. A thing that would hit you over the head with our records was distorted rhythm guitar,” Daniel says. “At some point, around the Girls Can Tell era [in 2001], we started realizing that less could mean a lot more. When you get rid of that element, then a lot of what you’re focused on is the bass and drums. It makes the tracks feel more open. Around that time, people started to say we were minimalists.”
For Spoon, Lucifer on the Moon culminates a triumphant year of renewal and reinvigoration. After releasing Lucifer on the Sofa in February, the band spent a big chunk of 2022 on the road, touring both with labelmates Interpol and on their own headlining tour. Those runs have gone well, though Daniel concedes that it is not an easy time to be a mid-level touring band.
“It has been a much harder year to turn a profit,” the singer says. “We had like a week’s worth of shows in the middle of this tour that had to get postponed because a couple of us got COVID. We tacked them onto the end of the tour. But basically all that meant was, we were still paying for all of the crew, all of the busing, all of our trucking, everything for an additional week, but with the same amount of income. That made it a lot less profitable. It was almost unprofitable.”
Is it still worth it? “Yeah, it’s worth it. I have a good time,” Daniel says. “I guess we’re gonna have to assess how things go. Even on the tours where we didn’t have to postpone, the cost of busing is up two or three times what it was when we were touring last September. That takes a huge chunk. So that’s why, when I see Animal Collective canceling a tour, I’m not surprised. Things have just really gone nutty.”
Spoon’s future plans are uncertain. In March, Daniel made fans nervous when he admitted he wasn’t sure there would be another Spoon record after Lucifer. Asked to clarify, Daniel says, “Should we do another one? We will see. I don’t know what’s next. I haven’t figured that part out yet. We basically just finished touring.”
For years, Spoon has been held up by fans and critics as a paragon of indie-rock consistency. It’s hard not to wonder if they ever feel the urge to enter their ‘80s-Neil-Young phase and make a tossed-off record just for fun.
“Maybe we should do that,” Daniel laughs. “I do remember when [2010’s] Transference came out, a lot of people did not like that record, especially coming after Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, which had some of our biggest, most commercial, universal songs. And then we came out with this record that was very much an ugly record. I think it’s a great record. But there were a lot of people that didn’t like it. Mostly did not get amazing reviews. We’ve done a record that people said was us falling off. And yet the word ‘consistent’ gets thrown about.”
Asked if he feels inclined to give any of Spoon’s prior albums the remix treatment, Daniel quickly points to the band’s 1996 debut, Telephono. “Not in terms of, like, a dub remix. I’d just been thinking of it in terms of, ‘Wow, I know we could make this sound so much better.’”
It’s the only Spoon album Daniel feels unsatisfied with. “It doesn’t feel as much like us,” he admits. “It’s like I almost don’t recognize the person who wrote those songs. Even when you get to [1998’s] A Series of Sneaks, that sounds more like us. And then Girls Can Tell really sounds like us. And then we settled in.”