“Because it would be undeniable,” Spoon frontman Britt Daniel bluntly answers when asked what made him want to release a greatest hits album.
Undeniable is a strong word, after all, especially since the Austin-based band has never truly had a hit in the most traditional sense, frequently cracking Billboard‘s Alternative Songs and Adult Alternative charts, but never the Hot 100. But Spoon have been one of the 21st century’s most consistently critically acclaimed bands, somehow managing to improve upon the previous effort with each new release. Led by Daniel’s raspy screams, backed up by a hard-hitting piano riff here and a driving guitar line there, it’s no wonder why some critics have lauded them as America’s best rock band.
But even without any bona fide “hits,” the long-running indie rock act had a lot of material to choose from for their upcoming greatest hits record, Everything Hits at Once, out this Friday (July 26). Pulling from nine albums and a handful of one-off singles, EPs, and rarities over the past 23 years, Daniel was tasked with a job that was much tougher than originally expected: putting together a succinct, yet career-spanning tracklist that served as both an introduction to new fans and something interesting for those who have long been along for the ride.
“When I started putting together a list of songs, I went through and listened to every song on every record and EP we’ve put out and I hadn’t listened to any of those albums in years all the way through,” Daniel explains. “I was just jotting down notes and when I got to the end of that, it was a three-disc set and we lived with that idea for a little while and went, ‘Eh, maybe we’ll do that kind of compilation later. For now, let’s just do a little one that’s just the cream of the crop.’”
But narrowing those 30 or 40 tracks down to 13 would be a near-impossible undertaking for any Spoon fan, let alone for the man who wrote the songs themselves. The end result was a set of songs that touch upon every album they’ve released this century, from their 2001 breakthrough Girls Can Tell through rapturously received ’00s classics Kill the Moonlight and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, all the way to “No Bullets Spent,” a new song that was recorded just this February.
Kill the Moonlight’s “Jonathan Fisk,” Gimme Fiction’s My Mathematical Mind,” and “The Book I Write” — a one-off single from the soundtrack to 2006 comedy Stranger Than Fiction — proved to be the most difficult ones to leave off. “Even when we were narrowing down to a single disc, those were still on there and we had to pull them off,” he says. “It’s hard to summarize nine albums!”
Of the 13 that did end up making the final cut, Britt Daniel takes us below through his highlights, song-by-song — illuminating some of the stories from the studio and the road, to explain why these specific singles and fan-favorites remained so important to him and the rest of the band after all these years.
“I Turn My Camera On”
Billboard: Why did you decide to open your greatest hits album with “I Turn My Camera On?”
Daniel: I just like it a lot. It is sort of the most obvious single ever made because it’s got that beat — it’s so staccato. It works in dance clubs, it works on alt rock stations, but it just sounds like a single for me. It was maybe the last song we wrote for Gimme Fiction, but the first song we recorded and we had that down. Knowing that was in our back pocket for making the rest of the record, I was like, “We’ve got something here. This is killer.”
Outside of “I Turn My Camera On,” what other songs were considered to be track one?
We thought about the next one, “Do You,” being the first song, but that ended up being No. 2 on the hits record. one of the best recordings we’ve done. It’s got that falsetto that just grabs your attention.
“Don’t You Evah”
You’ve included a handful of covers on your albums over the years. What made this cover so special?
It’s a song by The Natural History, which is this band from Brooklyn that around this era we’d taken on a couple tours. I became pretty good friends with them, especially Max their singer. I think I was writing Gimme Fiction at that point and I would send him songs and he sent me a few songs he was working on and I said, “Can I put down some ideas for this one?” My favorite one he sent was “Don’t You Ever,” as he called it: “ever.” I think maybe all I did was put down a guitar idea and some double claps. For a few days, it was my favorite song in the world; I would just play it incessantly.
And then they just took forever making that record. I don’t think it really had come out by the time that we were working on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and we were looking for more songs to do. I said, “I know this one; it’s a hit! I know this song and nobody knows it! They’ll probably think it’s our song!” We gave it a shot and it was one of those times when recording a cover really works. There’s no point in doing a cover if you’re not going to bring some of your own identity to it. I felt like we pulled it off. They wrote a great song and we took it to another place.
It kind of blew my mind that “Inside Out” is your most played song on Spotify. What makes it stick out to you and how did it become your biggest hit?
It’s weird right? It’s kind of surprising to me, but I’m also proud of that. It wasn’t a big single; it’s just something that apparently people have naturally gravitated towards. When we finished that album, They Want My Soul, that was the first song I would play for people. I was real proud of it and I knew it sounded different than anything we’d done before. But I think it has some element of melancholy, longing emotion to it that’s powerful.
I remember listening to the Song Exploder episode about how this song came about and it’s such a cool process about how that started to where it ended up. Of all the songs on here, is that the one that changed the most over the course of its recording?
It did change a lot. When I started it, it was just a piano and vocal song in a way, like “Goodnight Laura” [from 2010’s Transference]. That’s how it existed for a long time, and we even considered putting it on the album like that. It got down to that part of the record-making process where you look at everything you’ve got going so far and you start thinking, “What does this record want? Where does it want to go that it’s not going to currently?” The piano and vocal song didn’t seem like it would cut it. Quickly, we latched onto this idea of this being more of a hip-hop beat and Alex put that delay on his harp patch on his keyboard and we had this sound.
“The Way We Get By”
“The Way We Get By” is the only song that made the cut from Kill the Moonlight. That’s one of your more popular records, one of your albums that drew you a lot of fans in the first place. Why only the one song from it?
It’s hard to say “why only the one?” We’ve had a lot of records! We’ve put out a lot of records and a lot of records have songs we love on them. It’s obviously not because we don’t like Kill the Moonlight, but we just couldn’t put everything on. If we could have put one more song on from Kill the Moonlight, it would have been “Jonathan Fisk.” In the end, I felt like we needed a straight-up rock song on there, which is why “Rent I Pay” got pushed on there at the last minute.
Making “The Way We Get By” was sort of like “…Camera On,” where I had this feeling that when we recorded all of these songs, that that would be the one where the label would say, “Let’s try to push that one.”
The first thing I kind of instinctively screamed when I was writing the song was, “That’s the way we get back!” I sat there for a couple of minutes trying to figure out what would this song be about. I couldn’t really figure that one out. So then I thought, “Well what about the way we get by? What would that be?” Then I started making a list and that list became the song.
That’s the song that presidential hopeful Mayor Pete covered, possibly trying to have a millennial Bill Clinton-on-Arsenio Hall type moment. How do you feel about it?
I got a kick out of it for sure! It says something about how the song has lived on. I admire Pete Buttigieg a lot and before then, I didn’t know he’d heard of us, so it was a cool day when my inbox started lighting up with messages about that.
“The Underdog” was the one that seemed like it blew everything up for Spoon, and one of my first memories of you guys as a teenager was watching you play it on Saturday Night Live. What’s it like going back to that song all of these years later?
Unlike the last two songs we talked about, it was one that almost got left off the album — we almost didn’t put it on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The reason was: first of all, we didn’t think it was a hit and second of all, it didn’t seem to fit stylistically with that album. It was the one song we recorded on computers instead of on tape. It was the one song that was recorded by Jon Brion instead of Mike McCarthy. The rest of that record is sort of dub-y (at least we were shooting for dub and tons of reverb and weird effects) and this song is a very upbeat, celebratory kind of song.
We did decide to put it on the record because we just thought the record would be too short without it, and then we started hearing that that was going to be the song they were going to push and we actually fought back a bit: “Really? That one?!” But our radio lady was right. She picked it and she was right.
“The Underdog” is notable for its horns, so what was it like including a horn section for the first time?
It was cool! We’d used horns occasionally, but not a horn section, certainly not a pro one like that. It was just cool watching it come together because it was just an idea I had in my mind and I sang some melody on the demo that I think Jon Brion grabbed as a melody as the starting point for what he was writing for the horn section. Just seeing it evolve like that was real cool.
“I Summon You”
Everything on this record is a single except for “I Summon You,” which has become a fan favorite over the years. There are loads of other singles that were left off this, so why did this album cut make it over those?
It’s a special one to me. I think it’s one of our best-written songs, and I love where it goes lyrically to some places that I don’t understand and then it comes back down to earth to a statement of longing and wanting someone there. Even though it was never a single, it’s a song that we’ve always had in our set. I just love it; that’s what it boils down to.
I find it interesting that two of the more “rock songs,” as you mentioned earlier, are the ones that surround it on the tracklist. You have “Hot Thoughts” right before it and “Rent I Pay” immediately afterwards. Outside of “Inside Out,” this is probably the calmest song on the record. How did you put the tracklist together here?
I guess we’re just trying to provide some pacing for the record. We always do think quite a bit about that when we’re putting together any record, whether it’s a new one or this compilation. I think we needed a breather there before we go onto the explosive bit of “Rent I Pay,” “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb,” and “Got Nuffin.” It felt like the right thing right there for me.
“Everything Hits at Once”
Obviously you guys became a more popular band as time progressed, but you included “Everything Hits at Once” from Girls Can Tell, dating back to 2001, one you don’t play live too often. What made “Everything Hits at Once” stick around all these years?
It was a turning point of a song for us. I don’t think there’s a song that we could have come up with that would have been as far away from [1998 LP] A Series of Sneaks as that one. I was proud of that, and that’s why we jammed it on the front of that album. It was a sort of announcement — we’re able and we’re excited to go different places.
It felt like something from Girls Can Tell needed to be on the hits record because it was such an important turning point for us in a lot of ways and this is maybe the most sort of single-like one. It doesn’t sound like a band who was trying to sound like Gang of Four.
“No Bullets Spent”
To get back to the flow of the record, you end it with your oldest song of the bunch and then a new song. What made you want to go in that direction, from the oldest to the newest?
I always wanted to put the newest song last. It just felt like the thing to do. It’s where we’re going next and thematically it seemed to make the most sense. I wrote that song last summer right after we got off tour in New York City where I was for about six months. Then we recorded it this past February. We recorded a few songs and that was the one that seemed like it fit the best with this compilation.
It seems like a political song. What’s the story behind it?
I wrote in a heat wave and the original lyric had something about a heat wave in it and then that got changed. There’s a song on our sort of weird little record Get Nice called “Dracula Cigarette” that’s an instrumental. It’s a bonus album that came with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and I always loved that instrumental, “Dracula Cigarette.” So what I started to do was put lyrics on top of that instrumental track and that’s how the song started. It was pretty good, but then in the end, we decided to re-cut the instrumental track and change it up a bit. We were calling it “Dracula Cigarette Part 2” for a long time.
It sounds like this wasn’t the only one from these sessions, right?
There’s a bunch of songs we’re working on.