Jim Eno is a living rock legend and a founding member of Austin, Texas rock elder statesmen Spoon, who hit The Ritz in Ybor City, Florida on May 1, 2017. In a new interview with Creative Loafing Tampa, the 51-year-old record producer and rummer spent 20 minutes talking about making it in the music industry, mixing an album for Tennis (who open for Spoon at the May 1 show) and what it means to watch his friend and bandmate Britt Daniel grow as a songwriter.
You can read our preview of the show here, and see the full Q&A with Eno below.
Hey Jim, how are you?
I’m good how are you? Where are you calling from?
I’m good, thanks. I am calling from Ybor City in Tampa, Florida. You are playing here on May 1. Where are you guys right now?
I’m in Mexico City. Just ate lunch, gonna go to soundcheck after this bunch of interviews.
You’re just a handful of dates into this leg of the tour, and you won’t get a break until Ohio (then you go to Germany). Are these little 10 day spurts the best thing for you guys or are they a function of Spoon’s strategic approach to booking shows?
Yeah, I mean we’ve been going pretty staring since January. It’s a 10 day jaunt, but we were just in Europe for about a week then we did the Ellen show last night, three shows in Mexico City, five days or production and rehearsal and then we start the 10 days of shows, so I feel like any longer would’ve been difficult, but a lot of the stuff is based on what kind of shows we can get at the time and everything kind of just falls in around there, you know.
Yeah, I’ve always appreciated that Spoon seems to take a very cerebral approach to touring, and everything really. I know you’ve said that you really mulled over sequencing of Hot Thoughts, but I guess I’ll ask another touring question. In Ybor you are playing a venue where the promoter has to bring in their own. Do you guys have some pretty rigorous live audio criteria when you’re setting up the tour venues? I know you really work hard at the sound when you record and treat the studio as a really special process, but I imagine you really want the live sound to be special for fans as well.
Yeah, I wasn’t aware of that. Normally we play at a club with a PA, and what we end up doing is bringing a monitors desk and a front of house desk, which is pretty easy to throw in the truck and wire them into an existing sound system. I mean Tampa, it sounds like they’ll have some good places to get a PA.
Oh the PAs they bring in have usually always been great.
Do they normally not have shows there?
No, they have shows there all the time. Sometimes with the smaller promoters bringing in a good PA is a pretty scary challenge as far as fronting the money and then hoping to get it back in the ticket sales. So I didn’t know how rigorous you were about that. I assume you’ve been very selective, it seems like you guys do analyze your streaming data and other available information when planning the tours.
Yeah we look at all that stuff, but we are also like, ‘We need to try and go everywhere,’ you know? We try to hit a lot of cities around the U.S. — even the small ones. We’re gonna be, you know, involved in the sound stuff there, so hopefully everything is gonna be spec’d correctly. We do spend a lot of time talking about venues and stuff like that.
Can you talk to me about Gerardo and Alex growing into the band? I know you’ve said Britt can be more of a frontman now, but what additional things have you noticed as far as Britt or yourself goes? You’ve also said that it’s great when you’re well rehearsed. You don’t have to worry about whether a bridge or chorus is coming, and that means you can really focus on being better during the actual performance itself. What have you noticed, and what have those guys given to you, as this tour behind Hot Thoughts rolls on?
Well Alex, he is, uh, he is a monster. The guy is an amazing keyboard player, he is a great guitar player and the thing that he brings to the live show is like raw, raw energy. I feel like Gerardo, we’ve only been playing with him since January, but he is also a great guitar player and a great keyboard player. He brings, also, like a cool, but really rock & roll element to the band. He plays guitar really aggressively, which fits how we approach our live show. He’s a great fit. Also, Alex contributed a lot on the record over and above all the live stuff. Like he wrote that song “First Caress,” and Britt put words to it, so he participated a lot in the current record.
You mentioned Britt doing the words on that song, and I wanted to ask you about him. You two have been the longest tenured members of the band. I know he had you pre-write a little on They Want My Soul. He’s always been pretty heart-on-the-sleeve, but do you ever get proud of Britt when you read his lyrics? I know he really puts it out there, so you must feel pretty good when he brings these new sets of lyrics in.
Yeah, all the time. I feel like his songwriter is always just getting better and better. His lyrics are getting more interesting. Personally I like more of the oblique kind of lyrics. Some of the ones that stand out on this record that I really like are the Shibuya line in “Hot Thoughts” — I really like that line. “First Caress” has a line about coconut milk and coconut water that I really like. I dunno, he’s got, he just has a way of setting a mood lyrically, which I think is really unique.
Are you happy about the way Hot Thoughts tracks are coming to life onstage? I know it’s a really visceral album, really loud at points. Have you guys been able to find a new level in your sound? There are some interesting electronic elements, too. For instance what do you do on songs like “I Ain’t the One” where there are drum machines? Are you overall happy about the way its evolving as a live record?
Yeah, we’re playing, we’re working out a lot of those songs now. We’ve been playing most of them. “Shotgun” is throwing us a little bit for a loop, so that one isn’t really ready yet. We are playing “I Ain’t The One,” and I am playing the drum kit, but I also have a trigger that when I hit my snare sends out a sound similar to the record, which gives it kind of a hybrid electronic, acoustic feel. I think everything is coming together really well. I feel like “Hot Thoughts” is a great live song. I feel like “I Ain’t The One” is coming together as good and even better live than on the recorded version. “First Caress,” “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” is a great live one. Yeah, so far things have been good. I think we’re going to try and tackle “Pink Up,” and that is going to be a little bit of a challenge. There are so many things going on with that one, so we’ll see how that goes.
I wanted to know if you’d give us a little Easter egg here. Is there anywhere on Hot Thoughts, or even in the live set where the Kinks beat shows up? I know in the past you’d mentioned that it always shows up somewhere.
Ah, not sure. I don’t think it appears on Hot Thoughts.
You’ve got Tennis on this tour, and they have Bay area connections (bought Swift Ranger in St. Pete). What’s it like to see that record you tracked played live onstage?
Well, I haven’t seen them play the new record yet, but I didn’t realize they got the boat in Tampa — that’s really cool. No, I really like those guys, I mixed that latest record, they’re good friends of mine, and I am really looking forward to seeing them play it live. I think it’s a good matching for us, and makes for a really good bill.
This last record from Tennis was kind of a reaction to how the record industry couldn’t really figure them out. I feel like Spoon may have had some of that in the beginning, but it's been a been a great band for the industry. The music licensing in film, TV, etc. Spoon is obviously very careful about placement, but talk about how much financial pressure that’s taken off the band over the years.
A long time ago it became sort of, you know, okay to get your music in commercials, films, soundtracks and stuff like that. For some reason we’ve been really lucky about how that went for us. In the music business you have to look for any kind of income you can. Especially now with streaming and record sales are down; streaming numbers are up, but streaming numbers don’t pay what downloads paid. So any little bit you can get helps pay the rent, fix the van, help us go on tour that kind of thing. The licensing stuff, now has become even more competitive because music programmers want like something that’s not released or something new that no one has ever heard before. We got a couple of good placements on this record, but there was a period back maybe five years ago when we were getting a lot of licensing, and that really helped.
You’ve obviously worked with a lot of people as far as production goes, and you recently did some creative stuff with Skrillex and Diplo, who work really fast. You guys take your time and have the luxury of really honing your sound in the studio, but Brittt has also mentioned Thee Oh Sees who put out records at a furious pace. Any desire to see what happens if Spoon tries to do a record fast?
Yeah, that’s a good question. You know what, we would love to do records fast, but then we try and do something fast, then get in it and we’re like, ‘This can be better,” or “We’ve done this before, so let’s try something new,” and then all of a sudden it’s a year later when we’re finally happy. It’s just not a way that we make records, and we’ve talked about it many times, about how we can do records faster, but it just takes a long time for us unfortunately. We’d love to go back to the days when Led Zeppelin put out three records a year and even toured.
Not sure how they did that.
I only have a few more questions, so I wanted to squeeze some stuff in about Dave Fridmann. Hot Thoughts is a very streamy record, but my understanding is that you went into his studio in the the woods of Buffalo, in the middle of nowhere, to work on it. How does a record this steamy come out of that session? It’s pretty damn desolate out there. How do you end up with a record that is, I don’t think “sexy” is the right word, but that steamy, hot vibe?
Are you asking how Dave’s studio and the environment influenced the record?
I was just wondering about that heat. It’s a really active record, but I imagine his studio being a really quiet, not lonely place, but a place where you kind of slow down.
Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. Um, I dunno. We would split our time in update New York and also in Austin, so we were bouncing back and forth. So songs like “Hot Thoughts,” I mean I do like your description calling it a very active record. I think that’s cool, a good description because I feel like a trick in recorded music is to keep the listener interested for three-and-a-half minutes, you know? So on “Hot Thoughts” there are just a lot of creative surprises that keep bringing you in. There’s a crazy sound or a deluxe guitar solo that happens, and there’s this weird odd bridge and a lot stuff in the chorus. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that for us to be happy we have to be really excited about it. So Dave’s environment we’re there working, and we don’t need to be in an area like that to be focused. Whenever we’re working we’re focused. We go there to be with Dave because he’s great, so I feel like the environment doesn’t really affect us that much. As far as it being an active, hot and exciting record, I think a lot of that is us trying to keep working and making sure every song is as good as it can be.
I couldn’t really catch this vibe off of you from other interviews, so I don’t know if you’re a “what if” kind of person, and I was wondering what kind of band do you think Spoon is if you’d never met Dave? I know you really admire him. Do you ever think about that?
No, I never think about that. I feel like the main thing I add when I look at the entire career is maybe some like odd and original drumming patterns. So that has come to be a development of my style, which in turn directly influenced the Spoon style. I dunno. It would still be Britt singing. It would still be him writing all the songs, so I guess it would be a little different — that’s a good question.
And you are still the resident sexpert in spoon, right?
And you are still the resident sexpert in spoon, right? I dunno, I was watching an interview you did for radio in New Zealand or something, and you said you were the expert on sex or something.
(Laughs) I think that was like a jet lag comment that I rolled with or something. It’s all good. I’ll consider myself the resident sexpert even though I’m married.
Thanks well hope you have a good show tonight. Safe travels. See you when you get here.
See you in Tampa, man.
Okay cheers, take care — bye.