The dapper indie-rock icon talks PR nightmares, cover tunes, and high-profile collaboration.
1. He’s all about turning lemons into lemonade.
When word got out in late May that Spoon bandleader Britt Daniel had formed a new group with former Wolf Parade member Dan Boeckner, the announcement seemed ill-timed. Barely a week earlier, Boeckner confirmed, “with a heavy heart,” that Handsome Furs, his duo with wife Alexei Perry, had split up. Boeckner and Daniel’s newly-minted Divine Fits is hardly a rebound band, however: The two indie-rock luminaries had been talking about forming a band for more than a year, and had recorded most of their debut album (A Thing Called Divine Fits, which came out last week) by the time the headlines broke. “That was not by design,” says Daniel, who knew about the HF breakup. “I think at first Dan felt bad because he had mentioned it in some interview—as an aside. And then [the news] came out [when] we were planning to announce the band the next week. I’m pretty sure I convinced him that it wasn’t a big deal. Sometimes things happen in a way that you didn’t foresee, so you go, ‘This has gotta be wrong.’ I think it’s fun to try and not look at things that way.”
2. He knows the power of branding.
Though the name Divine Fits sounds like either a form of religious ecstasy or the handle for a really slick tailoring shop, Daniel says, “They were just words that I liked.” Out of the 30 or 40 that they toyed with (including Lace Jerks and Hot Skull), he says it came down to the fact that the words looked the best on the record covers they’d already designed. “That’s the hard part,” he says of the name game. “Because you’re thinking that’s the thing we’re going to live with for so long. Naming an album or naming a song is no problem.”
3. A good cover is hard to find.
Both Spoon and Wolf Parade (the latter announced it was going on indefinite hiatus in May 2011) have enjoyed longstanding status as fan favourites and critical darlings, thanks in no small part to the distinctive sounds of each band. You can hear equal parts psychedelia and punk intensity in Wolf Parade’s sprawling guitar rock, while Spoon’s stripped-down flirtation with soul grooves and catchy hooks makes for perfect deconstructionist pop. Unsurprisingly, whenever Spoon plays anyone else’s songs—even the occasional Wolf Parade tune—those covers are overwhelmed by the band’s aesthetic. Daniel does have a few thoughts on the subject of cover songs, since A Thing Called Divine Fits includes a striking take on “Shivers,” a number by Nick Cave’s first band, The Boys Next Door. “There are so many amazing songs out there that aren’t really great to cover because everybody knows them or the original version is…you know, how can you top it?” he says. “But with this one, I felt like not a lot of people knew it, and we could approach it in a new way and it would work out.” Which is a modest way of saying that Divine Fits totally own “Shivers.”
4. The age of band monogamy is over.
If the Flaming Lips’s ongoing series of collaborations—or pretty much every hip-hop guest verse—is any indication, we’ve entered an age where stepping out on your regular band isn’t considered cheating. Digital recording technology has streamlined this process to the point where most guest appearances are basically Skyped in. Though much of the writing for A Thing Called Divine Fits was done while Boeckner camped out at Daniel’s place in L.A., emailing song ideas to each other helped facilitate the collaboration. Some of those embryonic recordings even made it to the finished product: “Sometimes you just can’t top that vocal you do when you’re actually writing the [song]. There’s just something about that,” says Daniel. “It seems like that kind of un-fussed-over spontaneity is the way records used to get made.” Divine Fits might just be the indie-rock answer to Kanye and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne—at the very least, they’re more than deserving of the “supergroup” honorific that’s being appended to nearly every mention of the band. “I don’t think it’s a terrible word,” muses Daniel. “I mean, we are super.”
Britt Daniel Fast Facts
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Major label releases: Spoon’s A Series of Sneaks (Elektra, 1998); Divine Fits’ A Thing Called Divine Fits (Universal [in Canada], 2012).
Indie label releases: Everything else.
Film scores: Stranger Than Fiction.
Acting debut: Singing karaoke on Veronica Mars.
Car-commercial payday: “I Turn My Camera on” for Jaguar.
Divine Fits play Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor St. W.) on Sept. 5.