Divine Fits makes Aspen debut
December 12, 2012
ASPEN – Austin, Texas, proudly calls itself the live music capital of the world, but that billing doesn’t tell the entire story. Austin is amply populated with clubs, festivals, jam sessions and bands and crowds of people drawn to the music, but the scene is dominated to a good degree by roots styles, offshoots of the blues, classic country and early rock, back when the music was known as rock ‘n’ roll.
Britt Daniel grew up in Temple, Texas, an hour north of Austin, easily close enough to be influenced by what was happening in Austin.
“I was amazed by how big music was in this fairly small town. It was a big deal for me, coming from a town of 40,000,” the 41-year-old Daniel said. “There were a lot of record stores. There was a lot of jam-band music.”
But the prevailing sounds in Austin didn’t have much of an impact; Daniel seems to have been influenced more by the record stores than the live music scene. When he did travel south for concerts, it wasn’t such local heroes as Joe Ely, Jimmie Vaughan or Austin godfather Willie Nelson. Daniel’s most memorable trips to Austin were for concerts by punk band the Ramones, hard rockers the Butthole Surfers, the Australian New Wavers the Church and the Flaming Lips, whose theatrical, psychedelic productions are pretty far from the roots of rock.
Daniel attended the University of Texas at Austin and began forming bands while a student there in the early ’90s. Some of his bands leaned toward rootsy sounds; the Alien Beats, which featured Daniel on bass and vocals, was a rockabilly trio. But when Daniel formed his most notable group, Spoon, with Alien Beats drummer Jim Eno, the sound reached for a more modern sensibility, delving into contemporary indie rock.
“It doesn’t fit in with the tradition of blues or roots,” Daniel said of Spoon. Which doesn’t mean the band is completely out of step with its fellow musicians in Austin. Daniel cites acts such as the ’60s group 13th Floor Elevators and the current singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo as examples of locals who pushed the music forward. “We fit in maybe a little more with rock ‘n’ roll or psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll.”
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Spoon’s direction has proved a good one to take; “Kill the Moonlight,” Spoon’s 2002 album, was ranked No. 51 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the ’00s. The band has demonstrated considerable consistency with its seven albums; Metacritic, a website that aggregates reviews from various sources, named Spoon as the top overall artist of the past decade, based on review scores.
Early this year, Daniel, along with Dan Boeckner, of the Montreal indie-rock band Wolf Parade, formed Divine Fits. The new group played its first show in late July and appeared last month on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” makes its Aspen debut Wednesday at 9 p.m. at Belly Up. (The quartet, with drummer Sam Brown, of New Bomb Turks, and keyboardist Alex Fischel also plays Thursday as part of Snow Daze in Vail.)
The debut album, “A Thing Called Divine Fits,” released in August, reveals a band that moves even further away from roots music than Spoon. “A Thing Called Divine Fits” is heavy on synthesizers, lending the sound a distinct ’80s New Wave feel and an arty vibe. But in its methods, Daniel said that Divine Fits is perhaps closer to the looseness of a roots-rock band.
“When we were writing the songs, they went a lot more spontaneously than I wrote with Spoon,” Daniel said from a tour stop in Chicago. “A lot of the songs started with a jam, and then we’d make a form to the song afterward and some lyrics. In Spoon, it’s been done like that a few times but not very often. Usually it’s just me in a room, writing alone.”
Boeckner, who splits the songwriting and lead vocals with Daniel, is apparently done with his old group; Wolf Parade reportedly disbanded earlier this year. Daniel, though, says the rise of Divine Fits, which will carry on beyond the debut album and current tour, does not mean the end of Spoon.
“I’ve got a lot of work cut out for me,” he said of playing in both bands.
He doesn’t expect to be the same musician when he restarts Spoon. For one thing, Divine Fits has allowed Daniel to return to the bass. “It’s been a long time. I can play a lot better now,” he said. Simply being the bassist on half the songs, which gives him a chance to watch Boeckner take on frontman duties, has been enlightening.
“I get to watch Dan, listen to his songs, focus on playing an instrument.”
In the bigger picture, creating and playing new songs in a new way with new bandmates has opened Daniel up.
“The biggest difference is the people. Whenever you get with different people, it’s going to be different. That’s why I formed Divine Fits,” he said. “I don’t write the same way. I don’t have the same frame of mind as I did when I wrote a song 10 years ago. You just hope that the direction is going to be interesting for you and the fans.
“You’re always learning. You never go back to being the musician you were or the person you were. Why can’t Paul McCartney go back and write ‘Blackbird’ again? Or ‘Hey Jude?’ This has got to have changed my process.”