At the start of their tour behind the great new Lucifer On the Sofa (QRO review), Alex Fischel of Spoon sat down with QRO. In the conversation, the guitarist/keyboardist talked about everyone getting into one room to make Lucifer, everyone having to leave again due to COVID, having it ready to go but holding off, joining Spoon, touring again, livestreams, music videos, canned laughter, The Tick, and more…
QRO: How have you been holding up these last two years?
Alex Fischel: It’s been an interesting time, for sure. As I’m sure it’s been for everybody.
We went into making this record, wanting to do it as a band, all together, in the same room, playing. So, I moved to Austin, and most of the other guys live there, so we were spending a lot of time together, in-person, hashing shit out, kind of in real time.
And then, all of a sudden, that all kinda came to a grinding halt. And it went to the opposite of that kind of experience.
At first, I was like, ‘This will be over in two weeks. Just stay in the apartment for a couple weeks. This is no problem, watch a lot of movies. I like to be alone to a degree, so this is perfect.’ And then it slowly dawned on me that this was going to be a little bit longer than two weeks.
Drove back home. It was the first time that I had a significant chunk of time at home in like ten-ish years, probably. So, that was an interesting experience in itself.
QRO: And how is the rest of the band?
AF: Everyone’s doing well now. We had our first ‘real’ show for this album [on April 6th], and it felt really good.
During the lockdown, we would do like Zoom hangouts. There was a few times, where eventually, as we figured out how the thing worked, we were able to get back together, mask up & test, etc., so we could continue working on this project in the way that we had intended to in the first place.
But I think everybody’s very happy & excited to be back out doing shows. It feels very good.
QRO: I saw you all last fall. Was that Spoon’s first proper post-COVID tour?
AF: That was a short stint of, ‘We’re getting band back together’ kind of thing. Two or three little week-long runs.
And we started to play some of the new songs, but it wasn’t like this is now, the album’s out, we’re playing shows for the album. It was more like, ‘Well, it seems like we can play some shows right now. That would be fun. Let’s do it.’
And that was this kind of little ‘sweet spot’ right between Delta and Omicron. So, everything was kind of, ‘Oh, I think we’re good,’ and then…
We had a New Year’s show – obviously in December – and we had to cancel it like a day or two before. People in both of the opening bands had it.
I still went to Austin, just to hang out. I ended up getting it while I was there. It was rampant. So, everything went to a halt again.
In a similar way, we had played a show right before Delta had sprung up in Austin, in May or June. That felt like, ‘Oh, everything’s going back to normal.’ And then, three weeks later, no, done…
We got lucky with these little ‘sweet spots.’
QRO: For that mini-tour, was there a lot of pent-up drive to finally get back on the road?
AF: Yeah, totally.
There was a different energy about it, because there was more caution on those trips, I think, because still it seemed more messy than it does now. There was just a ‘How is this going to be?’ kind of question about it. It ended up being fine.
But with these shows, it’s definitely more of a release for us, I think, because the album’s out, and we’re able to dig into that more.
QRO: On this tour, you’ll also be playing both Atlanta’s Shaky Knees Festival (QRO preview) and Memphis’ Beale Street Festival on this tour – have you done any festivals since COVID?
AF: Hmm… No, I don’t think so. That’s a good question.
We did a couple shows for South-by[-Southwest], but those were indoors & small. So, nothing on that scale, definitely not.
QRO: How was making Lucifer On the Sofa? You said you had gone into it wanting to all be in the room – when COVID hit, did you think, ‘Okay, maybe we should just not do that,’ or were you trying to get back to that?
AF: It fucking sucked!
We got to this point, on Hot Thoughts (QRO review) we toured it a lot. Because we toured it so much, the songs ended up evolving, in a way as they do when you play them. There’s an exchange that you don’t get in the studio.
I love that record, but it was made in a different way, where it was very much put together in the studio. There’s definitely stuff that was done live, but there wasn’t this commitment to making it a ‘live band record.’ There’s more electronics, there’s more synthetics – it just has a different feel.
So, because we toured it so much, and we noticed the songs were evolving in these cool ways, we thought, ‘Okay, why don’t we try to make the next record like this?’ Where, before we record them, we’re gonna be playing them a ton, all in the same place, and kind of hashing them out together, figuring out the parts in the room together. Feeding off of that energy.
Sometimes you come up with the concept of how you want something to go, and you go to do it, and it does not work at all. So, you end up finding something else, and that’s that. That’s how shit works.
With these shows, it’s definitely more of a release for us, I think, because the album’s out, and we’re able to dig into that more.
But for this, I think the first track we worked on was “The Hardest Cut” (QRO review), and it came together really well. We were just like, ‘Okay, I think we’re gonna be able to actually pursue this concept of we’re gonna be playing this together, as a band’ – I think it helped so much that we had been touring so much, and playing so much, together, already – and just recording it in that way.
And then, COVID hits. And it’s almost like, we’re getting mocked. It’s like, ‘You’ve decided to do this thing this way, it’s working, but now you’re not allowed to do it this way.’ It was a bummer, for sure.
But, it gave Britt [Daniel, singer/guitarist] time to write some songs that wouldn’t have been on the record, if that hadn’t happened. I think the record definitely benefited from having those songs on it.
And eventually, we figured out a way to get back together, and continue doing it that way. And, for the most part, the record was done that way.
Except for “Lucifer On the Sofa”, the track itself. We were piecing that one together more. I remember I was on Zoom with Britt, and we were figuring out keyboard sounds. Dave Fridmann produced that one, and he was out in Fredonia, Britt was in Austin, I was in L.A. We were all piecing it together in that way.
I feel like that’s the only song that ended up being made in that way. The rest we were able to eventually come back together.
It’s like, ‘You’ve decided to do this thing this way, it’s working, but now you’re not allowed to do it this way.’
QRO: So, the song that the album was titled after is different than the rest of the album… [laughs]
AF: Yeah. It kind of has this striking tone to it, where I think were just like, ‘Let’s use it.’
QRO: Why did you include a cover of Smog’s “Held” – as the opening track, no less?
AF: So, that was a song that we had covered a long time ago, before I was around.
We were getting back together, before we were started recording, just kind of playing songs, getting back into doing it. I think Britt was like, ‘Let’s do the Smog cover.’ And we were playing it, and are like, ‘Hmm… sounds pretty fucking good. Maybe we should record it?’
Eventually, we came back around to it, recorded it. We had Gerardo (Larios, guitarist), who was able to really play that riff, and kind of free Britt up to focus on the vocals.
In regards to it being an opening track, it has that stuff at the top. There’s little remnants, and morsels, “Take two, take three,” whatever. Cause there’s actually two takes panned, left and right. So, there’s actually two takes happening, drums & guitars, I think.
You put so much work into an album, and you wanna be able to play it, and have it be received, and not be lost in this depressive hole.
QRO: How tough was it for so long, not being able to release new material that you had? Or was it more that you were still working on it?
AF: We had finished up. But there was always this understanding of like, you put so much work into an album, and you wanna be able to play it, and have it be received, and not be lost in this depressive hole.
I really felt bad for so many bands who had released their albums in the beginning of 2020, January, February, around then. Watching them start their tours, feeling good, and all of sudden they had to stop.
A lot of albums got completely left in the dust, and a lot of people had to go and make a new album. Because, at that point, it’s old for them, and they want to do something new.
For us, we got lucky, where we were still working, and we had more time to work. And we finished well before we were able to start playing shows again, but there was also this understanding of, we want to release it, and be able to play shows, and do it right, and feel good & not feel like, ‘We put in all this work, and now we’re not going to be able to enjoy the work…’
I was like, ‘Is this weird? Am I being creepy? What am I supposed to do? I don’t know…’
QRO: I remember that happened to Nicole Atkins, who opened for you in the fall. She had a record (Italian Ice – QRO review), delayed it once, but had to put it out [in 2020]. So, then she did some different thing with it, to make a new version last year (Memphis Ice – QRO review)…
AF: A lot of people had to figure out creative things like that, trying to keep it relevant in some way.
I think of that band Soccer Mommy. They put out their record (Color Theory) at the same time, and now they have a new record coming out in the next few months (Sometimes, Forever).
And the last record, I thought there were a couple really, really good songs on that, that didn’t maybe get the recognition they would have gotten, had there not been a pandemic going on.
QRO: Nicole, and this other band Grouplove, had a record out like March 13th [2020, Healer – QRO review] – they were doing a lot of those livestream things…
AF: It got to a point where I would see like, my phone would notify me, there would be like 500 livestreams! Nobody wants this many fucking livestreams!
I get it, okay, you’ve got to do something, but just chill out – so many livestreams…
QRO: Speaking of livestreams, how was having your Los Angeles show last fall livestreamed?
AF: We did the show, and it was broadcast at a later date.
And there was a little bit at the end, after the show, that me & Britt had done together. That was fun. We got to do it, the two of us, acoustic, relaxed vibes.
QRO: Was it his idea to not only have canned laughter, but also to thank the ‘crowd’ after it?
AF: It was a group effort.
My friend Greg Hartunian was engineering that session, and I think Britt brought up that it’d be great to have some claps, or applause, so it doesn’t feel so awkward, just the two of us, staring into the camera, going, ‘Alright, here’s the next one…’
I’ve known Greg since I was 15. He was like, ‘I’ve got the perfect thing, man…’ And he pulled it off, and it was perfect. He had jazz lounge music doing at the top, too. Awesome…
Spoon’s video for “The Hardest Cut”:
QRO: How was making the video for “The Hardest Cut”?
AF: That was fun. That was a fun day.
I had never been a part of a video that was that big of a production.
It was fun, it was weird, because there were tons of extras there. We were just looking at each other. They’re actors, so they’re probably more used to that kind of experience, but to me, I was like, ‘Is this weird? Am I being creepy? What am I supposed to do? I don’t know…’
It was cool to see the whole thing come together. We filmed it out in the boonies, this wild old house. It was really fun.
QRO: Was there any extra pressure on that video, it being sort of your first debut of new music since COVID?
AF: Extra pressure?
There’s always the pressure of, ‘Let’s make it be a good video,’ and a lot of times, that’s hard. Music videos, for some reason, it’s difficult to make one that feels good.
Overall, this one, at least to me, felt really good. That pressure was, I guess, alleviated, in some way, because it wasn’t bad… [laughs]
QRO: And were you fine with the new video for “Wild” just being Britt? Less work for you…
AF: I almost like that video more. There’s something that’s very striking about it.
That video was more low-budget, and when that happens, you have to get creative with how you make it happen.
The director was this guy I’d never met, Brook Linder – I messaged him afterwards, “This is amazing! I’m so excited about how this turned out!” Really cool aesthetic, and really cool trickery with how he filmed it. I just thought it looked great.
Spoon’s video for “Wild”:
QRO: Spoon has such a long history & impressive catalogue – do you get requests for old, obscure songs and are like, ‘I don’t know that one…’?
AF: For sure, yeah.
There’s definitely some that I think we’ve requested, as fans of the old catalogue as well. I’m like, ‘You know Britt, why don’t we play this one?’ And he’s like, ‘Hmm… I don’t know about that…’ [laughs]
But there are some that do end up working their way in, for sure.
QRO: This is going back a bit, but what was it like going from being part of Britt’s side-project/super-group Divine Fits with Dan Boeckner [Wolf Parade], to then joining Spoon proper?
AF: That’s how I met Britt.
I had initially had met Dan, and Dan phoned me up after I had met him, and asked me to come to a rehearsal. And I didn’t know much about what was going on. I just figured he was working on something, and wanted to hear what keyboards would sound like with it or something.
I showed up, and it was him, and Britt was there, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what this is – this is weird…’ I jammed with them, and I thought, ‘Okay, cool experience. That’s the end of that.’ But they kept calling me, and eventually asked if I would do the record with them, and I was like, ‘Yeah, definitely.’
I had just dropped out of school. I was playing like in a wedding band. It was just like, ‘Yeah, this is awesome!’
And then, halfway through, we had two New Year’s shows, with The Black Keys, on the Divine Fits tour. The first night, we had taken some mushrooms, and I hadn’t seen them since then. And I was walking up to the stage, and I heard my name, and I was like, ‘Oh, fuck, god damn’ – I was like, ‘I did something weird last night…’
But then it turned out that Britt was like, ‘I was talking with Dan about how I wanted to ask you to do Spoon stuff with me, once this wraps up.’ And I was like, ‘Oh – I’ll check my calendar. I think I should be free…’
So then, it was kind of straight into that.
I’m like, ‘You know Britt, why don’t we play this one?’ And he’s like, ‘Hmm… I don’t know about that…’
QRO: [laughs] I love those kinds of team-ups, but they’re usually just for one record. Were you wondering during Divine Fits, ‘What’s my next gig?’ – and then it’s Spoon?!?
AF: It just was weird, how it all happens like that.
I was going to school for music, and I was like, ‘This. Is. Awful.’ It was just sucking all the life out of it. It just seemed like, if you were going to school for music, it was to become a professor, or some sort of music historian, something like that. And I had no interest in that.
This kind of just all happened, coincidentally, somehow, all lined up right around the same time.
When the Divine Fits was happening, I was just kind of like, ‘Something’s gonna work itself out from this. Now I at least have a real, decent job. From here, I’m gonna figure something else out. I know something will happen.’ There wasn’t a ‘panic.’
I was panicking before that happened. ‘I can’t be in a wedding band forever. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I don’t know how to do anything else. I gotta figure something out…’ And then Divine Fits happened. ‘Whew! I’m gonna be alright…’
It’s just so much about getting along with people. Through doing Divine Fits, you meet people that you get along with. If it wasn’t going to be with Spoon, Dan, and Sam [Brown, New Bomb Turks], the other guys in Divine Fits, they were all going to do other music projects as well, and I got along super well with them, too. So, something would have worked out.
But I’m definitely not upset with how it has worked out. It’s been really fun making these last few records.
QRO: Finally, have you or anyone in the band heard of the TV show The Tick?
AF: It sounds familiar.
QRO: It’s a spoof on superheroes. The Tick, who is super-strong, loves the concept of being a superhero, but not that smart – his battle-rally cry is, “SPOON!!!” He came up with it at breakfast…
AF: [laughs] No, I don’t think I’ve seen it.
The name sounds familiar, but I think I would remember that…