"I'm in two bands now," says Britt Daniel, who recently formed Divine Fits with Dan Boeckner (formerly of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs) and drummer Sam Brown (the New Bomb Turks). The trio just released their psychedelic, synth-heavy LP A Thing Called the Divine Fits, with highlights ranging from the jagged, heavy rocker "Would That Not Be Nice" to the hypnotizing, electronics-drenched "The Salton Sea."
For Daniel, starting Divine Fits was a way to experiment after nearly two decades in the Austin rock band Spoon. "I wanted to try some new things and go some places I haven't gone before," he says. "I love first and foremost being in a band where I can back somebody up and somebody can back me up. [Dan] has a great voice, and I like playing that role of adding to his songs." He chatted with Rolling Stone about his new supergroup's recording process, their touring plans and Spoon's new songwriting formula.
New songs like "The Salton Sea" or "For Your Heart" have these spacey textures and build very minimally. When was it evident that that was the direction that you wanted to go with Divine Fits?
I mean, that's what people have been saying about my music for awhile. I guess it's the only way I know how to make records, because I never thought about it. I never thought about it until people started saying that to me after [Spoon's] Kill the Moonlight. We kind of just got together and said, "Let's see what happens." I remember us saying several times – and Sam, too, because he was involved from the beginning – saying, "Let's not play by any rules and we'll just see what happens. You know, we're not going to have anything established ahead of time, like this is going to be a band of this. We're not going do this style or use these instruments; let's just see what happens." And I think that's been a good thing for the record.
How did Divine Fits start?
I've known Dan for a long time. I met him at a Handsome Furs show. I was just walking around before the show and he was walking around. It was a small club in Portland, and he came up and talked to me. He had listened to Spoon records since he was in high school, apparently. So we met then and he played with Spoon at Radio City Music Hall. Then I was talking to him on the phone and he said that Wolf Parade was kind of dying out, and so I said immediately, "Well, we've got to start a band, then." I kind of threw it out there as a joke, but he took to it.
"Would That Not Be Nice" is one of my favorite ones. How did you write that?
That one was written as a jam. That was during that first round of rehearsals. I think Dan started playing the bassline first, and it sounded good, so I turned on my little handheld recorder and recorded maybe a minute and a half, and later went back and made an arrangement out of it at home, using the computer and singing on top of that.
That one was one where the lyrics came fast. It was based on an email I had sent somebody. Someone had said something about how they were in Minneapolis, and I said, "I sure would like to be in Minneapolis." And I made a list of things I could do in Minneapolis, but the list didn't make the song. That was sort of like the jumping off point.
Your Facebook page said you guys were drinking some vodka and hanging out a lot writing this record. It sounds like it was pretty loose.
There was a little partying. We were in Little Armenia [in Los Angeles] and they had lots of real Russian vodka and real Russian ice cream. We didn't know what else we could do.
Were you able to do experimental things that you haven't gotten the chance to do before?
Dan knows a lot more about synths than I do. There are a lot of songs with synthy basslines. I've never done anything like that before. The main thing for me was just being in a situation where I don't write all the songs and there's not just one voice on the record, you know?
Did anything surprise you about how it would sound?
I didn't know what I was expecting. I just knew that I love his voice. It's one of my favorite rock & roll voices ever. He doesn't have technically the greatest voice, and he'll tell you this himself. Joe Strummer didn't have the best technical voice but he's one of my favorite vocalists, too. He just kind of has this raspy thing and it's all attitude and reaching for something, you know?
This is the first time that you've started a band in about 20 years, right?
Well, it hasn't been quite 20 years, but yeah. I haven't ever had another band since Spoon. I've been pretty dedicated.
What is it like to start over, in a way?
It was a lot of fun. The initial parts of it were sort of somewhat ecstatic high, playing with new people and playing all new songs and being in a new situation in a new town. That was pretty right-on. Then you start making the record and you get down to, like, "Okay, now there's some pressure here."
Do you guys plan to tour extensively off of this?
Yeah, it's a real record. It's a real band. [laughs]
Would you call it a side project?
I'm in two bands. But Dan's only in one band now. He's always been in two bands. All his bands ended, so . . .
How's he doing?
He's happy to be in this one. He's the kind of guy who will say stuff to you like, "I love being in bands!" He was saying that a lot right when we started this band. But he's working on a soundtrack now and that's keeping him busy. He's got no shortage of projects.
I know with Spoon records you like to labor a lot on the sounds. Did you do the same kind of laboring or was this a little faster?
It was less labored than the last couple Spoon records, yeah. We had the idea that we were going to finish it in four, five weeks but that did not happen. But it still got done pretty fast.
What's going on with Spoon right now?
Well, we just played a show in Spain last month and we played a couple shows earlier this year. We're gonna be lying low until I'm done doing shows for this record but then we'll get together. I do have a couple songs set aside and I've been telling them to maybe write some music maybe for me to sing on top of, you know. I've never done it that way but I'd like to try that.
So, have everyone kind of write and then you come in and add something?
Yeah. It was my way of saying, like, "If you don't want to just sit around, you could be working on this." You know, maybe like get us off to a start. When I come back, we'll be a little ahead of the game.