Spoon didn’t quite intend for their next album to became Lucifer on the Sofa. In fact, the title track was almost left off the record entirely.
To be sure, the blueprint that gives the indie rock stalwarts’ 10th LP its form was there from the start. As frontman Britt Daniel puts it, the band wanted to “shoot for that great rock and roll album status.” It was a desire born as much as a reaction to Spoon’s previous effort, 2017’s “fairly pieced together, very produced” Hot Thoughts, as it was a response to modern music at large.
“I don’t think there’s enough great rock and roll records out there,” says Daniel.
Their intention was to deliver this return to rock in 2020. After years living in Los Angeles and recording everywhere from rural New York to Portland, Daniel moved back to Austin, Texas in the fall of 2019. Guitarist/keyboardist Alex Fischel followed close behind, with Spoon convening in drummer Jim Eno’s Public Hi-Fi studio right in the capitol. The band was aiming to break away from the sounds of their recent albums by reconnecting with the “identity and culture” of the city that birthed them.
“We had made the last couple records in isolation,” Daniel explains. “When you’re working on a record with [Hot Thoughts and They Want My Soul producer] David Fridmann, and you’re working out in the woods in this one studio where you’re staying in these little bunk beds, it’s a different experience from being in a city where you can go out and have a drink or go see a show and then bring that energy back home and write a song with it. That was the design.”
For a good five months, “it worked beautifully,” with the band enjoying the dynamism of the city and its impact on their own music. Then a different sort of isolation was forced upon them with the onset of the pandemic. Recording halted, and Fischel retreated back to LA. The best laid plans of mice and men had suddenly turned into the longest gap ever between Spoon records.
“I sure would’ve loved to have put this record out sooner,” Daniel admits. “One thing after another led to it taking longer this time.”
Those things included Spoon’s greatest hits project, Everything Hits at Once, and recording “No Bullets Spent” specifically for that release. Then just as they eyed settling into sessions again, they were offered a chance to open for Beck in the summer of 2019. When they finally got to Austin and started working in earnest, the pandemic hit.
Still, without all those delays, Lucifer on the Sofa wouldn’t exist in precisely the same lively, rollicking form it does now. “In the end, I think if anything, it’s just a better record for it,” asserts Daniel.
During lockdown, Daniel continued writing new material. He found himself so taken with the fresh work he decided to bump tracks previously set for the new album. “Some of those are gonna come out still,” he promises, adding with a laugh, “and then some of ’em I never want to hear again.”
Songs like early single “Wild,” “The Devil and Mr. Jones,” and “Lucifer on the Sofa” all came from this more solitary period of creativity. That last one captures the coronavirus quiet of the Austin Daniel was living in at the time as a quintessential Spoon track. It sees the narrator “cruising up Lavaca” and “thinking about Dale Watson,” the loneliness reflected in Jim Eno’s steady, contemplative drumming and layered-in synths. Yet despite being so representative of this period and the city which inspired the record, it almost didn’t make the final tracklist.
“It didn’t fit,” Daniel says. “We thought we were gonna lose the cohesiveness, but I eventually figured out you can put it at the end and then it’s this sendoff point where the record sort of veers into uncharted territory and shoots off into outer space. [Lead-in tracks] ‘Astral Jacket’ and ‘Satellite’ present sort of a left turn in themselves, and then it really goes off the deep end for that last song.”
It’s true these final songs have a different feel from the grooves and blues of Side A. With its winding Wurlitzer and pounding timpani, “Astral Jacket” feels like the dawn following the night out that is earlier tracks like “Feels Alright” or “The Hardest Cut.” Daniel gives credit for some of that latter single’s ripping sound to guitarist Gerardo Larios and bassist Ben Trokan, two former touring members recently upgraded to full-time status.
“We’ve never had a guitar solo like the one that’s on ‘The Hardest Cut,'” says Daniel. “I can’t play a solo like that, but Gerardo, it comes very natural to him. We’re now able to do a lot of things we couldn’t do before.”
Larios and Trokan’s experience performing with Spoon certainly aided in translating their live sound to record. It’s that closing title track that Daniel points to as the hardest to reverse engineer back to the stage. Still, the cool, lonely sound of all those dissolving horns are why it works so well as the outro track, and sequencing is something Spoon has always considered paramount. Daniel notes “we worked a long time on the flow” of Lucifer on the Sofa.
“The way that people find out about bands they don’t know, yeah, it can be dependent on songs,” he adds. “But I’m here talking to you because we put out an album. Everybody from JAY-Z on down, their cycle, as you might call it, is all based on the album. So I think [sequencing] is important to artists and I think it’s important to fans who love a particular artist.”
Which makes it all the more interesting they decided to open Lucifer on the Sofa with a cover. “Held” is originally from Bill Callahan’s Smog project, and Spoon punch it up with quaking piano and furiously smooth drums. Although it’s not their own number, the stomping presentation perfectly prepares the listener for a Spoon effort that is decidedly not Hot Thoughts.
“The simple fact of the way the song starts with all the studio chatter and the accidental sounds that, you know, aren’t really part of the song,” Daniel says. “They totally become part of that version of the song; they are so much part of the recording. You can’t let them go. It just felt like a really good way to open a record. It’s scene setting.”
After all, Spoon wanted to capture their live sound, so why not open with a song they used to cover in concert all the time? And why not leave in all the instrumental tinkering and voices — including Daniel’s own calling to “do the fill twice as long” — to highlight that band-in-a-room feel?