Britt Daniel, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist for indie rock band Spoon, walked into Ruby's BBQ on Guadalupe Street on a sweltering Sunday afternoon at the end of July. It was three days before his new band, Divine Fits — which releases its debut, "A Thing Called Divine Fits," on Tuesday — was scheduled to make its live debut at small Red River rock bastion Beerland, and two days before the band billed as the Hot Skull would undercut their own debut with a surprise set at the Continental Club.
The rest of the band — Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs), Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks) and Alex Fischel (Papa) — were running late. Daniel offered a quick apology before explaining how glad he was to be at the University of Texas campus-area restaurant, one of his favorite places to eat in town. Once inside, Daniel got a "Norm"-like greeting from the owners. They even made him a salad off the menu.
Talk then turned to Spoon, which, outside of some benefit shows for former Chronicle columnist Chris Gray in the spring, a festival appearance in Spain and a headlining spot at Fun Fun Fun Fest last November, hasn't done a whole lot in nearly two years.
Daniel has fronted Spoon since the mid-'90s (and, along with Jim Eno, has been one of two consistent members). From 1996 to 2010, the band released seven full-length albums, just as many EPs and a giant pile of singles. Daniel has done some work as a solo artist, but for the past decade, it's mostly been about Spoon.
"I just wanted to be in a band where I didn't write all of the songs and didn't sing all of the songs, but I still wanted to write some of the songs and sing some of the songs," Daniel said.
Wish granted. In Divine Fits, he and Boeckner split songwriting and singing duties. And one of the songs on which Daniel sings lead, the haunting "Shivers," is a cover written by Australian songwriter Roland Howard (the Boys Next Door, the Birthday Party). Daniel isn't limiting his new, nonfrontman activity to Divine Fits, either. He's also involved in a project, Spl:t S:ngle, fronted by Jason Narducy (Verbow, Robert Pollard, Bob Mould, Telekinesis) and featuring Superchunk's Jon Wurster on drums. In addition to ceding some of his songwriting duties, Daniel is also playing bass in both new bands.
Boeckner, with his cut-off T-shirt and messy hair, stands as a bit of a rock 'n' roll foil to the more-or-less clean-cut Daniel, and he seemed excited to talk about the new band. Even though the two have been friends for several years, Boeckner said it was still kind of weird to play in a band with a musician he admired while in high school in Canada.
"I bought the first Spoon 7-inch. I used to get this magazine called ‘Snipe Hunt' when I lived in British Columbia," he said. "They were constantly talking up Spoon, so I ordered the 7-inch."
Boeckner founded Wolf Parade with Spencer Krug in Montreal in 2003; the group went on to build a sizeable fan base and mountains of praise from the likes of Pitchfork and Spin, which described the band's 2010 album, "Expo 86," as "the sound of a majestic and well-oiled indie machine." In 2006, Boeckner and his wife, Alexei Perry, formed Handsome Furs and released three well-received albums on Sub Pop.
Daniel's introduction to Boeckner came a couple of years ago, when he saw Handsome Furs play in Portland, Ore. He knew of Wolf Parade but hadn't heard them; a Handsome Furs video piqued his curiosity about the band. "It was really dark, creepy, awesome," Daniel said.
Boeckner introduced himself at the show; the two got along and went on to perform together, including a Spoon show at Radio City Music Hall, where Boeckner joined the band for a cover of Wolf Parade's "Modern World."
"Last February, he mentioned that Wolf Parade was winding down," Daniel said. "And I said, ... what?"
"You said we should start a rock band," Boeckner said. "And I said ‘Yes, yes we should.' "
Longtime Spoon producer Mike McCarthy introduced the pair to Sam Brown, who plays drums with Ohio punk group New Bomb Turks. His skills extend beyond punk, including a stint on tour with indie producer RJD2. "I think it might be a little misleading for people when they see New Bomb Turks," he said. "They think it's going to be this rager."
At the recommendation of Arcade Fire's Win Butler, the group set off for Los Angeles to work with producer Nick Launay, whose credits include Public Image Ltd., the Birthday Party, Gang of Four and INXS. Boeckner was impressed with Launay's consistency. "Not a lot of people came out of the other side of the '80s making crazy, good-sounding records," he said.
Keyboardist Alex Fischel joined Daniel, Boeckner and Brown for sessions that represented a departure from their previous experiences. "With Wolf Parade, people's feelings got really easily hurt about editing. This band is kind of the opposite of that," Boeckner said.
Daniel agreed; it can be easier to work with other musicians when there isn't any history. "That was one of my favorite parts about making the (Divine Fits) record," he said. "There were a lot of times when people said, ‘No, maybe that's not such a good idea, let's do it this way,' and nobody got their feelings hurt."
"A Thing Called Divine Fits" rings with echoes of the members' other bands — it's hard to hear Daniel's vocals and not be reminded of Spoon — but it's also very much the work of a new group. "My Love Is Real," with its sparse dance floor beat, stands next to "Would That Not Be Nice," with its big bass groove and stuttering keys.
A few nights later at Beerland, it's a little strange to see Daniel perform as part of a group where he's not the only one directing traffic. Over the years, Daniel developed a distinctive stage presence as a reserved lead singer that works his way into fits of passion. Boeckner, on the other hand, flops around, holding on to the mike like his life depends on it.
With only 11 songs, the show is a chance for the band to have some fun with covers. In addition to a moving "Shivers," they offered up a cover of the Wipers' "Doom Town" as well as a spot-on version of Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky." There were still a few rough edges, but for the most part, the experiment worked.
Although the Divine Fits plans to head out on tour in support of the album, Daniel's other band — he's quick to say he doesn't view Divine Fits as a side project — lives on. He's been working on some new Spoon songs during the time off. "We wanted to get off of that treadmill a little bit, take some breathing time and refresh," he said. "I know that sounds cliché, but it really does work."
Contact Peter Mongillo at 445-3696