Back at home: Spoon records new album 'Lucifer on the Sofa' primarily in Austin
In the title track to "Lucifer on the Sofa," which comes out Friday on Matador Records, Spoon leader Britt Daniel seems very much a man about town in Austin. First he’s “cruising up Lavaca,” then heading down West Avenue “while those black birds make their noise” (grackles, we presume).
He even name-checks a fellow local artist. One might expect Sweet Spirit or A Giant Dog, indie bands he’s known to have championed. But instead, the shoutout goes to … Dale Watson?
“I've probably seen more Dale Watson shows than anything else in the last 10 years,” Daniel reveals in a recent phone interview. “It's either him or A Giant Dog, but I think it's him.”
That might come as a surprise, given that Spoon isn’t exactly known for its boot-scootin’ country numbers. “I know what you mean,” Daniel says. “There's not a lot of the honky-tonk style music in our albums. But I'm a big fan, for sure.” He mentions that Watson opened a Spoon show at Stubb’s many years ago, and that they’d shared bills with him at least a couple of times on tour.
It makes sense in the grander sense that Daniel has always very much valued the broad Austin music community that gave rise to Spoon in the 1990s. That’s part of what motivated the band to record “Lucifer on the Sofa” primarily in Austin, after several albums done primarily in far-flung locations ranging from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon, to upstate New York.
“The idea was just to be able to take in some of the vibrancy of this city, and use that energy to write and to record,” Daniel explains. The pandemic tossed a wrench into those plans, though it all worked out in the end.
“We thought we were almost done with the record when the pandemic hit,” he says. “And then I ended up writing a lot more songs. It was the thing that made me feel the most normal during the thick of the lockdown. Then I knew that we had to get rid of some of the songs we had recorded, because these were better. So it just gave us more songs, and probably made it a stronger record.”
Compared to 2017’s “Hot Thoughts,” which relied heavily on keyboards, the band took a more raw approach this time. Spoon's members thought there weren't enough "great rock & roll records" being made these days, Daniel says. With that direction in mind, they also wanted to shake up how and where they recorded it.
Part of that process was enlisting producer Mark Rankin, known for his work with Queens of the Stone Age and Adele. Rankin produced the one new track on the band’s 2019 best-of collection “Everything Hits at Once,” and the band liked the results.
“We tried him out, and we never looked back,” Daniel said. “He’s British, but he lives in L.A., and we would fly him out here for a week at a time.”
The album was recorded mostly at Spoon drummer Jim Eno’s Public Hi-Fi studio, where Eno does a lot of projects with other acts as a producer and engineer. It might seem natural for Eno to just self-produce the Spoon albums — something they essentially tried for 2010’s “Transference,” when Daniel was living in Portland — but Daniel says he thinks it helps to work with someone outside the band.
“Having somebody involved with a record who has nothing to do with the writing of the songs gives a very valuable perspective in the studio,” he says. “It's not quite as fun for me to self-produce.”
With Daniel now back in Austin, and with multi-instrumentalist Gerardo Larios (of local bands Money Chicha and Hard Proof) having joined in 2017, the majority of Spoon’s lineup now resides in the city again. Keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel moved here for a stretch while the album was being made but returned to Los Angeles shortly after the pandemic began. Bassist Ben Trokan, the most recent addition in 2019, lives in Brooklyn.
One other song from “Lucifer on the Sofa” further underscores the Austin connection. The album opens with a cover of “Held” by Smog, the performing name of prominent local lo-fi artist Bill Callahan. Spoon used to play it at live shows more than a decade ago, but “it fell off the set list, and I don’t know why,” Daniel says.
One day, they were playing covers to warm up, and Daniel pulled “Held” out of mothballs. “I used to play guitar on it, which I kind of butchered,” he says. “I moved over to bass, and now we have Gerardo Larios, who can play amazing guitar.
“All of a sudden, it sounded a lot better than I remembered us ever playing it. And I said, 'Well, maybe this isn't just for fun. Maybe we should record this.'”
Release date: Feb. 11. Here’s the video for the track “Wild”:
MORE NEW AUSTIN MUSIC
Here’s a look at a dozen more local and Austin-connected records coming out this month or recently released.
David Ramirez, 'Rules and Regulations' EP
After a 2021 EP that focused on traditional gospel material, Ramirez returns to the dramatic singer-songwriter material that has been his bread and butter, with this set of six tunes that didn’t make the cut of previous albums. Recorded live with a band at Austin Signal Studios, these songs prove to be much more than leftovers; each one compares well to Ramirez’s best material.
Especially of note is the final track, “I Believe You,” co-written with Matt Wright during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearings. The song expresses solidarity with Christine Blasey Ford, who testified during the hearings that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were younger.
Release date: Feb. 25. Playing March 5 at Far Out Lounge. Here’s “I Believe You”:
Oliver Future, 'A Year at Home'
Brothers Noah and Josh Lit and their bandmates have a flair for grandly baroque indie pop on this nine-song release, their first in more than a decade. Formed in Austin 20 years ago, the group moved to Los Angeles in 2005, then splintered in 2008 after bassist Jesse Ingalls ended up in Ben Harper’s band. The Lit brothers moved back to Austin and started Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches on Manor Road.
But music still beckoned, and in 2019, they reconvened with Ingalls and guitarist Sam Raver for a reunion show at the Continental Club. That led to this album, recorded during the pandemic with session drummer Jimmy Paxson.
Release date: Feb. 18. Here’s the video for the opening track, “Phases of the Moon”:
Terry Klein, 'Good Luck, Take Care'
After two albums recorded locally with Walt Wilkins producing, singer-songwriter Klein traveled to Nashville and recorded these 10 songs with Thomm Jutz, known for his work with Nanci Griffith, Mac Wiseman and others. “Good Luck, Take Care” is an adventurous step up from 2019’s folk-oriented “Tex,” with more rocking tracks such as the bluesy opener “60 in a 75,” the rollicking “The Ballad of Dick Trickle” and the full-on rocker “Salinas” opening up new avenues for Klein’s artistry.
Release date: Feb. 25. Playing Feb. 20 at NeWorlDeli and Feb. 21 at Poodie’s Roadhouse. Here’s a live version of the track “The Ballad of Dick Trickle”:
Kiko Villamizar, 'Todo El Mundo'
American-Statesman writer Deborah Sengupta Stith observes: “On the title track, the Colombian American singer-songwriter considers the idea of border crossings within the larger context of humanity’s existence on Earth. Much of the album, originally planned for a 2020 release, was written in response to the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the Texas border. While his last album, 'Aguas Frías,' focused on water, wind is the dominant element this time.” We’ll have more on Villamizar next week.
Release date: Feb. 18. Here’s the video for the track “Tuya Tuyita”:
Aaron McDonnell, 'Too Many Days Like Saturday Night'
A regular performer at honky-tonks such at the White Horse with his band the Neon Eagles, Pacific Northwest transplant McDonnell finally made a full-length album after issuing five EPs from 2014 to 2018. McDonnell plays radio-friendly, rock-edged country with a more organic feel than most of his Texas roadhouse circuit peers. A bonus demo version of the album highlight “Tell the Devil” concludes the dozen-track set.
Released: Feb. 4. Playing March 5 at Rodeo Austin BBQ Cookoff. Here’s the title track:
Willie D & the Hip Pockets, 'Rock, Rhythm & Jazz'
Formed in 2018, saxophonist and singer William M. Daniel Jr.’s outfit features guitarist Austin Roach, bassist Josef Pelletier and drummer Adam Nurre on 10 tracks of energetic old-school R&B that’s designed to fill the dance floor. Some heavy-hitting locals helped to flesh out the sound, including singers Angela Miller and Lauren Cervantes (best known for their work with Black Pumas) and members of Grupo Fantasma, Brownout and Mingo Fishtrap.
Release date: Feb. 25. Release show Feb. 26 at Skylark Lounge. Here’s a recent live-session video from Space ATX:
Carson McHone, 'Still Life'
An Austin native whose parents are co-owners of Austin music havens the White Horse and Sagebrush, McHone recently got married and moved to Canada. The big change is reflected in her music, which turns somewhat more toward indie rock with less of a lean toward the trad-country sounds that marked her early work. She’s also primed to be heard by audiences well beyond her Texas roots, thanks to a deal with prominent North Carolina indie label Merge Records.
Release date: Feb. 25. Here’s the video for the title track:
Eliza Gilkyson, 'Songs From the River Wind'
Since releasing the acclaimed album “2020” in, well, 2020, Gilkyson moved from Austin to Taos, N.M., and the relocation already seems to be influencing her music. “Songs From the River Wind” takes her folk-based music into distinctly western territory, with songs that borrow from traditional staples plus new original tunes that follow in a similar Old West vein.
Released: Jan. 14. Here’s the video for the track “Wanderin’”:
John Mayall, 'The Sun Is Shining Down'
An 88-year-old living legend of British blues, Mayall has had significant local ties in recent years thanks to Austin guitarist Carolyn Wonderland, who recently wrapped up an extended stretch of touring in Mayall’s band when he retired from the road. Wonderland plays rhythm guitar on seven of this album’s 10 songs, and she’s featured as lead guitarist on the title track. Other guests on the record include Mike Campbell (from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), Buddy Miller, Marcus King and Jake Shimabukuro.
Released: Jan. 28. Here’s “The Sun Is Shining Down”:
George Birge, self-titled
A native Austinite who played on the golf team at the University of Texas, Birge first made waves musically with Waterloo Revival before the Americana duo relocated to Nashville when major label Big Machine signed them. The first single from his solo debut, “Beer Beer, Truck Truck,” was as mainstream country cliché-ridden as its title suggests, but the emotional second single, “Mind on You,” suggests he’s capable of deeper musical expression.
Release date: Feb. 18. Here’s “Mind on You”:
SuperTonic, 'Time to Repair'
Released late last year, “Time to Repair” teams two of Austin’s top sidemen, guitarist David Pulkingham (Patty Griffin) and keyboardist Jay Stiles (Pike & Sutton), on 10 songs of consistently engaging, left-of-center pop songcraft. Pulkingham, Stiles and drummer Alan Eckert recorded the initial tracks at 512 Studios in 2020, adding more vocals and instruments from their living room while bassists Gordie Johnson and Frank Deresti contributed remotely.
Here’s the track “All Over Town”:
Amber Eye, 'The Wild Years'
Songwriter, guitarist and singer Amber Shay teams with her husband, longtime Austin guitarist Clint Shay, on 11 songs of dramatic, rough-and-tumble rock & roll. It’s their second record for Houston indie label Scorpio.
Here’s the track “Orwellian Eyes”:
MARCH 4: Andrea Magee, “Belfast Girl”
MARCH 4: Stephen Doster, “Over the Red Sea”
MARCH 18: Ray Wylie Hubbard, “Co-Starring Too”
MARCH 25: Darden Smith, “Western Skies”
MARCH 25: Ben Jones, “Souvenir”
MARCH 25: William Clark Green, “Baker Hotel”
MARCH: Robin Mordecai, “Portraits” EP
APRIL 8: Giulia Millanta, “Woman on the Moon”
APRIL 8: Good Looks, “Bummer Year”
APRIL 29: Scott Strickland, self-titled