In May, Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner announced that they’d formed a new group together, right on the heels of the news that Boeckner’s other project Handsome Furs had disbanded.
By August, they’d started performing live and had released an excellent debut LP, A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge). The surprise move had actually been brewing for some time, with Daniel, Boeckner and drummer Sam Brown writing and recording in Los Angeles over the past year.
The resulting album feels like neither a supergroup nor a side project. Instead, it shows that the trio meshed many of our favorite elements of their prior work into something fully formed, accessible and impressive. Whether riding a signature Britt Daniel groove through the radio-ready "Would That Not Be Nice" or playing the jittery, synth-heavy “The Salton Sea,” the collaboration shows a shared musical sensibility we’d never have noticed from watching them in their other groups.
CultureMap recently caught up with Dan Boeckner about the group’s origin story, their plans for a Stubb's show on Halloween night and what’s in store for the future.
CM: When I first saw that Divine Fits was getting together, I thought it interesting because Britt's been known as the musical and writing ringleader of Spoon, whereas you've worked in these very collaborative projects (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs). Was it easier for you to adjust at the beginning of the recording process? How did that all come together?
DB: I don't think Britt had a hard time adjusting to our writing process. It just kind of happened. We got together and said let's write some songs and we didn't even really set out how we were going to do that. We just both had a few things that we brought to the table and then I reset from zero, and then once I got out to LA I just decided to write new material.
You know, we were living together in the same house, so he would write these basic skeletons of songs that he was going to sing on, and vice versa, and we'd just spend all day chopping things up and rearranging them, then putting them to the band and playing them live. I don't think it was difficult for him to transfer from a project like Spoon where he's doing the lion’s share like that to the writing and the arranging for something like this.
CM: I’d think some of it happens naturally because of who the primary songwriter was, but was it ever in question who would sing on a particular track?
DB: I was thinking about that earlier — I don't think that ever happened. I think it was always just, you know, pretty assumed who would sing and then there were tracks like "The Salton Sea" where we both sang every line, and then tracks like "Baby Get Worse" and "What Gets You Alone" where we blend the voices in and out. We never really got stuck with a tune where we were... "Who gets this one?"
CM: It was actually really interesting to listen to the record and realize that you guys sound more similar vocally than I ever realized in the other groups, but it flows very nicely.
DB: Thank you. I was just going to add something to the songwriting question. I think that the perception of me as a consistent collaborator is maybe [exaggerated]. I mean that's true, because I was in Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, but for a lot of those tunes, the collaborative songwriting process in Wolf Parade was a lot different than it is in this band. A lot of it was personal — an entire song would get written and then handed in.
This is different. All across the board everybody is contributing parts and making suggestions. Even today our drummer was suggesting vocal rhythms and chopping up bridges and stuff like that. And I've never really been in a purely collaborative band before, ever, so it's pretty cool.
CM: People might overlook the fact that Divine Fits is a trio, rather than simply Britt and Dan. I thought that (drummer) Sam Brown was good at adapting to that big, yet sparse, drum sound that we all know from Spoon. What did you feel like Sam kind of brought to the table in the trio?
DB: I think he brought a lot of really focused, tasteful editing in his drumming parts. He'll mentally labor over adding a hi-hat, you know, playing the hi-hat in a certain way to the point where I can't even really tell the difference.
The first thing that really impressed me about Sam was when we sat down to rehearse, he was fucking around with his drum kit and he was tying a cymbal onto the bass drum, and taping a wallet down on the snare, and I was like, "What are you doing, man?" And his response was, "I'm gonna make it sound like a drum machine." And I had just met him so I said, "OK, whatever. That's fine."
And sure enough it sounded like a drum machine, so that's when I knew that Sam was the man for the job.
CM: You were here in August for a couple of quick and dirty shows at The Continental and Beerland. You're coming back now and playing a 2,200-seat outdoor stage. Is the band’s set up similar? Have you added more material or supplemental musicians?
DB: No supplemental musicians, but we have a light show now, and that's pretty cool. Tonight's the first night we're testing it out, but it's pretty exciting. And, yeah, we have more songs and we've been playing the songs a lot live, so I'm really excited about playing. We did actually try out another member for the touring band but it just didn't work, you know?
We all felt after the auditions that it would be better if we all just did more on stage. If we did a little extra work in switching instruments and running around then we'll actually make this a BAND band, and not a core group of musicians and some backup dude.
CM: Are you rounding out the set with covers or with some of your personal solo material?
DB: With covers. Wait, what do you mean by solo stuff?
CM: Oh, I meant Wolf Parade or Handsome Furs… or Spoon. I just didn't know what the non-Divine Fits cuts would be in the live show.
DB: Oh, we're going to play covers. There's no place for me playing a Handsome Furs song without the Handsome Furs. I can't do that — that seems cheesy to me. Personally, it would feel odd. It's the same with the Wolf Parade stuff, and I know Britt probably feels the same about Spoon’s songs.
We've been working on covers and then writing new things. I don't know if we'll actually play any new tunes on tour, but we're working on a bunch of them. We're finding the time to sit down and write them — we're fully operational now.
CM: I know you guys are planning on doing this long touring cycle and then at some point soon picking it up again. Have you given any thought to what you're going to do when this round of Divine Fits winds down?
DB: Yes, I have. I'm definitely going to start a project that I can write songs and tour with and make a record, but for right now this is my main focus. I know it's Britt's main focus, too, so we're thinking that we'll tour this record, write some more songs, then make another record.
I'm sure Spoon is going to make another record as well. So when Spoon makes another record, I've written a bunch of stuff recently that's not Divine Fits related. It's more electronic — more like Handsome Furs was. So I think my next band will be like that, you know, more drum machines.
CM: When you're doing your writing on tour, have you actually done more co-writes or is it mostly just you guys writing separately?
DB: This is the first tour we've ever been on, so last night at the hotel we were having a drink at the bar… I've never been in a band that's been into taking a long sound check and using those moments on tour when you're not actually performing material that you have, using those moments to write while you're on stage. And everybody seems pretty excited about that.
And it’s funny, because Britt and I were talking and thinking that we should work on some stuff during sound check. That we could write a song on the road. It's just a simple idea, but it just never occurred to me before. I'd never ever been in a band with anybody who wanted to do that, at all, in the least. So that made me happy.
CM: In the limited touring you've done so far, are you guys finding new fans independently of your fan bases or is it mostly your old friends and fans that are turning up at these shows?
DB: There’s a preliminary period — and I had this happen in the Furs, because I ran it simultaneously with Wolf Parade — where you get people who are familiar with your work. That's good because those people are who give musicians their job, those people are your bread and butter, you hope that they would follow you through the things that you do.
But then after a couple of months went by, especially by the end of the LA shows, I was seeing people that I'd never seen before, and talking to them after the show, that was really cool. And I think the more we tour, the more our specific fans are going to reveal themselves.
Divine Fits performs at Stubb’s (Outdoors) on Wednesday, Oct. 31. Cold Cave open the show. Tickets are $20-22 and can be purchased here. A Thing Called Divine Fits is out now on Merge Records.