Jim Eno, Spoon's drummer, is standing awe-struck in the main hallway of the Fillmore in San Francisco.
Clad modestly in a white T-shirt and jeans, he stares at an oversized black-and-white photograph hung on the wall titled, "The Who -- The Last Note of the Last Song, Winterland, 1976." (The Winterland Theater was located just around the corner from the Fillmore before its demolition in 1982.) The picture shows a packed two-level auditorium with everyone in the audience on their feet, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle enjoying the spotlight, arms raised in victory, Keith Moon still pounding furiously on the drums, and Pete Townshend's guitar floating 15 feet above the stage as he recoils from the toss.
Pointing to the hovering guitar, Eno says, "I told Britt (Daniel, Spoon's vocalist/guitarist) he has to pull something like that tonight. Something epic."
He laughs, but doesn't really appear to be joking. He glances back and forth across the walls of the hallway, which are covered in photographs and posters from shows dating back to the '60s. All the heavies of the era are represented: Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and Cream, The Grateful Dead. If they were famous, they were here. "I'm seriously flipping out right now," he says. "There is so much history in this building."
There's most definitely a trace of sheer terror in his voice, but there's no denying a hint of appreciation, either. Eno knows that the fact he's even able to stand here and flip out means his band's made it.
But they've come a long way. A Rhode Island native, Eno moved to Austin, Texas in 1992. Two short years later, the groundwork for Spoon was laid while he was playing for a band called the Alien Beams. "It was a rockabilly band," he recounts, "and Britt played bass. One day, he said, 'I've been writing songs, why don't you come over and check 'em out?' " After hooking up with bassist Andy Maguire, those songs formed the earliest pieces of Spoon's first LP, Telephono. The album received mixed reviews, but its immense potential did not go unnoticed, as A&R man Ron Laffitte signed the band (now sans Maguire) to Elektra Records, which released their second LP, A Series of Sneaks, in 1998.
Critics (rightly) called the album a masterpiece, but unfortunately, the record-buying public didn't catch on. Despite assurances from the label that Spoon had their full support regardless of lagging sales, Elektra dropped the band four months after the album's release. After some time off to give proper perspective, the pair decided to find an independent label to release an EP that would net them a small measure of revenge, as well as make light of the situation with Elektra and Laffitte. Now, if this were a Choose Your Own Adventure book, a decision like that would normally find you on page 62 being boiled alive and then tossed into a pit of vipers. When you're an unsigned band searching for a label, spewing vitriol at your former label isn't typically an endearing quality. But Spoon had faith in their talent -- and some clever song titles. "We actually had the song titles before the songs," says Eno. "We knew we had to do an EP because the titles were so great."
And so "The Agony of Laffitte" and "Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now" were released on a 7-inch by Omaha's Saddle Creek.
Catharsis achieved, the band eventually found a home on Chapel Hill's Merge Records and went to work on their next LP, Girls Can Tell. Like A Series of Sneaks, it was hailed as a masterpiece. But unlike Sneaks, Girls Can Tell wasn't overlooked. Girls sold more copies in 2001 than the band's combined back catalogue had managed to in five years.
Girls Can Tell, released in 2001, was a breakthrough in terms of sales, but it was a departure in sound for Spoon as well. Sneaks and Telephono were rough around the edges and tended more towards punk antipathy than the relaxed candor of tracks from Girls, including "Fitted Shirt" or "Anything You Want." Keyboards played a more prominent role in the compositions, which relied more on atmosphere than volume. Eno ascribes a portion of the sonic distance between those records to the different production styles of their respective producers (John Croslin on Sneaks and Mike McCarthy on Girls), but said it "[wasn't] something we did consciously. It's just sort of, What type of songs is Britt writing and where do we want to take those songs?" Keeping that sense of adventure in mind, the refined atmospheres of Girls were tossed in the dumpster and set on fire with 2002's Kill the Moonlight.
Like the rest of Spoon's catalog, Kill the Moonlight was loaded with infectious hooks, but this time they were buried amongst the reverberating melody of "Paper Tiger," the floor-stomping, hand-clapping hoedown of "Back to the Life," and Daniel's beat boxing on "Stay Don't Go." Taking its name from an early manifesto on Futurism, an art movement that embraced dynamics and innovation, Moonlight applied those same ideals and pushed Spoon -- and rock 'n' roll -- to new heights.
Asked about the experimentation present on Moonlight, Eno explains: "Sometimes you get an idea and say 'Let's try something,' and it just falls into place where you just know it's right. Those things happen very rarely, but when they do, it's pretty amazing." He then launches into an animated narrative recounting his attempts to recreate a Marvin Gaye snare sound for "All the Pretty Girls Go to the City" as only a technician can (Eno studied electrical engineering at North Carolina State). After lounging casually on the dressing room couch for most of the interview, he's sitting at attention, eyes wide, hands waving wildly. It's vividly clear that music is his passion. "[Rock 'n' roll] is something that makes you want to move, something that gets you excited," he says.
And that excitement shines through on the record. Critics again swooned over Moonlight, placing it on countless "Best of 2002" lists, and again the listening public took notice, as it ranked as high as No. 233 on Amazon.com's music sales list during July of this year, despite being released nearly 12 months ago. Spoon's taking advantage of the opportunities that their success has offered them. Daniel recently produced a record for Spoon's Austin neighbors, I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness (recently described by the Austin Chronicle as "the evil spawn of Bauhaus and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club"), and Eno has done the same for another band of Texas rockers, producing Unite Tonight for Those Peabodys. "I really love those guys and wanted to do their record because I love their huge guitar sound," Eno responds when asked about the experience. "It was an early project for me, so I still hear things that I would probably change, but it was such a fun record to do. It was interesting because it was one of the first times that I've recorded another drummer. It's a lot different than I hear it or how I would play." The band recently completed a tour with Pedro the Lion in the Midwest, and the Natural History (which was touring in support of its solid debut LP, Beat Beat Heartbeat) across the West Coast, which Eno described as "a big party. We want to tour with guys we like to hang out with. It's fun."
Perhaps a bit too much fun; rumor has it the boys are banned from Wyoming until 2004.
"Actually it's later than that," says Eno. "But we can't really talk about it. Our lawyers..." He trails off as a mischievous grin slides across his face. But the nerves return when the notion of playing in front of the Fillmore crowd hits him."It can get a little bit weird," he says. "We like sort of a small stage. We're not really used to the bigger places." Keith Moon probably said the same thing when he first visited the Fillmore back in 1967, but he got used to it. Jim Eno will, too.