Friday, September 7, 2012
A THING ABOUT DIVINE FITS
The recently formed Divine Fits has been widely touted as an “indie supergroup” because of the pedigrees of its members: Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Dan Boeckner (formerly of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs) and drummer Sam Brown (the New Bomb Turks). There’s a powerful kick to Divine Fits’ dynamic, which pits Daniel’s dry, cerebral, hyper-rhythmic aesthetic against Boeckner’s open-hearted, overheated character (see Handsome Furs’ libidinal video for “What About Us” and this sexually charged press photo). And while A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge) barely sold more than 7k in its debut week, I suspect it’s only a matter of time before the band’s prospective fans figure out who—and how good—they are.
The critics have certainly taken notice. The N.Y. Times’ Ben Ratliff describes the LP as “taut and right. It’s concentrated on the thing itself: a collection of shared songs, not the pile of individual wills. You can tell that what’s been taken out is as important as what stayed in… Having two singers doesn’t split the record in half; there seems to be an almost brotherly relationship here… Each can sound like a modified version of the other. Somehow, on deeper levels, they overlap.” The L.A. Times’ Randall Roberts found one of the band’s recent run of L.A. performances “thrilling,” as he pointed out how “three men with recognizable gifts and a keen sense of song can build mesmerizing musical structures.” And in my review of the album in the upcoming issue of Uncut, I write that A Thing Called Divine Fits is the most infectiously tricked-out rock LP since El Camino. And seeing them tear it up last month at Hotel Cafe, playing like they'd been together for a decade rather than a few month, made it that much more obvious that Divine Fits is a major new band.
Here’s my recent conversation with Daniel, punctuated with shards of deadpan wit.
With Spoon very much a going concern, what motivated you to form another band?
I had known Dan for four years or so. I met him at a Handsome Furs show in Portland. When Spoon played at Radio City Music Hall, we invited him to come out and do one of his songs, and he played with us on one of our songs. I’d always felt that he was the real deal – loved his voice, loved his songs. So when he told me in February of last year that Wolf Parade was winding down, I immediately said, “We’ve gotta start a band then,” and he went for it.
Did you have a mission statement going in about what sort of a band it would be?
We didn’t. In fact, we talked about not having any kind of mission. When you’ve been in a band for a while, you start feeling a little bit boxed in in terms of what you can and can’t do, even if it’s not very conscious. And we talked about how great it was that we could do this, we could do that; we could use this instrument or that instrument; we could do this cover or that cover. “Let’s not say we can’t do anything.”
I think that comes across in the attitude of the album as well as the band onstage. I don’t know that I’d describe it as a carefree quality, but there’s less of the torment I expect from you on Spoon records. “Would That Not Be Nice,” for example, seems like a series of non sequiturs rather than any kind of heartfelt lyric expression.
That one came about from something I wrote in a letter to a friend. His band was on tour in Minneapolis and I was stuck at home feeling the pressure to write a lot of songs very quickly and not able to go out and do anything fun. The fun part of being in a band is when you’re on tour – and also the moment when you’re writing and something really great happens. So I was writing the letter about how I wished I was in Minneapolis and all the things I would do in Minneapolis. But that was the genesis of the song. And I don’t know, I guess I hadn’t gone through a breakup when we were making this record [near-laugh]; maybe that’s what you’re picking up on.
Did you each bring your own material to the band or did you collaborate?
A little of both. With “When I Get You Alone,” I wrote the music and I sent it to Dan and he sang on top of it. We wrote “Would That Not Be Nice” as a jam and I sang on top of that one. There were a lot of songs where I would bring something in, he would bring something in and we’d take what was there and reconstruct it or turn it around a little bit. And that was great to do because I’d never been in a band with a guy who was a songwriter first and foremost. He would come in with a song that was done in one way and I’d say, “Well, maybe we should make it half as many syllables.” Things like that.
The electronic aspect of the band is relatively new to you, although Dan has done a lot of it with Handsome Furs. How did that element come into play?¶When Dan was writing these songs, he was staying in this room upstairs in my house and he would go up there and work things. He’d do that all day and we’d listen to them at night. He had a keyboard and a drum machine up there, and so that shaped the way the songs turned out. He had just gotten the drum machine, and it had a really cool synth bass to it, so he was using that for the bass for all the songs he wrote, and because it affected how the songs progressed it made sense to keep it on there.
The drums seem to be a combination of Sam’s playing and quantized beats.
Most of them are played by Sam except for “My Love Is Real.” But you really get a sense of what a great drummer Sam is when you see him live—he’s just insane.
What caused you to bring in Nick Launay to produce the record with you?
Win Butler suggested Nick Launay to Dan. They’re buddies, and Dan used to be in an early version of Arcade Fire; I didn’t know that until recently. Win seemed real excited about this project, and he said, “You’ve gotta check out this guy Nick Launay,” who he had worked with on Neon Bible and The Suburbs. We looked at his discography, and he’d been working on records going back to 1980 when he produced a Public Image record. He’s done a lot of Nick Cave stuff, Grinderman, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
What did he bring to the party?
An ’80s sensibility [another near-laugh]. He has a good sense of how to get good performances quickly. He’s been doing this a long time and he’s good at it.
Is Divine Fits an ongoing entity?
Yeah, it’s definitely an ongoing thing. I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’s a really different experience for me, because I’m not the primary focus. I do get to write songs and sing, but I don’t have to be the guy that does it all the time. I like backing people up that I believe in.