Spoon Frontman Britt Daniel Discusses His Favorite Portland Things

He’s a fan of Kenny & Zuke’s and Old Portland “deviancy.”

Are you ready for some aughts nostalgia? Spoon is definitely not.

Sure, the Austin band just released a 20th anniversary vinyl edition of their 2002 album Kill the Moonlight, and their “Lights, Camera, Factions” tour with Interpol also commemorates the 20th anniversary of the latter group’s debut, Turn Off the Bright Lights. Yet both Matador Records artists also released new albums in 2022, and Spoon’s Lucifer on the Sofa might be—in the context of the band’s stellar catalog—as good a 10th record as any artist has released.

While Spoon frontman Britt Daniel is a native Texan and longtime Austinite, he actually lived in Portland circa 2007′s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and 2010′s Transference—a golden era for musical transplants to the city, if you recall former WW staffer Taylor Clark’s 2007 “indie rock Mecca” article for Slate (which also featured James Mercer, Isaac Brock, Stephen Malkmus, Sleater-Kinney and Chris Walla).

Spoon last played Portland at the Crystal Ballroom in December of 2019, for one of KNRK’s “December to Remember” shows, also one of band’s last before the COVID-19 shutdown. There were a handful of gigs in the fall of 2021, and a bunch more since releasing Lucifer on the Sofa in February, but “it still feels new to me to be able to go out and do a tour,” Daniel says. “I can still remember what it was like to not be able to tour.”

The “Lights, Camera, Factions” tour hits PDX Live at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Sept. 17 and 18, with Spoon headlining the first night and Interpol the second (Brooklyn band Water From Your Eyes opens both nights). WW spoke to Daniel about his career and his favorite Portland things before the tour began.

WW: How long did you actually live in Portland?

Britt Daniel: From 2005 to 2011. I fantasize about moving back sometimes. I do love and miss Portland.

What did you love about it?

Portland, once I was in a touring band, we would come through all the time. It felt a little Old World to me compared to Texas. It felt like there was a lot of deviancy in Portland. A lot of kids doing music because there’s nothing to do. I always thought of [Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel] Like a Velvet Glove in Cast Iron—that sort of world. It was just a little sideways and run down and creepy and cool.

Portland and Austin are constantly compared to each other, including for the “weird” thing. How do you think that holds up?

Well, I haven’t spent enough time in Portland over the last 10 years to really be able to comment, but back then it felt like there were similarities. A vibe. It was a manageable city, with a lot of culture that came through it, but life was not as much of a struggle as it was in LA or NY. People could be more laid back. I love that about both cities.

So when you come back now and have free time, what are the things you have to do, or food you have to eat?

I really got a thing for the pastrami hash at Kenny & Zuke’s deli. ¿Por Qué No? still holds its own. And that place…the one with the “hotcakes and steak” sign, you know the one I’m talking about?

Original Hotcake House

Yeah. And there’s a lot of bars where I can still remind myself of old times. I went to Electric Castle last time I was there. Still love that place.

Do you remember anything about your first show in Portland?

First place I played was Berbati’s Pan. We were on tour with Guided By Voices. So the very first place that I stepped foot in Portland was that little alley between Valentine’s and what was then Berbati’s. I got a good impression of the creepiness of Portland right from the top.

And I do remember the Satyricon show. Tiny little place. I just remember we had sold it out, and that was the first time that had happened in Portland. I think we played EJs twice in the late ‘90s too.

In more recent years, unless you’ve had an outdoor show, it’s been the Crystal Ballroom almost every time: nine shows since 2005.

Yeah, there’s something about the Crystal. We used to rehearse there. When I lived in Portland we would set up shop in Lola’s Room for a week before a [tour]. We even recorded “Trouble Comes Running,” from Transference, in that room. I got to see Idles there last fall, and it was wonderful to be back in that room on that bouncy floor.

Another Portland Spoon connection not everybody knows about is that former Sleater-Kinner drummer Janet Weiss has sometimes played a behind-the-scenes role.

Janet has a lot of skills, and one of the ones that people may not know about is she’s really good at sequencing things and sort of establishing a vibe. I don’t know if it happened all the time, but I know that when she played with Stephen Malkmus she would do the setlist, so I let her do the setlist for Spoon a couple times. And then we started getting into this thing where she would help me with the order of songs on our actual albums. She has a real rock historian’s perspective on how that all comes together. What kind of picture you’re painting with the sequence of the songs at a show or on a record.

You just did the 20th anniversary reissue of Kill the Moonlight, which was the band’s fourth record. What did you think of it when you went back over it?

The thing that struck me when I listened back was all the ground that it covers. It starts off with a song [”Small Stakes”] that has tons of energy and a really propulsive feel, but it’s got no drums. Then we go on to one of the most straightforward pop-rock songs we ever did with “The Way We Get By.” And then “Paper Tiger,” which is this sort of frontwards backwards beat that was very much a studio creation. And then we go to “Jonathan Fisk,” which is like a garage-rock song. So that’s one thing I love about it. It just goes so many places, and goes so well.

You’ve talked about how Spoon’s last album, Hot Thoughts, kind of revealed itself in new ways once you started playing the songs live. Any particular songs from the new one that feel differently now that you’ve been on the road for a while?

Well, I guess the song “Lucifer on the Sofa” really kind of revealed itself. That’s a song I didn’t think we would be able to necessarily play, because the horns are such a big part of it on the album. But we do a sort of stripped-back, rock band version that feels like a different beast than the version on the album. It was our favorite song to play from the record for a while there.

It’s a song that really takes you back into the rawness of lockdown, so being able to play it live—to get up off the sofa, as it were—must feel really different.

Yeah. That one very much was a song of its moment. It was written in April 2020, and it’s all about that moment. I can still feel a bit of that moment as I sing those words, but we’ve moved a little past it.

SEE IT: Spoon and Interpol with Water From Your Eyes play at Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 SW 6th Ave., 800-514-3849, pdx-live.com. 6 pm Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 17-18. $55. All ages.

Willamette Week's journalism is funded, in part, by our readers. Your help supports local, independent journalism that informs, educates, and engages our community. Become a WW supporter.