A Lovin' Spoonful

30 January 2013 | 6:15 am | Chris Hayden

"The way you make a record is for everybody to have a say and Nick was hands-on for sure, but at the same time he recognised that this was our band and that we’ve all made a lot of records without him. It wasn’t difficult to manoeuvre that."

More Divine Fits More Divine Fits

Britt Daniel is a no bullshit kind of guy. If it wasn't already painfully obvious through his jagged style of singing, his super economical way around a song or the way he can turn the phrase “when you believe they call it rock and roll” without sounding remotely idiotic, it becomes so when you hear what he has to say about his latest endeavour – the “don't call it a side project” songsmithery of Divine Fits. Formed in 2011 as an aside from the near faultless output of his day job in Spoon, the project began when Daniel teamed up with another of America's great musical economists: Dan Boeckner of Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade fame. As so often happens when two similar creative minds get together, sparks flew immediately. The result was last year's poll-topping debut, A Thing Called Divine Fits; a record remarkable in its consistency, especially when you consider the fact that it was born of such ad-hoc circumstances. Such are the chops of these two songwriters (complemented musically by Sam Brown of American punk band New Bomb Turks) and their shared vision, that they've managed to transcend their respective discographies to create something that Daniel refers to as “a good effort”. As we said: no bullshit.

“We started from scratch,” the Austin native explains when pressed about the Divine Fits writing process. “I had a head start on Dan because once we decided that we'd be starting the band, he had about five or six months of Handsome Furs touring to do. Meanwhile, I had lots of time on my hands, so it was all new stuff, it wasn't just leftovers from Spoon. We did some sending back and forth when he was on tour and then after that we'd sometimes work in the same house or in the same room. Definitely once he got off tour things started kicking off.”

Boeckner, himself an experienced collaborator, is central to the success of A Thing Called Divine Fits. Tracks like opener, My Love Is Real, and Baby Gets Worse are said to be loosely based on his recent divorce from Furs partner Alexei Perry, so it's interesting to discover that Daniel – whose distinctive writing style also permeates the record – had no qualms or reservations about giving up some of his musical economy to his new friend. “It's really fun – I like the process of collaboration,” he says. “I think you can come up with more good ideas when you have two like-minded individuals who are aiming for the same goal. You come up with ideas you could never have come up with if you're on your own. It's a good process.”

“He's very open minded,” Daniel continues of Boeckner. “We've both been doing this kind of thing for a long, long time and also… we're adults, so I actually like it when someone says 'that idea isn't working'. People always ask me was it hard to collaborate and give up so much economy and I say 'no, it's easy'. It's one thing if everyone is saying 'I love it I love it' but not everything you do is great so it was nice to get some real feedback from Dan.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

As the songs built up and the band was brought up to speed, Daniel and Boeckner's thoughts turned to the recording process. Both experienced in the field (Daniel has co-produced Spoon's last five records), the duo took some advice from a pretty well-known friend before enlisting the help of English producer Nick Launay – best known in this neck of the woods for his work with Nick Cave, Silverchair and The Living End. “Win from Arcade Fire is friends with Dan; I mean, we're friends too but he's better friends with Dan. Anyway, he mentioned that we should look into this guy Nick Launay so I researched his resume and the list of records he's made in the last thirty years and was very impressed by him. I didn't know him at all and I personally thought he might be too expensive or busy or whatever, but he was really excited to do it so we lucked out. The way you make a record is for everybody to have a say and Nick was hands-on for sure, but at the same time he recognised that this was our band and that we've all made a lot of records without him. It wasn't difficult to manoeuvre that. It wasn't difficult working with Nick.”

One thing that is often stressed by musicians in this age of digital music and recording techniques is the importance of keeping things simple and capturing the essence and sound of a band. For such a seasoned group of players, you'd think that Divine Fits would have been comfortable recording to tape and leaving nothing to chance when it came to nailing a performance. It's interesting to discover then that the album was actually made digitally – not due to the band's desire to manipulate the sound, but entirely due to the time constraints involved in the analogue process. It seems that, despite Daniel's assurance that Launay was the man for the job, this may have been a slight schism in the making of the record.

“I actually prefer not to look at a digital representation of the audio,” he carefully explains. “It takes my mind to a different place. It was Nick's preferred way of working for this process because he thought it would help us to get it done quicker. I mean, look, there are certainly a lot of things that you can do digitally that you can't on analogue – some of them good, some of them bad. I think that there's a tendency when you're working in the digital realm to do a lot of cutting and pasting, which is supposed to be a shorter way of getting to where you want to go, but I think that in the long run it takes a lot of life out of things. When I'm in the studio and you can see a graphical representation of the audio, I end up looking at it and my mind doesn't react to things the way that it would if I was just sitting in front of the stereo.”

With the band in the country for the Laneway festival this year, there is also a fascinating Australian connection to A Thing Called Divine Fits. Towards the end of the record, the band cover the track Shivers, which was written at the age of 16 by our very own, dearly departed Rowland S Howard (himself the subject of the recent documentary, Autoluminescent), originally performed by Nick Cave's Boys Next Door and covered by everyone from Marie Hoy to The Screaming Jets. For Daniel the song was a fresh discovery, and it wasn't so much the genesis of the song that caught his ear, but its relative obscurity Stateside.

“Last time I was in Sydney, a friend played it for me because I'd never heard it before,” he admits. “I always thought that Nice Cave's first band was The Birthday Party; I'd never heard of this Boys Next Door. I loved the song and it seemed like one that wasn't too well known, especially in the States, and that we also could put our own spin on it. It's really an amazing song.”

Divine Fits will be playing the following dates:

Friday 1 February - Laneway Festival, Brisbane QLD
Saturday 2 February - Laneway Festival, Sydney NSW
Sunday 3 February - Laneway Festival, Footscray VIC
Monday 4 February - Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
Wednesday 6 February - Manning Bar, Sydney NSW
Friday 8 February - Laneway Festival, Adelaide SA
Saturday 9 February - Laneway Festival, Perth WA