Spoon’s ‘Kill the Moonlight’ turns 20 with new vinyl reissue
In late summer 2002, images of disembodied, outstretched arms against a sand-colored background covered the windows of Austin Waterloo’s iconic record store. Live Music Capital had a new darling, and the striking cover of Spoon’s fourth studio album, Kill the moonlight, was everywhere you looked. With keyboard rock songs, bold production and lean beats, Spoon laid out a plan that took the band to new heights with each subsequent album. But kill the moonlight was the defining moment that changed the band’s trajectory forever.
The album, which has become a cornerstone of the indie rock pantheon, celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this month. To commemorate the occasion, Matador Records reissued the record on white vinyl.
From the propulsive (but drumless) opener “Small Stakes” to the buzzing rock of “Jonathan Fisk” to the minimalist, piercing back percussion of “Paper Tiger”, the album covers a staggering expanse of sonic ground while maintaining a commendable cohesion. And that’s to say nothing of single “The Way We Get By”, which remains probably Spoon’s most successful song to date. kill the moonlight found a way to be spartan while sounding absolutely huge at the same time. Spoon were unafraid to avoid guitars for much of the record, but still sounded cooler than any other band of the time, thanks in large part to frontman Britt Daniel’s aloof vocals and tight rhythms from drummer Jim Eno.
Curiously, for an artifact that defined early indie rock both in Austin and the country at large, much of the record was chopped into an inauspicious place. Daniel locked himself in an apartment in New London, Connecticut, during the summer of 2001 to write as many songs as he could without the distraction of his familiar surroundings in Texas. Spoon had come out girls can say a few months before in February 2001, giving the group its “first glimmer of success”, explains Daniel. Prior to this, the band had been unceremoniously dropped from Elektra Records after their 1996 debut album, Telephone, flopped. “We were critical pariahs and we always lost money on the road,” recalls Daniel.
The leader knew he had to keep the momentum going while the band had the audience’s ear. “We wanted to release another record as soon as possible,” he says. Connecticut provided the sensory deprivation necessary to force itself to become productive. “It was fucking lonely, and the first few days were terrible, but after a while I found a rhythm.” The songwriter would spend all day and night working on rough lyrics and riffs, taking a break to head to a nearby Chinese restaurant for veggie lo mein as his only respite and required exercise each day.
After amassing a dozen songs in a few months, Daniel thought he was done with the material he needed and moved back to Austin, moving into a small apartment on Hearn Street in West Austin. There he had another burst of creative energy and wrote some of the kill the moonlightthe most notable songs from, including “The Way We Get By” and “Small Stakes”. With this material in hand, Spoon hired producer Mike McCarthy, who recorded kill the moonlight on a small budget, mostly in Eno’s garage.
College radio loved the album, but it also found some commercial success, particularly after “The Way We Get By” ended up on a 2003 episode of a hit TV show. CO. “Something about this show really introduced this band to a lot of people, so I thank that music supervisor,” Daniel says. (Thanks to Julianne Jordan, who ultimately won a Grammy for her work on A star is born.) Spoon didn’t tour much during girls can sayand Daniel recalls being amazed by the lines of people in the halls before the doors opened as the group crossed the country following kill the moonlight. Calls poured in from late night TV shows and Spoon played both Conan O’Brien and Carson Daly in November 2002.
After the record had been out for several months and sold around 40,000 copies (much more than any Spoon record before), Daniel saw sustainability as a musician as a reality for the very first time. He remembers thinking: I bet I could play some of these songs for maybe 50 people who would still care in 20 years.
Those years have passed, and Daniel now finds himself watching crowds of over 50 dedicated fans on international tours these days. Spoon will perform to an audience of nearly one hundred thousand people when they take the stage during the two weekends of the ACL festival next month.