Spoon’s Rob Pope on tacos, grunge, and Hot Thoughts
By Alex Linton | @alexblinton Cover image via Remote Control Records
Rob Pope, the bassist for Austin’s art-rock sweetheart Spoon, has had an eclectic life in music.
From improvised covers of hip-hop, to founding a seminal emo band in The Get Up Kids, he joined Spoon over tacos with frontman Britt Daniel.
Spoon’s latest LP Hot Thoughts dropped last month, and although the Australian leg of their tour has wrapped up for now, Pope promises the band will be back in Australia for a more complete tour later in the year.
We spoke with Pope about the new release, how he began playing music, and his serendipitous entry into Spoon.
You worked with producer Dave Fridmann on (Spoon’s 2014 LP) They Want My Soul, and a bit more on this album – so what kind of influence did he have on the sound of Hot Thoughts?
You know, he mixed almost all of They Want My Soul and produced about half of the songs. In that experience we got to know him really well and thought that the relationship between the band and Dave was working really great, so when we started talking about making the new record he really wanted to be involved. We really wanted him involved, and I think his influence is pretty apparent.
There’s this really deep, textured, dark underlying thing that happens throughout the whole record. He brings a lot of wild ideas and strange sonic elements to our records, and we’ve always been interested in that kind of stuff.
Britt said that you started rehearsing for the Hot Thoughts tour back in December last year. How much work goes into reconstructing the songs for a live show?
Well, we want to make them very exciting to play, and very exciting for the listener too, so it really depends on the song. Some songs come really easily, we play them a few times and we’re like, “holy shit – that sounds great!”
Other times we really have to work at it and kind of pick them apart in order to get them to sound ready for the stage.
What is a song that just instantly clicked for a live show?
I would say ‘Do I Have To Talk You Into It’. We started playing that kind of earlier on, and it has such a great energy to it. Everyone in the room fell into their parts, and it was fun and easy to play.
You tour with a 60s Fender bass. How did you end up with that guitar?
Man, I’ve had it for almost 20 years. I bought it from a guy in Lawrence, Kansas, and it looked much more brand new than it does now. I’ve beat it up quite a bit.
At the time, it was very expensive for me. Considering what that thing is worth now, it’s pretty ridiculous.
You know, I’ve tried to go on tour with other guitars. Everyone is always yelling at me, saying stuff like “you shouldn’t take an instrument that old on tour!”
But every time, it’s just my favourite one. I want to have it all the time.
You never really had formal guitar lessons, so how did you start teaching yourself?
When I was younger, I took piano lessons for a handful of years. I think that really helped me to develop my ear for music and be able to pick things apart.
But the way I was taught piano was more memorisation. It wasn’t a smart way to learn.
Once I was a teenager, everyone started picking up guitars. Rock and roll was very cool, so I kind of just sat down and forced myself, especially when I put a bass in my hands, to just sit down and learn like 5 or 6 of my favourite songs. I’d try to pick apart what those people were doing, and why they were putting their fingers where they were.
What songs or artists did you start learning with?
Nirvana. A few Nirvana songs, maybe a Pixies song. That kind of stuff, very early 90s stuff.
I was a huge Public Enemy fan, so I learnt a couple of songs off Fear of a Black Planet. Those ones were much harder.
You’ve said you were a bit of a fan of Spoon before joining. How did you end up in the band?
Well, The Get Up Kids had broken up in 2005, and I heard that they (Spoon) were looking for a bass player. A friend of mine got in touch with me, and said “Spoon is looking for a bass player – I know their manager really well.”
He said, “do you want me to put your name in the hat?”
I said sure – why not?
He told me they’ve been trying out a ton of different people and they’re not having any luck. That same year, I was going to SXSW, so I set up a meeting with Britt. He and I went and had some tacos together. This was 11 years ago.
We talked over a meal, and then a month later we did a kind of tryout rehearsal situation in my basement in Kansas, and it went really well.
I had talked to Britt a week before he called me and said “we’re coming through Lawrence, Kansas – can you learn these 14 songs, and we’ll rehearse them at your house?”
So, I did it. I kinda buckled down for a week and learned a bunch of Spoon songs.
It went really well, and then 2 or 3 months later I was in Texas and we were recording.
What’s your favourite song from the new album?
‘Do I Have To Talk You Into It’, that’s the fun one.
I think the song ‘Pink Up’ turned out very cool. That was a lot of Dave Fridmann, because we had messed around with that song quite a bit, but it really started to come together after Dave put some of his more wild touches and ideas into it.
You ranked all of Spoon’s albums after They Want My Soul. Where does Hot Thoughts come in on that list?
Let’s say it would be in the top 3.
Where is Spoon heading next?
We’ve got tons of shows booked, we’re going to Mexico, then we start a bit of a US tour, then just more touring throughout the rest of the year. We’re going to be in Europe, we’re going to try and go to Japan, we’re gonna come back here at some point.
But we need to come back, we need to come back and play the rest of the cities (in Australia).
You were influenced a lot by grunge music (Fugazi, Nirvana, Slint) early on, do you feel like you’ve brought that sound to Spoon?
I would say I’ve probably more adapted to their (Spoon’s) sound, but Britt is very aware of that kind of music. We like to experiment with that kind of stuff.
Maybe not if all of the elements (in a song) are dirtier, nastier, meaner, but maybe if one is. Maybe if just the bass guitar is, or just one other instrument. We’d approach it more collage like, as opposed to bands like Fugazi where everyone is playing loud all the time. There’s just more dynamics and range in our records.
What’s your favourite album that has come out this year?
I don’t know this year, I haven’t noticed anything that has grabbed me.
My favourite record last year was that David Bowie record (Blackstar), that record blew me away.
Hot Thoughts is out now via Matador Records / Remote Control Records.
Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!