“There was excitement and concern about the unknown,” says Britt Daniel. “I didn’t what it was going to be like – there was no vision.”
To succeed beyond the wildest of expectations, one must first begin with some of those wild expectations. So here comes Divine Fits, a so-called supergroup comprised of indie-rock stars Daniel (of Spoon) and Dan Boeckner (formerly of Montreal’s Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade), with Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks as drummer. The projections were mathematically outrageous – that one plus one plus one should equal something much more than three.
L.A. Weekly recently published a backlashing list of what it perceives to be the 20 worst hipster bands. While the inclusion of some is not surprising (Sleigh Bells, the Decemberists and, at No. 1, Bon Iver), others might raise a Spockian eyebrow: the Black Keys, Arcade Fire and TV on the Radio.
The bands Handsome Furs and Spoon are on no one’s worst-of list. As such, anticipation for the trio’s debut album (A Thing Called Divine Fits) was high, if not wild. As for the weight of expectation, however, the principals themselves weren’t feeling it. “A lot of pressure gets removed by doing something that’s got a brand new name,” says Daniel, on the phone from Los Angeles. “I hope our record label [the North Carolina indie outfit Merge] makes their advance back, but I don’t think we owe anything to anything to anyone.”
A new thing, and a new process for Daniel, who is used to being “the guy.” His melodic indie rock with Spoon is of the fussed-over, minimalist sort, with the cool, well-spoken Texan as the singer and absolutely chief songwriter. As for Boeckner, he collaborated with the other members of the late and lamented Wolf Parade, but, with the defunct Handsome Furs (an electro-punk duo comprised of Boeckner and his wife Alexei Perry), the singer-guitarist did most of the heavy lifting. Boeckner, in fact, wrote most of the first Furs’ record alone in the closet of a small apartment.
Looking at the liner notes to A Thing Called Divine Fits, there are only tracks with shared songwriting credits. The hard-driving What Gets You Alone was the first track worked on by Daniel and Boeckner, friends and mutual admirers for five years or so. Daniel sent Boeckner the music; Boeckner sent it back with his jittery, Bowie-like vocals attached. “All the songs were collaborative to varying degrees,” Daniel says, “but that one was a definite co-write.”
Would That Not Be Nice started with a Boeckner bass riff, at the band’s rehearsal space. Daniel recorded it with his phone and took it home to stretch it out with Pro Tools and add his vocals on top. The album’s one cover song is Shivers, a slouching, slow rocker originally recorded by Australia’s the Birthday Party. Daniel arranged most it, but left a space, to be filled later. “I thought I’d go in later and add some sort of melody or sound effect,” says Daniel, “and I figured that’d I be working on it all afternoon.” Instead, Boeckner heard it, plugged in his guitar and a few effect pedals, and added an ambient guitar solo. “He just kind of made it happen,” recalls Daniel. “I’m inspired by how in the moment he can be.”
On stage, the band’s fit has been divine enough. “Everybody’s got their own moves,” says Boeckner, a live-wire performer. “There’s no room for pouting or staring at shoes.”
As for the musical middle ground, Boeckner and Daniel agree on the Oregon punk band Wipers, as well as some classic FM rock. On tour, the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ classic hit You Got Lucky is part of the Fits’ set list, complete with the refrain “you got lucky, babe, when I found you.”
And, yes, a good band, to paraphrase Petty, is hard to find. Divine Fits will tour this fall, with a new record expected for 2013. “I don’t feel like I have time to put aside three months for a band that isn’t going to commit to something,” says Boeckner. This isn’t a vanity project. As for Daniel, he has no intention of disbanding Spoon, but the Fits are his focus. “We’re hanging out and making music, and we’re doing it for ourselves, first and foremost.”