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Spoon Goes Dub: Inside the New Remix Project ‘Lucifer on the Moon’

Spoon’s Britt Daniel has always loved gadgets, held a soft spot for studio wizardry. And it’s these tendencies that have helped keep the Austin indie-rock outfit so intriguing and inventive over the last two-and-a-half decades. But for Spoon’s tenth album, Lucifer on the Sofa, Daniel wanted to do away with all of that, and start with just vocals and rhythm guitar. That guiding principle resulted in a stellar rock & roll collection, and made Lucifer one of Spoon’s best records to date. 

As it turned out, a stranger, headier, way-more-out-there album was buried beneath those back-to-basics riffs. Not long after Spoon finished Lucifer on the Sofa, they reached out to storied U.K. dub producer Adrian Sherwood to remix a couple tracks. The results were so good that Sherwood kept doing more, until he eventually reconstructed the entire album into the aptly-titled Lucifer on the Moon, set to arrive Nov. 4 via Matador.

“Getting to work with Adrian, it was delightful that, for the first time, these songs were being worked over in a very studio manner,” Daniel tells Rolling Stone.

“I’ve not worked something so melodic, and I really loved working on these songs,” Sherwood adds. “For me, for anybody, if you stay in your comfort zone forever, it’s not good. And this one definitely took me out of my comfort zone.”

Remixes can be a funny thing. On the one hand, there’s the crass commercial side: “Whenever you finish an album, you can hardly get it out the door before the label and everybody else wants more — B-sides, alternate versions, remixes,” Daniel cracks. 

On the other, they’re a unique form brimming with potential. Spoon have always been keen on remixes — not just because the insatiable music industry monster demands them — so long as they’re crafted with care and attention. A big reason Spoon approached Sherwood, Daniel says, was because they wanted to work with someone who wouldn’t just churn out a remix as rigid as the ProTools grid it was created on: “It was more about what can be done by a human hand, or by splicing tape, or with an echo box. We wanted someone who could take a more human approach.”

To do that, Sherwood not only excavated the original multi-track recordings, flipping rhythms, reworking instrumentals, chopping vocals, and unearthing buried gems like guitarist Gerardo Larios chatting in Spanish during an off-take of “The Devil and Mr. Jones.” Sherwood also added plenty of new elements, lacing the record with melodica, and enlisting bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Keith LeBlanc — longtime session players for Sherwood’s label On-U Sound — to reconstruct entire rhythm tracks. 

“The challenge was, how do we make this flow in a way that keeps the groove sexy — for want of a better word — gets the melodies to work, and breathes a new thing into it? That’s what I was faced with,” Sherwood says, adding later: “I tried to add a little character, a bit of charm to already very witty songs. There’s humor in a lot of Britt’s songs, and I just wanted to add to that and make it our own.”

Lucifer On the Moon is an impressive accomplishment, as engaging as its predecessor, albeit in a completely different way. It’s also part of a long history of dub and rock crossovers, including modern classics like 2003’s Dub Side of the Moon, where the session band known as the Easy Star All-Stars covered Pink Floyd.

In a recent chat with Rolling Stone, Daniel and Sherwood dove into the creation of Lucifer on the Moon, and its many charms. They also talked about a selection of classic dub mixes, including some of Sherwood’s past work, alongside dub takes on more “rock-adjacent” songs. (This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity.)

Britt, what was your reaction to the first remixes Adrian sent back?

BD: The first two were “The Devil and Mr. Jones” and “Astral Jacket,” and I was utterly blown away. I had a friend drive me around, I got in the backseat, and we just turned the music on really loud and drove around Austin. It was still in a bit of pandemic time, so driving around town was something to do, and I just listened to those tracks over and over. I sent them all to the band and was just like, “Can you fucking believe this?” I told Adrian how how impressed I was. They were right up the alley I was hoping he’d travel. So I said, “Do you want to do some more?” … Or did you suggest it?

AS: I might have. I definitely said to our crew, “I could kill this.” Honest to God, I wouldn’t take on something if I didn’t think I could do a good job. But on this one, it got quite personal. My girlfriend, she genuinely really loves it, and that doesn’t apply to everything… I’ve got mates who would never normally listen to Spoon or other things — kind of reggae heads who are a bit locked in their little limited spheres — and they all loved this. I was very proud.

The Clash, “One More Dub” (feat. Mikey Dread) (1980)

AS: I knew the Clash from when they started, from Ladbroke Grove. We actually did a tour with them at the end of ’79, a few gigs with our band Creation Rebel. And Mikey Dread, I worked with Mikey. At that time, it was interesting, because the Clash weren’t at all a reggae band, but the influence was obvious. They were just giving a big nod with [“One More Dub”] to what was going around around them in Britain. So respect to the Clash — they helped turn a lot of people onto the things they were getting off on.

BD: I always liked how they presented this song right after the original version [“One More Time”]. It was a point they were making, and maybe it wasn’t subtle, but I liked hearing the differences back to back. I spoke to Mikey Dread a couple of times when we used one of his samples on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga [on the song “Finer Feelings”]. It was maybe a year or two before he died. He did not like lawyers. So dealing with the legalities of using his sample was a little difficult. He really wanted to do it, and he seemed to like me, but he didn’t like the legal people whatsoever. So it just went around and around. 

AS: What you’ve got to bear in mind, is the history of dub is basically what you call “versions.” If you listen to Jamaican music, a riddim might be so cool that you can have 100 people on that riddim — it’s happened, 100 people on one riddim, multi versions of it. So with Spoon, it’s a complete re-invention, much more than just a dub. I could have just dubbed them up: strip things out, add reverb. But the idea of “versions” still massively appeals to me. Why can’t you have multi-versions of non-reggae things? 

Reggae, rock, funk, and dub were already starting to mingle before Sandinista!, but does “One More Dub” feel like it still has a particular importance? 

AS: You can analyze it years later, but I think at the time most people involved in any movement were just doing what they got off on, and what they’d been inspired by. I don’t think the Clash consciously thought they were doing anything [historic]. Also the Ruts — they were very influential. They were a white band, and they were on a Black band’s label, Misty in Roots. They were heavy, they were doing guitar dub. I should’ve cited them above anybody else.

Medium Medium, “Hungry, So Angry” (1981) (Produced by Adrian Sherwood)

AS: With that one, all I did was the mic’ing and equalization, put them in the studio and record them. I had nothing to do with the structure or the arrangement. But I did everything to do with the sound, and particularly the B-side of that tune is quite dubby [“Further Than Funkdream”]. 

BD: How did they bring you in on that one? Were you friends?

AS: At the time, I was mainly working with Jamaican or Black English artists, a few white folks as well. It was quite a mixed England. And they were hearing things I’d done and were like, “Let’s get Adrian to produce it.” I liked them, they liked me, so we went in the studio and recorded it

I worked with them on a couple of other gigs at a studio called Berry Street. I helped Derek Birkett engineer the first Sugarcubes record there, as well. Just mic’ing everything up and getting it all set. I’m not an engineer [laughs]. I can’t operate any of the new stuff. But in those days I was experimenting with mic’ing, off-mic’ing, recording things, playing them down tubes and corridors, and I was getting a good sound. That’s how people, bit by bit, started offering me work. 

“Hungry, So Angry” is very much a post-punk/rock track — do you see that as maybe the start of a line that got you to working with bands like Nine Inch Nails a decade or so later?

AS: It was more working with Daniel Miller and Depeche Mode. I knew Dan from when he was living with his mum, so he got me to do a couple records with Depeche Mode, and that really got me going. Because it was successful, and people like nothing more than success. But people always got me to do the weird version, they never trusted me with anything else [laughs].

Did you ever want to do the less-weird version?

AS: I didn’t think my stuff was weird! I thought it was great! That’s how my life’s gone. But I’m very happy with my lot, I’m not complaining. 

Grace Jones, “Love Is the Drug” (Roxy Music cover) (Remix by Paul “Groucho” Smykle) (1986)

This cover was first released in 1980, but didn’t really catch on until Paul Smykle’s remix in 1986. What do you think makes the remix standout?

AS: Sometimes things are ahead of their time. It’s weird how music goes. It’s like a lot of great jazz records, those Blue Note ones, they didn’t release until 10 years after they were made, and then 50 years later they’re hailed as jazz masterpieces. I think with Paul, he was using a lot of reggae tonality, too. He ran the studio Island, and he was a very good engineer. 

BS: You can tell he’s done some stuff to it, but not much — added some reverb to the sequencer, messed with the drums a little bit, cut little bits out where there’s no vocals. But the presentation of the song seems like maybe the same song doubled up. It’s a very pop Eighties-sounding remix, to me. I was buying a lot of these kind of 12-inches around that era. It wasn’t too far off from the original track, but it was cool.

You mentioned jazz, Adrian, and there’s an interview with Smykle where he talks about how dub artists like Lee Perry and King Tubby were jazz heads first. Do you think there’s a connection between what you were saying earlier about dub versions, and a genre like jazz where improvisation and reinterpretation is so central?

AS: It’s allowing freedom of the playing — I think jazz allows more freedom to play than anything. I think dub really is the arena of the engineer. The musicians have all gone home, perhaps, or they’ve done their job and they’re sitting in the studio. Then it’s down to the person who’s capable of doing a live mix, there and then. It’s your time to do an interpretation of the song.

Sananda Maitreya/Terrence Trent D’Arby, “Sign Your Name” (Remix by Lee “Scratch” Perry) (1987)

Adrian, I hear you have a good story about this one.

AS: Oh God, who told you that? [Laughs.] The guy at the record company was a friend of mine. He said to me, “Look, Terrence Trent D’Arby’s blowing up, I’d really like Lee to do a version of ‘Sign My Name.’” I said, “He hasn’t done a remix or touched a desk in years.” He said, “Please just ask him.” So I asked him and he said, “Yeah, I like Terrence, I’ll do it!” In those days, Lee was drinking a lot, but anyway, they didn’t care. So I went down to the studio and he was lying on his back, under the mixing desk, holding a two-liter empty bottle of wine, a burned-out spliff in his hand, and he had a tap running with a mic on it in the toilet playing through one speaker. The bass and a bit of hi-hat in the other. And in the middle, he’s going, “You’re my baby Terry, you’re my baby,” with just little bits of Terry’s voice [laughs]. If they’d put that out, and not what eventually came out — because the version that did come out was kind of OK — it would’ve been genius. Like [The Upsetters’] Black Board Jungle gone wrong. But the guy from the record company came in and burst out laughing. And Lee demanded more money off him, which they paid him; they didn’t care because that song was doing so well. 

BD: I like this version a lot. I mean, I love the original song, just a great tune. And it sounds like you can still hear that faucet in there. But I would have loved to have heard the mix as it existed when you walked in, Adrian. It seems like it got a little bit away from that idea, but some of it’s still in there.

Massive Attack x Mad Professor, “Radiation Ruling the Nation” (from No Protection, a full-album remix of Massive Attack’s Protection) (1995)

AS: I think Neil [Mad Professor] did a good job with this one — I think I would’ve done a much better job myself [laughs]. No, no, no. Neil’s a good friend. I know Neil had no idea who Massive Attack were when they approached him, and then he was very happily surprised when it did so well. They got Neil when he was in good form, and it was all recorded live. Again, it’s like a complete reinterpretation of the original… It’s one of those records was a complete piece of work, not unlike Lucifer On the Moon.

That’s actually a good lead in to the last two songs, “JU-87” and “Living Dub” from 1997’s Echo Dek — the full-album remix you did, Adrian, of Primal Scream’s Vanishing Point. How do these full-album projects differ from making one-off remixes?

AS: When I started songs for Britt, I thought of it as a challenge, and I thought of it as a job. As I got into it, I really enjoyed it, and as I communicated with him, I started feeling it was my record as well. It really was a labor of love. If I’m doing a job for somebody that’s one tune, I’m doing it because I think I can do a job. And usually — to be quite honest — it’s like, “Oh, get him in to do a weird extra version to help pop it up the chart,” or whatever. And I do it, because it’s a job, I’m getting paid, and it’s ticking over the business. I’m obviously loving it artistically because I’m doing something. But the difference between doing one-off and doing something like this is my heart was in it completely. And that isn’t normally the case. I could tell you countless remixes I’ve done that I’m very proud of. There’s quite a lot I’ve done that, in hindsight, they’re OK. But you can tell when the artists got actively involved; they’re better than the ones brokered by some record company.

BD: I could tell Adrian was into it, and not just from working with him and hearing how inspired his takes were. I remember, at one point, he had almost all the record done, maybe two or three that weren’t, and we were considering it done.

AS: No, I wasn’t having that.

BD: Two or three months later, out of the blue, I got two more remixes from Adrian saying, “I think we should do the whole album.” Of course, I was delighted. One of those I think was “On the Radio,” which is now the lead single. I think that’s a better version of that song than the than the album version. I just thought he got down to the essence of it, and the rhythm of it is so much cooler. 

Did making Lucifer on the Moon remind you at all of working on Echo Dek?

AS: During the making of that album, [Primal Scream] guitarist Andrew Innes, he and I, barely a week went by when we weren’t speaking. We’d become really good friends. That album, I think is a monumentally good album. I’m very proud of it, and I know he loves it. It’s like Lucifer on the Moon — a complete collaboration between us. He was involved all the way through it, as Britt was on this one. If people ask what jobs did you do that were whole pieces of work, there’s only these two albums. I’ve done some really successful and good remixes, but those are two complete works. They were very drastic remixes, but we also played them on a big system and they sound mental.

BD: I’d heard [Echo Dek] before, but did listen to it again once we started working together. It’s fantastic. Might be … I don’t know if there’s such a thing as better or worse than, but I think I might like it better than the original album. 

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