Britt Daniel has been the singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter for Spoon over the course of 25 years and nine studio albums. Their latest is Hot Thoughts.
(Photo Credit: Zackery Michael)
Here, Spoon frontman and native Texan Britt Daniel discusses why he’ll be voting for Beto O’Rourke on November 6. This Q&A breaks from the usual Talkhouse artist-written essay format in order to best contextualize Daniel’s thoughts.
—Josh Modell, Executive Editor of Talkhouse
Talkhouse: How did you first meet Beto?
BD: I’ve been told we met when he was living in Brooklyn in the late ’90s or early 2000s. I was going out with Eleanor Friedberger, and she and Beto had a mutual friend, and we all went over to his place in Brooklyn one night. Not that Beto or I remember this. But I do remember that over the past couple years, I was hearing about him from some people I talk politics with in Texas. So I started paying attention, and when he announced his candidacy, I got involved with one of his events. It was this past April on my birthday, a baseball game in Austin he was speaking at. There were bands playing—a big, beautiful Saturday afternoon kind of event.
Talkhouse: What was it about him or his platform that you sparked to?
BD: I liked that he was talking about income inequality. I liked that he wants to do something about the cost of higher education. He believes in term limits. He wants to deal with the immigration issue as a human issue, not as a way to score political points or turn people against each other. But maybe even more—and this is true no matter your politics—people want to be able to believe in their elected officials. I think a lot of people respond to Beto because they see his heart is in it.
Talkhouse: You and I both grew up in Texas, which is not exactly known for swinging Democrat.
BD: Yeah, it’s been a pretty long dry spell for Democrats in Texas. There have been Democratic state senators, state congresspeople, but I voted for the last Democrat who won a statewide office in the ’90s. Since then, there hasn’t been much to cheer for in Texas politics if you’re not a Republican. Texas politics has gotten insane. Right now it feels more about pushing policies through that the other side dislikes, rather than actually making life better for people.
Talkhouse: What are your feelings on Ted Cruz, and why is he a parasite?
BD: Hmm, might be a bit of a leading question there. I’m not here to throw more dirt on Ted Cruz, but he’s never been my guy. I did pull for Ted Cruz when he was the last chance to stop Trump getting the nomination. You should tell me why you think he’s a parasite.
Talkhouse: I think he’s an opportunistic vampire who goes wherever the power is, and he just feeds off it. He has no actual goals beyond just being close to that power, no matter who he has to suck up to, or what he has to compromise.
BD: You know that picture of Ted Cruz—you’ve probably seen it—of him working Trump’s phone bank after he got the nomination? That spoke volumes.
Talkhouse: Zero integrity.
BD: Yes. And we could use some integrity right now.
Talkhouse: It seems like, even outside of Texas, people have gotten heavily involved in this race—homing in on it as something pivotal. Symbolic, maybe. Why do you think so many people are so invested in Beto at a national level?
BD: I don’t know that I’m the best person to answer that question. But I do notice it. This campaign went pretty quickly from being very local to very much national news. The week after I played those town halls over the summer, I started hearing about Beto from several people a day, every day, from all over the country. I had a couple of friends in California who were doing text campaigning. I had another friend in Oregon who was sending him money. Not to mention all the Texans I knew who were talking about him, volunteering, putting up signs in their yards.
Talkhouse: Do you think maybe people see it as, like, “If Texas can rid itself of Ted Cruz, then anything’s possible”?
BD: I think people are responding to Beto’s positions, but also his positivity. I think every time I’ve seen him speak he began by thanking everyone for coming, and then saying, “If you’re a Republican, you’re in the right place. If you’re a Democrat, you’re in the right place. And if you’re an independent, you’re in the right place.” Like, we’re all here, and we’re all welcome, and we’re all on the same side. Let’s figure this out together.
Talkhouse: For as long as Spoon has been around, I’ve never really thought of you guys as a “political” band. But that really seems to have changed lately.
BD: Well, we’ve always brushed up against it, in ways. “Don’t Make Me a Target,” “My Mathematical Mind,” “Tear It Down”—those songs were written with politics in mind. Or they were born out of political events. And we’ve always played benefits for things we believe in.
Talkhouse: But now you’re playing actual political rallies. You just played that “Flip These Houses” benefit, aimed at bolstering Democrats in swing states. A big chunk of your social media seems to be taken up by political messaging. It really seems like it’s ramped up. Was there some specific turning point you can recall where you decided Spoon should start putting itself out there more, politically?
BD: Part of it is because the country’s never had a moment like the one we have now. But to your question, here’s one: We ended a tour on June 10 of this year, at a festival outside of Amsterdam. We had a few days off, so a lot of the band and crew went to the city, and some of us went to the Anne Frank house. I’d never been. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there. Anybody that hasn’t been there, I would suggest you go. I figured it would be, you know, not exactly a fun afternoon, but something I’d learn from. I wasn’t expecting how extremely moving it would be for me, personally. You get a glimpse of what she went through, what the family went through, both in the hiding and the brutality afterwards. And how this family represents so many other families and persecuted people, in that moment and throughout history. You see video of her father talking about the last time he saw his family, as he arrived in Auschwitz, got off the train and his family members were pulled apart, and he never saw any of them again. You walk away from there in shock feeling like, “How could that have happened? How could human beings do this to each other?”
I ended up buying a book about her and I read it during the rest of the trip. We got back to America maybe five, six days after that. And the day we came back, maybe the day after, was when the story really broke about the zero tolerance policy and Homeland Security detaining thousands of people at the border and separating kids from their families. I’m reading this book as I’m hearing Donald Trump referring to immigrants as an infestation. I mean, that was Hitler’s line. To see that in the context of what I’d just experienced, it’s hard not to say something at that point.
Talkhouse: Do you worry about alienating some of your fanbase? You can see it in some of the comments on your political posts—there’s always at least a few in the vein of “I didn’t come here to listen to you talk about politics.”
BD: I’ve seen generally they’re supportive—though not every fan of our band is gonna agree, and that’s as it should be. Ideally, you want to unite people, not win an argument. That’s the challenge. But again, it’s hard to not say something in this moment. It’s hard to not be repulsed and alarmed. And Beto happens to be a candidate that I believe in, who’s operating in this completely dangerous climate. And he’s offering another way forward.
This interview was conducted by Sean O’Neal.
(Photo Credit: Left, Zackery Michael; Right, Greg Nash)