Britt Daniel is most commonly known in the wild as the frontman of Spoon and, more recently, of his side band, Divine Fits. For this month’s theme song, I sent Britt, who’s a big fan of girl-group pop, half a dozen songs that female teen idols had made popular in the ’50s or ’60s as suggestions/thought-provokers, and he elected to do a take on Shelley Fabares’s version of “Love Letters” (from her 1962 album, Shelly!).
Fabares’s public image was the very ideal of purity and sweetness, and her songs were all about the rapture of young love—a perfect choice for this month’s theme, Forever.
He talked to Rookie earlier this week about bad Christmas gifts, high school cool girls, and being a teen punk in a tiny Texas town.
JESSICA: Let’s talk about “Love Letters,” the song you covered for our theme song.
BRITT DANIEL: I knew the Ketty Lester version from Blue Velvet. When Divine Fits were touring we would actually play that [over the PA] before we came onstage. Before you sent me the Shelley Fabares version, I never thought [the song] could be made uncreepy.
Ketty Lester, after her career as a singer had ended, went on to play the schoolteacher on Little House on the Prairie
I was totally obsessed with her album When a Woman Loves a Man, so I am chock-full of Ketty Lester fun facts. So, what are you doing right now?
I am driving from Dallas to Austin—I had Christmas early with my dad and some family.
Did you get anything good?
Well, at this point everyone in my family just does Amazon wishlists. Very specific, so no surprises. I got the new Beatles BBC recording, a Dee Dee Warwick CD, Thee Oh Sees. My mom got me the Frogs’ It’s Only Right and Natural for Christmas.
[Laughs] Not an album most people are getting from their parents this year.* What’s the worst gift you have ever gotten?
I had a relative who, for several years in a row, gave me items of clothing that had Warner Bros. cartoon characters on them. I was in my 20s then.
You don’t seem like the Tweety Bird T-shirt type.
I guess to them I did. It was constant. I don’t have any other clothes like that. I hope whoever picked that stuff up from Goodwill enjoyed it.
Tell me what you were like as a teenager.
I was probably not as nice as I could have been. I was mean and ornery. Cantankerous with my parents.
Why were you so mean?
I don’t think I am different from anyone else in this way, but when you are insecure, less warmth comes out. I didn’t realize how little was coming out.
Did you do anything actively mean?
I can remember mean things that I did. Kids would pick on me [for being uncool] and that would bug me and I would pick on other kids that I thought were uncool in the same way.
What changed? You are not mean now.
Maybe I got more self-aware? In high school, maybe when I was about 15, I finally made some friends I could relate to. I finally was hanging out with people who “got” me.
I know that you grew up in Temple, a small town in Texas—what was it like to be a teenager there in the early ’80s?
It was very, very normal. It was a city with one high school and one mall—not a lot of individual thought going on. It was a great place to be safe. I got to see a lot of the things I did not want to live around for the rest of my life. I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life around dudes who would drive by in their pickup trucks and call me “queerbitch.”
Did you know you were weird for Temple?
I thought I was just expressing my individuality in how I dressed or what I listened to. It seemed like that would have been something that girls liked—being unique, self-expression. But it didn’t. The only female attention I can remember it getting was when I was in Walmart once and these older women were laughing and pointing at me and talking so I could overhear.
Who was the coolest girl you knew back then?
The coolest girl I knew was not a nice person. She was two years older than me, my girlfriend when I was a sophomore. Very sophisticated. She played accoustic guitar and wrote poetry, but she ended up fucking my best friend. The truly coolest girl I knew was Kristin Hinn. She had a mohawk, wore fatigues, and got me into the Cure. It took real guts for anyone to run around Temple High looking like that, especially a girl. And she wore it well. ♦
* The Frogs’ 1989 album It’s Only Right and Natural was a satirical commentary on homophobia. The songs, with titles like “Homos” and “Dykes Are We,” portrayed gay stereotypes in a ridiculously over-the-top manner meant to play right into social conservatives’ most idiotic fears of gay people, which was just about the punkest thing you could do at the time. Some people took issue with the album because the guys in the band were straight, but it’s been a favorite of an older generation of indie rockers since it came out: It was one of Kurt Cobain’s favorites; Beck sampled one of the songs on Odelay; a couple years ago Animal Collective invited the band to play the whole album live at All Tomorrow’s Parties.