I’ll make no bones about it: this post is coming directly at you from the fanboy geek buried deep within my own personal nova heart. I have been a fan of Spoons since I first started buying records, almost 3 decades ago. They were/are the first Canadian band I ever loved, and they are my ultimate entry point into the world of new wave/college rock/alternative music. There’s a deep personal connection I have to the band: flip over the jacket to Arias & Symphonies and you’ll find my cousin Robert’s name listed as the recording engineer. To a 10 year old Canadian-Italian kid who thought his was the crappiest surname on the planet, seeing “Di Gioia” in print (and spelled correctly) on the back of your favourite band’s record sleeve gave me an incredible (if not somewhat misplaced) sense of pride. Having mustered up the courage to ask Rob to get it signed by the band for me, that copy of Arias & Symphonies is now the most cherished record in my collection.
But I’m not writing this post just to revisit my childhood–no, no–by a long shot. Tomorrow night, April 30, 2010, hundreds of people are going to get the chance to relive and revisit the past, and maybe get a glimpse at the future, as Spoons take to the stage at Tattoo Rock Parlour in Toronto (567 Queen Street West) for a special 30th Anniversary Concert. Doors are opening at 8pm and the band will start promptly at 9. There will be a meet-and-greet afterward, plus a special draw for an un-circulated copy of the band’s very first 7″ single, “After The Institution/My Job”. A few days back, Gordon Deppe, Spoons’ stalwart front man for the past 30 years, agreed to a little QBiM Q&A in honour of the occasion.
QBiM: Who’s in the Spoons line up for the 30th anniversary show?
Gordon Deppe: Sandy (Horne, original bassit) and myself, of course, with Steven Kendry on drums and Stephen Sweeney on keyboards. Steve Kendry has been with us since 1986 and the Bridges Over Borders album. (After we finished the interview, Gord dropped me a line to say that Rob Preuss, keyboardist from 1980-1985 is supposed to be showing up for a song, too.)
QBiM: Did you ever imagine back when you released the After The Institution single that you’d be at this 3 decades later?
GD: Never. I thought I’d have a “real job”, whatever that is. Though, secretly, I hoped I never would. But honestly, it doesn’t feel like anything close to 30 years.
QBiM: What artists were an influence on Spoons back in 1980 when you set to record “After The Institution” and the Stick Figure Neighbourhood (Spoons’ debut album)?
GD: Anything quirky…Talking Heads, Lene Lovich, Devo.
QBiM: Do you hear any of your influence on the current crop of 80s revivalists?
GD: Maybe not us specifically, but the 80s influence is undeniable.
QBiM: I suppose that’s just part of the cyclical nature of the music industry. Rise Up, the CBC documentary series about the Canadian music scene of the 80s has certainly reminded me about all the great bands that were recording and touring around the same time as you. It was a pretty prolific period. Was there any rivalry among your contemporaries or was everyone supportive of what each other was doing?
GD: I think there was a bit of both. We all respected each other but wanted to outdo the other at the same time. I didn’t really get to know some musicians from the 80s until just recently.
QBiM: The new wave scene of the 80s is always going to be remembered as the golden age of the music video. How much of a role did image and style play in shaping the band? Was it more influential than the music and live performances?
GD: I’d like to think it was secondary. But luckily we were young and we could capitalize on the new medium. I don’t like watching them now.
QBiM: Being the fanboy geek that I am, I have to ask some of the burning questions I’ve had for years about the records. I’ve always wondered how a new wave band from Burlington ,Ontario ends up working with Nile “Chic” Rodgers? How did the band and he connect?
GD: I believe Sting (of The Police) told Nile about us and brought him to see us open for Culture Club in NYC. After we played at the Police Picnic in 1982, Sting liked us and was instrumental in some major events in our career, including A&M Records signing us out of Los Angeles.
QBiM: John Punter produced Arias & Symphonies and then later Vertigo Tango. Any interesting stories about working with him in the studio on either disc?
GD: John was from the old school of British record making, which included a lot of studio pranks, including…gluing the drummer’s shoes to the drum riser, building gondolas out of styrofoam cups and recording tape that ran between two tape players on opposite sides of the studio (it really worked) and duct-taping the engineer to a chair while he slept. (Again, after the interview, Gord dropped me a line to say that John Punter is also planning on being at tomorrow night’s show!)
QBiM: The engineer in question being my cousin, Rob! I heard all about that. Around that time is Spoons would come and play at the Rose Villa in Welland, but I was too young to go. On one trip, Rob had you guys over to my aunt and uncle’s house for dinner, and I knew you were there and I was my family would be going over to visit, but it didn’t happen. They wouldn’t even let me come and see you play at the Welland Arena on the Talkback tour. Of course, these gigs can’t really compare to some of the shows you played over the years, like opening for Culture Club and The Police, as you’ve already mentioned. Are there any specific gigs that stand out in your memory?
GD: All the major city centres… Los Angeles, New York City… we actually played the theater where the Oscars used to be held! As a movie buff, I thought that was pretty cool.
QBiM: This may be a touchy subject, but can you comment on the cause of the break-up of the classic Deppe-Horne-Ross-Preuss Spoons lineup? Did you ever consider calling it quits then?
GD: We were changing management and record companies and it was a window of opportunity for anyone to get out if they wanted to pursue other interests. Rob and Derrick took. It was tough for a while, but we got over it.
QBiM: Was it a conscious decision to move from the new wave sound of the Ready Records years and into the heavier rock sound when Rob and Derrick left and you switched to Anthem?
GD: I think it was from being under the same roof as Rush! Their management gave us a gentle push in that direction. Not my thing, personally, but Bridges Over Borders did much better in the U.S. than here.
QBiM: Vertigo Tango was the last official album of new material Spoons released (in 1988). What have you and the other members been up to–musically speaking–since then?
GD: It was time to leave the whole 80s thing behind. But we all continued to make music and sometimes CDs in a new direction. I put out a guitar-heavy CD with a band called Beyond 7 in the mid 90s and later a CD with Five Star Fall. You can hear the 80s sneaking back into that album. Sandy had various other projects including Dog Won’t Bite and Amaris.
QBiM: I was thrilled that you’d recently released Talkback on CD and know that Arias & Symphonies was previously released on CD. Is there any talk about reissuing the whole back catalogue?
GD: Eventually. Most of it was only available on vinyl and cassette, so it needs to be digitally transferred. Before the old master tapes self destruct.
QBiM: A few years back you released Unexpected Guest at a Canceled Party, a collection of unreleased material from 1982-1985. Is there anything left in the vaults that hasn’t seen the light of day?
GD: Lots. There’s a whole catalogue of material from our early punky years that some young, indie band should cover. Stick Figure… seems like Arias… in comparison.
QBiM: “Nova Heart” is going to forever be remembered as Spoons’ signature song. Did you know at the time that it was going to become such a big hit?
GD: Not at all. I was blown away when radio started to play it. You have to remember, we were sharing the charts at the time with acts such as Led Zeppelin and Queen.
QBiM: What’s the most requested song in the Spoons catalogue?
GD: “Nova Heart”. Without a doubt.
QBiM: Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever heard a Spoons song played?
GD: In our very early years, we were booked into a strip club (believe it or not) and we walked in on a dancer doing her thing to “Nova Heart”. I think she actually winked at us from between her legs.
QBiM: What’s your fondest memory of being in Spoons?
GD: Traveling to London, England to record Arias… Living in Wales for three month making Vertigo Tango. Anything with foreign locations.
QBiM: Are you finding audiences at Spoons shows in 2010 made up of long time fans or is there representation from younger generations who’ve discovered the band?
GD: It’s a pretty wide demographic. Parents must be bringing their kids. And then there are the younger fans who are just discovering everything 80s. Including style.
QBiM: What’s been the biggest change in the industry since you first began in music?
GD: The digital realm has made the music industry more business than music. It has moved music from art closer to just another commodity.
QBiM: Should we be expecting some new Spoons music this year? I’ve been hearing rumours.
GD:We are working on a new album. It was literally overnight that I found the focus for what we should do. I really wasn’t sure for a long time. We hope to do two new songs at the anniversary party.