GORDON DEPPE: KEEPING THE SPOONS SHINING
By David DeRocco
If you want a depressing reminder of how fast time flies consider this: it’s been 36 years since SPOONS signalled their arrival on the Canadians charts with their new wave classic, Arias and Symphonies. And if you were around to enjoy this Burlington-based band's heyday while partying along to their string of hits, it means you’re probably lamenting the loss of your 80s hair. But that doesn’t mean you can’t relive those glorious days of youth by listening to such Spoons favourites as "Romantic Traffic", "Nova Heart", "Old Emotions" and "Tell No Lies". In fact, you can enjoy them LIVE, when The Spoons hit the stage at The Warehouse in St. Catharines.
Guitarist Gordon Deppe, bassist Sandy Horne and their bandmates continue to make beautiful music together – at least on record and on stage. The band released a new free track to fans last year, and the two have been spotted performing as an acoustic duo. Deppe has also become a member of Flock of Seagulls, playing his part in bringing beloved 80s music to a whole new generation of fans. He took the time to talk with GoBeWeekly about the harder side of Spoons music, the joys of being an indie band and a possible subconscious message pattern in their videos.
GO/BE: I saw you open for Gowan in London in November and it was the first time I’d seen Spoons perform as a duo. Is that the configuration you’re bringing to The Warehouse?
GORD: No that was a one-off thing. It will be the full band. I actually started doing a few acoustic things a few years ago. I had a book come out and at book signings they’d say bring out your guitar. I didn’t even own an acoustic guitar back then. So that was the first big show with Sandy like that. I opened for Alan Frew once on my own. It was just something to change it up. The songs have a whole different context when you hear them like that. But I prefer the band. That’s what you’ll be getting in St. Catharines
GO/BE: No pun intended, but when you take those old emotions out of your relationships within the band and focus on the relationship as musicians, I would think you would grow closer in terms of your musical connection which, hypothetically, would make performances tighter. Is that the case with you and Sandy?
GORD: it’s kind of a fine line. It’s like they say about being a pilot, you put in your 10,000 hours and then do things almost by muscle memory. But there’s something to be said about the early years, when you’re kind of going just on energy and the X factor the band has. When you look at the early Spoons we definitely weren’t as good musicians then but there was this magic thing going on. Both are good and you want to retain some of that. You don’t want to become some jaded perfectionist and just run through the motions every night. That’s why we mix it up, that’s why we do acoustic shows. We try to change it up because it keeps it interesting for us. We don’t always want to play it exactly like the record. You do get the chemistry and the musicianship goes up. But you don’t want to get stale. How many times have you gone to a show and it sounded exactly like the album. I find that very unsatisfying. I want to see a band stretch out.
GO/BE: I just saw Teenage Head and I’d say they’re better live now than during other periods of their career. They just have their act together.
GORD: I always like to hear that. You guys are way better live, or the music is way better live. We have a lot more energy, especially with the guitar. People don’t realize I’m a guitar player. The old albums are kind of sparse in terms of guitars, it’s more keyboards. Then they go and they say, hey you play the guitar. I solo out, I rock it. So there are aspects to the band that kind of get lost in recordings some time. They’re good on their own. I find that with a few 80s band. I like them a lot better live than on record. A band like OMD for example. Their records are nice and polite, but see them live and they’re a real band with drums and guitars. More energy than you would ever imagine.
GO/BE. I agree. My favourite Spoons song was always “Bridges Over Borders” because it was tougher. Then again, your songs have all stood the test of time. Why do you think those songs continue to resonate with fans after 35 years.
GORD: See, that’s why I never thought of doing the acoustic thing. I never thought the songs would work. But you’re right. People say these are good songs. They’re not really stuck in the decade they came from. I was kind of a quirky songwriter. I didn’t care what anyone else was doing or even care about getting airplay when we started. I think some of our stuff was not really of that time. “Nova Heart” was just so wrong. When it charted on the CHUM chart it was up there with Led Zeppelin, Queen and The Who. How does that happen. But because of that it was either ahead of its time, behind the times or just out of time. It definitely sounds 80s due to the recording style. But when you play it acoustically it’s different. I’ve played it as a rock song in a three piece band. It works in so many ways. But that’s always been my motto. Avoid normal at all costs. Some other 80s bands you kind of get them mixed up. But when you hear a Spoons song come on you kind of hear it right away.
GO/BE: And you did get airplay on different stages. I was working at HTZ-FM in the 80s and before they became a harder rock station Spoons were a big part of the playlist.
GORD: You talk about the hard rock side. When people see us live, how much harder and heavier we are, people get blown away by Sandy’s bass playing. They get a lot of respect when they see us play live. It’s not like the old videos, the light pop. We used to be on RUSH’s label, with the same management and record company. We toured arenas in the States with bands like Survivor. We could always hold our own with arena rock bands.
GO/BE: Speaking of record labels, you hear of the horror stories of how bands were treated. How did Spoons fare when it came to fair treatment with your label.
GORD: We were lucky. We were always left to do our thing. It might not have been a good thing in the beginning, especially in the early days. We didn’t even care about airplay. Our first album had no singles but it went to #1 on college radio. So being that indie and alternative didn’t work for us in the beginning when it came to mainstream radio but it sure worked with the young crowd. Our first national tour was based on having a #1 song on college radio. We just played colleges. We were kind of an artsy band. Later we got signed to bigger labels like A&M. They’d say ‘we like you guys but can you write something we can play on the radio.’ People respected that about us, we were quirky and different instead of coming out like a blatantly mainstream band.
GO/BE: Since you mentioned your videos, I was watching them all and it occurred to me there was always something to do with transportation in them. “Tell No Lies” had airplanes. “You Light UP” had cars. “Romantic Traffic” was on a subway. “Waterline” had a rowboat. “Old Emotions” had bicycles. And “Nova Heart” had some kind of intergalactic egg. Was that part of a conscious plan?
GORD: (laughing) I didn’t realize that, I’ve never even thought of that. That’s a good point. There’s actually 11 videos in total. I think you’re right. I’m going to have to check that out. Maybe it represents us moving forward all the time.
GO/BE: The band continues to move forward, releasing new songs and touring. Are you still enjoying yourself?
GORD: Absolutely, now more than ever. We’re playing bigger better shows now we’re back with Feldman. I don’t know if you realize this but I’m also a member of Flock of Seagulls. I’ve come to a great point in my life where I’m doing great shows, playing to audiences that love that music. We’re one big happy family that loves to share the music. So I never go to a Spoons soundcheck and go ‘do I have to play “Nova Heart’ again.’ Never. Every time I play I still get that tingle of anticipation of how the audience will react.
GO/BE: I didn’t know you were with Flock of Seagulls. It’s kind of like Gowan’s gig with Styx. What a great extension to the career.
GORD: Of all the bands that I can think of in the 80s I love them. I was actually influenced by them. I met them 35 years ago at the Police Picnic. There are a lot of bands you could ask me to play for, Van Halen, Bon Jovi. First of all I’m not going to say I know how to play that stuff and it wouldn’t be my thing. But Flock of Seagulls, a lot of people undervalue what they’ve done. Their guitar stylings were very unique for the time. When I saw them it was like seeing The Edge for the first time. It was a really unique attack on the guitar. When they asked me to join it was easy.
GO/BE: We’ll be watching for that guitar influence when Spoons come to St. Catharines. Final question, and with all due respect: who was prettier in the 80s, you or Sandy.
GORD: (laughing) Always Sandy, never me. Always. That’s the diplomatic answer!