MAGNET Exclusive: Excerpt From Corey duBrowa’s “An Ideal For Living: A Celebration Of The E.P.” (Written By Spoon’s Britt Daniel)

Longtime MAGNET contributor Corey duBrowa has a book out tomorrow that recognizes that often-overlooked, misunderstood, bigger-than-a-single-but-smaller-than-an-album musical format: the EP. An Ideal For Living: A Celebration Of The E.P. (Extended Play) (HoZac Books) salutes the 200 best EPs released from the 1950s until now, and it’s the first tome to tackle this underappreciated, music-snob-approved format. Britt Daniel wrote the foreword, which you can read below. But first, duBrowa explains why he asked the Spoon frontman to contribute to An Ideal For Living.

duBrowa: I first met Britt Daniel in 2002, in Portland, Ore., at a long-forgotten little venue called Berbati’s Pan.

Spoon was touring behind a great new album called Kill The Moonlight. I had been a huge, outspoken fan of the band’s early work and had really fallen in love with Moonlight’s predecessor, Girls Can Tell—and perhaps equally as much with the stopgap EP that accompanied it, Love Ways (which is featured in the 2000s chapter of An Ideal For Living).

Britt was standing in the back of the venue. It was dark, you couldn’t see (or hear, due to the opening act’s blare in the small room) much, but you couldn’t miss Britt: a tall, blonde figure keeping to himself and just listening to the music. I went up and introduced myself, and unknowingly, a friendship emerged. Britt would later move to Portland around the time of his band’s release of 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. We hung out a bit then, I profiled Spoon for MAGNET and eventually would break down the making of Girls Can Tell in some detail. Britt was an easy hang, and I was surprised at how much of his creative process he allowed me to see and document.

So when I was writing what eventually became a tribute to the “extended play” recording, there was only one artist in my mind—his band having recorded seven EPs over the course of its time together—who was the right “voice” for An Ideal For Living’s foreword. And that was Britt.

I am both incredibly honored to include his thoughts in my book, but I have been extraordinarily lucky to call him “friend” for more than 20 years. His band remains a personal favorite, and his thoughts on the EP were about 10 times better than anything I could have conjured on the subject.

—Corey duBrowa

Last Night An EP Saved My Life 
The EP is a dodge. Maybe that’s why it’s such fertile ground for creativity. The dodge ain’t a bad place to be when you’re making art. The EP is a musical sweet spot where you can be on your own, under the radar, secure in the knowledge that what you’re making is just for you and those who love you enough to follow you anywhere.

My band has been fortunate to find that sweet spot on a few EPs, but my favorite is Soft Effects, which by accident became the first release where Spoon truly sounded like itself on record. You could say it’s where the identity of the band crystalized, and at least some of that’s got to be because it felt like there were no rules and no consequences.

As Spoon’s first album came out, we began work on a couple songs we originally thought would end up as b-sides to a single from that LP. But then the people at Matador Records happened to mention that, given that album’s general lack of success, there was no real demand for a commercial single, let alone any b-sides. Suddenly, we were no longer sure where these new songs would end up. But we kept recording anyway. And then, because the album was pretty much tanking, Matador suggested that maybe we should quickly move on to something new—something to right the ship and start over. How about an EP?

I was into that idea. So many of my favorite bands had released EPs I loved that carved out their own identities between albums. Pavement’s Watery, Domestic EP contained the more classic songwriting of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but also the scrappiness of Slanted And Enchanted. I’d spent a good chunk of high school driving down backroads with my friends, listening to Metallica’s Garage Days Re-Revisited EP on repeat. The lone mall in my hometown had a Hastings Records, where the forward-thinking music buyer had turned me onto the Cocteau Twins and their Love’s Easy Tears EP, which led me to the rest of their catalog. And I discovered Julian Cope through the song “World Shut Your Mouth” from his self-titled EP, and a couple of years later named my first serious band after one of his albums. All this to say that the EP may seem small or superfluous by design, but its impact can be huge.

After that, things started moving fast. The stakes were low, the mood was light, and great stuff seemed to be happening almost by accident. I think the fourth song we put down was “Mountain To Sound,” and I remember playing that back, before I’d even put any vocals on it, and thinking it was the best thing we’d ever done. Our producer John Croslin had the idea to record that song on a cassette four-track, then hard pan all the instruments out in the mix. These were moves we wouldn’t have considered for a proper album, and they put the song in a wholly distinctive sound world. All of a sudden, this group of songs started to feel like its own thing.

We were thrilled to get to make any kind of record, but we felt especially excited to make this one because it felt like it could be whatever it wanted it to be—the only real imperative was to get it done fast. Whatever it became, it’d certainly be more inconspicuous than an LP, and as the standard for a recording artist to prove mettle, the LP could equal pressure. This felt like it could be anything.

Soft Effects set Spoon on a new path. It took us a second to understand where we were going, and there’d be struggles with the music biz to come. But the spirit of making that EP stuck with us forever and provided a lesson in the importance of spontaneity and the value of happy accidents.

EPs have a way of sneaking you into that golden territory where great art happens, where you can wind up making magic, unencumbered by expectation. The EP is an escape route—a duck down the alley to where nobody’s looking for you, and you can be truly free. Sometimes, that’s the best way forward.

—Britt Daniel