Built To Spill singer: 'I've been lucky'
It may have been 25 years since rock band Built To Spill started playing shows, but its leader, singer and songwriter Doug Martsch still loves to play.
“I can imagine how people burn out on it, playing the same songs over and over,” he told the website Salon in a recent interview. “But, that’s now how music works for me. I enjoy playing the same things over and over again. Touring is exciting and daunting, though. It’s sad to leave my family and my dog, but it’s also exciting to get to play concerts every night.”
Another one of those shows takes place on April 15, as Built to Spill returns to Reno for a show at Cargo.
The current lineup of Built to Spill includes Martsch on guitar and vocals, founding member Brett Netson and Jim Roth on guitars (with Roth in the band since 2004), and Jason Albertini on bass and Stephen Gere on drums, both of whom joined in 2012.
Boise, Idaho, is home to Built to Spill, who started in 1992. A year later, the band released its debut album, “Ultimate Alternative Wavers,” on small indie label C/Z Records. Even then, Martsch told Spin magazine that he was in a lucky situation and had support pursuing his music.
“My mother wanted me to go to college after high school, and I didn’t really want to, but I did,” he told Spin. “I ended up dropping out, but she was really supportive. Everyone in my family has been pretty supportive. I never did have to deal with anyone thinking it was a waste of time. I think everyone understood that I wasn’t going for it; I wasn’t trying to make it big. By the time I was 24, we got signed to a major label, so it never got to me being 35 and still doing it while not doing anything else, not having a job. I always had a job, so it was never a big deal or weird or anything.”
This admittedly pretty dang cool job really kicked into gear for Martsch in 1994. That’s when another indie label, called Up, released “There’s Nothing Wrong With Love,” the band’s second album in 1994. That record was critically acclaimed and earned the band a lot of attention outside of the Pacific Northwest. Music website Pitchfork recently named “Wrong With Love” as No. 24 in its top 100 albums of the ‘90s.
A year later, Built to Spill was signed to Warner Brothers Records. They’ve released six albums with the label including “Perfect From Now On” in 1997, “Ancient Melodies of the Future” in 2001 and their latest, 2015’s “Untethered Moon.”
Martsch told Salon that they are flattered when people still think they are an “indie band,” even though they’ve been on Warner Brothers for decades.
“It just means that we sound and behave as if we’re doing this because we love it,” he said. “That is definitely how we feel about the whole thing. Bands like the Replacements or Husker Du, bands I loved, would sign to majors and their whole sound would change. That made a big impact on us and we knew we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to keep making music that sounded like us.”
While big gaps between albums are common, the band often plays live and has earned a devoted cult following because of it. The music is a mix of classic-style rock writing that might detour into long guitar jams or even into folk or reggae rhythms. Built To Spill’s best known songs include “Car,” “I Would Hurt a Fly,” “Carry The Zero,” “Goin’ Against Your Mind” and “Hindsight.”
For its latest album, Martsch told Salon that jams formed the focus of all the material.
“All our stuff is collaborative, to differing degrees,” he said. “Most of the stuff, I would bring a part in and we would jam on them and then there were other parts where I would tell them what I wanted. Sometimes we would just jam and I would go back and listen and find an interesting part, and it would end up on the record. There are dozens, hundreds of hours of us jamming.”
In a recent interview with Spin magazine, Martsch said that he and the band have survived this long because it’s just fun to play with your friends.
“I’m the kind of person that goes with the flow of my life, and that is where it’s gone,” he said. “I’m not a person who has a lot of other interests. This is the best thing that I have going. I don’t think that I would be successful at anything else, and I’m still to this day stunned that I’ve ever had any success. I never intended to.”
Similarly, when the Spin reporter asked Martsch if he had advice for younger musicians, he demurred.
“The thing I always say is that I’ve been really lucky,” he said. “That’s my secret, that I got lucky."
“I wouldn’t say, like, put out your own record, because that might not do it. I wouldn’t say tour a bunch, because that might not do it either. The other thing I say is don’t have any expectations. If you want to do it, just do it. But if you want to make it big, you’re on your own. I have no idea how to make it big. No one knows the secret to that.”