Q&A: Built to Spill's Doug Martsch
The band's fifth studio album for Warner Bros. finds Built to Spill content and stretching out with new recording techniques and a host of guest musicians. Their ever-revolving lineup has solidified around Martsch and familiar faces Brett Nelson, Jim Roth, Scott Plouf, and (oddly enough) Brett Netson, all of whom are present on Enemy.
Nearly 20 years on, Martsch's quirky indie rock vision lives. While the act never truly reached mainstream status, its ability to sustain a rabid fan base with consistently genuine and compelling material has provided staying power. This approach would appear to have benefits over the hit-and-fizzle of overhyped one-hit wonders.
A mold for contemporary artists like Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse, Built to Spill's fetal vocals, loud-soft dynamic, and dirty guitars are too timeless to grow stale. Martsch's tunes are just plain good, a fact that keeps the music sounding fresh and the band outlasting lesser peers. In anticipation of their show tonight at First Ave, Gimme Noise tracked down the Idahoans in a van somewhere in California.
How much of the new record are you working into your shows?
The record won't be out until October 6, so we'll likely wait until it is before we play new songs. We have to relearn them, so early on in the tour we play them at soundcheck. Sometimes we don't play new stuff at all. Most people like to hear songs they're familiar with. The new songs are ok, but if you've heard the record first they sound better.
Apparently you aren't one of those bands resentful of fans there to hear the oldies.
People like stuff that's familiar. That's a great aspect of music, part of its power. The stuff that brings you to tears is stuff you've heard before. Music is about more things than sound.
Do you still enjoy touring?
I've liked it for a long time. It's just really fun to play every night. That's the best part of making music. I don't mind the travel. I can kick back and read or work on other things.
How has the process of making records changed for you since the beginning?
This record was the first time we recorded digitally; everything else was onto tape. That was different. It's a lot more fun being able to do lots of overdubs, choose stuff later, do a lot of stuff at home. We did stuff at home two records ago but it didn't sound very good. In a lot of ways you never really learn. There came a point ten years ago when I gave up on trying to make what was in my head. Sometimes you can take the best song on the record and it comes out a little flat, and a song you don't think you should bother with is magic.