CARS HOMES JOBS

Built to Spill’s guitar-heavy lineup brings new sound to indie group on tour

Saturday, August 25, 2012
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 Built to Spill will be part of a three-band bill at the Upstate Concert Hall on Wednesday. (illustration: Graham MacRae )
Built to Spill will be part of a three-band bill at the Upstate Concert Hall on Wednesday. (illustration: Graham MacRae )

Doug Martsch doesn’t listen to Built to Spill very much anymore.

Martsch, the band’s singer, lead guitarist and mastermind, used to listen to his own music quite a bit when he first formed the indie rock group in 1992 in Boise, Idaho. But over the years, he’s become more of a perfectionist when it comes to Built to Spill’s recordings, which explains the longer gaps of time between albums — five years between 2001’s “Ancient Melodies of the Future” and 2006’s “You in Reverse,” and another three between “You in Reverse” and the band’s latest, 2009’s “There is No Enemy.”

Now, Martsch will only listen to the band’s albums when he needs to re-learn something from them.

Built to Spill

with Helvetia, Revolt Revolt

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Upstate Concert Hall (formerly Northern Lights), 1208 Route 146, Clifton Park

How Much: $18 (doors); $16 (advance)

More Info: 371-0012, www.upstateconcerthall.com

“When I was in high school I would listen to boom box recordings that my band did over and over again, thinking it was the greatest thing in the world,” Martsch said recently from his home in Boise. “As the years go by, I’m less and less interested — I find listening to my music less and less enjoyable.

And if he could re-record the albums all over again, he would probably do them differently.

“I think that if I were to make ‘There’s Nothing Wrong With Love’ [the band’s second album, from 1994] today, it would be almost unrecognizable compared to the version that we did,” Martsch said. “I wouldn’t let any of that go; I would not accept any of that guitar playing or singing. Not to say that — to me, that record, if I were to do it today, I don’t think it would be a better record. It’s just what I would be willing to deal with, and it probably would be less popular than it is the way that it is.”

Touring still fun

But despite Martsch’s critical nature — well documented in previous interviews — he still enjoys touring and performing live more than ever. Martsch and the current lineup of the band — guitarists Jim Roth and Brett Netson, bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Scott Plouf — are touring the Midwest and East Coast for the next month, and will be at Upstate Concert Hall (formerly Northern Lights) Wednesday night.

The current five-piece lineup has been active since the release of “You in Reverse,” when Netson rejoined the group after being a guest player on that album, “Ancient Melodies of the Future” and 1997’s “Perfect From Now On.” All of the current members have been in various lineups of Built to Spill over the years — Netson played bass in the original trio on the 1993 debut “Ultimate Alternative Wavers,” while Nelson joined for “There’s Nothing Wrong With Love.” Plouf has been on board since 1997, and Roth was promoted from touring guitarist to full-time member on “You in Reverse.”

This is the largest the band has ever been — throughout the ’90s the group stuck to either trio or quartet formats, with Martsch being the one constant. Although Martsch’s initial plan was to change the band’s lineup with each album, he’s glad to have the familiarity that the current lineup provides.

Familiar with material

“For one thing, everyone knows the material, so when we — everyone forgets it, but when we get back together and rehearse, everyone knows where to go and what to do,” Martsch said. “It’s something where we can work on stuff as we go, too — even now we talk about things we’re doing, like, ‘What are you doing on this part? Maybe you could be doing this?’ It’s fun to still be actively and creatively involved in those old songs, and everyone’s kind of working with their tone and sound constantly, too, trying to perfect that.”

With Netson back in the fold, the band now has three guitarists, which means the old songs have also been revamped.

“It really opened up a lot of things — there was all kinds of weird little parts on the records that we could do,” Martsch said. “And Brett’s just such an amazing guitar player; he has such a great feel.”

The band is currently playing about half of its most recent album “There is No Enemy” live. The songs found Martsch streamlining his songwriting away from the longer guitar suites that dominated earlier albums, and have been well received.

Fans are the judge

“The only way I can judge is if we start a song and some people clap, because they’re glad it’s coming on,” Martsch said. “They’ve been clapping for the songs, so that’s how I know.”

Martsch has been working on material for a new album since April, recording with “You in Reverse” producer Steven Wray Lobdell in the same studio that record was also done in. So far Nelson and Plouf have recorded rhythm tracks, and in between tours Martsch has been agonizing over his guitar and vocal parts — so far, Roth and Netson have not been involved, but will probably be brought in for some parts later on in the process. At this point, the album probably won’t be out until next year at the earliest.

“I’ve been up to do overdubs two or three times over the summer, but I haven’t really gotten very much done — I’ve done a lot of work, but have not had very many results,” Martsch said. “I thought it might get done more quickly, but I’ve hit some speed bumps along the way, and I’m now realizing it’s going to take a lot longer to do, which is fine.”

After 20 years as a band, Built to Spill has certainly established its legacy as one of modern indie rock’s original torch-bearers. But for Martsch, he’s still just surprised that he gets to play music for a living.

“My whole goal when we started was to be able to maybe get someone to pay for our recordings, and that was about it,” he said. “To make a living off of this, and do all the touring that we’ve done, to be able to — I don’t know. Just to have our music be important to some people, that’s just been more than I ever expected from this life.”

 
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