Wednesday, 06 May 2015 11:05

Built to Last: Indie rock innovators Built to Spill rekindle the flame

Written by  Eric Mitts
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Built to Spill Built to Spill COURTESY PHOTO

Built To Spill
wsg Wooden Indian Burial Ground
Founders Brewing Co. Taproom, Grand Rapids
May 31, 8 p.m., $10, Ages 21+, (616) 776-1195

Even though Built To Spill founder Doug Martsch has been an indie-rock icon for more than two decades with a direct influence on bands like Modest Mouse, Death Cab For Cutie and others, he remains humbly honest about what he does for a living and his title as an innovator.

“I think if we didn’t exist that the state of music would not be much different,” Martsch said. “Whatever bands say we had an influence on them, I think those bands would still exist and sound the same because we’re just part of a continuum. Anybody who got anything from us got it from Dinosaur Jr. and David Bowie and R.E.M. and the Butthole Surfers. … That’s all we’ve ever done is regurgitated the things that we love.”

Started in 1992 in Boise, Idaho, Built To Spill was one of a handful of bands that first helped break indie-rock into the mainstream. Ironically, the band has been signed to major label Warner Bros. Records since 1995, but their cult-like success — and constant creative control — has proven they’re anything but conventional rock stars.  

Last month, the band returned with the release of Untethered Moon, its first new album in nearly six years. It’s also the first set with new rhythm section Jason Albertini (bass) and Steve Gere (drums) following the departure of longtime bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Scott Plouf in 2012.

“I felt a little uninspired when we were in the studio,” Martsch said of a scrapped album he had worked on with Nelson and Plouf. “I liked the songs, but they were a little simple and I thought I would have some ideas in the studio to make them more interesting.”

Hitting a block, Martsch hit the road, playing more shows in 2013 than ever before. The band returned with a reinvigorated sense of purpose.

“We rehearsed a ton and just recorded all our jams, and ended up reworking the songs we recorded in 2012, but then also came up with a few new songs from all our jamming,” said Martsch of Untethered Moon.

With only 10 songs out of 16 making the cut, Martsch said he’s already excited to work on the next record. Except for the lyrics.

“I have a handful of songs that maybe tell a story or stick to a theme, but I’m not a writer,” Martsch said. He’s dealt with a lifelong struggle with lyricism, and he said the words end up sounding “surrealist or existentialist — or something.” But he aches through in the name of the band.

“I don’t write at all other than what I have to write for Built To Spill. My emails are short. I just don’t have that in me.”

Besides his battle with words — and a false breakup rumor — Martsch said as long as things stay fresh, he plans to keep Built To Spill going well into the future.

“It seems a little silly to be 65-years-old, singing ‘In The Morning,’ (off 1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love), but who knows?

“I’m definitely at the age where I start wondering how long I can keeping doing (this),” he said. “When I was 25, it probably seemed silly to be 45 and doing it. But I don’t know how to do anything else. This is the only thing I can do to earn this kind of living — and I am still enjoying it.”

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