Built to Spill bring their slow, steady guitar rock to the Senator
The following sentence is in code:
Modest Mouse, guest curators of this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival on the Queen Mary ship in Long Beach, has hand-picked Built to Spill to join a roster that includes Sufjan Stevens, Explosions in the Sky and The Flaming Lips.
Translation: Well, that’s pretty much all there is to that message. All Tomorrow’s Parties is a musical festival series that selects guest curators (Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Simpsons creator Matt Groening have both done it), who then “hand-pick” a live-action mix-tape of personal favorites to perform at either its U.S. or U.K. version of the two-day fest.
This year’s Long Beach extravaganza comes from the eclectic minds of former indie superstars-turned-MTV-breakthrough-artists Modest Mouse, and the band’s selection of Built to Spill is perfect.
Built to Spill is a great mix-tape band. Although its roots are deeply buried in the indie world—reaching back to front man Doug Martsch’s days in The Treepeople and his association with K Records with the first BTS album and collaborations with K’s Calvin Johnson in the Halo Benders—the band’s sound includes a much broader range of influences.
First and foremost, Martsch is not only from Idaho, he also still lives there. Staying out of the typical hipster circles removes the group from the insulated influence created by such scenes. And for the last eight years the band has been on Warner Bros. Records, releasing all of its acclaimed albums of guitar-centric pop collages (Perfect From Now On, Keep It Like a Secret and Ancient Melodies of the Future) on the very major label. Plus, one listen to the epic 20-minute-plus cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” on BTS’s Live album, and it becomes apparent that the oft-repeated comparison of Martsch to Eric Clapton is worth consideration as well.
“I don’t think that’s very accurate,” Martsch says, laughing, during a recent phone interview from Boise when the Clapton connection is mentioned. Citing his band’s propensity for songs that often include orchestrated jamming as the reason for the comparison, Martsch isn’t overly concerned about what sound (indie, blues, reggae all are mentioned during our conversation) the band is being pegged with.
“If we find something interesting, we like to try it out.”
It’s been over three years since the last studio album, and Built to Spill has just begun recording sessions for an eagerly anticipated new release at the new Audible Alchemy studio in Portland. On the way to the ATP fest, the band is stopping off in Chico as part of a little mini-tour break from those first sessions.
“We might have been just making some demos,” shared Martsch about the band’s first couple weeks of recording. Reserving his trademark strained tenor for the microphone, Martsch’s speaking voice is unexpectedly even on the phone, and Boise’s favorite musical son sounds content with just exploring the possibilities of what might come out of this round of recordings.
"[There’s] a pretty wide variety. … We have like 15 songs or something. I’m pretty excited.”
Martsh guesses that the new recording won’t make it out till next fall. Until then, fans will need to make do with the old stuff. And the mix tapes (try mix CDs, Grandpa), which are one of the best ways to get introduced to new music while enjoying old favorites.
Looking at the line-up at the ATP festival, it’s interesting to see a lineage of influences that lead up to curators Modest Mouse. Lou Reed begat The Cramps begat Dinosaur Jr. (J. Mascis), and The Flaming Lips begat Built to Spill begat Modest Mouse … or something like that. A great mix.