Ddespite the spirit of independence inherent referred to simply by its nomenclature, it is not easy for indie rock to flourish everywhere. Even in the era of internet democratization, many of the genre’s best-known bands hail from major metropolises or move to one in order to find a consistent following and a relatively stable music scene. This fact makes Built to Spill’s decades of hugely influential success all the more astounding. Groups like this aren’t supposed to be able to survive and thrive in a place like Boise, Idaho.
But since its debut in the early ’90s, the band fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Doug Martsch has put Idaho on the music map. The band cemented their legacy with the releases of indie rock classics in the late 90s Perfect from now on and Keep it like a secret, and has continued to maintain a standard of excellence ever since. Martsch (and the rotating crew of bandmates around him) never focuses on flash or pizzazz, making Built to Spill something of a dependable and active indie rock band.
After seven years without a new album (but plenty of touring during that time), Built to Spill are ready to release new tunes to the world in the form of When the wind forgets your name, the band’s debut LP for Sub Pop Records. Martsch largely crafted the new album at home with the help of his friends from Brazilian band Oruã (who served a stint as bandmates of Built to Spill). The collection of sprawling guitar tracks should appeal to die-hard Built to Spill fans clamoring for new songs.
Before Built to Spill hit Spokane, we caught up with Martsch to talk about keeping the band going with different members, his affinity for Spokane band Itchy Kitty, and creative struggles during a pandemic.
INTERIOR: What is your favorite aspect about When the wind forgets your name?
MARTSCH: My favorite thing, the most exciting for me, was the artwork. by Alex Graham [album cover]. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who to hire to do the art, and really she was just the perfect choice. I was a big fan of his comics. Basically, I let her do whatever she wanted, and she really killed him.
What did the guys from Oruã bring to the table when making this new album?
They are Brazilians, but they grew up listening to a lot of lo-fi alternative music from the United States. So they bring a bit of both of those things. They keep things pretty simple, but they also have some Brazilian music.
I was a big fan of the production they did on Oruã, [singer Lê Almeida’s] solo stuff and other bands they’ve produced – weird lo-fi stuff, but doing stuff with filters or speeding up/slowing down the tape – experimental, almost like collage type productions. So they brought some of that.
Over the past decade, members of the Built to Spill group have changed around you frequently. Is it a deliberate decision to keep things fresh or rather a case of availability of certain musicians?
It’s a bit of both. The Brazilians were [a case where] I needed people to play with and I had already booked those gigs in Brazil. And I couldn’t find anyone who was willing to learn the songs and get down there in time. So I reached out to these guys that I had just met through this Brazilian lady, Isa, who was our tour manager in 2019. And she introduced them to me, and we just practiced for a few days and then had played the South American shows. And I enjoyed playing with them so much that we played together all year. But they had to turn back.
Before starting to play with them, I had spoken with Mélanie [Radford] about playing [bass]. And we played a few shows with a different drummer, then I met Teresa [Esguerra] and fell in love with his drums. And then we added her to the group, just as the Brazilians returned to Brazil.
Part of being a successful band…a big part is just hanging on and managing to exist long enough that enough people have heard of you. I was lucky to be able to find people to play with and keep this thing going for a long time.
How have you handled the creative struggles of COVID downtime?
Well, creatively, I didn’t feel inspired at all; I felt a bit closed off and didn’t really have much creativity. But we had started the record right before COVID, and my plan from the start was to make the record at home on my computer. So, you know, it worked pretty well, but it was kind of like pulling teeth. I didn’t have much fun making the record. It wasn’t fun to be in a vacuum working on it by myself. I didn’t feel a ton of inspiration, but I got the job done and I got it done.
“I was lucky to be able to find people to play with and keep this thing going for a long time.”
It seems like you stay quite committed to new music compared to some of your peers. For example, you came across Itchy Kitty from Spokane and took them on tour. Are there certain things about new, younger bands that tend to catch your eye?
I don’t think there is one thing in particular. I don’t know, maybe just a soul or something. Itchy Kitty, to me, they were so much fun. They covered a lot of bases for me. For one, they sound so powerful. And they were so scary and cool to watch. And they were funny. And their songs are short and cool. They just ticked a lot of boxes.
We’ve played with them many times over the years, but never really had a chance to spend time with them. And then on these last two [tours] that we did together in winter and spring, I finally had the chance to spend time with them and get to know them a little. And those are just a few of my favorite people in the world too. It’s a really special group. I like a lot of new bands, but these guys are kind of next level.
As perhaps the most nationally respected musician in the Interior Northwest region, do you feel compelled to champion the music of this region?
I guess I don’t really feel like the regional part is very important to me. It seems like a coincidence. The same with Boise. If there weren’t good bands in Boise, we wouldn’t be touring with bands from Boise, you know? For me, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have a lot of regional pride and I don’t feel any responsibility. The happens to be killer bands in our own backyard. It’s not a regional thing, it’s just good music for me.
Since there are so many great bands from this area, I feel proud of it now, but only because there happen to be these great bands. ♦
Built to Knock Down, Prism Bitch, Pappas, Itchy Kitty • Thu., Aug. 11 at 8 p.m. • Sold out • 21+ • Lucky You Lounge • 1801 W. Sunset Blvd. • luckyyoulounge.com • 509-474-0511