Built to Spill is back
When Doug Martsch moved from one town in Idaho to another, way back in high school, the result was that he was somewhat friendless. The upside was that he had plenty of time to practice guitar. “I had some time without a social life to really get down to business, learn some chords and stuff,” said Martsch, lead singer and lead guitarist for Built to Spill, which plays the Belly Up tonight.If you need a picture in your mind, think “Napoleon Dynamite.” Rural Idaho. Dorky.Instead of kung-fu skills, however, Martsch learned to play the guitar and never looked back. “I started learning other people’s songs and writing my own songs right away,” Martsch said, adding that his brother gave him his first guitar. “[My brother’s] not very good, he knew the basic things to get me started. But I was a lot more into it than he ever was.”Soon enough, Martsch needed a new and improved guitar. The one he got was a gold Les Paul. And though he still has it, Martsch says it wasn’t really his thing. “I got a Strat after high school …” he said, “had a whammy bar and stuff.”Martsch has since moved up to a Telecaster, which a friend custom-made.”It’s nice to play something that your friend built for you,” Martsch said. “I play music with him sometimes, too. He and I had a little cover band for a while.”Built to Spill has been around for nearly 15 years. Their latest album, “You In Reverse,” sounds a bit like Elliott Smith, with some extra rock and a bit more jamming. Some songs invite a mild case of head-bobbing, while others call for some serious ass-shaking. The songs are catchy, and the lyrics are thoughtful. It’s the result of some good time off and some long sessions in Martsch’s garage.”I toured a bit by myself,” he said. “I also just kind of didn’t work as hard on music. I became obsessed with basketball all the time. The break was really only a year. Then we started jamming again. When we got back into it again it was exciting.”That return came nearly five years after “Ancient Melodies of the Future,” which features much of what Martsch and Built to Spill have become known for – layered harmonies and steady rhythms with hummable songs that are a shade too melancholy for pop. “We’ve jammed enough that someone will start playing and we’ll all just join in,” Martsch said. “It’s pretty easy for us to do that.”He brought a few songs to the band after the break, such as “Liar” and “Saturday,” though he built most of the tracks with the band. As for now, they’re touring and recording when they can. “I’m not sure what we want to do next,” Martsch said. “We have a batch of songs and we’re in the middle of figuring out what we want to do. We recorded six songs last week, down in L.A. We just do little four-day stints in the studio and then see what comes out of all that.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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