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Built To Spill

Built to Spill were one of the most popular indie rock acts of the '90s, finding the middle ground between postmodern, Pavement-style pop and the loose, spacious jamming of Neil Young. From the outset, the band was a vehicle for singer/songwriter/guitarist Doug Martsch, who revived the concept of the indie guitar hero just as Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis -- another important influence -- was beginning to fade from the limelight. On record, Martsch the arranger crafted intricate, artfully knotted tangles of guitar; in concert, his rough-edged soloing heroics earned Built to Spill a reputation as an exciting and unpredictable live act.

Much like Pavement, Martsch's compositions were filled with fractured song structures and melodies, often veering abruptly into new sections with little attention to continuity or traditional form. (In fact, the difficulty of Martsch's songs helped force him to abandon his original intention of working with many different lineups, since the twists and turns were difficult to master.) His lyrics had all the loopy wit and pop culture references of many a '90s slacker icon, but Martsch changed things up with a genuine wistfulness borrowed from Mascis' and Young's more introspective moments. Unlike Pavement, Built to Spill were never hailed as rock's next great hope; they were neither as revolutionary nor as eclectic, and their music -- with its winding instrumental passages and less immediate construction -- required more effort to absorb. Instead, they remained even more firmly underground, where their unorthodox approach enjoyed tremendous support from the indie faithful.

Built to Spill were formed in Boise, ID, in 1993, shortly after Martsch had departed the Boise-rooted, Seattle-based Treepeople. Martsch had grown up in Twin Falls, ID, where he formed his first band, Farm Days, with bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Andy Capps while in high school during the mid-'80s. After moving to Boise, Martsch hooked up with former members of the local hardcore punk band State of Confusion to form Treepeople, which relocated to Seattle in 1988. There they signed with the local indie C/Z and issued several albums and EPs that offered a distinctive take on early Northwestern grunge. Eventually tiring of the band's far-ranging touring commitments, Martsch departed after 1993's Just Kidding album, and despite the continuing boom of the Seattle scene, he returned to Boise to refresh himself.

Martsch formed the first incarnation of Built to Spill with bassist/guitarist Brett Netson (also a member of Boise scenesters Caustic Resin) and drummer Ralf Youtz. Initially maintaining a relationship with C/Z, Built to Spill debuted on record in 1993 with Ultimate Alternative Wavers, on which Martsch billed himself as "Dug." Afterward, Martsch moved the band over to another Seattle indie, Up Records, and revamped the rhythm section, in keeping with his plan to make Built to Spill a loose aggregation that would allow him to work with a variety of musicians. This time, he was joined by bassist Brett Nelson (not Netson, but his old cohort from Farm Days) and drummer Andy Capps (also from Farm Days, who'd joined Nelson in a group called Butterfly Train).

Accompanied by cellist John McMahon and guest spots from several ex-Treepeople, Built to Spill scored a creative breakthrough with 1994's acclaimed There's Nothing Wrong with Love. With the help of producer/engineer Phil Ek, who would become the band's regular collaborator, Martsch's fragmentary songwriting aesthetic and detailed arrangements really hit their stride, resulting in a minor gem of quirky indie guitar pop. The same year, Martsch formed a side project with Beat Happening frontman and K Records honcho Calvin Johnson, and they recorded the first of three albums as the Halo Benders. Martsch formed a new lineup of Built to Spill with former Lync rhythm section James Bertram (bass) and Dave Schneider (drums), but this incarnation existed only for a series of live gigs in America and Europe during 1995, which included a stint on the second stage of that summer's Lollapalooza tour.

The positive response to There's Nothing Wrong with Love -- coupled with the increased exposure of Lollapalooza -- helped create a buzz around Built to Spill, and before 1995 was out, Martsch inked a deal with Warner Bros. that promised a good amount of creative control. In the meantime, he and Brett Nelson reunited with Brett Netson and several other members of Caustic Resin for a collaborative (not split) EP on Up, titled Built to Spill Caustic Resin. In early 1996, K Records issued a compilation of rarities and outtakes, The Normal Years, that spanned 1993-1995 and featured work by most of the band's lineups. Martsch then turned his attention to recording Built to Spill's major-label debut. At first, he started working with drummer Peter Lansdowne and no bassist, but found that the chemistry was wrong for the more expansive songs he was trying to write. He brought back Brett Nelson and recruited former Spinanes drummer Scott Plouf, and re-recorded most of the album, only to have the master tapes damaged. The third re-recording was the charm, and featured guest guitar work by Brett Netson to boot. Finally released in 1997, Perfect from Now On was a set of longer, moodier songs that once again earned positive reviews, and substantially expanded the band's growing fan base.

Tired of continually reteaching the band's repertoire, Martsch subsequently made Nelson and Plouf permanent members of Built to Spill. Material for their next album was, for the first time, worked out through collaborative effort -- mostly full-band jam sessions. Despite those origins, Keep It Like a Secret emerged as the tightest batch of songs on any Built to Spill record yet, and was greeted with some of their most enthusiastic reviews to date when it appeared in 1999; it also became their first to reach the pop charts. New supporting cast member Sam Coomes -- also of Quasi, formerly of Heatmiser -- contributed keyboard work. In response to demand from fans, the Live album was culled from the supporting tour, featuring additional guitar work from Brett Netson and longtime band cohort Jim Roth; assembled from three different gigs by Ek, it was released in 2000.

The proper studio follow-up to Keep It Like a Secret arrived with 2001's Ancient Melodies of the Future; critical responses ranged from enthusiasm to indifference. The following year, Martsch took a breather to release Now You Know, a solo album on which he delved into more traditional folk and blues. After a long break from releasing records, the revamped group (now a quartet comprised of Martsch, Nelson, Plouf, and Roth with additional help from the guitar-playing Brett Netson) stormed back with one of the finest records of their career, 2006's You in Reverse. Built to Spill resumed touring just after its release, and began recording for their next album later that year, although the results came in the form of a single, 2007's "They Got Away." The band entered the studio once again in 2008, recording There Is No Enemy with production from Martsch and David Trumfio. The album appeared in October of 2009. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Jokerman (Single)


Cairo Foster the reason
I love pavement as much as Stephen Mallkmus w/ or w/out the jicks. built tic spill, silver Jews etc
Love the sound especially the horns just a great flavor
stratocastst r u m e r
Pavement-sty l e pop? come on Steve Huey... Pavement wasn't pop-ish at all. Built to Spill is INCREDIBLE however. Top 5 favorite bands definitely
Incredible band
saw them in '05, awesome show. been a fan ever since a coworker played "Girl" for me in '01 when I was 17 and listening to napalm death and carcass and didn't think anything else was cool... thanks Mauro. and thanks Doug and BTS for making some of the coolest and most heartfelt music ever
What are your fav top 3 albums in your opinion??
I need to get all their music
The solo at the 3 minute mark is just ridiculously good.
Brilliant! Personal heroes!
Amazing sounds from the guitar along with intense, heartfelt lyrics, mixed with whimsical humor. Just one of the realist bands I've ever heard. Would love to see them in concert!!! I'd travel across the country to see them. I've been a fan for years and I've yet to hear a song I didn't like.
I was like I have seen this band live.. No actually I think I saw the Treepeople. Totally missed this band back in the 90's. Must of the been the ether.
No, YOU'RE chugging vodka and ramming a whole bag of Fritos in your gaping maw...
Love Doug Martsch since Treepeople! And I love his connection with JMascis (Neil Young...whic h is huge!)
Love them recorded and live!!! One of my all time faves for ever and ever!!!
One of the best bands to ever exist.
One of my all-time favorite bands
I started following Doug when he was in Farm Days and Tree People around Boise and I don't think that there is a musician that I respect more. And he is a really, down -to -earth, nice guy. I still look forward to every BTS show I can get my ears on and luckily since his home base is Boise we get to see them fairly often. I have every record they've put out and I'll continue to support them in whatever is next!
Cortez the Killer from their live album blows my mind each time i listen to it.
That show was awesome Ryan!
Can't wait to see them live in Boulder, Colorado May 11th!
Built to Spill's first 5 albums are absolutely amazing. Not many bands you can say that about.
maximumkungf u
The Live album has been blowing my mind for 13 years now and it never ever gets old.
I want to see movies of my dreams
Perfect from now on.
these guys are something else
BTS has been such a big part of my life in my own song writing and even my art. Their music is one of the major driving forces in my career. Also THE best live shows I've seen have all been BTS shows. Rock on brothers and sisters keep this space ship called earth a better place to live.
listen to the bone zone podcast!
the other documentary can be found on pitchfork. pretty sure it's called the lonesome crowded west since that's the album it focuses on :D
Not sure, but I think people are talking about a 4-part doc that's on youtube. some kid did it, I think he has since died.
whats the name of the doc?
chrisciaravi n o
Totally Agree Davis, I just watched that documentary.
What is the name of the docu?
If you haven't seen it, the documentary on the making of Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West talks a lot about the scene that they and BTS came out of. Very well done, made me like both bands more than i already did. Check it out.
i've been listening to these guys for about 4 years or so (i never knew of them in the 90s) and they are definitely one of my favorite bands. i'm gonna see them in one week and hopefully they live up to all the great reviews. i'm pumped to see them, and hope i won't be sad after the show that they didn't play some of my favorite songs - there are so many good songs i KNOW they won't play them all.
captainpylan t h e s
I'll put another one up for you scully. In scrolling down a little further on these posts I noticed one from J- Hile. thats all. I share the same sentiment that Perfect From Now On is my favorite album and the place that I saw them (once) was The Orange Peel. I may be biased, but I liked their performance even better than Modest Mouse's, which was very good in its own right. BTS is still a top 5 band for me.
I'm sad that the most recent comment from this amazing band is 5 months old. Love you BTS! You're amazing live and damn you've kept it together and I've loved you since I can remember.
First time hearing this band, Adio one step beyond skate video ;)
Love me some Built to Spill... been one of my favorite bands for years. Glad to hear them still putting out good music.
awesome note-bending style
captainpylan t h e s
I first heard Built to Spill playing in a local music store while shopping. I asked the clerk what it was and later purchased the album, Ancient Melodies of the Future. 10 years later and after getting all of their albums except the first one, which I will eventually acquire, I can say they are one of my favorite bands. I saw them once live in a small venue and can echo Alan's sentiment that Doug does play with passion. What a great show!
I met Doug at Big D's music in Boise (Doug's Hometown) back in 1992 and have loved his music since. I have played with his old bassist Tom Rommich and guitarist Brett Netson on occasion. They are all good musicians in their own right but Doug's reflective and emotive lyrics and guitar playing are something soft, endearing and real. BTW, Doug has been very successful and is STILL driving his old beat of mid 80's Subaru around town. What a down to earth dude. Love Ya Doug!
one of the best under appreciated bands to ever play together, changed the face of modern pop and gave a real meaning to the term "guitar rock", I have been listening to them since '97 and I am a little pissed they are hanging it up according to everything I've heard
I went to see a Built to Spill show a couple months ago because I got offered a free ticket . I'd hardly heard of them before. Their show was one of the best I've ever been to. Doug Martsch plays with so much passion and he is so talented. They're one of my favorite bands now
Never heard of these guys until Pandora turned me onto them. Saw them in 2010 pretty randomly after some people I was with said they were gonna see them at the bar next door to where I was. Bought tickets at the door and these guys rocked.
I'm so glad to be alive in a time and place where geniuses like Doug Martsch are able to share their talent with others.
Saw them in Portland. One of the better shows I've been to.
Just saw them in Burlington, VT last night. Best show I've ever been to hands down. Everybody was on it, and the set list was perfect. And I've seen them twice before 4 years ago.
Seen the twice. Once in Portland and once at the Gorge. Simply thrilling.
One of these guys was on WTF with marc maron
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