It’s been a relatively quiet couple of years for Built to Spill, following the release of 2009’s critical favorite “There is No Enemy.” The Boise indie-rock pioneers are back on the road and boasting a new rhythm section, consisting of bassist Jason Albertini (Helvetia and Duster) and drummer Stephen Gere (Uzala, Brett Netson Band, Atomic Mama).
With high-profile festival appearances on the horizon – including Sasquatch! and a three-day engagement at Boise’s Treefort Music Fest – BtS is focused on playing tight and keeping it fresh. In this brief interview, founding bandleader Doug Martsch talks about integrating a new rhythm section and nonplans for a new album.
IJ: It’s been a while since we caught up. What have you been up to?
DM: Not much. And a lot. A couple of guys joined the band. The drummer and the bass player quit. They wanted to do something else.
IJ: How easy was it to integrate the new rhythm section?
DM: Pretty easy. Both of the guys were a part of the crew so they know the music and they understand what we’re trying to do.
IJ: I hear you’re working on a new album.
DM: Well … no. We started working on one last spring, but when (drummer Scott Plouf and bassist Brett Nelson) quit I decided to bag it and wait to get these guys going and record it with them instead. It was all written, about halfway done with overdubs … I dunno, I might revisit it. I have some other things in mind but I’m not ready to go. We’re really just starting over.
IJ: Do you have any idea what direction you might be going on this next record?
DM: That’s something we gotta figure out. That’s why we’re not ready yet. That’s why we bagged it. All we’ve done is play old Built to Spill songs and I haven’t even begun to expose them to anything new, so … no. I was not too enthusiastic about the things I was doing when we were recording it. I was fuzzy on ideas so I’m happy to be able to try it all over.
IJ: Does the band sound any different with the new rhythm section? I mean, will fans be able to tell the difference, or is it pretty much verbatim Built to Spill? Will you play the old songs differently?
DM: I’m not really sure yet. I haven’t had much time playing with new guys. We might try some different methods or we might show them some different techniques and jam on parts or they might even invent parts for us to do. We’ve played three shows so far. Actually one of them was a secret show about a month after they joined the band to get us playing together and make it less nerve-wracking. They all went really great. It sounds pretty dead on. They know us, they’ve known our music for a long time from being a part of our crew and they’re good players. Plus they have a knack for learning other people’s material in their style, or in the style of the record, but then they can do their own thing live. I’m looking forward to playing the new stuff with them and seeing how they play. I can barely tell it’s a different rhythm section they are so dead on.
IJ: What the fun stuff to play? What’s more like work?
DM: We’re playing the Treefort festival in Boise in March. It’s three nights, and each night we’ll be playing a different set: the first night we’re playing our first album all the way through; the second night we’re playing a regular show, so a little bit of everything, old stuff and newer stuff; and on the third night we’re doing all covers. That’s the fun stuff, learning and relearning a bunch of covers. Some of them we’ve been working on for awhile. When you have a dozen covers, those are always the funnest songs to play. A few we are playing live when we come to Spokane, and some we’ll save … I always decide the night of the show when I make the set list.
IJ: Do you have any thoughts you would share about the way Built to Spill is regarded for its legacy and impact on the indie-music aesthetic, especially in the Northwest?
DM: No. I just feel like everything is brand new, like I don’t have any sort of history. I’m thinking we need to get to work and make music that is interesting.