Built to Spill

Built to Spill

Average Rating:

Hometown: Boise, ID (USA)


Built To Spill is the brainchild of Boise, Idaho's Doug Martsch, who is just as comfortable writing cute love songs in his basement as cranking up his amps and fronting indie-rock's version of Crazy Horse. His trademark shimmering guitars and dreamy melodies captivated underground pop fans and nascent music bloggers alike in the mid-Nineties, and while the buzz has diminished, Martsch has kept producing on his own schedule, keeping Built To Spill relevant into the early 2010s.

Martsch, a veteran of Boise-area group Treepeople, started Built To Spill in 1992 with guitarist Brett Netson and drummer Ralf Youtz, but band membership has been a revolving door since then, with Martsch the only constant. The band's 1993 full-length debut, Ultimate Alternative Wavers, is generally considered its least representative record, with a handful of stellar moments (see: the noisy catharsis of "Revolution" and "Nowhere Nothin' Fuckup") but much rawer than what would follow.

More restrained and focused, There's Nothing Wrong with Love (1994) included lighter songs that were ready made for college radio ("Big Dipper," "Car") and helped give the band a following beyond the Pacific Northwest. For the 12-song set, Martsch enlisted drummer Andy Capps and bassist/guitarist Brett Nelson, as well as producer/engineer Phil Ek, who would produce the group's next four records. As always, Martsch shows off his guitar chops ("Some," "Stab") but the album's most affecting moments are quieter ones; the wayward backing vocals and slide guitar on "Cleo" lend extra charm to the lyrics, sung from the perspective of Martsch's then-newborn son. Also in 1994, Martsch formed side project the Halo Benders with Beat Happening frontman and K Records honcho Calvin Johnson, and released the first of the group's three K albums, God Don't Make No Junk.

Warner Bros. won a major-label race to sign Built To Spill in 1995 after the success of Love, although two throwaway indie releases followed. Up Records put out a rambling 1995 EP cut with the help of another Boise band, Caustic Resin, and in early 1996, K Records put out The Normal Years, a collection of rarities and outtakes.

Armed with Warner's studio production budget, Martsch recruited Nelson and ex-Spinanes drummer Scott Plouf in 1996 to record (and re-record after initial master tapes were damaged) a more expansive set of guitar-oriented songs he'd written. The result, Perfect From Now On is one of the band's best and most exemplary albums. Though Martsch didn't wholly abandon the pop sensibilities of Love, his focus turned more toward sonic textures and dynamic song construction. All but two of the album's eight songs run past the 6-minute mark, often shifting through multiple sections. "Stop the Show," for instance, starts with a slow, ominous, vaguely flamenco three-minute intro, morphs into loud, snotty rock, turns right on a jangle-and-chime hook, then cuts left for a gut-busting lead.

With a loyal indie rock following in hand, the group followed up with Keep It Like a Secret in 1999. While the record shows the band taking a more punchy, pop-oriented approach (see: "Sidewalk," ""Center of the Universe"), it does retain its predecessor's layered and intricate production values and, at moments, its jammy sound. Stand-out track "Carry the Zero," a mournful roller-coaster in the vein of Perfect From Now On, manages to hold both the catchy hooks and mesmerizing Martsch solo guitar work. Keep It Like A Secret was the first Built To Spill album to hit the Billboard sales charts, peaking at No. 120. The ensuing tour provided the material for the concert album Live

Follow-up Ancient Melodies of the Future (2001) marked a return to simplicity in Martsch's songwriting with warm production and guitar jams that sometimes hammered away at the same riff for several minutes. After Ancient Melodies came a large lull in Built To Spill's career. Martsch released a solo album on Warner Bros. in late 2002 (the tidy 11-track Now You Know emphasizes Martsch's acoustic slide playing, but leaves just enough room for a trademark wah-wah freakout on "Impossible"). But Built To Spill fans had to wait until 2006 until the next proper Built To Spill album, You In Reverse. By this point, the group was a quintet, with Nelson, Plouf, Netson and touring guitarist Jim Roth joining Martsch. Although the band was still on Warner Bros., Phil Ek was no longer employed and the result is much rawer than anything the band had released in over a decade.

The band toured in support of You In Reverse after Martsch recovered from surgery to repair a detached retina. The band also found time to write and record some new material in between the tours, and in July 2007 Warner Bros. released the reggae-tinged 12-inch single "They Got Away"/"Re-Arrange." For portions of the 2008 tour, the band played sets featuring Perfect From Now On in its entirety.

The band's seventh LP, There Is No Enemy arrived in October 2009, hitting No. 50 on and harkening back to Built To Spill's late-Nineties heyday with more elaborate production and soothing melodies. Patient ballads like "Done" and "Life's a Dream" revel in dreamy soundscapes, the latter surprisingly pairing trumpet bleats with the inevitable guitar solo to impressive results. The lyrical content is mostly depressing, nearly elegiac at times; even the buoyant rocker "Good Ol' Boredom" is an ode to emotionlessness " when caught up in the tragic side of life, "'not so bad' seems so great."


Built to Spill/Fauxbois/Family Lumber live in Farmingdale

Built to Spill/Fauxbois/Family Lumber

live in Farmingdale (2010)

live show

Built to Spill Perfect from Now On

Built to Spill

Perfect from Now On (1997)

Warner Bros.

Built to Spill There's Nothing Wrong with Love

Built to Spill

There's Nothing Wrong with Love (1994)


Related News

Media: Built to Spill: 'Untethered Moon'
Built to Spill are now streaming their new LP, Untethered Moon. You can hear it here at NPR. The album is out April 21, 2015 via…
April 15, 2015
Media: Built to Spill: "Never Be the Same"
Built to Spill have posted "Never Be the Same" from their record Untethered Moon. It's due out April 21, 2015. You can click Read More…
March 23, 2015
Media: Desaparecidos sign to Epitaph
Omaha's Desaparecidos have signed to Epitaph Records. The band, a political/punk project from Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, features members of…
January 27, 2015
Media: OFF!, Bad Religion, Joyce Manor, Swans to play Coachella
Coachella has announced its lineup. Acts playing include OFF!, Bad Religion, Reverend Horton Heat, Swans, Run the Jewels, Parquet Courts,…
January 06, 2015
Tours: Built to Spill / Slam Dunk
Built to Spill have announced about two months of fall tour dates. All the shows will include Slam Dunk with a variety of bands joining the bill for a night, a week or longer You can…
July 22, 2013
Tours: Built to Spill
Built to Spill have announced their first block of tour dates for 2013. The band celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2012 and continue to support their 2009 Warner Music Group album, There Is No…
January 07, 2013
Tours: Modest Mouse's 'Lonesome Crowded West' documentary streaming online
Pitchfork has launched a stream of the entirety of Modest Mouse's documentary about the making of 1997's beloved The Lonesome Crowded West. The film includes interviews with the band members, producers and friends as well as archival footage of interviews with Doug Martsch of…
June 20, 2012
Tours: Built to Spill
Built to Spill will be hitting the road for some scattered dates in February and March. You can click Read More for the…
January 10, 2012
Videos: Built to Spill: "Hindsight"
Built to Spill have posted the new video for "Hindsight." The video was directed by actor Bob Odenkirk of Mr.Show, Arrested Development and Breaking Bad. You can click Read More for the…
September 01, 2010
Tours: Dinosaur Jr. / Built to Spill
Dinosaur Jr. and Built to Spill will be touring Europe and the UK next month. You can click Read More for the…
April 16, 2010

Exclusive Streams


Newest Reviews

Punknews.org Team

Managing Editor

Adam White

Contributing Editors

Kira Wisniewski Brittany Strummer Armando Olivas John Flynn Chris Moran John Gentile Mark Little

Copy Editor

Adam Eisenberg Britt Reiser

Podcast Producer

Greg Simpson


Aubin Paul

ISSN 1710-5366

© Copyright 1999-2013 Punknews.org

Terms of Use Privacy Policy Contact Us About Punknews.org

Other Places to Go