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Members include DougMartsch (born in Boise, ID; children: one son, Ben), guitar, vocals; BrettNelson (of Butterfly Train), bass; and ScottPlouf (formerly of the Spinanes), drums. Former members include AndyCappos, JamesDillon, BrettNetson (of Caustic Resin), and RaifYoutz (of Halo Benders and Sone). Addresses: Record company--Warner Brothers, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505; 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
Built to Spill, one of several projects created by musician Doug Martsch, always took pride in its reputation as one of the best kept secrets of the underground, alternative rock scene. Martsch, considered by critics as one of independent rock's most striking songwriters and guitarists, felt compelled to maintain his anonymity; a shy and humble person, he never wanted to live the life of a pop star. Reflecting on life and love with intellectual angst, Martsch's songs "are divided into sections that go beyond verse-chorus-verse form, with pop ditties that stop halfway and turn into glorious landscapes of mangled guitar strings," as stated in the Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock. However, since signing with a major label, Warner Brothers, for 1997's Perfect From Now On, the band has progressively emerged into the mainstream. Subsequently, the group's 1999 release, Keep It Like A Secret, brought Martsch and his partners an even broader fan base and critical acclaim. The release also marked Built to Spill's first collaborative effort.
Previously, Martsch would rotate and replace band members and write the music and lyrics by himself, believing that such an approach would keep his songs from growing stale. But for the band's first two major label albums, Martsch kept the participating band members consistent, with plans of holding on to the lineup, guitarist Brett Nelson (of Butterfly Train) and drummer Scott Plouf (of the Spinanes), for future work. To his surprise, Martsch had found greater rewards in playing with others who also held a stake in the music. Moreover, Built to Spill had finally produced a commercially appealing, but still artistically satisfying record. "A lot of it had to do with the last record," Martsch told David Daley of Magnet magazine. "Just how much work it was, how I was kind of unsure about it. Basically, I just got burned out on doing things myself. Also, I realized the things I like to listen to, my favorite things, tend to be collaborative things. I just thought more interesting music could be made with other people involved in writing and stuff." Thus, with Built to Spill's new creative direction, speculators predict that the rock world will continue to hear the tedious guitar playing and unforgettable music of Martsch for some time to come.
Doug Martsch's musical career began in Boise, Idaho, with his first band, a little-known yet influential group called Treepeople. Described as "Boise's rock heroes" by the official Built to Spill website, Treepeople consisted of Martsch and friend Scott Schmaljohn (now of Stuntman), in addition to a rotating cast of bassists and drummers. In order to attract a wider audience, Martsch and Schmaljohn relocated the group to Seattle, Washington, where they released two albums, Guilt, Regret and Embarrassment in 1990 on Westworld Records (re-released on K Records in 1998) and Just Kidding on C/Z Records; two EPs, Time Whore in 1989 and Something Vicious in 1991, both on C/Z; and numerous seven-inch singles. Then, despite the band's success, Martsch decided to leave Treepeople in 1992 to pursue his own musical interests. His former partners stayed together for awhile, but without Martsch, the group split up for good in 1993.
Martsch, a native of Boise, returned to his hometown in 1993 to escape city life in Seattle and contemplate his next career move while working odd jobs, writing music, and playing music with friends. Soon thereafter, Martsch helped form Built to Spill and released the band's first album, 1993's Ultimate Alternative Wavers, which introduced the band's jam-oriented, post-punk style of pop. Although all of the songs either reached or exceeded the nine-minute mark, the Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rocknoted that Martsch "manages to endow each jagged, twisted guitar line with the emotion of the song, whether it be anger, introspection or love." The initial Built to Spill lineup included Martsch, Raif Youtz, and Brett Netson (not the later Brett Nelson), but Martsch's band mates were at the same time members of other groups as well. Youtz, a member of Sone, and Netson of Caustic Resin performed only a couple of live shows with Martsch in support of Built to Spill's debut before the initial group disbanded.
After the breakup, Martsch signed with friend and producer Chris Takino's UP Records and traveled to Seattle to record Built to Spill's next record with help from K Records proprietor Calvin Johnson. For this session, the band's lineup included the members of Farm Days, a band that Martsch, Andy Cappos, and Brett Nelson had formed during their high school days. The resulting three, two-song singles were released by Atlas/Face The Music, K, and Saturnine, and appeared again later on the album The Normal Years. Next came the album There's Nothing Wrong With Love on UP Records with help from producer Phil Elk in 1994, featuring more of Martsch's intricate guitar work. With shorter tracks, about three to four minutes each, the album centered on deconstructed pop songs about growing up. One of the songs entitled "Cleo," named after Martsch's son Benjamin Cleo, gives an account of the world from the point of view of a new-born baby, followed by songs that tell the frustration of adolescence and young adulthood.
While continuing to develop ideas for Built to Spill, Martsch found time to work with other musicians as well. Martsch and Johnson had formed a friendship while recording back in 1994 and decided to record together as the Halo Benders. Other participants in the project included Steve Fisk (who helped produce the Treepeople albums), Ralph Youtz, and Wayne Flower. The primarily "Basement Punk" album, as described by Built to Spill's website, entitled God Don't Make No Junk, hit stores in 1995 on the K label. Around the same time, he teamed with acid-rock band Caustic Resin to record some tracks. During his career, Martsch released two albums with Caustic Resin: Body Love Body Hate on C/Z Records in 1993 and Fly Me to the Moon on Up Records in 1995. In addition, he recorded with the group Butterfly Train for 1994's Building Trust from Trust and 1996's Distorted, Retarded, Peculiar, both for Up Records.
By now, critics and rock enthusiasts began to take notice of Built to Spill, and Martsch asked two musicians from the band Lync to join him for a tour. After appearing on second stage for Lollapalooza in the summer of 1995 and in Europe that winter as the opening act for the Foo Fighters, Built to Spill received offers from several major recording labels. Martsch, who ultimately signed a contract with Warner Brothers Records, then prepared Built to Spill for their first major release. In the meantime, Martsch released the Built to Spill Caustic Resin EP (1995) from a session earlier that year. The participants for this project included Martsch and James Dillon as Built to Spill, as well as Netson and Tom Romich of Caustic Resin. He also found time in 1996 to work on and release a second project by the Halo Benders entitled Don't Tell Me Now.Built to Spill then released The Normal Years in 1996, a ten-song rarities compilation featuring every band lineup between 1993 and 1995.
Finally, Built to Spill's major label debut neared completion, and on January 28, 1997, the band (now consisting of Martsch, Nelson, and Plouf) released Perfect From Now On for Warner Brothers, a serene, sprawling epic containing only one song shorter than five minutes. As a whole, the new songs were more melodic, yet less pop-oriented and upbeat. Critics responded with praise for the work and noted Built to Spill's resolution to continue to swim against the mainstream in spite of their major label contract. "If he [Martsch] wanted to keep Built to Spill a secret, it worked," wrote Daley, for the album sold just about 40,000 copies. Subsequently, Martsch recorded again with the Halo Benders, releasing The Rebels Not In in 1998 on K Records, before teaming again with Nelson and Prouf to work on Built to Spill's sophomore album.
The result of the collaborative effort between the threesome, 1999's Keep It Like A Secret, "is the punchy, direct and radio-ready collection that people had hoped Martsch would deliver, thus allowing the Warner Bros. machinery to turn him into a star," Daley surmised. The album's central theme comes through in the track "You Were Right," which references songs from the classic rock era. For example, Built to Spill quotes reggae legend Bob Marley in the opening verse with "You were wrong when you said everything's going to be all right," followed with lyrics by other rock idols who had the right idea, Kansas, Pink Floyd, and Bob Seger respectively. With the powerful release behind them, Built to Spill mounted a cross-country tour of the United States, playing with bands such as Sleater-Kinney and 764-HERO, as well as making an appearance on television's Late Night with Conan O'Brien, before taking their sound to Europe for a tour with Modest Mouse.
Martsch, who Teresa Gubbins of the Dallas Morning News described as "an anti-hero whose modesty and down-to-earth demeanor have an almost bewitching effect," continued to make his home in Boise with girlfriend Karena Youtz (who contributed lyrics for Keep It Like A Secret) and their son Ben. As of the summer of 1999, he planned to head back to the studios for another incarnation of the Halo Benders, and admirers hoped a new record from Built to Spill would soon follow.
by Laura Hightower
Built to Spill's Career
Martsch joined Treepeople c. 1988, left group 1992; formed Built to Spill and released first album, Ultimate Alternative Wavers on C/Z, 1993; toured with Lollapalooza and the Foo Fighters, signed contract with Warner Brothers Records, 1995; released major label debut Perfect From Now On, 1997, followed by Keep It Like A Secret, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Ultimate Alternative Wavers C/Z, 1993.
- There's Nothing Wrong With Love Up, 1994.
- The Normal Years K, 1996.
- Perfect From Now On Warner Brothers, 1997.
- Keep It Like A Secret Warner Brothers, 1999.
- (With Caustic Resin) Built To Spill Caustic Resin Up, 1995.
- "So And So So And So," Saturnine, 1994.
- "Joyride," K, 1994.
- "Car," Atlas/Face The Music, 1994.
- "Distopian Dream Girl," Up, 1995.
- "In The Morning," City Slang (U.K.), 1995.
- "Untrustable," Warner Brothers, 1997.
- Bite Back: Live At The Crocodile Cafe PopLlama, 1995.
- Stacked Up! Up, 1995.
- Up In Orbit! Up, 1997.
- Spunk #7 Spunk, 1998.
- Yoyo A Go Go: Another Live Compilation Yoyo, 1999.
- Robbins, Ira A., ed., Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1997.
- Dallas Morning News, March 19, 1999.
- Magnet, April/May, 1999; June/July, 1999.
- "Built To Spill. com--The Story," official website, http://www.builttospill.com (August 5, 1999).
- "Built To Spill," Launch: Discover New Music, http://www.launch.com (August 16, 1999).
- "Built To Spill," Rolling Stone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (August 16, 1999).
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