Built to Spill Part II
By Kyle Eustice
As Built to Spill gets ready to ascend on Lincoln, Nebraska the night of Friday, September 11, there’s still plenty to learn about mastermind Doug Martsch. The founding member and Boise, Idaho native has been polishing his craft for the past few decades, earning a loyal legion of fans along the way. Built to Spill is touring in support of its eighth studio album, Untethered Moon, which was released on Warner Brothers. In Part II of the Doug Martsch interview, he talks about leaving Up Records, where the name Built to Spill came from and playing with Omaha’s Commander Venus back in the day.
Now! Omaha (Kyle Eustice): It must have been pretty enticing to be offered a record deal at 24-years-old.
Doug Martsch: Totally.
Was it weird leaving Up Records? Were there any hard feelings?
Oh I’m sure Chris was a little bummed, but he was so supportive. When we recorded Perfect From Now On, I went and stayed with Chris. He came to the studio with us all the time, even helped out on some tracks. There’s a song where he runs the pedals on the whole thing. He was completely supportive. I imagine he was kind of bummed about it. I know he was bummed when Modest Mouse left, too. He turned me on to Modest Mouse. When he first heard their initial demos, he was in love with them and so was I before they even came out. So yeah, he was supportive, but not psyched to see two of his bands leave.
I’ve seen Modest Mouse twice in the last month. It’s cool to see both of your bands doing so well. Do you sometimes pinch yourself that this is your life?
Yeah, things have changed a bit. I guess I pinched myself for the last 20 years and then the last few years, it started being like, ‘Oh shoot. I can’t really do anything else now.’ It might be a little too late to start anything else so I’ve gotten a little more, I don’t know, thinking about the future and how this going to last. I also have a wife that really keeps me grounded.
Right. And she’s a co-lyricist?
Totally. She definitely contributes a lot of lyrics. Anything I do, I have to run by her first.
How long have you been together?
I don’t know, maybe together 24 years and married about half that.
That’s incredible. That’s another rare thing—not only longevity with a band, but also in a relationship. You’ve gotta be doing something right.
Yeah I’m very patient [laughs].
No, I’m not at all. I’m horrible. I don’t know how I do it. Actually, I’ve surrounded myself with very patient people.
I’m not patient at all either. I understand. How do you select songs for your albums?
There’s usually a few extra songs and I’d like to think I take my time, but I don’t know. It’s more really about how the record fits together. I thought I’d done that with this record, but I went back and listened to a couple of things I left off they seemed like hard choices at the time and how I’m like, ‘Oh those aren’t good.’ There’s no way to be objective about what you’re doing or to know what’s good and what’s not. That stuff is beyond my comprehension.
What took you back to Boise?
I guess just circumstances. Karena and I got together. She kind of dropped out of school and came to live with me for awhile. Then she wanted to go back to school so I followed her back to Idaho. She went to school in a town about a half hour from Boise. We lived there for a year and then she got pregnant. We decided we wanted to be near her father in Boise so he could help.
Where did the name Built to Spill come from?
It came from this weird word game Karena and I were playing, where we write a story. One person would write one word and then other person would write another word. We wold try to derail the other person’s word or something to turn it in to something weird. We did a couple of pages of those and then when we were looking for a band name, we found Built to Spill on one of them.
So it just made sense.
It just rolls off the tongue. If anything, when it comes to this career, I’m probably most proud of that name more than anything.
It does roll off the tongue.
There aren’t very many good band names and think that’s a good one.
Isaac Brock was saying he regrets naming Modest Mouse ‘Modest Mouse’ because it’s “too cute.”
I remember that. I remember them talking about changing it early on.
The backstory is actually pretty cool so it’s not that bad.
I don’t even know it.
Oh I guess it’s taken from a Virginia Wolf book. A band name is a big deal so you should be proud.
I think there are a lot of band names like that. They’re super corny, but the story behind them is cool. Like Bright Eyes; I think that’s a horrible band name, but it’s from Planet of the Apes. And Death Cab for Cutie.
Ugh that name sucks.
It’s a horrible name, but it’s from William Burroughs. It’s gnarly shit, but sounds stupid and silly as a band name.
Funny you mentioned Bright Eyes. I’m actually from Omaha.
We played with Commander Venus one time in Omaha on the first Built to Spill tour.
What a small world! I just saw Todd [Fink, formerly Baechle) at the Modest Mouse show in Omaha a few weeks ago.
Do you remember where you played? Was it the Cog Factory?
It was like a rehearsal space, almost like a storage unit or something.
Well, a lot of good music has come out of Omaha and apparently Boise, Idaho.
[Laughs] Yes, it’s not bad.
Built to Spill with Clarke and the Himselfs, Universe Contest September 11, at Vega, Lincoln, 8 p.m. Tickets are $20-$25. Visit www.vegalincoln.com for more information.