For more than 20 years, Boise, Idaho–based Built to Spill have been carving out a distinct niche in the rock and roll universe, balancing a tuneful, indie-pop aesthetic against a tendency to fly off on long, distorto-guitar excursions that recall the work of Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis and Neil Young in full-on Crazy Horse mode.
The band’s new and eighth studio album, Untethered Moon, lays out this paradox right from the get-go—leadoff track “All Our Songs” builds to a finale that explodes in a skronky guitar lead (“I wanted it to sound like the Stooges or something, sorta belligerent” says singer and guitarist Doug Martsch), and doesn’t let up until closer “When I’m Blind,” which gives over roughly six of its eight-and-a-half minutes to Martsch to wring out as many frenzied notes from his Fender Strat as possible.
Despite the multitude of tones and textures layered throughout these songs, Martsch recorded all the guitars on Untethered Moon on his own, accompanied only by the new BTS rhythm section of bassist Jason Albertini and drummer Steve Gere.
“Though that changes from record to record,” he says about his guitar duties, pointing out that he sometimes utilizes additional players in the studio.
“But this time I had the songs done, and I wanted to work on them with just the rhythm section to get stuff all figured out. I thought maybe I’d bring the other guys in at the end to put on some finishing touches, but by then it just seemed like it was fine and didn’t need anything else.”
Those “other guys” are guitarists Brett Netson and Jim Roth, both of whom play with Built To Spill live. In fact, the band has long been known for its triple-guitar attack onstage, a configuration that helps to bring Martsch’s multifarious six-string studio work to life. “Most of our catalog, we’re kind of known for having a lot of textures in our songs,” he says. “There’s a lot going on. So it’s cool to be able to cover that stuff onstage.”
As for the fact that Martsch has been able to pursue his unique vision for Built to Spill for close to a quarter century now, it’s something that the frontman says still amazes him. “I never dreamed of having even a shitty music career,” he says. “So to have one I feel pretty good about, that’s unbelievable to me.”
Photo: Rene Gomez