Perhaps the world would be a less complicated place if everyone's idea of a bonafide rock star were a regular-looking guy in a beard and a T-shirt.
One certainly needs to push aside all vulgar preconceptions about what constitutes rock stardom when listening to the seminal indie-rock band Built to Spill. To devoted fans, frontman Doug Martsch is a skilled lyricist and a guitar god. He is the songwriting powerhouse behind the band's critically acclaimed career, and he also looks like a completely average guy, loves to talk about his 9-year-old son, and avoids the spotlight at any cost. He tries to stay so far away from rock'n'roll hoopla, in fact, that he makes his home in Boise, Idaho. In a world driven by trends, fashions and a new flavor every week, Martsch and Built to Spill provide a refreshing antidote to the hype-obsessed rock music world.
Rising out of the ashes of the seminal post-punk band The Tree People, Built to Spill has been amazing audiences with its hypnotic guitar-driven sound since 1993. Though Martsch is the only original member of the band, the current lineup, consisting of Martsch, Brett Nelson on bass, and Scott Plouf on drums and percussion, has been playing together since their 1999 release Keep It Like A Secret. Touring to promote their new album, Ancient Melodies of the Future, Built to Spill will play Sunday, May 18 at 32 Bleu with Against Tomorrow's Sky and Draw.
Martsch took a few minutes to talk to the Independent about his upcoming show at 32 Bleu, his influences and songwriting process, and trends in current pop music.
Indy: You've chosen to live in Boise, Idaho for most of your life. Have you ever been tempted to leave in order to find more musical opportunities?
Doug Martsch: No, I'm all right. I like it here, and we bought a house here, so we really like it. Our son's 9 years old and it's a good place for him. You can make those sorts of musical opportunities wherever you are. There are always people around, and there are always ways to do that kind of stuff.
Indy: As a singer/songwriter, do you write the music or the lyrics first?
DM: Music first, always, and then I'll come up with the ideas of how the melody and the meter could go and find words later on that will fit. The meter's not really a standard kind of meter in most of the songs. And then my wife helps me write a lot of the lyrics too. She just got a master's degree in poetry.
Indy: Do you think that being on a major label (Warner Brothers Records) has offered you more support than the smaller labels you used to be on like K and Up Records?
DM: I don't know how much difference it really makes. We definitely have a bigger budget to make records with, and that was why I wanted to sign, so we could have a budget to make records and have some left over to live off. But it turns out that we end up spending most of the money we get on the records. We make most of our money -- I make most of my living -- off touring.
Indy: What do you think of what the corporate magazine world has called the "new" rock, with garage bands, the lo-fi sound, all of that?
DM: I don't read those things at all; I don't even pay any attention to what they say. I don't really care about musical trends. They just don't have any relevance to my life at all. I think the White Stripes are great, and the Strokes sound good to me, but I've been listening to reggae the last few years so I don't really listen to much new stuff.
I listen to mostly to reggae and old soul music. I listened to the blues for a long time, a couple of years ago, and then I kind of moved on to soul and reggae. Ever since I've been interested in music, it's always sort of been understood that what the mainstream corporate music world was interested in doing was always kind of shitty. I never really had any hope. There was a moment, when grunge hit big, where it seemed there might be an opportunity for mainstream music to improve a little bit, but mainstream music isn't really for music lovers.
And that's fine. That's something I've come to realize as I've gotten older. The best stuff isn't going to be part of that world, because it's not for music lovers, it's for people that sort of like music. I think people really make decisions about their music by their videos and the way the artists look. Things like that really matter to some people. Great, you know? Some people like a singer who can really dance.
Indy: What, you can't dance like Justin Timberlake?
DM: (laughs) That's right. No, I can't dance at all. And that's all totally fine -- I don't really think that the best music should be the most popular music, although it can be. But it doesn't need to be.