Boise Band Gets Guitar Back Into Post-Punk Rock
June 1st 2001 5:08pm
During the '70s, some proto-punkers such as Television championed the lengthy solo, but most punks like the Ramones went for the less-is-more approach, rejecting the over-the-top musicianship that was prevalent at the time.
But as punk began to progress, its practitioners slowly started to embrace classic rock, with bands such as the Meat Puppets and the Minute Men toying with old-school guitar prowess. Soon, post-punkers such as Sonic Youth, Flaming Lips and Dinosaur Jr. started making albums that had as much to do with Neil Young and Pink Floyd as with Black Flag -- making epic guitar rock minus its pretentious, arena-god excesses.
Taking a cue from those aforementioned artists is Boise, Idaho's Built to Spill.
For nearly 10 years, Built to Spill frontman and guitar genius Doug Martsch has been crafting some of the most sophisticated and complicated indie-rock around, making jam-heavy music that's OK for the harshly opinionated punk-rock crowd to like.
In the process, Built to Spill has grown to be one of the most admired, although often overlooked, bands in alternative rock -- not to mention one of its strongest live acts.
The band will make a stop in Salt Lake City on Thursday at Club DV8, as the group begins to tour for its upcoming album, Ancient Melodies of the Future.
Despite endless critical praise and the near-religious loyalty he gets from his audience, Martsch remains remarkably humble and low-key about his talents.
During a 1999 interview conducted for HBO's concert series Reverb, the soft-spoken Martsch explained the band's progression and his views on his deeply personal music: The point that the band's at right now is something that's been very gradual. We're starting to play slightly bigger shows each time we go out. It just seems real natural. I have my own ideas about what I'm doing. If people understand it, that's great. If they don't, that's fine too. I really don't expect them to.
Martsch's take-it-or-leave-it attitude is a direct result of his early years, when he abandoned heavy metal and New Wave for the liberating sounds of punk.
During the late '80s and early '90s, Martsch helped front the Seattle-based Treepeople, a grossly underrated psychedelic punk band that cut its teeth playing small club shows across the country -- often opening up for then-unknowns Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr.
In February of 1999, Martsch explained to Spin magazine his unique take on punk rock: It wasn't about smashing s--- up, it was about doing cool things and being open-minded. That was my romantic image of it. Of course, I found out otherwise about lots of people involved. But there is something there that I still hold sacred. Even if it's an illusion.
During his time with the Treepeople, Martsch recorded Built to Spill's first album, 1993's Ultimate Alternative Wavers, an album that showcased Martsch's staggering abilities as a guitarist and songwriter. Wavers found Martsch combining the noisy, intricate pop-punk of Superchunk and the aforementioned Treepeople with expansive, Neil Young-meets-Television guitar rock.
Although the album was originally just a side project, Martsch soon quit Treepeople to return to Idaho and focus his efforts entirely into Built to Spill, forming a new backing band every time he started a new project.
On to Built to Spill
In 1994, he recorded There's Nothing Wrong With Love, a masterpiece full of infectious pop and inspired, orchestrated guitar arrangements that set a new standard in indie rock. The record was ranked by Spin magazine as one of the best albums of the '90s and is responsible for inspiring such up-and-coming indie bands as the darkly twisted Modest Mouse and the heartbreakingly brilliant Death Cab for Cutie.
After collaborations with psychedelic experimentalists Caustic Resin and basement punkers The Halo Benders, Built to Spill left the indie label Up Records to sign with Warner Bros. in 1996. The band released three albums over the following five years, 1997's Perfect From Now On, 1999's Keep It a Secret and a live album in 2000.
Those records proved Built to Spill to be on par with such celebrated groups as Radiohead, but as alternative music started to be overshadowed by hip-hop and electronica, Martsch's music landed largely on deaf ears.
In the same 1999 Spin interview, Martsch was asked if the decline of interest in guitar rock discouraged him: In a way that depresses me, but in a way it's what we've been shooting for all along.
An indie success story
Still, the audience the band has found is a fiercely loyal one. In the heyday of Napster, one could find truckloads of rare tracks, B-sides and live bootlegs being traded by the band's fanatical followers.
At the band's jaw-dropping live shows, it's not out of place to find people in a state of hysteria, singing along to every word to nearly every song. There's a sense of community among the group's fans, a kinship that's shared by Martsch, who often wanders the crowd at shows talking to locals while checking out the opening acts.
Martsch told Spin magazine in 1999 that the band is perfectly content with the modest success it already has.
When I think about our audience, I think about my friends. If that's not enough, oh well.
The band seems poised to continue to make great music, even if the mainstream chooses to ignore it. Much like The Replacements and The Pixies, Built to Spill seems destined to secretly be one of the best bands in the world.
Considering Martsch's indie roots, he seems to not want it any other way.
PREVIEW WHO: Built to Spill
WHEN: Doors open approximately 7 p.m. Thursday; concert starts about 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Club DV8, private club at 115 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City
TICKETS: $15 in advance. Available at CD Warehouse, Heavy Metal Shop or DV8, 539-8400. Ryan Hall reviews music for the Standard-Examiner.
To see more of StandardNET, or to subscribe to the Standard-Examiner, go to http://www.standard.net
Copyright 2001 Ogden Publishing Corporation. All Rights Reserved.