Music News

Built to Spill's Doug Martsch Opens Up About Making a Political Difference (or Not) and His Affection for Dwyane Wade

Doug Martsch is an indie-rock legend, whether or not you know his name. Although his band, Built to Spill, released two albums before Perfect From Now On, that 1997 release became the modern symphony that secured a place in rock history, likely forever.

Martsch was in bands before BTS, like Treepeople and the Halo Benders, with Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening. But with Built to Spill's third album, Martsch found a lineup that suited his style. They've toured the world. He seems a sincere human being, still living in his hometown of Boise, Idaho, with his family. He's a big b-ball fan and even hosts his own weekly Wednesday-night radio show on Radio Boise.

We know all of this because of the internet but also due to a recent conversation with the musician in which we learned of his love for Dwyane Wade and desire to open hipster minds with the Dead's "Ripple."

New Times: I wanted to start by talking to you about basketball. We're down here in South Florida, so how do you feel about the Heat?

Doug Martsch: I kind of go back and forth with the Heat. I'm a huge Dwyane Wade fan and years ago, I watched every Heat game. I also really like their announcers. I think they have the best commentators in all of basketball.

Then LeBron, I liked him when he first came on the scene; then he really annoyed me. And then I kind of started liking him again 'cause everyone hated him. Then it came down to playoff time and I didn't really care that much. My team was gone. But I watched the Heat play a couple of times, and I just think that those two are the most exciting people in basketball to watch. So I was pretty much rooting for the Heat, and I was happy they won.

I have a friend who will fly down from Brooklyn to see you play "Virginia Reel Around the Fountain" if you perform it at the Culture Room. Will you?

Well, that is one of our regular songs. Not every show. It's pretty standard for us. There's definitely a chance we'll play it. I'll try to make a note. Culture Room? [looks for pen] I'll make a note, and we'll play that at that show.

Awesome! How has the idea of indie rock changed? When we were younger, it was like, you ran around looking for cool indie music, cassettes, records, and now it's like indie rock is such a broad term, captures so many things, and everything is available on the internet. What do you feel about that?

A big part of punk rock and indie rock was that it was rare. You'd go to the record store, and you'd see a weird album cover or a wicked band name, and it was just kind of exciting. The rarity made the stuff more valuable. When you have access to everything, it becomes a little less special.

But I don't believe in that stuff, like it was so special then and now it's not. Everyone has their own way of experiencing things.

Do you still talk about and sing about politics when you're onstage?

I used to think about that stuff all the time, but I don't so much anymore. I'm a little resigned. I found that I need to concentrate on my own rise, on things that I can control. And my wife too. It just became too depressing for us. Brett Netson (guitarist), he's still fired up. I still have the same belief system, I guess I'm just not as... I don't have the same belief that I can do anything or that any of us can do anything. I think it's just going to keep going till it all falls apart. That's not to say that people shouldn't do anything; I just right now don't have any energy in my life for that shit.

I read you were going to start recording in April. What can we expect next?

Yeah. We started recording. We have the rhythm section recorded. The other guitar players haven't done anything yet. And I kind of worked on it like a week a month for a couple of months. It's just been going really slowly. I was hoping to get it done by next spring, but I think it's going to be another half a year after that. Maybe 2014 is when we'll put it out. It takes me a long time to get things done too because I'm less obsessed with music, and I can work on it less hours of the day than I could when I was younger.

You've covered songs like "Paper Planes" by MIA, Brian Eno, and the Grateful Dead. How do you decide what songs get covered?

Mostly I decide, because I have to sing it. But there're things we tried to do that people didn't like. It's kind of the band has to kind of want to do it. It's not that fun to play something if the other guys in the band aren't into playing it.

It's pretty arbitrary. The MIA song, I heard it when we were in Europe on tour, and I just loved it. And so, I became obsessed with it and started playing it at sound check, and next thing we knew, we were playing it. The Brian Eno song was a song that I'd wanted to cover for a while.

And "Ripple," I'm not a Grateful Dead fan, but I like a few songs on their American Beauty record, and that song I just really love. I was playing it at sound check, and I checked my vocals, and the band joined in.

Then we tried all different ways. We tried doing it punk, tried doing it mellow. Then we ended up doing it what I thought was just kind of straight-ahead. I like to think of it kind of like Velvet Underground rock, with a lot of strumming and a guy singing. So I don't think the other guys were big fans of it. It just sort of happened.

But you liked it enough.

I liked it. I thought it was funny. I thought some of our fans would appreciate it. Kind of, there's a lot of sort of jam-band, Deadhead people who are fans of Built to Spill. And I thought the hipsters might appreciate it too — the ones who hate the Dead or never really heard of them. We'll do a Grateful Dead song and maybe we'll open a couple of minds up to that.

It's like a musical lesson almost. It's like that's your good deed. That's your political statement.


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Liz has her master’s degree in religion from Florida State University. She has since written for publications and outlets such as Miami New Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Ocean Drive, the Huffington Post, NBC Miami, Time Out Miami, Insomniac, the Daily Dot, and the Atlantic. Liz spent three years as New Times Broward-Palm Beach’s music editor, was the weekend news editor at Inverse, and is currently the managing editor at Tom Tom Magazine.
Contact: Liz Tracy