By David James Young
This article was originally published by Scenestr magazine at scenestr.com.au.
When Doug Martsch put together a new line-up of Built To Spill toward the end of 2019, he certainly couldn’t have predicted that it would take them almost two years to play an actual show together.
“The timing couldn’t have been worse,” the band’s founder and leader says, speaking from his home in Boise. “We rehearsed for a couple of weeks, we were weeks away from hitting the road … and then everything just shut down.
“Needless to say, we couldn’t wait to get back out there—basically as soon as we were vaccinated, we started playing like crazy.”
Joining Martsch in the current iteration of Built To Spill are Blood Lemon bassist Melanie Radford and Prism Bitch drummer Teresa Esguerra, who have firmly cemented themselves within the fold after their initial false start. Martsch speaks in high praise of their abilities as musicians and performers, and in turn what they’ve brought out of him when the three are onstage together.
“This is definitely the most high-energy version of the band that’s ever been,” he says. “They’re such great players, and they’re such sweet people as well. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to just be around them.
“People really dig them when they’re playing, and it’s easy to see why. There’s a lot of good energy there.”
It’s been a year since the release of the ninth Built To Spill album, When The Wind Forgets Your Name (on Sub Pop Records). Due to multiple COVID-related delays, it came out quite some time after it was originally recorded—which means that neither Radford nor Esguerra played on it.
Martsch is hopeful that the trio will be able to focus on new material together once their current touring regime has subsided, but is currently working with a nearly empty cupboard. “There is a grand total of one new song that we’ve worked on,” Martsch says laughing.
“Even then, it’s only something that we’ve had time to put a little bit of effort into. I haven’t even been writing songs too much lately at all, so the thought of going in to record again honestly hasn’t even crossed my mind.
“The touring has really been our main focus for awhile now, so any songs that we’ve been working on as a trio have been old ones that we’re learning—or re-learning, in my case.”
Martsch notes that there are approximately 45 songs in the arsenal at any given time when it comes to a Built To Spill live show—and given they’re playing 15 songs a night on average, that means a real mixed bag could come across any particular evening in the band’s company.
“The liberating thing is that we’re a band that don’t really have any hits, per se,” Martsch comments. “Our focus is creating a set of songs that feel the best to play live, and that the kind of people who come to our shows would like to hear. So, that gets factored in alongside the others making suggestions about what songs they’d like to play themselves. It has to be fun for the three of us, first and foremost.
“I also try and keep an eye on the pacing of the show, too. We have plenty of good songs, but some are just a bit too mid-tempo. I want to keep the show as rocking as possible.”