Built to Spill just released their eighth studio record, Untethered Moon, the band’s sixth and possibly final album with Warner Brothers and first release in six years. Though lead vocalist Doug Martsch has been quoted as saying he initially planned to change the band’s lineup for every album, the Boise quintet has only seen a couple of lineup changes since Martsch formed the band in 1992.
The band has influenced many acts who followed the band; among others, the Strokes and Brand New have cited Built to Spill as a major influence. Those acts will share a bill with Built to Spill when the band visits Shaky Knees in Atlanta on Saturday. Before that, the band will become just the sixth act to headline Avondale’s newest venue, Saturn, on May 8.
Ahead of this weekend’s shows, Martsch spoke about Built to Spill’s new lineup, Untethered Moon and the end of the band’s major label deal with Warner Brothers.
Weld: How do you feel about the lineup you have with the new record?
Doug Martsch: I love it! The new guys are great; they’re awesome dudes. Really great players and really the only people that could have taken over for Scott [Plouf] and Brett [Nelson]. These guys are as good of a band as anyone can have. They can do anything. They’re really great.
Weld: You guys hail from Boise, Idaho. Is there anything that distinguishes the Boise music scene from the Portland scene or the Seattle scene? Or does everyone in the Northwest work as one scene?
DM: I don’t really know. Obviously, there’s some differences, but I guess with the Internet and global communication, the regional differences are shrinking all over the place.
Weld: What bands are making great music in Boise now?
DM: There are a bunch of bands making great music in Boise now! We have a tour that starts [soon] and we’ll spend a couple of weeks down in California with a band called Braided Waves. We just had a big festival here last week called Treefort, where there’s over 400 bands from all over the place, most of them from near Boise. I saw a few great Boise bands like Clarke and the Himselfs – one of my favorites – and Get Wet Plus, that’s another great Boise band. And there’s many more, actually, surprisingly. Those are my three current favorites.
Weld: You’ve done a bunch of live covers, including a version of Neil Young’s “Cortez, the Killer” that you included on a live record. Which is your favorite to perform?
DM: At the time we learn them, they’re all super fun. We’ll be practicing and it’s just like, “Oh, now we get to play the ‘Reaper’ again!” We live to do that. That’s the part of making music [that’s the most fun], learning a song that you love and kind of picking it apart and getting down to understanding what it is and playing it. It’s too fun.
Weld: Have you learned any new ones for this tour?
DM: We were playing that festival in Boise and we wanted to do a cover – we played on the main stage. We wanted a song that everyone could rally around. We were trying to think of a song that Boise loved and we couldn’t think of anything.
Then, someone turned me on to this guy, Michael Hurley, kind of a folk singer guy, and I fell in love with one of his songs. I showed it to the band and they all loved it. We jammed on it a little bit and I was adamant about not playing it because it didn’t seem like the kind of – it was too obscure; it was a folk song. Sure enough, it came time for the show and we played it, because we loved it. That’s just kind of how it goes. Sometimes the cover chooses us.
Weld: What’s changed the most about the business in the last 20 years?
DM: I guess the thing that’s changed the most is that kids don’t pay for it anymore. That’s made it where a lot more bands are hitting the road. It’s a little bit tighter trying to make a living off of music.
Weld: Has vinyl’s rise been able to offset that at all or do you guys rely that heavily on touring?
DM: This is our first record since vinyl came back, so it’ll be interesting. But I don’t think it’s going to carry us. Especially with Warner Brothers. Maybe if we were on a smaller label and splitting the money a little more fairly, but being on Warner Brothers, I don’t think we’re going to see too much. We basically live off of the touring, for sure. Here and there we’ll get a little bit of publishing money trickle in. But we don’t do much licensing for outside things. We’ve licensed for really cheap or free for projects that we have really liked.
Weld: As the model has evolved during your career, it’s unusual to find a band that sounds so “indie” on a major label. After six records, what is your relationship with Warner Brothers like today?
DM: Good. They have let us do whatever we’ve wanted to do. That’s why we get to sound the way we sound. They’ve never, ever tried to do anything to make us sound differently. I guess there was a time once when they wanted to get a different person to produce our album and we said, “no,” and they said, “okay.” And that was the end of that.
That’s a feat in itself, letting people be honest. It’s a pretty great feat for a company like that.
Weld: Is that deal done?
DM: This is our last contractually obligated album, so who knows what will happen next?
Built to Spill will perform at Saturn on Friday, May 8. Doors open at 8 p.m., while the show begins at 9 p.m. Wooden Indian Burial Ground and Clarke and the Himselfs will open. Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 at the door. The band will also do two sets at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees Festival on Saturday, May 9, including a late night performance at The Earl at 11:30 p.m.