The modern rock star is mild-mannered and intellectual, as opposed to brash and God-like. They no longer possess the household name recognition, preferring instead to sidestep the limelight and focus on what’s most important―the music. Doug Martsch and his band, Built to Spill, are the archetype for this approach; they’ve been quietly creating great music since they formed in 1992, and it’s almost guaranteed that your favorite rock band is a fan of theirs. The enduring band remains remarkably consistent, and after a hiatus, they’ve returned to the stage.
Built to Spill: The Archetype for Modern Indie Rockers
These indie rock fore-bearers have deeply influenced the contemporary definition of a “rock musician.” If you look closely, you can see the traces of Martsch’s reserved presence in the methodology of Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, and Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. In a culture where intelligence is the new currency for “cool,” this new breed of rock star bears the latent fingerprints of Built to Spill.
The aforesaid modest and creative approach isn’t necessarily a reflection of Built to Spill’s music, though. The band creates spiraling alternative rock, with a tendency to jam over the backbone of crunchy guitars and Martsch’s thoughtful vocals. If Neil Young was the “Godfather of Grunge,” then he must be the uncle of this Idaho based band.
Our Artist of the Week achieved early critical success with 1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, Built to Spill went on to sign with a major label (Warner Bros.), and released what was arguably their most beloved album in Perfect From Now On in 1997. The sprawling LP shows the band in their most experimental state with only one track (barely) clocking it at under five minutes.
Since then, Built to Spill has continually achieved critical success with every album, landing higher on Billboard with each successive release. Their last album, There Is No Enemy (2009), actually charted at the highest point in Built to Spill’s long career; it only took the general public 17 years to catch on.
In that span, the lineup has changed around slightly, most recently with the addition of a new rhythm section for this tour, yet core members Brett Nelson and Doug Martsch remain, continuing to challenge each other to guitar solo duels onstage. The band is now touring with the new adjustments, as they tighten up and prepare for a studio release in 2014.
Just this week, they stopped in to play New York City’s Irving Plaza, filling the sold-out room with their signature “Northwest” post-grunge sound. It appears that the masses are finally catching on to the importance of Built to Spill’s legacy, much like the recent popularity of rediscovered rockers Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement.
While most 90’s rock bands have all but faded away, Built to Spill are building on the success of one of their most enjoyable albums yet. They’ve remained shockingly relevant, and it’s truly rare to be able to see such an influential band play live, while they’re still at the top of their ability. Perhaps, had Martsch embraced the bravado of rock and roll, Built to Spill would have the name recognition of, say, The Smashing Pumpkins, but instead of burning out in a fiery crash, his band has steadily risen through the annals of rock lore.