b u i lt t o s p i l l
You’re coming back to Australia two years to the day since your debut tour. Are you coming back for the Australian summer as much as the Australian audiences? Mostly we just love long aeroplane rides. What are your strongest memories of that first tour? I thought it was nice driving across Tasmania, from the airport to the [Falls] festival. Since then and now, you have released your seventh studio album, There Is No Enemy. As a musician, is it satisfying to have released a large body of work with full creative control? You know what, it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about anything like that but yeah, for me, I take that ‘non-compromise’ for granted because I have always been able to do it. I am more concerned with whether or not we are able to pull shit off that we are trying to do, and that’s a mixed bag of success and disappointment. Of course, it’s really nice to be able to do that — to do what I want and have some sort of success. You recorded digitally for the first time on There Is No Enemy. In hindsight, was this the right thing for you? The whole time I was pretty nervous about whether or not it would affect the sound too drastically. We did as much as we could to preserve the analogue world. We recorded the drums and bass on to tape. We did all the overdubs digitally, and then we mixed it through the boards and to tape. We basically tried to treat the pro-tools like a tape machine. The thing that I liked about it was that you can sing the song fifty times and 16 reverb
magazine issue #052 — November 2010
Not being your average rock band can have its benefits — fans will embrace your creative left-turns, and critics are open to your new release being completely different from your last. As US indie leading-lights Built To Spill prepare for their second visit to Australia, Kevin Bull spoke with vocalist/ guitarist Doug Martsch about creative control, digital recordings and coming to terms with possessing a unique, but rather weak, singing voice. keep every take and then decide what you want to do, which one you want to use. For me that freed my mind so when I did sing I wasn’t worried if I was having a good take. I was mentally able to get rid of that whole situation. With a five year wait for You in Reverse and three years for There Is No Enemy, how is the album number eight looking? [Laughs] Right on schedule. I feel that there is no rush to get anything out cause we’re not like a hot new band that has to be getting things done. I think there’s plenty of Built To Spill music out there. I don’t think people are holding their breath for our next release too much so we feel like we can just work at our own pace and come up with stuff as we do. You’ve made the comment in the past that a song writing collaboration between all band members has the potential of being way better than anything that you have ever come up with by yourself. Do you still believe this, and it is something you wish to actively pursue? Definitely, already some of our best material is collaborative. I think the best stuff comes from when everyone’s making up their own parts. I feel that when people come up with their own parts in the midst of a jam when no-one really knows what’s going on, that’s when people do the most interesting things for whatever reason.
Looking at your tour schedule, it looks like you’re playing gigs on a daily basis for the next couple of months. Do you look forward to this type of workload? This tour might be pushing it a little bit just because we’ve done so much touring this [American] summer already. We may have overbooked ourselves this time so I’m a little bit dreading it, wondering how our morale is going to be. Looking at your set lists over the last month, none of them are the same. Is this to keep you engaged with your music live? I think so, yeah. I’ve never considered playing the same set every night — it’s just what we do. I think we’re a band that don’t have a huge amount of fans but, we have a lot of people who come to multiple shows. Just the fact that someone comes back to see you a second time, to me, is very flattering. To come back, over and over again, or make a trek to see you, that’s just the best thing I could possibly hope for as a musician. In 2002, you released your solo album Now You Know. Why didn’t these songs become Built To Spill songs? Actually, that was just a thing where I got into the blues and wanted to learn Fred McDowell’s slide technique, wanted to learn
open-tuned slide guitar. So, over the course of six months I came up with all these little riffs and parts, and started hooking them together and turning them into songs. I thought it would be fun to record them. It was a really slow process. I don’t think there will be another solo album, at least nothing like that. You have commented on your insecurities regarding your singing voice, yet I find it a truly unique and engaging voice. Are insecurities simply feelings about ourselves that make us strive to do our best? Yeah, definitely, and I definitely feel lucky that my voice is weird and all that, and sometimes I do appreciate the quality of my voice. When I sing live, even when I sing in the studio I feel really good about it. Listening back is when the trouble starts to begin. I know that Built To Spill’s success, a large part of it, is that I have a unique voice. Sometimes it’s about hitting notes, sometimes it’s about having strength in my voice which I don’t have at all which is why I double my vocals all the time. Listening back to some of the old things, a record like Perfect From Now On, I was so concerned with my pitch being a little off that I sang all the life out of the songs, so I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. I ended up going with a lot of the scratch vocals on both of these last two records. I tried to re-sing it over and over again and I was like, “hey, the first time I went in and just sang to get something on there.” That scratch take seems to be the best thing. Built To Spill will be performing at the Peats Ridge Festival, December 29 – January 1, and the Metro Theatre, Wednesday, December 29. Follow us on Twitter