Listen Between the Lines

If Built to Spill's Doug Martsch ever wrote his life story...

His musical taste? Not what you think. If he's not going on about Lee Perry (he had a band in Boise that covered reggae standards as straight-forward pop songs at one point), then he's singing the praises of Portland, Oregon's elder punk band, Dead Moon. And the things you expect him to be excited about—like playing a set in a movie theater with J Mascis in LA during this upcoming tour—are the things he's looking forward to the least.

"I called J, and I was like, 'I thought we might get together and rehearse or something,' and he was just like, 'Yeah, I can't really do anything,'" Martsch says, laughing, a little nervous. "We might just be sitting in, improvising and no one providing any real music. I have no idea what any of that is going to be like."

And even though that 16-year-old indie-rock nerd inside of you wants to say, "Dude, you're jamming with J Mascis? Don't you realize how rad that is?" you've got to play it cool, just like Martsch had to play it cool when Mascis blew off his rehearsal request. Playing it cool is the essence of rock & roll.

And in Boise, Martsch doesn't have to play it cool much. Instead, he can play a little music everyday, but not have to talk about what's cool to anyone. Half his band still lives in Seattle, and he's not pushing anything on his son, Ben. So we talk about his son, and that's where Martsch finally starts to use declarative sentences. "Music is his life's work," you'll write later. "His kid is his life."

"He's started to have his own tastes," Martsch is saying happily. "He likes D-12. That's his favorite thing—he's got a clean version of their record. He likes Outkast and the White Stripes. He'll pick up a guitar and play his one White Stripes riff, but then, that's it. He's not real absorbed by it or anything. But he likes good stuff at least."

But, um, what would you do if he grows up to have bad taste, you ask? Ha, ha?

"Aww, nothing. I'm sure he will like terrible stuff at some point. It doesn't matter to me. That stuff's not important," he says, pausing, clinking ice in a glass.

"I'm proud of him for liking good stuff," he says, laughing easily. "But if he didn't, would I care? No. Not really."


Building to Spill: For our next record . . .

Doug Martsch is well-aware of the suffering he's caused his fans by putting off his band's next album. But does this mural-painting, hoop-shooting, child-rearing, beard-wearing Idahoan have any interest in relieving the pangs of indie-rock longing? No, not really. Either he's mastered the art of answering pressing questions without owning up to anything at all, or he's as unsure as we are about what comes next. Here's what to expect—sorta--after Built to Spill hits the studio in September:

ISLAND RHYTHMS: "There are a couple of things that are sort of reggae/ska-ish, kind of. And we have one full-on reggae song that I don't know if we'll use or anything, but we'll record it at least. Our band actually sounds really good playing reggae." (Remember the dub jam that ended each set on their previous tour?)

SPACE JAMS: "You know, it's a little more, oh, some of the songs are a little longer and have longer instrumental passages, I guess. It's not as succinct as the last couple of records. I have a little idea that the songs are less poppy. And there are a lot of slow, minor-key songs, but I have no idea how we'll treat them in the studio."

BLUES HAMMERING: Listen up for a Skip James cover, says Martsch: 1920s blues done up hard-rock style . . . eh?

LOTS OF NONSENSE: "Oh, I don't know. I think every once in a while, things have political meaning to me--you know, lyrics and stuff. But it's all real vague, and the lyrics are just real vague in general for us."

--Kara Zuaro
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