Indie rock legend Doug Martsch chats about Built to Spill's new album, When the Wind Forgets Your Name

click to enlarge Indie rock legend Doug Martsch chats about Built to Spill's new album, When the Wind Forgets Your Name
Alex Graham illustration
An unusually animated Martsch (center) and the Oruã guys.

Despite the inherent independent spirit evoked simply by its nomenclature, it's not easy for indie rock to thrive just anywhere. Even in the age of internet democratization, most of the best-known bands the genre has turned out either hail from major metroplexes or relocate to one in order to find a consistent audience and comparatively stable music scene. That fact makes Built to Spill's decades of wildly influential success even more astounding. Bands like this aren't supposed to be able to survive and thrive out of a place like Boise, Idaho.

But since debuting in the early '90s, the band led by singer-songwriter and guitar wiz Doug Martsch has put Idaho on the musical map. The group cemented its legacy with the late '90s releases of the indie rock classics Perfect From Now On and Keep It Like a Secret, and has continued to maintain a level of excellence ever since. Martsch (and the rotating crew of bandmates around him) never focuses on flash or pizzaz, making Built to Spill a sort of reliable, working-person's indie rock band.

After seven years without a new album (but plenty of touring during that time), Built to Spill is ready to unleash fresh tuneage to the world in the form of When the Wind Forgets Your Name, the band's first LP for Sub Pop Records. Martsch largely crafted the new album at home with help from his pals in the Brazilian band Oruã (who served a stint as Built to Spill bandmates). The collection of sprawling, guitar-driven tracks should please Built to Spill diehards who've been clamoring for new songs.

Before Built to Spill swings through Spokane, we caught up with Martsch to talk about keeping the band going with different members, his affinity for Spokane band Itchy Kitty, and creative struggles during pandemic times.

INLANDER: What's your favorite aspect about When the Wind Forgets Your Name?

MARTSCH: My favorite thing, most exciting to me, was the artwork. Alex Graham's [album cover]. I took a long time to try to figure out who to hire to do the art, and really she was just the perfect pick. I was a big fan of her comics. Basically I just let her do what she wanted, and she really killed it.

What did the guys in Oruã bring to table when making this new album?

They're Brazilian guys, but they grew up listening to a lot of kind of lo-fi alternative music from the U.S. So they kind of bring a little bit of both of those things. They keep things pretty simple, but they also have a little bit of the Brazilian music.

I was big fan of the production they had done on Oruã, [singer Lê Almeida's] solo stuff, and other bands that they've produced — weird lo-fi stuff, but doing things with filters or speeding up/slowing down tape — experimental, almost like collage kind of productions. So they brought some of that.

Over the past decade, the Built to Spill band member lineups have changed frequently around you. Is that a purposeful decision to keep things fresh or more a case of availability of certain musicians?

It's a little bit of both. The Brazilians were [a case where] I needed some people to play with and I'd already booked these shows in Brazil. And I couldn't find someone that was ready to learn the songs and go down there in time. So I reached out to these guys who I'd just met through this Brazilian woman, Isa, who was our tour manager in 2019. And she introduced me to them, and we just practiced for a couple of days then played the South American shows. And I just liked playing with them so much that we played together for the year. But they had to go back.

Before I started playing with them, I'd spoken with Melanie [Radford] about playing [bass]. And we played a couple of gigs with a different drummer, and then I met Teresa [Esguerra] and fell in love with her drumming. And then we added her to the group, right around the time that the Brazilians headed back to Brazil.

Part of being a successful band... a lot of it is just sticking it out and just managing to exist for a long enough time that enough people have heard about you. I've been fortunate to just be able to find people to play with and keep this thing going for a long time.

How did you handle the creative struggles of COVID shutdown times?

Well, creatively, I didn't feel inspired at all; I felt a little bit shut down and didn't really have much creative juices flowing. But we had begun the record right before COVID, and my plan all along was to make the record at home on my computer. So, you know, it kind of worked out well, but it was a little bit like pulling teeth. I didn't have a lot of fun making the record. It wasn't fun being in a vacuum working on it by myself. I didn't feel a ton of inspiration, but did the work and got it done.

"I've been fortunate to just be able to find people to play with and keep this thing going for a long time."

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It seems you remain pretty engaged in new music compared to some of your peers. For example, you stumbled across Spokane's own Itchy Kitty and took them on tour. Are there certain things about new younger bands that tend to catch your attention?

I don't think there's any one specific thing. I dunno, maybe just some soul or something. Itchy Kitty, to me, they were just so fun. They covered a lot of bases for me. For one thing, they're just so powerful sounding. And they were just so scary and cool to look at. And they were funny. And their songs are short and cool. They just checked a lot of boxes.

We've played with them a couple of times over the years, but never really had a chance to hang out with them. And then on these last couple of [tours] that we've done together in the winter and spring, I finally got a chance to hang out with them and get to know them a little bit. And they're just some of my favorite people in the world, too. That's a really special band. I do like a lot of new bands, but those guys are kind of next level.

As maybe the most nationally respected musician from the Inland Northwest area, do you feel like you feel any obligation to champion music from this area?

I guess I don't really feel like the regional part of it is very important to me. It seems coincidental. The same with Boise. If there were no good bands in Boise, then we wouldn't be going out on tour with bands from Boise, you know? To me that doesn't matter. I don't have much regional pride or feel any responsibility. There just happens to be killer bands in our own backyard. It's not a regional thing, it's just good music to me.

Since there are so many great bands from this area, I do feel a pride about it now, but only because there happens to be those great bands. ♦

Built to Spill, Prism Bitch, Pappas, Itchy Kitty • Thu, Aug. 11 at 8 pm • Sold Out • 21+ • Lucky You Lounge • 1801 W. Sunset Blvd. • • 509-474-0511

Sum 41, Simple Plan @ Knitting Factory

Sun., Aug. 14, 7 p.m.
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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...