Paranoia to Peace
Doug Martsch is somewhere in Little Rock, Arkansas mid-tour with Built To Spill. He hasn’t ventured outside of the bus yet, but he hears it’s really hot. As the frontman for the Idaho-based band, the seasoned pro is used to the various elements thrown his way. After all, he’s been touring the world for more than 30 years. With the exception of 2020-2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic was wreaking havoc, he’s been pretty consistent, too. That’s a lot of miles—and a lot of cities. On May 10, the latest iteration of Built To Spill will grace the Aggie Theatre stage in Fort Collins once again. And unlike last time, the pandemic paranoia has (mostly) subsided.
“Last year, we toured a ton and and it was a little nerve wracking ‘cause Covid stuff was still on our minds,” he says. “This time. This time, we really haven’t thought much about it. It feels like that’s kind of gone, although we know it’s not. But we don’t feel like our tour’s about to get canceled at any moment. That was kind of the fear we had a couple years ago.”
“The way my voice sounds just kind of drives me crazy…”
Built To Spill—rounded out by bassist Melanie Radford and drummer Teresa Esguerra who both joined in 2019—has released nine albums since first forming in 1992. The lineup has changed multiple times over the years, but Martsch has remained its only consistent member, which makes sense. Without his unconventional singing voice, Built To Spill would be a different band. His high-pitched, slightly off key vocals are one of the group’s most intriguing qualities. Beginning with 1993’s Ultimate Alternative Wavers and culminating with 2022’s When The Wind Forgets Your Name—Built To Spill’s first album for Sub Pop Records—Martsch has managed to use his unique voice to his advantage. Still, there’s some early albums he doesn’t exactly revisit, including 1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love.
“I have a hard time listening to it these days as a grown up adult,” he admits. “The way my voice sounds just kind of drives me crazy really being that I really don’t sing like that anymore At the time when we made it, I was really excited about it. I think I was most excited about it than any other record I ever made before it. I was really proud of it.”
Even though Martsch’s voice has changed slightly over the years, he was always confident he could lead a band—maybe even to a fault. He adds, “I actually kind of thought I sang good, then I listened back to it and I realized I wasn’t that good, but I felt like I was good and that and that I could do it. That’s how I feel now. Like right now, I feel like I’m singing well, but I’m sure that in a few years if I listen to a recording from the tour, I’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s what I sound like?’ So I think that’s all you can do is just go with how you feel.”
Newfound Beauty in Simplicity
Thirty years in, Martsch’s songwriting was bound to evolve. Now in his early 50s, his listening habits have matured as well. He finds himself gravitating toward ‘60s and ‘70s soul like Curtis Mayfield. He finds beauty in the simplicity.
“I have a lot different taste in music than I did when I was that age,” he says. “I’m trying to emulate more of the things I like now than the things I liked then. Yeah. Back in those days, I kind of would try to make weird chords. Nowadays, I just play regular standard chords and, I’m more influenced by soul music and things like that—simpler kinds of music than I was back then. So, that’s it. I tend to write more like that.”
Changing tastes in music isn’t something that’s exactly easy to explain, but one thing about Doug Martsch, he’s going to try. He continues, “I don’t know why my taste tastes have changed. I think it has something to do with as a teenager, hearing punk rock and new wave and stuff, it was interesting to hear people who were just different, wasn’t conventional. Like everything you heard on the radio, no matter what genre it was, everyone was really pro, and it was cool to hear things where people weren’t pro anymore and just regular people doing stuff and coming up with weird things that you’d never hear other than in those places. That meant a lot to me growing up in the punk rock scene and seeing bands and other friends who were musicians and stuff. But I also grew up with the radio, so I was kinda in both places a little bit. Then as I got older, I think I just have a better appreciation of a really good singer and really beautiful production.”
Setting the Stage… Literally
Built To Spill hasn’t written any new songs in awhile; they’re still promoting The Wind Forgets Your Name. But there are plans for the future.
“I haven’t really written songs in a while, so I don’t really have stuff ready to go,” he says. “I have a few older things and one new song from last summer. I would like to do some stuff. Me, Mel and Theresa have been trying to figure out a time we can all get together. I think it’d be really fun to write some songs and record with them. But yeah, lately I just haven’t been too inspired or I’ve had other things going on in my life, but I think it’d be fun to get together with them.”
For now, Built To Spill is focused on the tour and just playing really good shows. Despite his tenure in the music, he still gets nervous before each set. That’s why he’s often seen beforehand setting up his own equipment.
“I think it just acclimates us to the stage and to the audience,” he says. “It takes away that anxiety. And also I feel like it’s kind of cool for some bands to do it, but it’s really building it up and then the audience is so excited to see you. I don’t really want the audience to be that excited to see me. That’s too much pressure [laughs].”
Built to Spill in Fort Collins
Even so, Martsch is looking forward to playing Colorado. In fact, it holds a special place in his heart. As he explains, “I love playing in Colorado. The very first tour we went on for There’s Nothing Wrong with Love, one of our last shows was in Colorado, but it was the first show of the tour that sold out. It was really exciting. There were way more people there than anywhere else on our tour and it kinda feels like every time we go there, there’s a nice crowd. I love it there.”