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A Quietus Interview

Foe Regrets: Built To Spill Interviewed
Will Metcalfe , March 7th, 2011 13:48

Will Metcalfe speaks to Built To Spill's Doug Martsch about last album Perfect From Now On and his love of Dinosaur Jr

For Built to Spill 2010 was a year dominated by the past. They'd released There is No Enemy back home in 2009 but it wasn't until January last year that ATP's record label gave the record a fully fledged European release. Between playing shows with Dinosaur Jr, reappearing at the Matt Groening ATP weekend in Minehead and revisiting the sprawling brilliance of Perfect From Now On the band tried their best to push things forward.

For some the band started and ended with their breakthrough record, There's Nothing Wrong With Love but in front man Doug Martsch's eyes they were naive and careless. Even the childish brilliance of ‘Big Dipper' fails to keep a treasured place in the frontman's heart.Yet 2010, the year the band could have been confined to the past was possibly one of their most successful and the point where they learned every record has its place, especially for fans.

The melancholy slur of Built to Spill's There Is No Enemy at first seems to have more in common with Neil Young than Marvin Gaye but despite the odds the ragged alt. wavers latest effort was influenced more by reggae and soul than the godfather of grunge. Supported by a tour with Dinosaur Jr it's almost as if this record was the point where the band stopped trying to ignore their history.

After playing the same songs in the same venues with the same tour mates you'd forgive the band for thinking they'd been cast in a Bill Murray movie but somehow they built on the familiarity. Little seems to get the band excited these days – but that's not to say the band don't have fun. Writing and recording There Is No Enemy took more than three years from start to finish, a time Doug says he thoroughly enjoyed.

"Recording is a weird drawn out process; it's like three and a half years from the introduction of the ideas to things coming out. We were in the studio off and on for over a year, doing tours and other things while we worked on the record. We take a long time because we're not in a hurry, I enjoy working in the studio, we try a lot of things and a lot of things don't work."

Influenced by the records Doug doesn't often listen to makes There Is No Enemy a strange beast. The drawn out jams of You In Reverse have faded, replaced by a sense of lingering sadness on a record that owes as much to classic soul as it does to the band's alt rock roots. "I haven't been listening to a lot of Neil Young or anything. The stuff I've been listening to in the run up to this record is mostly old soul music. Reggae music and stuff like that. But at the same time I know that's not what we are, right before we made this record I got an iPod…I think the iPod had some effect in listening to some older music, in the stuff that I like. Things like Dinosaur [Jr]… things that I love that I never listen to anymore.

"We've had our chances to play with them and meet them. I'm always really excited to see them play every night because but I'm a little bit old to be that star struck about the whole thing. I look forward to just being able to see killer music every night." Built to Spill first toured with Dinosaur Jr as they imploded but Doug says the band touring with the original line up has led him to look beyond the wayward genius of J Mascis. "What's so magical is when we played with them it wasn't Lou and Murph. I liked them still but the magic is with those three. At this point I don't know who I like the best, I always thought it was J's band but I put Lou and Murph right up there with him, I think they're one of those bands where all three players are completely integral with what they do."

"I always thought Murph was amazing and seeing him live I was completely blown away by him, Lou was the last one that I came to appreciate. I saw them play with the reformed line up two years ago, when we played those shows with them I couldn't believe how incredible Lou is." There is something inherently likable about Martsch - even after repeated cock ups with phone numbers, and call times he's remarkably polite. Despite listening to soul and reggae while writing the record, revisiting old favourites has clearly had an impact on Doug's song writing. While this is by no means a record steeped in nostalgia it is perhaps closer to what fans may have expected.

While the band may not be averse to a little nostalgia (last year saw them play a number of Don't Look Back shows with Perfect From Now On) you shouldn't expect them to be giving the same treatment to all their records just yet. "There's Nothing Wrong With Love... I don't really like the record very much, but at the time I loved it. I was really excited about it but it was also a really excited time - I was 25 years old [and] I got to spend as much time as I wanted to in the studio on it. We mixed it and I told the guy on the record label I wasn't really happy with it and he said go mix it again - that wasn't an option before.

"I don't think I would accept much of what's off that record anymore, but to me that doesn't mean I'm making better music but way it's more what I have in mind."