Built to Spill

On a cursory listen, When the Wind Forgets Your Name delivers precisely what fans have come to love from Built to Spill — grooves, tones and riffs for days, in support of songs characterized by emotional vulnerability and caustic wit. A supremely melodic, energetic affair released in September, Wind is the ninth studio LP of originals from the beloved Boise, Idaho, indie-rock outfit since 1992. It represents the gradual evolution of the ensemble around its only constant member, singer-songwriter-guitarist Doug Martsch.

That said, if you haven’t caught up with Built to Spill in a while, the current configuration might throw you. In the Aughts and early 2010s, the group favored a format including guitarists Jim Roth and Brett Netson playing in tandem with Martsch, turning originals like “Randy Described Eternity” and covers like The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” into full-fledged guitar symphonies. Starting in 2015, Martsch scaled back to a lean power-trio lineup, the membership of which has changed multiple times. 

Bassist João Casaes and drummer Lê Almeida, both of earthy Brazilian psychedelic pop-rock band Oruã, toured with Martsch in 2018 and ’19, and they backed him on the recordings that became Wind. Oruã is opening for Built to Spill on the tour that brings them back to Nashville on Wednesday — a relatively rare local appearance for the band — as will BTS’ longtime Swiss comrades Disco Doom. 

Currently performing alongside Martsch are bassist Melanie Radford, who also plays in Boise rockers Blood Lemon, and drummer Teresa Esguerra, on loan from Albuquerque, N.M., punks Prism Bitch. Reached by phone, Martsch tells the Scene he first caught Esguerra’s band a few years ago at Boise music fest Treefort and loved it. That led to Prism Bitch touring with both Built to Spill and Martsch’s turn-of-the-’90s band Treepeople when they reunited to celebrate Guilt Regret Embarrassment, their 1991 post-punk classic for K Records.

“We went on to play together in Albuquerque, and loved them even more,” Martsch says of Prism Bitch. “Just a great group of people to have around — to see each other every day, and watch each night.”

Despite the changes in Built to Spill’s lineup, its catalog is remarkably consistent. How then does Martsch keep things from getting stale? His recent routine hasn’t been overly complicated, but it has been intentional.

“I bought a house,” he says. “Got a cat named Rita. Found a bunch of music through Spotify — current pop stuff. I like Doja Cat a lot. Also listened to a lot of weird music from around the globe, old and new.” 

While the new tunes don’t hold back on distortion or delay effects, material like “Understood” hangs out in a melancholic comfort zone Martsch & Co. thrive in. Meanwhile the stately, drawn-out “Elements” and “Spiderweb” resist the easy payoff, building tension but holding back from exploding. “Never Alright” is my personal fave — a punchy psych-pop jam that you might want to skip ahead to if you’re an evangelist for the band’s 1999 fan-favorite Keep It Like a Secret.

Having to scale back instrumentally, the 53-year-old musician adds, brought him back to an album generally regarded as a footnote in his catalog. In 2002, he released what is so far his only solo album, the country-and-bluegrass-oriented, fingerstyle-guitar-focused Now You Know. 

“I’d gotten burnt out on indie rock,” Martsch remembers. “I wanted to learn slide guitar — to embrace the unconventional country blues I’d wondered about. I made up my own little licks as exercises, and after a while, came up with enough to pull some songs from.”

Martsch’s laid-back relationship with his songs is another throughline from Now You Know to When the Wind Forgets Your Name. I can almost hear him shrug over the phone when I ask about the new tunes. 

“They’re all just different songs,” he says with a laugh. “A couple are older — ‘Elements’ and ‘Alright’ — but didn’t fit on [previous] albums. I kind of have a backlog of songs like that.” 

Ask Martsch about being onstage and the repertoire Built to Spill has worked up for the tour, however, and his excitement ramps up.

“We’ve got about 35 or 40 songs. Plus some weird covers [that] make you rethink how you play guitar. There’s nothing more fun. It’s a blast — my favorite part of our show every night. Sometimes we’ll do a couple; sometimes we won’t do any.”

Like what you read?

Click here to make a contribution to the Scene and support local journalism!