Built to Spill: Perfection Is The Enemy

By: Mike Bookey

Doug Martsch - Built to Spill
Just recently, Doug Martsch has become a DJ. Never mind the fact that he's regarded as indie rock royalty and a bonafide guitar hero, or that his band, Built to Spill, just released its seventh full-length record, There Is No Enemy (released October 6 on Warner Bros.), which showcases the Boise, Idaho outfit at its best - Martsch wants to get people dancing.

The 40-year-old, heavily bearded Martsch has taken to DJing because, well, he was looking for something to do. Maybe it was the three years he spent obsessing over the recording of There Is No Enemy that's driven him to find a new pursuit or perhaps his other hobby, basketball, hasn't been keeping him busy enough. But more likely, it's the fact that he just wants to serve up some dance tunes, as he did after a late September Built to Spill show in Madison, Wisconsin.

"I'm not a DJ at all; I don't know what I'm doing. All I do is play songs I like. I don't do anything DJ-ish," says Martsch, in a humble tone that he carries through the interview. "I'm kind of picky, so it's gotta be stuff I want to listen to loud, as well as something people will want to dance to."

Martsch began the DJ hobby at a bar in Boise, where he'd spin one Sunday each month. He says his typical sets are wide open but oftentimes gravitate toward soul and reggae from the '60s and '70s with a few hits from the likes of The Cure, The Smiths and the Bee Gees thrown in because, as Martsch says, "Part of the fun of dancing is dancing to songs that you know and like." Write-ups of his DJ work call his sets upbeat and fun and, for the most part, not what you'd expect from the man who since 1992 has been at the helm of one of the most influential acts in indie rock. But for a guy who spent a year fine-tuning his band's album, perhaps playing some loud records in loud rooms is a sort of release - even if his band has been playing plenty of loud music in crowded theaters lately.

Built to Spill
The Doug Martsch behind the ones and twos at a bar seems worlds apart from the Doug Martsch who may be haunted by the gap that exists between his musical ideas and his musical products. The man is endlessly genuine and honest and cares deeply about his fans, but a 25-minute discussion about There Is No Enemy reveals a musician who seems to be fighting a war in the recording studio that he knows he can't win. What he calls "failures" in his recordings probably wouldn't be noticed by even the most hardcore of fans, but Martsch hears them.

"Someone might not agree with me that some instrument is too loud or too quiet, or that it matters much, but I think there's something inside of all of us that when something is done right we really respond to it," says Martsch. "It's not a matter of it being bad the way it is, it's just that things can always be a little better."

One can't help but find these remarks slightly frustrating after giving There Is No Enemy a thorough listen. The album is as good as any Built to Spill album and feels tighter and more focused than 2006's You in Reverse. Martsch's guitar is as surging and winding as ever, blending nicely into the sort of heavily complex yet weirdly poppy sonic tapestry that has become the battle flag of Built to Spill since they caught the ear of the alt-rock world with the single "Dystopian Dream Girl" in 1994. There Is No Enemy opens up with a cut called "Aisle 13" that kicks the record into motion with Martsch interacting beautifully with the guitars of band members Jim Roth and Brett Netson. The rest of the album features cuts that, in BTS fashion, dance near or over the six-minute mark yet never seem long or without purpose. It's not as jammy as You In Reverse, but that works fine on this record, as we get to see more songs built out of a writing process rather than the band's jam sessions.

"We did jam on the songs a lot, but the germ of the songs didn't come out of a jam, it came out of me fucking around by myself, but it's still plenty collaborative," he says.

Continue reading for more on Built to Spill...


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