Built to Spill is one of the few major-label bands that still sounds as pure as the day they were formed in 1992. Through it all, frontman and founder Doug Martsch has held on to his humility, maintaining that “all we’ve ever wanted to do was make music that sounds all right.” Martsch talked with the Alibi about his band’s success, touring and lack of bravado.
Talk about the process of going from a little-known indie group to a popular, big-label outfit.
My goal when we started was to get to the point where someone would pay for our recording. So when we got signed to Warner Brothers, that was a lot more than I ever expected out of music. As far as how the band worked, getting signed didn’t really change anything. We spent more time in the studio because we had a bigger budget, but otherwise it seems mostly kind of natural.
After being with indie record companies like Up, what made you want to sign with a major label?
Money. I just wanted to quit my day job. We could have stayed on Up and quit our day jobs, but at the time I didn’t think I wanted to tour at all, so that was a big part of the decision.
Why did you dislike touring?
I just had some new family that I wanted to be with more. Also, the idea of touring kind of frightens me. Me being out in the world and driving a bunch seems sort of dangerous. I also didn’t like playing live as much as I do now, because we weren’t that good then. Over the last few years, we’ve become really good, and now I like playing live more than anything else musically.
When you came here last time, it seemed like your stage presence was in direct opposition to the “heavy bravado” style of McJagger or Bono. Is this intentional or just a reflection of your personality?
It’s a little of both. When I was growing up, I just liked regular people making music. Maybe, in a way, I’m kind of shy, and maybe it’s kind of an act. I’m not an overtly sexual person, and I see that kind of thing as overtly sexual. That’s what really embarrasses me about Bono. When I see him acting like that I feel bad for him. But some people have [that kind of] stage persona that I really like, like Iggy Pop.
What’s next for Built to Spill?
I’m not too sure. We never really have any sort of plan or intention of what we want to do except make music that sounds all right. Hopefully, we’ll be able to utilize everyone’s talent because we have a lot of great people in the band. We have the potential to do the best stuff we’ve ever done, but I have no idea what it’s going to be like.