Built To Spill Discovers 'Ancient Melodies'

Built to Spill front man Doug Martsch is a simple guy. Asked if his band's third Warner Bros. studio set, "Ancient Melodies of the Future" (released on July 10), marks a shift away from previous work,

Built to Spill front man Doug Martsch is a simple guy. Asked if his band's third Warner Bros. studio set, "Ancient Melodies of the Future" (released on July 10), marks a shift away from previous work, he says cheerfully, "Sure, yeah." Asked why the album clocks in at a relatively short 39 minutes, he offers without a hint of irony, "The songs are all just one or two parts, so they don't go on for too long."

Indeed, since founding Boise, Idaho-based Built to Spill in 1993, Martsch has let his signature blend of rock'n'roll do the talking. Among the more revered acts in the U.S. rock underground, the group (which also includes drummer Scott Plouf and bassist Brett Nelson) signed to Warner Bros. in 1997 after a series of independent releases on such labels as Up, K, and C/Z.

The two albums that followed, 1997's "Perfect From Now On" and 1999's "Keep It Like a Secret," took the group to the next level, balancing sprawling guitar epics with concise, delightfully catchy numbers steeped in Martsch's classic-rock upbringing. Last year's "Live" bottled the consistently engaging Built to Spill road show for the marketplace. The three sets have sold a combined 200,000 copies in the States, according to SoundScan.

On the 10-track "Melodies of the Future," produced by Martsch with longtime collaborator Phil Ek, Built to Spill offers a little bit of everything from its sonic bag of tricks. Overall, the album lives up to the goal Martsch set for the project last spring: "[To be] sort of a cross between the last two records; something dramatic, but with shorter songs and a little more straightforward."

"Don't Try" and "Trimmed & Burning" recall the emphatic rock of "Perfect From Now On," while "Strange," "In Your Mind," and "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss" hark back to the simpler, head-bobbing songs of 1994's indie release, "There's Nothing Wrong With Love." But there are a host of new elements at play, from the keyboard work of Martsch and Quasi's Sam Coomes on tracks like "The Weather" to the slide guitar-addled boogie of "Happiness" to Martsch's newly assured lyric writing, a task he has usually viewed as secondary to the music-making process. On every previous record, Martsch would receive informal assistance from his wife, Karena Youtz. "But on this one, I eventually got it all done on my own," he says.

"Some things are stolen, but I stole them," he adds with a laugh. "I don't really know where the lyrics go, thematically. I kind of write things and then forget about what they are and what they mean. For me, the process of making music is like, each time I finish one certain area, like a chord progression, I forget about it and move on to the next thing."

While making music comes naturally for Martsch, marketing Built to Spill beyond its devoted core audience requires a specialized approach, according to Julie Muncy, national director of alternative promotion at Warner Bros. The band is a staple at college stations, and it has gotten early support and specialty show airplay from several commercial modern rock radio stations, including WOXY Cincinatti.

This time, the full album will be shipped to triple-A, alternative, and college stations, preceded by the four-track sampler "Sabonis Tracks," featuring "Strange" and "The Weather," plus live covers of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On" and Vince Guaraldi's "Peanuts" theme "Linus and Lucy."
According to Warner Bros. marketing director Kevin Sakoda, all four songs from the sampler are available on Built to Spill's newly relaunched and refurbished Web site (builttospill.com). The site also features a message board, videos, a newsletter, and a contest called "Drag Doug Through the Mud," affording the winner a chance to interview Martsch.

Reinforcing the band's indie roots, the vinyl edition of "Melodies of the Future" has been licensed to Up, which will issue the LP Aug. 10.

The band has been on the road on the West Coast since early June, including four sold-out dates in Los Angeles. (The first leg of the trek closed June 30 in Seattle). An East Coast/Midwest swing of approximately 40 dates begins in early September. Built to Spill will also play Seattle's annual Bumbershoot Festival Sept. 1.

"Melodies of the Future" is Built to Spill's last firm album under its Warner Bros. deal, but both parties express satisfaction about their partnership to date. "No one is telling us what to do, and no one is taking away our creative license," Martsch says. "It's all been really cool."

Muncy adds, "Historically, we pride ourselves on having bands like Built to Spill, who produce music of integrity and critical acclaim. I think as long as Doug is happy on the label, we have a future together."