MIKE JOHNSON, JAMES MERCER
Showbox, 628-3151, $14/$12 adv.
8 p.m. Fri., Sept. 6
You can take the guy out of Built to Spill, but you can't, apparently, take Built to Spill out of the guy. After nearly a decade fronting the much-acclaimed indie trio, group frontman Doug Martsch is finally releasing his long-delayed solo debut, Now You Know—an ode to the plaintive country blues sound of artists like Fred McDowell and Blind Willie Johnson. Though the slide guitar the record is built around—full of finger picks and open tuning—is a marked departure from his usual skewed, Neil Young-inspired aesthetic, some things never change.
"I wanted the lyrics to be more bluesy, in that vein, and kind of tell a story, but that's really not my forte," Martsch admits with a laugh, "so they just all ended up sounding like Built to Spill lyrics." It's a fair trade: less authentic as a roots record, but still brimming with Martsch's trademark lyrical touch—simple, stunningly perceptive lines thrown off with a casual grace.
Of course, there is a moment when Martsch threatens to turn into Stevie Ray Vaughan during the disc's astutely titled "Instrumental"—a funky groove workout—yet the jagged BtS sensibility somehow tilts the balance of the record back to familiar territory.
Despite the delay in the album's release—the bulk of the disc was recorded at Martsch's home studio in the fall of '99—the famously self-effacing Boise native seems almost proud of Now You Know.
"It's not a big record, but that's OK. I really like it better now than when I made it. In fact, I probably wouldn't have liked [the new record] when I first started listening to bands like Built to Spill, but I think people in their mid-20s and up should be able to appreciate it, if they're fans."
The record is definitely the stuff of front porches, not stadiums; in fact, Martsch says he'll probably only play one track from it at his upcoming Seattle show, choosing to focus instead on vintage Spill tunes and other material, including the odd cover choice—the latter inspired by his current listening preference: reggae. Does this mean that Martsch may be going Irie on us in the near future?
"No, I'm not going to make a reggae record," he says—though BtS have been known to tackle Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves" in concert.
"Even though the next Built to Spill record may be influenced by what I'm listening to, it won't be that [wild]. I think white guys can actually do a really good job with that kind of music—like Elvis Costello or the Clash," he says chuckling, "I just don't know if I'm one of them."