Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch is a pretty low-key guy. That’s perhaps surprising for someone considered one of the greats in the indie-music world.
Martsch’s artistry grew out of the 1980s — an era when punk met pop in a serious way. He honed his chops at the bars and clubs of Boise, before heading north to the alternative-rock mecca of Seattle to try the burgeoning music scene there with his then band Treepeople. He returned to Idaho after a few years just as the first Built to Spill album came out in 1993.
With Boise as his home base, Martsch and his band now travel the world as one of the most critically respected indie bands of the past few decades. While Martsch hasn’t achieved a level of fame as, say, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, life is pretty good.
“I can’t imagine having a better, luckier career than we’ve had,” Martsch says. “Warner Bros. lets us record when we want. We book our shows when we want. It’s been amazing. None of us ever thought we’d get to do any of this for any kind of money at all, so to have a long-term career out of it was never in my wildest dreams.”
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Boise audiences can once again share that dream with Martsch at Music on the Water, a new summer music concert series that debuts Friday, June 23, with headliners Built to Spill at the new Esther Simplot Park.
Organized by Kevin Felgate, founder and CEO of Name Brand Promotions, a Boise branding agency, and Onward Shay! race organizer Keith Hughes of Vertical Endurance, the three-concert series runs through the summer with a strong lineup of local bands. It also aims to benefit the Women’s and Children’s Alliance.
Besides the pond-side bandstand, you’ll find the park filled with more than 20 local artisans, nonprofits and other vendors, and food trucks such as Boise Fry Company, Payette Brewing and RiceWorks. Plus, there will be fun stuff for kids to do, including face painting and other activities. (Due to elevated E. coli levels there is no swimming in the ponds until further notice.)
This will be the first big event in Esther Simplot Park, which is between Quinn’s and Veterans ponds off of Whitewater Park Boulevard in West Boise. Read more about the park.
The series came together quickly once it was announced in May and has taken on a life of its own, Felgate says.
“I think it was just the right time and right place,” Felgate says. “We were talking about something much smaller when we started. When it became a reality, we’ve started getting incredible support, and it’s growing.”
For Martsch, getting another chance to play in Boise — and for it to be a benefit — is something he relishes.
“We love playing here,” he says. “It’s definitely a different feel than when we’re on the road. I don’t know how exactly, but it’s great. It’s part of giving back. How many times have you wished you could do something to help a cause? We can go play and have fun and do something. I feel lucky that we get to do benefits.”
Martsch has been Built to Spill’s sole consistent member over the band’s 24-year history. Its members change with a fluid group of players for each album and tour. Right now, Built to Spill consists of Martsch on guitar and vocals, Steve Gere on drums and Jason Albertini on bass.
Born in Rupert, Martsch was raised in Twin Falls. His family moved to Boise when he was a teenager in the 1980s. He played in the jazz band at South Junior High, and sang in the jazz choir and played in the jazz band at Borah High. At the same time, he started his own band called Farm Days and developed a love for punk rock.
“Probably my favorite band of all time was (Boise punk band) State of Confusion,” Martsch says. “They were pretty hardcore and a few years older than me. After I graduated high school, I filled in for one of the guys once. It was an awesome time of my life, getting to play with these guys who were like my heroes.”
When State of Confusion broke up, some of its former members and Martsch created Treepeople, the “more mellow band” that took him to Seattle. That band slowly dissolved over the next few years, and eventually Martsch left the band and Seattle.
“I had stuff that was going to be a Treepeople record and that became the first Built to Spill record,” Martsch says.
Today, Martsch holds a soft spot for those early bands. He reunited with Farm Days six years ago and is preparing for a Treepeople reunion sometime in 2018. They’re rehearsing now, because “I want to be really good,” Martsch says.
Martsch also has about 12 new Built to Spill songs in the works. “We’re plugging away at a new album,” he says. “But no new tunes at this show. We played a bunch last year, but right now I’m rethinking them, so we’ve put them on the back burner. We’ll just play old songs.”
Martsch’s songwriting process “bounces around” between his past experiences and what he’s thinking about now. “Mostly it’s ‘Would I want to hear this?’ ” he says.
One fan, Dutch artist Marijn van Kreij, created an art installation at Ming Studio’s international artist residency in 2015, inspired by Martsch’s song “Traces.”
“I saw the show, and I was super flattered, but I didn’t really get what he was thinking about when he heard the song,” Martsch says. “Once I’m done with a song, I’m done with it, and I don’t expect anyone to know where I’m coming from. But I think listening is its own creative endeavor.”
Other shows to catch
▪ Foo Fighters will play the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa on Thursday, Dec. 7. (We heard that the last time they played in the Treasure Valley was at the now-defunct club Bogie’s in the mid-1990s.) Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 29. Prices have not yet been announced.
▪ Jamie McLean Band will play the next Alive After Five. McLean is the former guitarist for New Orleans-based Dirty Dozen Brass Band and often plays with Aaron Neville. You can catch him with openers Tylor & The Train Robbers at 5 p.m., Wednesday, June 28. Free.
▪ Friends and fans of jazz pianist Paul Tillotson will celebrate his legacy, music and life at two concerts this weekend featuring Tillotson’s New York Connection. Tillotson died a year ago after a long battle with cancer. These concerts will raise funds for the Paul Tillotson Music Scholarship at his alma mater, Borah High School. Tillotson’s regular New York rhythm section — Grammy-nominated blues guitarist Bill Sims Jr., bassist Mike Merritt, and drummer James Wormworth from the Basic Cable Band on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, June 23, at Ketchum’s Limelight Hotel, and 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 24, at Lucky Peak’s Sandy Point Amphitheater as part of the Idaho Songwriters Association concert series. Tickets for either event are $20 in advance at Brown Paper Tickets.
Music on the Water
Esther Simplot Park, 614 N. Whitewater Park Blvd., Boise
The event is free to attend. MusicOnTheWater.com.
People are encouraged to walk or ride a bicycle to the event. There will be a bicycle valet and guarded bike corral on the Greenbelt side of the park. If you drive, you can park in the Department of Transportation parking lot by entering on Jordan Street, off of Whitewater Park Boulevard. Parking is $5 per car. You receive a raffle ticket. Net proceeds will go to the WCA.