When it came time to record "Untethered Moon"—Built to Spill's eighth album and first in almost six years—Doug Martsch found himself having more fun than usual.
With modern guitar hero Martsch at the helm, Built to Spill formed in 1992 and has remained one of the most dependably excellent bands in American rock music for two decades, with a melodic, guitar-driven style that's been as broadly influential as any contemporary band.
But each album comes with its own challenges, a fresh, blank slate that requires creative inspiration and careful, hard work. And in 2012, when Martsch set out to record the follow-up to 2009's "There Is No Enemy," something was missing. So he scrapped the sessions, and half the songs, and, after a lineup change that saw Steve Gere (drums) and Jason Albertini (bass) join the band, started over. And everything just clicked.
"For some reason it just kind of went smoothly and I don't know why that is. Sometimes in the studio, it's hard to come up with things or you're jamming for a lot of time and wonder 'Why am I even bothering?'" he says. "I don't know how much it has to do with the new guys in the band and their enthusiasm or (producer) Sam Coomes, but whatever reason it rolled off easier than usual."
Coomes, who formed Quasi around the same time Built to Spill got going, has played on every Built to Spill album since 1997's "Perfect From Now On," was the perfect fit for the new sessions, keeping the band heading in the right direction.
"We did lots of preparation, so much rehearsal and demoing," Martsch says. "It changes from record to record. Usually we're pretty well prepared, but there have been a couple records we go into leaving things a little more open ended."
For "Untethered Moon," which will be released on vinyl for Record Store Day on April 18 and on other formats on April 21, Built to Spill recorded 16 songs, settling on 10 for the final album sequence.
"Initially, it was going to be a lot longer and I thought they were all good enough to make it onto the record," Martsch says. "When I sequenced it seemed too long and like too much of the same thing was happening at the end."
As an album-oriented band from the start—and over the years increasingly focused on touring as the only reliable stream of income in the age of digital music—Built to Spill has to shift gears in response to an industry intent on pushing one song at a time.
"We're not a big singles band. We've never had a hit or anything," Martsch says. "When we make a record I'm never even thinking about that. And then the label asks us to pick something so I don't really know what to do. I picked 'Living Zoo' because we'd already been playing it live for a while and it has a good intro. It's an exciting song for someone to hear who hasn't heard a record."
For now, the band is gearing up for another year of heavy touring, blending new songs with old, keeping the shows fresh and exciting for longtime fans and newcomers alike.
"The band learned maybe 50 songs in the last couple years, and we have to rehearse them pretty regularly," Martsch says. "Right now we're probably going out with around 30 songs, and, before we go out in May, we'll have another rehearsal session. I like to have 40 or so songs so we make a set list up every day."