The Pacific Northwest has been home to more than its fair share of iconic musicians — Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Kurt Cobain, and Elliott Smith all spent their formative years in this rain-soaked corner of the world. But for my generation, those who came of age in the years shortly after grunge’s demise, there is no band that better exemplifies the Northwest sound than Boise, Idaho’s Built to Spill.
The band has seen many incarnations, from its beginnings as a loosely conceived solo-project for founder/songwriter Doug Martsch, to its current line-up of drummer Scott Plouf, bassist Brett Nelson, and guitarists Jim Roth and Brett Netson, which has earned a reputation as one of the most dynamic and inventive live rock bands in recent memory. As a guitarist, Martsch belongs to the same school of outre virtuosity as Dinosaur Jr.’s J.Mascis and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, although he balances his more experimental tendencies with a heavy dose of classic rock sensibility. But it is his unique approach to melody and songcraft that have exerted such a considerable influence over the music of the Pacific Northwest. And while a few of Martsch’s most ardent admirers, such as Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, have gone on to achieve greater levels of commercial success, Built to Spill maintains a core of deeply devoted fans to this day.