Built to Spill's Doug Martsch and the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli Talk About Their Co-Headlining Tour


Indie rockers Built to Spill. - COURTESY OF DOUG MARTSCH
  • Courtesy of Doug Martsch
  • Indie rockers Built to Spill.
For the first time ever, veteran indie rock acts Afghan Whigs and Built To Spill have teamed up for a co-headlining tour that includes more than 20 North American dates. Built to Spill has released eight guitar-heavy albums over the course of a career that dates back to 1992. And the Afghan Whigs, a group that formed in Cincinnati in 1986, returned last year with In Spades, another album of moody alt-rock distinguished by Greg Dulli's soulful vocals.

In separate phone interviews, Built to Spill singer-guitarist Doug Martsch and Dulli spoke about the tour and their respective careers. The bands play at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25, at House of Blues.

How’d the idea for the tour come about?
Afghan Whigs. - CHRIS CUFFARO
  • Chris Cuffaro
  • Afghan Whigs.
Dulli: I think it was between our two booking agents.
Martsch: Well, I’m not actually sure. We don’t know each other. Someone from our booking agency ran it by me and it sounded cool.

You like the idea right?
Dude, I’m in a place in my life where I don’t do anything I don’t wanna do. I love Doug [Martsch's] songs, and I’m excited to get to watch Built to Spill play every night.
Martsch: Yeah, it started with just a few shows and then snowballed into a whole tour. The Afghan Whigs are fuckin' loud and rocking. [Singer Greg] Dulli is a master MC even though he doesn't talk much.

The Whigs have such a different sound than Built to Spill. How do the two bands complement each other musically?
I think the bill works for that very reason in that we’re both guitar bands but different style guitar bands, and you know, probably have different audiences. But the idea is to merge and have the audiences check each other out.
Martsch: That’s never been much of a concern to me. As long we’re playing with a band that’s good, it doesn’t matter what they sound like. The opening band is a kind of an electronic group with just drums and a singer. To me, it’s about bands that are good and nice people. The Afghan Whigs are a good band and nice people.

How have you maintained artistic integrity over the time period?
We split up for 13 years, and I had other groups. I think that's the way we’ve done it. We’ve been lucky to have an audience that trusts us to do what we want. And, you know, [bassist] John Curley and I have always had outside interests in other things and not always depended on the band to be our bread and butter, so I think in that way we haven’t had to compromise.
Martsch: I don’t know if it’s artistic integrity or just the best we can do. We're not against having a hit and getting rich with it, but I don’t think that’s in the cards for us. I’ll go along with “artistic integrity.” I guess [our record label] Warner Bros. wasn’t too different from an indie label. We ran it the way we would normally run it. There’s a certain amount of red tape when you’re making a record but in exchange for dealing with that, you get a nice big budget to make the record with. They were so lax with us that maybe I got a little lax with the career. I could’ve done more work. I took a long time between records. And when my son was little, we kept the touring to a minimum. As he got older, we started doing more. That coincided with us realizing it was the only way to make a living by touring a lot.

Did you set out to do something differently with your latest album?
The In Spades record is the product of the six guys who made it. The six guys who made this record will never be able to do it again because one of the guys passed away last year, so for that reason alone it will be a singular moment in all of our lives. We started getting together every three or four months because we all live in different parts of the country. So we’d meet in New Orleans every few months for like a week or ten days and we’d just start compiling things. In terms of setting out to do something different, from day one I’ve set out to do something different every time, so that's a given, but this record was the first record probably in 20 years that I had the group of people all in one room, and we made the record together. So this is like the first full-band record since [1996's] Black Love.
Martsch: With each record, there’s some kind of vision. Mostly, they’re a current batch of songs. For [2015's Tethered to the Moon], we did want to make it more punk rock and a little more raw. That’s why we wanted to work with [producer] Sam Coomes. He was good at keeping us on task. We played some shows with his band Heatmiser when he was playing with them. We were playing with his band Quasi in the mid-’90s too. Then, I invited him to play on a couple of our different records. He’s a hero of ours, for sure.

Where did you record your most recent album, and what was the experience like?
 For [In Spades], we went to Marigny Recording Studio, which is run by Rick Nelson, who’s in our band, that's his studio, and I’ve been recording there for years, so I know it well. It’s right up the street from my house, and he's in the band, so it’s very easy. It’s all very family style. Going back to what I said earlier about not doing anything I don’t wanna do, I’ve played with Rick now for ten years and we’ve been friends for longer than that, so it’s a very familiar comfortable place to go. And he’s got it tricked out. It’s like a really beautiful studio, and a great hang — like when you’re not working you’re laying around on couches and being fed grapes by people.
Martsch: Jackpot in Portland. That’s the studio owned by Larry Crane, who does Tape Op [magazine]. It was our first time there, and it’s a beautiful little space. It was a fun time. Off and on, we spent about a month all together there. We would come for a week and record basic tracks. We’d do overdubs a few weeks later. It was kind of thing where we didn’t spend a lot of time on it. We kept it pretty raw. It went quicker than most records but probably longer than it should have if you are an observer.

Your songs are often dark. Talk about that.
Honestly, my whole life I have been kind of pegged as a dark dude. I mean, there's darkness everywhere, and you don’t have to go far to look for it; it’s in front of you at all times. But I think there's a lot of light in [In Spades] too, but darkness is fun and interesting.
Martsch: I don’t know. Lyrically, I tend to go to mostly dark places. Maybe it’s just a way to get that kind of stuff off your chest. Maybe it’s just that I think a happy song would be ridiculous. That’s just where my mind goes. Musically, it’s all over the place. I don’t think of the emotional content so much. It just kind of happens. I’m more consciously focused on melodies and chord progressions. If they have emotion, it’s not something I’m manipulating. If someone gets some emotion out of it, that’s great. It’s never my goal to make emotional music.

What continues to motivate you?
From the time I was a kid, I have loved music and loved to play music. It was all I wanted to do, and even if I didn’t do this, I would be making music. I was playing guitar at my house yesterday. I wasn’t even writing songs. I was just playing because it felt good. I love to play, and I still love to go on tour, to travel around and play with my friends, I don’t know if it’s ever gonna get old.
Martsch: Well, I think mostly it’s just what I do now. It’s my job. It’s a matter of what I am. It’s partially financial and the lens I look at the world through. I play guitar a lot. When I was younger, I didn’t practice as much. I don’t know how to do anything else. We have started to work on a new album, and we have had a batch of half written songs for years now. We have things going on personally and have been busy playing shows so we haven’t had a chance to get these songs figured out. Hopefully, we’ll get some inspiration and have a chance to get back to them. We’re not on Warner Bros, but we’re talking to a couple of really good labels. We definitely will move on. Warner Bros. was a good experience for us, but we’re excited to work with someone new.

Afghan Whigs, Built to Spill, Rituals of Mine, 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $35, houseofblues.com.

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