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Published: 2013/04/14
by Zach Gayne

Built To Spill: Ultimate Again

Is there a band that you had your first epiphany with?

Well, yeah, the first record that I bought. When I was growing up there was a handful of records in our house. Like there was a Queen record which I loved – News of the World – and there was like a Kansas record and Peter Frampton. So, I listened to those. And then my brother and sister, they became part of Young Lives, which is like a Christian thing for teenagers. So they got into some Christian music. And that was like- There’s a guy Larry Norman that I loved! And I still love to this day. He died a few years ago but I still listen to him.

So this isn’t gospel or something, this is Christian music…

This is Christian Rock! He sounds like The Stones and Bob Dylan and stuff… but it’s Christian and it’s killer.

Well, Dylan’s Slow Train Coming is a great record.

Oh, well yeah! And that’s what it was. And they got into that too. My brother was into those Bob Dylan Christian records. And then the first record I bought was in junior high school. I bought some Billy Squier, which I love to this day too.

In the song “Twin Falls” you allude to your mom being ‘good’ by getting you out of Twin Falls, Idaho (before you got too old). What were the circumstances around that?

It was my mother and my older brother and sister. My parents divorced when I was zero and so my brother and sister – they’re 6 and 8 years older than me – they went off to school and then my mom decided that she wanted to go to school so when I was 13 or 14 or something she decided she was gonna get us out of the Falls and move to Boise and go back to school. It was the summer. It was right before I became a high-schooler.

When did you decide to move to Seattle?

That was a year and a half or something after I graduated. And there was a great punk rock band here in town, Scott Smalljohn the guy from The Hand, his band State of Confusion – great hardcore band – a couple of the guys were like 3 years older than me and the lead singer was my brother’s age, like 6 years older than me. And I was just a huge fan of theirs and I’d go to their shows and I became friends with them and I’d go watch them practice, y’know, hang out with them whenever I could. When I graduated, their drummer kinda dropped out and I joined their band for a moment and then we decided let’s try something new. Everyone kinda switched instruments and we became Treepeople, did it for maybe a year, in Boise and then Wayne, one of the members, was like, I wanna move to Seattle, so we’re like yeah, let’s do it. That was like ‘89.

What filmmakers were you into?

I liked David Lynch a lot. I’m trying to think what I was watching in the early ‘90s. It seems like most of the great films I watched were after that. But that was kind of an exciting time for television. The Simpsons came on Get A Life came on, Chris Elliot, I’m a big fan of his. Twin Peaks. All these cool things started happening on TV. Really neat. And I remember seeing that Spike Lee movie around the time I moved to Seattle [Do The Right Thing].

Did you ever watch the other Lynch/Mark Frost collaboration On The Air?

Oh yeah, I saw that! It was after or at the very end of Twin Peaks. It was a great show. It’s like they’re making this show and they show everything, how it’s gonna go, and it’s live and everything fucks up. And I love that guy, the engineer, and when it cuts to how he sees the world. There’s also a great show that came out around that time called Bakersfield P.D.. That was just a great half-hour comedy show. Brian Doyle Murray was in it.

When you tour around on the bus, do you have a few staple VHS tapes kicking around that are always getting thrown on?

Yeah, the last tour we did we liked this Elvis concert where he’s opening in Vegas. That was on non-stop all the time.

While we’re still on the topic of things visual, I’d like to ask you about the “Hindsight” music video, which is really one of my favorite videos of the last decade, how did you come to be involved with Bob Odenkirk?

Well, we were lucky enough to meet him 10 years ago. Mr. Show was done but we didn’t know about it. When it was on I didn’t know about it. I saw something about it and it looked stupid to me. I totally avoided it. But then I caught a bunch of them in a marathon in a hotel one day. And we all kinda did. So we were obsessed. We were quoting them all the time. And then he showed up at one of our shows and I met him and through him we met Tim and Eric. Y’know, we never really cared about videos. We made a couple of them and got talked into it a bit. We made another one that I love that we sorta got talked into because the treatment was so beautiful and it turned out great, “Conventional Wisdom.”

The medieval one.

Exactly and I was like, I don’t wanna do it but it was such a great idea and it was as great as it looked on paper. It was about James and not about us and it was all played really straight, it was beautiful. So anyway, for that record we weren’t gonna make a video but the European label asked us about a video and I was like, “Oh yeah, we could get Tim & Eric to do it or someone cool.” And I was gonna ask them but I thought maybe I’ll see if Bob will do it.

He’s a fan?

Yeah, he’s like a really cool fan. When we put out our live album he wrote me this really long email about what a great record it was. And when our last record came out he sent me a long email about it. I was just blown away.

That’s so great. I guess those worlds have collided before with things like David Cross in that Superchunk video or Bob Odenkirk dressed like KISS in the School of Rock precursor video for Yo La Tengo’s “Sugarcube”…

Exactly. So it’s all the same kinda… just people doing stuff to entertain each other and ourselves.

So if the ‘90s are sort of considered the heyday and now its twenty years later, what’s it been like watching new generations of fans stumble onto your music?

Well, I think around 2000ish, we made the record Ancient Melodies and we kind of took a break when we made that record and I remember at that time sort of thinking, alright this is about over. And then we’d go do some shows and young kids are coming out to see us. That’s when it really hit me that there might be another bunch of people who find something in this. I mean, I was surprised that the first bunch of people found something in this. So yeah, it’s amazing.

At this point in your career is there anyone left who still humbles you?

Oh, Absolutely. Like on the last record we had Paul Leary play on it of The Butthole Surfers. I mean, yeah of course. Someone told me today that the guy who runs this place has been emailing Paul Weller. And Paul Weller’s like, “Boise, Idaho? Isn’t Built To Spill from there?”.Yeah that kills me! I mean what the fuck ?!

Wow, that’s awesome. How do you feel about those who label you as a jamband?

(Laughing) I feel better about it as the years go by.

At first not so much?

Yeah, at first, I think there’s certain connotations… but that’s just the way the world is. It never upset me. But I don’t think we’re like that. Anyone who knows anything about us knows that we’re not of that. But then I think, well probably a lot of those other jambands aren’t either. They’re probably getting the same shit we are. They’re getting lumped into- even the big ones are more than what that word sounds like. To me it sounds like all you care about is The Dead if you’re a jam band. And of course not. People in jambands listen to punk and metal, everything.

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