SEATTLE — Mark Oct. 7, 2021, as the day that, officially, all became right in this world. Forget, momentarily, the societal discord crippling our political institutions while a pandemic-ravaged Earth spins into a fiery hellscape, or the fact that the M’s were denied a playoff berth after a season of improbable magic.
Today we celebrate that Sub Pop has signed Built to Spill, one of the most influential indie rock acts from the Pacific Northwest. Since the rise of the band from Boise, Idaho, in the ‘90s, singer-songwriter Doug Martsch’s glimmering guitar sound — existing in the coziest of spaces between jangle and fuzz, with firework solos — has become synonymous with the region’s revered indie rock scene, informing subsequent generations of artists including Death Cab for Cutie and contemporary up-and-comers. Considering the match made in Cascadian rock heaven, it’s almost a wonder this team-up didn’t happen years ago.
“Sub Pop has (FINALLY!) signed the beloved Pacific Northwest rock band Built to Spill for the entire known universe, to release music for the label in 2022 and beyond,” Sub Pop wrote in an announcement. “Over the course of 8 studio albums, a compilation, a live record, and consistently legendary live shows, Doug Martsch and his band have created some of our favorite music of the last few decades. We’re feeling pretty pleased with ourselves on this one.”
After releasing an album of Daniel Johnston covers last year, Built to Spill (the original BTS?) is currently working on its proper follow-up to 2015’s “Untethered Moon,” the band’s last major-label album. Back in 2018, Martsch discussed how the band’s relationship with Warner Bros. fizzled out after its contract was fulfilled. According to Martsch, Warner Bros. initially attempted to re-sign the band, but the offer was eventually pulled after he wanted to “explore some other options.”
“I feel like Warner Bros. really did a nice job of giving us complete creative control and letting us guide our career as we pleased,” he said. “But I felt like there was a cost and … I felt like we kind of slipped through the cracks a little bit.”
To an extent, the fact that Built to Spill’s path eventually led Martsch and crew to Sub Pop is sort of a full-circle moment. Before starting Built to Spill, Martsch played in the Seattle-based band Treepeople, which made a pitch to the venerable hometown label in the early ‘90s.
“We really thought we had a chance to get onto Sub Pop because we knew Tad [Doyle],” Martsch said of the fellow Boise transplant, then signed to the label.
“[Guitarist/vocalist] Scott [Schmaljohn] at some point went to them and made some sort of presentation or something,” Martsch said, laughing. “But yeah, they weren’t interested.”
Ultimately, material Martsch had initially written for Treepeople wound up fueling Built to Spill’s debut album, which wasreleased through Seattle’s C/Z Records in 1993.