Covered up 

Built to Spill tackles the rock songbook

Built to Spill lead singer and lead guitarist Doug Martsch is not afraid of cover songs—not even the kind of kitschy selections that will bring on the wrath of music store clerks and indie music snobs. But “Freebird”?

“It [featured] a shortened beginning part, and then our two other guitar players, Brett [Netson] and Jim [Roth], just took the solos, the whole big solo, note for note,” says Martsch in a phone interview. “The guitar solo is great.”

Whether it’s a joke or not, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” isn’t the only cover song in the Boise band’s live arsenal that’ll have listeners questioning Martsch’s sanity. The band—which also includes bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Scott Plouf—has not only tackled the Strokes’ “Someday,” but had the audacity to turn Elton John’s weeper, “Daniel,” into a reggae number. For Martsch and company, such behavior is simply business as usual.

“We have done plenty of covers that have definitely threatened or destroyed our credibility in some people’s minds, for sure,” he says. “We’ve done a few things that some people might think are really stupid, but we’ve enjoyed ourselves.”

Right now, one of the things that Martsch enjoys is reggae, which may or may not influence the band’s forthcoming new album, its first since 2001’s Ancient Melodies of the Future. Martsch remains tight-lipped about the new effort, which won’t be released until spring, but does offer that with longtime collaborators Netson and Roth officially joining the band, a lot of the new songs reflect a return to the classic dueling-guitar tracks of 1997’s Perfect from Now On.

“We kind of wrote the [new] songs together, [and] most of them are jams and stuff. At least half the material is written like that,” he says.

As for the upcoming tour, Marsch is a bit more forthcoming. The band’s been working on a reggae song that they’ve been toying with for years—“On this tour, for the first time, we’ve tried to write some verses and turn it into a real song,” he says—and, of course, they’re also working on another cover.

“We would like to keep it a surprise if that is all right,” Martsch says, although he will say it will serve as the band’s encore, and he hopes it’ll garner the same response as “Freebird.”

“I don’t really care about that song. It’s not important to me at all,” he says. “But it was fun to kind of see people’s reactions.”

Built to Spill plays the UC Ballroom Friday, Oct. 14, at 8 PM. $20.

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