Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch uncovers the story behind ‘Keep It Like a Secret’

When Built to Spill recorded their highly successful 1999 album “Keep It Like a Secret,” they had already achieved the two goals that most bands aspire to but rarely attain: major label backing and creative control. The Boise-based indie rock band was more than happy to take advantage of both, and the result was a bright, hook-heavy 10 track that would go on to influence fellow indie rockers such as The Shins, Death Cab for Cutie and Band of Horses.

“It was a lot of fun making that record because we were really excited about the songs,” says the band’s singer-guitarist Doug Martsch about their second Warner Bros. release and follow-up to the critically acclaimed LP “Perfect from Now On.” “We could just follow where the songs led us or where the recording process led the songs.”

Built to Spill will revisit “Keep It Like a Secret,” which sees its 20th anniversary next year, at the Fillmore on Tuesday, as part of Noise Pop Festival 2018. Noise Pop brings a slew of highly curated concerts, movies and art shows to San Francisco and East Bay venues from Feb. 19-25.

To prepare for the show, Martsch decided to give “Keep It Like a Secret” — produced by Phil Elk (Pretty Girls Make Graves, Band of Horses and Fleet Foxes) and recorded at the rural Bear Creek studios in Woodinville, WA, in the fall of 1997 — another serious listen.

“We’ve been playing those songs pretty regularly over the years, but the songs evolve on their own live, so we oftentimes forget to reference back to what we were playing in the first place,” he says. “I mostly was struck by how cool the recording of it is. I think Phil Elk did a great job producing that record.”

By the recording of “Keep It Like a Secret,” the once revolving door band, founded in 1992 by former Treepeople singer-guitarist, Doug Martsch, had settled on a permanent lineup and found their groove. What’s more, the large degree of creative control they maintained over their music in their contract with Warner Bros. afforded them the luxury to experiment sonically. So after recording dozens of hours of jams as part of the songwriting process, Martsch could just cherry-pick his favorite parts to put on the album.

“I was a little bit concerned about being on a major label, but it just felt like we could do whatever, and didn’t have any specific direction,” Martsch says. “We had a budget, so we were able to spend a decent amount of money and make the album sound good, using good rooms and equipment and taking our time.”

IF YOU GO: Noise Pop Festival Presents Built To Spill with Sam Coomes
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 20
Tickets: $32.50
Contact: www.thefillmore.com

Greg Andersen

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Greg Andersen

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