By Ryan Meehan
If you had the pleasure of checking out Built to Spill at Daytrotter’s Moeller Mondays back in the beginning of June, you know that the band hasn’t lost touch with the signature guitar-driven alternative rock sound that we all came to know and love in the nineties. One of the key elements to that audio assault of sonic delight is guitarist Brett Netson, who is additionally involved with several other musical endeavors. He played guitar on the most recent Earth album “Primitive and Deadly”, and while I wouldn’t exactly call it primitive it most certainly is the latter of the two respective terms. He’s also the mastermind behind Brett Netson and Snakes, the aptly named band whose most recent EP “Scavenger Cult” is – as the kids would say – pretty fucking sick. Make sure to check out Built to Spill on tour everywhere this summer supporting their new record “Untethered Moon”, which makes a stop at the Codfish Hollow in Maquoketa on September 12th. We are absolutely honored to have guitarist Brett Netson as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: First off, how do you feel about the most recent set of live shows that you guys did? What is the major difference between the way you approach touring now as opposed to when you were out doing sets over a decade ago?
BN: Not much different at all. We got a new rhythm section, there’s just a subtle difference playing with different people. We’re doing basically the same thing, just trying to play the shit out of those songs.
RM: How would you best describe the recording sessions you did with Earth that ended up becoming the 2014 LP “Primitive and Deadly”? In what ways are the subconscious musical connections you have with Dylan different than the subconscious musical connections you share with Doug in BTS?
BN: The Earth sessions were really a welcome change of pace. I love Built to Spill, but my tendencies are more towards slow droney jams with less parts. It’s a surrender to the riff. Very therapeutic and challenging in such a way that you don’t just play whatever comes to mind, it’s more like you gotta let some other thing guide you…a hypnotic thing. It may have something to do with the natural production of DMT in the brain…music that gets you high like drugs! I don’t do drugs anymore, so its real nice to play with Dylan who has a similar taste in a classic rock mutilation and music that is just like drugs. A love for old school guitar rock, but a tendency to rip it apart like a science experiment. My working with Doug is similar, but with much more emphasis on reaching for something brand new and a little more sensible and approachable. Like to give a variety of listeners some decent useful music for everyday consumption. Going from one to the other was very satisfying, mostly just because both dudes let me play all kinds of fucked up shit on top of their already great tunes. The appreciation from guys like that is something I am very grateful for. Mark Lanegan too, I had the chance to tour with him a few years. Timeless songs…a real pleasure to play.
RM: The current live format of Built to Spill employs three guitars – typically all Stratocasters – and allows for you to do a lot of layering on top of Doug and Jim’s parts…Does a setup such as that one tend to give you more freedom to experiment with different sounds and hooks in the moment because you do have two other guys also playing the same instrument and one is concerned with handling vocal duties as well? How often would you say that you journey off the beaten path with regards to the guitar lines during live BTS performances?
BN: Built to Spill is sort of compartmentalized. There are contrasted changes like David Bowie, Talking Heads, Some Lou Reed and the like. The basics of the song go the same way most of the time. There is room for improvisation within a particular part, and there is a sort of zen like aspect to the method of playing each thing better and better every time and always learning more about the song forever and ever. When a part comes that can be whatever, it’s more like you have that spot to write a new part as opposed to taking the whole band somewhere else. That happens occasionally too, usually in a last song of the set jam. However, having three guitars is a situation where all players have to really keep it cool and not get too indulgent. Less is almost always more.
RM: What made you decide to return to Built to Spill? Was there something more than just the desire to work with that group of musicians which drew you back into the fold?
BN: I came back to BTS in 2006, so that’s about ten years ago now. It was a thing where they asked me to play on “You in Reverse” and then do the tour. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. It was more exciting to be in a band that had a wider audience and that brought a lot of different people together. In 06 there was such a horrible divide between so many. Built to Spill was and still is in a lost position of being a middle class band. In the sense that it’s a medium level of popularity and income as well. I believe everyone who works hard (enough) should make a decent living which is anywhere between 30 and 100,000 thousand dollars a year. There’s no need for much more or any good reason for someone to get paid less than that. We should be insisting on it. It’s a good thing for us all to be spending money on each other’s works as much as possible too. So BTS is like a populist band that makes music of a certain quality that most people can enjoy. It’s like having a union job or something. Except there is no security whatsoever haha…
RM: Which of the many floor effects that you use do you tend to rely on the most when it comes to changes in song dynamics? What is the most recent pedal that you have added to your arsenal of foot-accessible sonic enhancements?
BN: I have three different delays and three different boost/distortions (Tym, JERMS). One ridiculous fuzz (a brass master clone that Jim Roth “JERMS” made me) and a wah JH1. Mostly it’s all about what kind of different saturation and gain level you are at. Lots of messing with the volume knob on the guitar, boost and delay settings. I am constantly tuning these aspects all the time. Also, I use a LOT of the wah pedal, maybe too much haha.. (ask the other guys on that) But the wah and gain amounts are very crucial for me to navigate in and around what Doug, Jim and Jason are doing. The wah helps me to avoid being another muddy mess. I like to use boosts rather than distortions when possible. Since I am using a tweed Fender circuit, the boost does a lot of different things to an amp like that. They are already distorting before you even boost anything. The most recent is a Catalinbread Belle Epoch Delay. It has decent circuitry and a long analog delay. Good price. They have done some pretty amazing stuff. With their price they beat up on the big companies’ slave labor microcircuit tricks! Jim and I are looking into making some hand wired wah pedals.
RM: The Brett Netson & Snakes “Scavenger Cult” EP is awesome, and there’s a review on your Bandcamp page that simply reads “This sounds like it should sound like when you stick your head out the window while traveling towards a massive black hole that didn’t show up on your GPS”…Would you say that’s a pretty accurate description of the focus of that project; and where did the idea for that title originate?
BN: Well, I didn’t quite realize that there were thousands of music entities that have the word “cult” in them…Oops. But it is my view that we are now living in a post-politics world. Resource scarcity is upon us, and one should pick their tribe or cult and hope for the best. I don’t think we are able to ever have a realistic and educated voting body ever again. The media has failed us. The internet has failed us. Technology has failed us. Facts have failed us. It’s all about practical survival and the re-enchantment of life itself. I want my tribe/cult to be about resourcefulness and realistic magic and wonderment. I get much joy from simple and human-scale technology. Basic machines and electronics. I’ve spent my whole life making things from junk and it makes me very happy to do so. I know other people who feel the same. So that’s our cult. Scavengers. Just like in the movies.
RM: You’re halfway through your forties now…Do you find that time passes quicker when you’re on the road doing shows, or at home when you are collecting your thoughts after a long tour?
BN: Way faster at home. I have no problem busying myself with all manner of things that each could be done for an entire lifetime. I’m a total greedy pig for hobbies and projects. But really since I quit doing drugs, time has been flying by. I guess because my life is not a miserable mess. Add to that the internet and just getting older…Well, it seems like I’ll be dead in what seems like a half hour from now.
RM: Out of all of the songs in the storied BTS catalog, which one would you say is the most fun to perform live and why?
BN: “Trimmed and Burning“. I get to sail those lines out into the room. Wah wah wah…
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Are there any special projects you’re currently working on that we should know about?
BN: Reissuing Caustic Resin “The Medicine is All Gone” on vinyl (Scavenger Cult). Recording Clarke and the Himselfs and Friends. Playing shows with Earth whenever possible. A band With Scott Kelley (Neurosis) and Nate Hall (USX). Various recording projects here at home, many BTS shows and hopefully some sleeping outside this summer. Wow, seeing that in print…I better get up off my ass about now. Holy crap.
Official Website: http://www.builttospill.com/untetheredmoon
Built to Spill on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/builttospill
Built to Spill on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Built_2_Spill
Built to Spill on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/builttospill
Brett Netson and Snakes on Bandcamp: http://brettnetson.bandcamp.com/
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