Built to Spill on Hiatus, Martsch Solo, Love and Basketball, Detached Retina
After bottoming out with their pedestrian fifth album, 2001's Ancient Melodies of the Future, Built to Spill leader Doug Martsch put his band on hiatus.
2002 found the release of Martsch's first solo album, Now You Know; although it had been initially record in 1999, and was only released, by Warner Bros., once BTS went on break. The solo set grew out of Martsch trying to teach himself to play blues-styled slide guitar in open tuning. "Instead of learning real blues songs I was making up my own little riffs, and then they started to sound good to me," Martsch shrugged, on its genesis.
Martsch did no touring or promotion for Now You Know, and didn't spend his 'off' time making music of any kind. "For years, I just couldn't stand to pick up a guitar," he'd later confess. Martsch preferred to spend the time with his son, Ben. The two started watching Portland Trailblazers basketball games together, then playing basketball in the backyard, and soon Martsch had a YMCA pick-up game habit.
Built to Spill's website soon featured a basketball game in which you had to try and score on Martsch, and any interviews from this period found the frontman exhorting that he cared more about hoops than music.
In 2006, the two collided in dramatic circumstance. Martsch was in Portland finishing up the sixth Built To Spill album, You in Reverse. Playing in a casual basketball run with Pavement pin-up Stephen Malkmus and members of The Shins, he was poked in the eye. Months later, the vision in his right eye completely disappeared. The stray finger had ruptured Martsch’s retinal membrane, it had filled with fluid, and finally the retina had detached. The doctors thought the chances of him having any sight in his right eye were slim, and the surgery was “touch and go”.
Just as Martsch had finished up the band's first album in five years, Built to Spill were put on hold again for most of 2006. “It took months to recuperate from it, and I couldn’t play basketball,” Martsch would lament.
BTS Back in Town
You in Reverse, Built to Spill's first album as a quartet (with Jim Roth having joined on second guitar), was released in 2006. Though its sprawling, six-minute jams still paled in comparison to their magnum-opus Perfect from Now On, it was released to warm critical acclaim, a #63 spot on the Billboard charts, and a surprisingly large live following.
“I was surprised that there was still a lot of people showing up," Martsch admitted. "That was really encouraging. I expected that people would be tired of us, especially with our hiatus and [Ancient Melodies of the Future] not being a very good record, but I guess I was wrong."
In 2008, Built to Spill toured performing Perfect from Now On in its entirety. By this time, the band was a five-piece, with Brett Netson —who, even though he hadn't officially been in BTS since Ultimate Alternative Wavers, had continued playing on subsequent albums— indoctrinated as full-time third guitarist.
The quintet recorded the seventh Built to Spill album, 2009's There is No Enemy, together. The record was met with the strongest critical response since Keep it Like a Secret, and debuted at #50 on the US charts.