Basement Ax

Built to Spill's Doug Martsch is a guitar hero for a generation not interested in 'em

"The depth of the improvisation is not something I'm conscious of," he says when I bring up moments of ecstasy like the aforementioned "Freebird." "I never really think about the feeling of music. I think that's simply the nature of music -- it just comes. To me it's always about the technical aspects of it, because those are things I have some sort of control over. Whereas the listener has more to do with the feeling of it than I do. The audience picks up on things, and the fact that they're moved says more about them than about my guitar playing." He smiles. "It's all just kind of a whim."

Taking no responsibility, and leaving it all open to translation; spoken like a true punk-rock-era guitar hero.


"Hey, that's a great trick": Martsch and band dust off old favorites for new kicks.
"Hey, that's a great trick": Martsch and band dust off old favorites for new kicks.

More hot indie ax-tion: Martsch is only one of a handful of guitar heroes to emerge from the indie netherworld in the wake of the alt-rock revolution. Now, I like Josh Homme and Dave Pajo as much as the next cat, but they both have platinum under their belts and don't need the column inches, like perhaps these guys do.

As leader of the Jicks, Stephen Malkmus is stepping out from behind the lo-fi fuzz-bubble he helped create in Pavement and getting all trippy on the slacker faithful, pretending he's in Pentangle or Gentle Giant or something. All fine and dandy, except that this wastes the voluminous, fierce half of his former guitar-playing stratagem, the dissonant Sturm that, when combined with the melodic noodling, made up one of the finest roars the underground's ever produced. Guitar geek recommendation: Pavement's Wowee Zowee (1995).

Before he joined Sonic Youth and engineered Wilco's magnificent Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jim O'Rourke's name hardly ever made it outside of avant-garde circles. (Among his numerous collaborative credits are stints with guitar improvisers Derek Bailey and Henry Kaiser, soundtracking Merce Cunningham's choreography, and making difficult electro-acoustic music with Gastr Del Sol.) Yet O'Rourke's a Deep Purple fan, too, and has a fixation with John Fahey's finger-picked folk-blues ragas, and when he gets going live, he's hard to slow down. Guitar geek recommendation: Loose Fur (2003), featuring members of Wilco, or his own acoustic Bad Timing (1997).

Now that most people have stopped laughing at Ween -- or, more likely, forgotten of their very existence -- it's time to unleash a dirty secret their fan base has always known: That band rocks like a mutha-trucker. One significant reason is guitarist Dean Ween, who's equally adept at wearing his Eddie Van Halen, his Eddie Hazel or his James Burton hat, and switching them at an eight-bar notice. The live quartet he and singing partner Gene fronted in the mid-'90s, also starring the mighty bass-osaurus Andrew Weiss (Rollins Band, Pigface) and drummer Claude Coleman, was one of the heaviest pop bands this side of Kyuss. Guitar geek recommendation: Paintin' the Town Brown: Ween Live (1999).

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