Built To Spill's New Album Is A Bittersweet Reminder of Musician Daniel Johnston


Most people who know of and enjoy the music and art of Daniel Johnston can probably remember the moment their orbit passed with his. For lots of people, that was during the 1992 VMA’s on MTV. Kurt Cobain wore a T-shirt showcasing Johnston’s famous “Hi, How Are You” drawing – a work that first appeared on an album cover in 1983 and then a mural on the side of an Austin record store.

The childlike simplicity of Johnston’s music and art had an instant magnetism for lots of people. It was full of wonder and affability, even when the topics were dark. It’s a style of music that is held in high regard among other songwriters.

“Like Cobain in the '90s, Built To Spill’s frontman Doug Martsch has always had an affinity for Johnston. His band has been covering Daniel Johnston tunes going as far back as 1996 when they recorded 'Some Things Last A Long Time' for an anti-homophobia compilation,” says WYEP’s Joey Spehar.

In 2017, Built To Spill served as the backing band for Johnston’s farewell tour of the Pacific Northwest. As they prepared for those performances, the band went into the studio to practice and record demos of the songs. The tour went well and both parties moved on to their next projects. For Built To Spill, that was something undetermined while for Johnston, it was retirement from performing. Then, just two years later, he passed away from a heart attack at his home in Waller, Texas.

Having not released an album since 2015’s “Untethered Moon,” Built To Spill recently headed back into the studio to record some new material. However, when they got there, they started thinking about the Daniel Johnston demos and how much they wanted the world to hear those songs. The result is a brand-new album called “Built To Spill Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston.”

“It’s a lovingly and thoughtfully made record that reminds us of the bittersweet charm of Johnston’s music. These covers are mostly straightforward renditions of quirky yet timeless pop songs that have inspired many fans and fellow musicians, as well. Martsch’s voice, for me, has always had that similar childlike feel. On paper, it’s too soft for the sometimes husky, muscular music of Built To Spill, but on wax, it’s a perfect contrast. It makes sense, then, that Built To Spill would be an apt choice to tackle this music,” says Spehar.

Fans of either Daniel Johnston or Built To Spill will find something to enjoy in this album.

“And if you’re not yet a fan of either of these artists, maybe this record could spark something inside of you. Either can be enjoyed in passing, though there’s a good chance you’ll feel the need to take a deeper dive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” says Spehar.

Hear Joey Spehar’s full album review here:


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