Few bands born from Boise's insular womb have broken free from her maternal clutches. For the handful that have courted audiences outside of the city's limits, touring means driving a rickety van to Portland, Eugene or Seattle on a diet of gas station beef jerky and Rockstar. But for Built to Spill, Boise's biggest indie success story, this town is less of a cage and more of a place to rest their weary heads. Their latest tour will take the band across Europe to play their seminal 1997 album Perfect from Now On in its entirety. But before that, BTS will perform Perfect at the Knitting Factory with two local bands, Le Fleur and The Universal. We caught up with these bands to get their thoughts on playing with BTS, their upcoming new albums and the community "force" that keeps them going strong.
Le Fleur is comprised of five local musicians—Ivy Meissner (vocals, bass), Mike Runsvold (guitar), Zach Jones (vocals, keys), Chad Whittaker (guitar) and Bryan Hallowell (drums)—all of whom have a wry wit and a penchant for performance. Clustered around a patio table in the North End one sunny Saturday morning, the members of Le Fleur spoke with a mixture of caution and joking camaraderie. When asked how they got on the KF bill, Runsvold described a moment he shared with Built to Spill's front man, Doug Martsch, after giving him a ride home:
"I demanded that [Martsch] let us play a show with him. I said, 'You'll find that escape is quite impossible.'" As the band's laughter subsided, Runsvold added, "Actually, he's been coming to our shows for a while. He was looking for someone to open."
Runsvold, Meissner and Hallowell first started playing together in the now-defunct band Speed of Shark. Three years ago, after adding Whittaker and Jones, Le Fleur blossomed. The band recently released its first six-song EP, Truce, and is working on a full-length album. Driven by Meissner's powerfully quivering lead vocals, Le Fleur's sound blends the soft melancholia of Pedro the Lion with the startlingly powerful pipes of Placebo. Jones' energetic back-up crooning, Hallowell's flurry of drums and Whittaker's and Runsvold's echoing guitars fill out the group's sound. On "Grooming Song," Meissner softly sings "My heart is / a screen door / banging in the wind" before breaking into an emotionally laden warble. Though a female-fronted, non-singer/songwriter band is a rarity in Boise, Le Fleur has found its niche.
"We have a great, awesome fan base. We don't have to tell people when we have shows, there's a core of people that find us and come to our shows," said Meissner. After a pause, the band laughed and she quickly added, "I mean, it helps if we tell people."
The band is also active in the arts community, doing fundraisers for Daisy's Madhouse and collaborating on a dance piece that will premiere this winter. Though the band doesn't want to spoil any surprises, they admit they have a few signature antics planned for their upcoming show with BTS. Runsvold hints at the possibility that someone in the band might be getting a perm.
"We're getting more and more comfortable as a live band. We just want to have the momentum that we need to put on a good show," Runsvold said. "We're going to be playing for a lot of people that normally don't come out to see us."
The Universal also hopes the show with BTS will bring them new fans. The band is brothers Matt Perkins (bass, vocals) and Pat Perkins (drums, vocals), along with Phil Merrill (guitar) and Larry Bishop (guitar, piano, vocals). Like Le Fleur, the group has been together for three years and has a similar locker-room-esque, joking rapport. Hunched over a picnic table downtown, a few band members smoked Marlboro Reds while Pat Perkins summed up the band's sound:
"We're first and foremost an outer space band. We spend a lot of time thinking about it and watching discovery television. We actually watch the NASA channel," said Perkins.
Though this description might seem imbued with irony, a quick listen to their self-titled EP clears up any misunderstandings. Tunes like "Spaceman Blues Preview" and "Supermassive Microbursts" harness an expansive, final-frontier eeriness that incorporates acid-rock elements of Pink Floyd with a wall-of-sound energy. The band is working on their first full-length, tentatively titled Everything is Everywhere, with the help of local DJ Art Hodge. They describe the album as a concept album, sort of.
"It's like a concept album lyrically," explained Merrill. "I always think about it as the Outer Limits."
In the '90s, Pat Perkins played drums in the band Caustic Resin, which released a split EP with Built to Spill. His and the rest of the band's musical connections in Boise have continued to provide a source of inspiration and collaboration.
"It goes to show what these partnerships with artistic types and these organizations in town can do in a town like Boise. We've been really fortunate to hook up with people like Jason Sievers, Art Hodge and Sam [Stimpert] and Anneliessa [Balk-Stimpert.] It's helped us out more than anything, letting us know that [making music] is worth continuing to do."
Sievers, a local claymation filmmaker, made a video for The Universal's "Dead Battery Accident" that includes singing pink birdlings and dancing mitochondria. Stimpert and Balk-Stimpert, owners of Visual Arts Collective, willingly offered the band a practice space on Sunday mornings.
It's apparent that the Boise community has been a true nurturing force, keeping both The Universal and Le Fleur plowing down their respective creative paths. Like BTS, we know the musicians in these two increasingly popular bands will someday return the favor, using their success to elevate newer Boise bands into the spotlight. As The Universal puts it, it's all about the force—whatever you take that to mean.
"At 38 years old, I still believe in the force," laughs Perkins. "We're sailors on the sea of force."
"No," Merrill chimes in, "we're vessels for the force to flow through us."
Le Fleur and The Universal open for Built to Spill, Sunday, Aug. 31, 7 p.m., $16. Knitting Factory, 416 S. 9th St., 208-367-1212.