Guided by Voices is a band that needs no introduction. After decades of churning out album after album of England-by-way-of-Ohio arena indie rock, their credentials speak for themselves.
Over this career, Bob’s central and unceasing songwriting has remained constant but the band around him help to make up the voice of that era. Following the reunion and disbandment of the “Classic Era” lineup, we’ve entered into a new chapter with the return of Kevin March and Doug Gillard, along with new members Bobby Bare Jr and Mark Shue.
It’s an exciting chapter too. While some bands can mellow and smooth with age, Guided by Voices continue to unleash both on record and on stage. Three albums deep for this latest incarnation, Space Gun shows no sign of stopping or letting up.
Ghettoblaster: The band is pretty scattered across the country now, with other music projects too, what was the writing and recording process for Space Gun like?
Doug Gillard: Much the same as the process for How Do You Spell Heaven and ESPOhio, wherein Bob writes the material and sends us the demos. We record the music in New York with Travis Harrison, and when that’s done, we’ll go to Dayton to record Bob’s vocals. Travis comes back and mixes them in, then fine tunes and masters the record.
For August By Cake, we did most altogether as a band with Bob there playing some rhythm guitar and singing, but 5 songs were ones he one-man-banded at a Dayton studio with my subtle guitar additions on top, then there were the band member-penned songs, which we all did in NYC before Bob arrived.
GB: Does Bob have the tracks pretty fully formed in his head or is there a lot of exploration around ideas and shared demos?
DG: The songs are fully formed in terms of vocals and chord structure. He gives us demos with his rhythm guitar and vocal & gives us a few notes on the songs. We start recording, adhering to the notes while adding our own direction and embellishments to the tunes. To your question, I’d say largely yeah there is a lot of exploration around ideas
once we start tracking the music.
GB: Guided by Voices has always been an album band in my mind, with incredible sequencing for songs that might not make sense on their own turning into the perfect followup or bridge to the next song. With streaming services disrupting how music is consumed, is that a consideration at all for new music?
DG: I don’t think we’re too concerned about it. Bob sequences tracks according to what he thinks makes a great album side, as he always has. This includes which he thinks are the best openers and closers for the album as a whole. If listeners hear them shuffled or in a different sequence while streaming, that’s just fine.
Most who are familiar with the band know to consult the vinyl version to see our intended album experience. Besides, who wants to miss out on Bob’s cover art for each record? His cover collages are part of each recording event. Our home base, label & store Rockathon Records sell editions of books of his art called ‘Eat’, and his cover and non-cover collages can be seen and bought at robertpollardart.com, & at same handle on Instagram.
More concerning is length of tracks that fit on a vinyl side, especially when we’re doing double albums. It all works out, though.
GB: Is there a favorite between performing live and recording among the band? For you personally?
DG: I’d put them at just about equal, but I’d say probably at any time in my musical life, I prefer recording, mainly for the creative aspect but also the experimentation you can dive into in the process. For instance, I’ll track through various pedals, try different chain sequences, stack call and response guitar tracks. While tracking for a future release, we were on 2-inch tape so we flipped it around for some backward tracks. These aren’t earth-shattering applications, but striving to make music sound interesting is a constant reflex.
This sense permeates the Cash Rivers sessions we have overseen, encouraging kitchen-sink approaches to achieving sounds. Smashing bottles in the hallway, purchasing jaw harps, real banjos & mandolins, banjos & mandolins sampled from Youtube, encouraging Harry and the guys to find sounds in their Apple Loops in their Garagebands, iPhones, finger slides, volume pedals, Lomax-style field recordings; all these go into a Cash Rivers production, as much as I’ve seen, anyway.
I personally love the creativity involved in the recording process, even if I need to take something multiple times, because when its finally right, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
It’s also great to play live & have that cohesion of performance with the band. No two shows or songs are ever the same with us if one were to compare, due to the subtle improvisation we all do onstage.
That makes it super fun.
GB: Guided by Voices went through a lot of different phases with producers and labels over the years you first played with them. How has been playing in the band been different with the self-release model?
DG: It is more freeing to have the self-release model with no pressure to have a single vetted by the label, although there was a promotional budget with labels that proved to be far-reaching and effective, with music videos in the budget as well, TV appearances, etc. and I think that all helps, and I enjoyed that aspect. Still, with the current structure, obviously we can record and release things as often as we want with no restrictions.
GB: Guided by Voices is master of the insanely catchy hook that’s there and gone almost before you can even register it. As a guitar player, how do you feel about that?
DG: I love all hooks that can come, go, stay, sit, etc. in our songs. I definitely care more about chords, melody & hook lines than lead guitar playing or solos. Bob’s songs have the vocal hooks, I’ll put in as many guitar hooks as I can, and Mark will include them in his bass parts. I’ve been doing lots of string arranging for future GbV releases, same as I did on ‘That’s Good’ for Space Gun and find there are hooks that strings/horns can contribute to songs as well.
GB: Is there a chance of another Guided by Voices album with shared album writing duties? Bob is an incredible songwriter, though I loved the foil of having the whole band contribute songs.
DG: It’s possible somewhere down the line there may be an album containing member-penned songs, but currently we’re in a phase where Bob likes to have us write & sing our own songs for the B-sides of the singles, so we are continuing along that route, and its a lot of fun for all of us.
GB: Any chance of another ESP Ohio album?
DG: Possibly, yeah! Its hasn’t been ruled out. Bob is finding all the outlet he needs with this lineup of GbV, so I don’t know if different projects will present themselves.
We’ve also been busy guiding the career of one of Bob’s discoveries, the aforementioned artist named Cash Rivers and his cabal of buddy musicians, so that’s kept all of us busy, mentoring, lending them instruments, etc.
GB: Any more solo albums?
DG: If you’re asking about my own, then, yes, there will be another solo album for sure at some point.
Words by David C. Obenour