Guided By Voices

Get Taken Away By A Hardcore UFO

One of the most prolific bands in history, Guided By Voices have maintained the mantle of underground standard-bearers for almost twenty years. Releasing their first album to little acclaim, and less notice, in 1986, the band led by Dayton, Ohio-native Bob Pollard seemed like just another local act making better-than-average music to a small group of devoted fans.

Two important facts prevented GbV from slipping into local indie rock obscurity. In 1994, powerhouse indie label Matador Records became a supporter, and their on-again/off-again relationship with the band continues to this day. But, more importantly, Pollard had a knack for writing great rock songs with pop sensibilities, solid hooks and enough quirks to make them interesting. And, he could write a whole lot of them.

The creative and constantly innovative Pollard has gone on to release an album a year under the Guided By Voices name, in addition to a number of solo and side projects, including releases with GbV's talented lead guitarist, Doug Gillard.

Gillard had been in several bands in the early 1990s whose work was admired by Pollard, and had played some sets with GbV in 1993 and 1994. Gillard had barely heard of GbV when Pollard asked Gillard to join his band, assuring him they had a following, and Gillard came on board just time time to record "Mag Earwhig".

Amazingly, Guided By Voices has just released their third box set, the five-CD, one-DVD "Hardcore UFOs". The set includes a CD of unreleased studio material, a CD of unreleased live material, a disc of all of the band's singles and compilation tracks released by Matador Records, a "best of" CD and the first-ever CD release of the band's first 1986 EP, "Forever Since Breakfast". The "best of" CD, "Human Amusements At Hourly Rates," is also available separately with a different track sequence.

For fans who are new to the band, or are looking for a taste of the cream of their catalog, the "Amusements" best-of CD offers the best opportunity to experience their strongest and most popular material. Once you're hooked, working through the rest of their history is like exploring the racks of a really cool and interesting record store to discover some lost gems. Different styles of production and recording, various labels and a beautiful combination of hi-intensity and lo-fi make their discography endlessly inviting and worth delving into.

The box set's DVD is the first digital release of "Watch Me Jumpstart," a 1996 documentary on the band directed by Banks Tarver. For fans who are familiar with the VHS version of this film, the new DVD has the usual added footage and features usually welcomed on DVD releases.

But, as is always the case with Guided By Voices, they are never ones to rest on their laurels or stop creating and producing. Released shortly before the boxed set hit the streets, "Earthquake Glue," their fifteenth proper official album, introduces fans to fifteen new tracks that have garnered the high-praise from critics on both sides of the Atlantic.

Chorus and Verse spoke to Doug Gillard in between a tour of Europe (where many of the photos in this article were taken) and another one across the East Coast of the United States to catch up on both of these important new releases by the band, and other projects past, present and future from one of the seminal acts in indie rock.

Let's talk about the most recent Guided By Voices release, the "Hardcore UFOs" box set, which came out on November 4th. It must have been a huge undertaking to put so much material together, and try to document such a long career. What made the band want to release such a comprehensive box set, and how involved were you in selecting the material and putting it all together?

Bob selected most everything in the set, and the live disc was compiled by our webmaster, part time tour manager, and close friend, Rich Turiel.

Bob started compiling it a couple years ago, when it was slated to come out on another label, which folded.

Even one of the "best of" CDs was sequenced by Bob and the other by Matador (there are two of these -- one included in "Hardcore UFOs," and a separate CD "best of" release). Mark Ohe Pezzati at Matador poured over hundreds of photos before deciding which ones made the cut into the booklet.

His graphics in the set are amazing.

The box set will mark the first-time CD release of the band's first EP, "Forever Since Breakfast". Even though it was recorded long before you joined the band, have you had an opportunity to listen to it, and how well do you think it holds up almost twenty years later?

I first heard it shortly after I joined the band. I think it holds up incredibly well, right along with the "Chronic Town" EP, and way better than stuff like "Green On Red". It's too bad it was only a regional release. I think Byron Coley heard and liked it then, though. It has great chimey guitar sounds. Bob was playing a Rickenbacher at the time. And, incredible moody pop songwriting and, as always, amazing melodies. It was released the same year the band I was in at the time, Death Of Samantha, released our first LP on Homestead.

With the band releasing new material on such a regular basis, the live set list is always changing to include material from the latest release. With the "best of" now out there, are there old songs that you expect to return to your live shows, and are there any "standards" the band plays that you know fans will be disappointed going home if they don't hear?

I don't think we will bump any "standards" off the set list in order to play stuff from the "best of," but you never know. We are always adding in older things we never played before into the set, and there are a couple from the box set we are putting in right now, and we may add more later.

People are always disappointed not hearing some things anyway, box set or no. Bob puts in songs he has fun singing, mainly.

The DVD included as part of the boxed set, which will also be released on its own, is a 1996 documentary of the band called "Watch Me Jumpstart". Can you give us a brief overview of Banks Tarver's film? It is mostly live footage, backstage scenes or on-the-road material?

The film has been out for a good while, but this is the first it's been on DVD. This version includes more footage than the original VHS. There are snippets added in, along with live footage from the mid-90s, as well as a section featuring three songs we did at the Warsaw in Brooklyn last year, plus every music video to date the band has done. It's truly cool, and Banks is a hell of an editor.

The band's latest new release is "Earthquake Glue," fifteen new tracks on Matador records. A "CMJ New Music Monthly" review called it "some of the strongest material GBV has come up with since they decided to write songs with more than one verse." Where do you think the album stands against other recent releases, and are there songs off it that have become crowd favorites?

I think it is a little more cohesive than the last one, and currently I like it better. Each record has been so different, it's hard to compare them to each other. "The Best Of Jill Hives" is certainly one the crowd seems to love, and "Useless Inventions" is up there, too.

The band teamed up with Apple to offer a QuickTime audio steam of the entire "Earthquake Glue" album, a pretty bold embrace of digital music. What's your attitude towards digital music distribution, and do you support the industry argument that it hurts record sales and is responsible for the slump in sales, or the downloader's argument that it helps to get the word out about good bands, and gets fans to buy worthwhile albums anyway?

I've come to think it only helps a band like ours. We have never made a profit from album sales, but our fans always look forward to Bob's artwork and the packaging involved in a GbV record, so they are inclined to purchase it anyway, even if they've downloaded it. I remember playing some new EG songs in the spring and summer, and a lot of people in the crowd already knew the lyrics.

I don't think it is right to make examples of kids who are downloading, and the myth the RIAA perpetuates about it hurting artists smacks of bullshit, as any record label contract, especially the major labels, is stacked so heavily against the recording artist it's unreal. Been going on for decades, and hasn't changed much, except the independent labels who have set up a more fair way of contracting artists. Downloading in a case like ours only helps bring people to the live shows who may not have been familiar with the band otherwise.

Why can't most songs from every new LP be available for download only in half-song snippets or streaming only so the consumer can judge if they want to hear more of the album, instead of owning the whole thing from a download?

Have there been any albums that you particularly enjoyed, and missed supporting in your live shows when the next CD came out, or are you always happy to have fresh songs to play? When you're recording a new album, do you get a feel right away for which songs are going to really click with the audience or does that only come later?

That comes later, but we play the songs Bob and the band want to put in the set, and don't wait to see what the response to the songs are. We usually play a lot of things from more current releases, and the bulk of things we used to play from previous LPs falls by the wayside to make room for newer stuff. We have so many things to put in, along with Fading Captain songs from Bob's solo/collaborative projects that we have to take some out to put more in. Either that or start playing five-hour shows!

Is Bob Pollard always writing new material, so that all the songs on a particular album are ones that have been written since the last album was completed? Do you find each album has a common theme or style that makes it cohesive; or is the band's attitude that each individual song stands on its own? Is making a new GbV album simply a process of recording all of the new material at a given time, and taking the best 13 or 15 tracks for release?

Uh, yeah, that actually is the case. For instance, all the songs for our LP next year were already written before EG was released. This one is planned out at 16 songs. Past LPs involved recording an overabundant amount, then paring it down from there, like UTaC was.

This time we're trying to record the album as Bob planned it out. Each time out, the approach is different.

Since GbV is in the studio so often, it is safe to say that you enjoy the whole recording and production process? Are you the type of band that really gets into the making of a record and trying to put a particular vision down on tape, or is making a record simply a means of getting the music out to your fans and getting them out to the live gigs to hear all of the material live?

I think we are all fans of the recording process and how well you can utilize the studio and get cool sounds. We don't care if we can't duplicate them live. I know at least for myself and Bob, that we came up loving studio albums that had just mind blowing psychedelic sounds and effects, as well as sounds that stick in your head; like remembering how the Durutti Column used reverb on the guitar a lot, or, you know, the angular sound Gang of Four or Wire may have achieved. Those things stick in your head, and give you a reference point to remember the band or record by.

So, yeah, we definitely try to put a particular vision down on tape, then play it live the best we can, but if there's a string or synth part that has to go missing, we don't give a second thought to trying to recreate it. Hell, we're a guitar band.

The band recently finished a tour of Europe. Do you enjoy touring overseas, and what sort of following has GbV developed on the other side of the Atlantic? Do you notice any major differences when touring Europe, as opposed to the United States, either in terms of the venues you perform, or the fans that come out to the shows?

Yeah, we enjoy Europe, but the drives are so long and grueling, that there's little time for enjoyment, outside of the shows themselves. The shows are usually good, and the crowds are different, as they don't know the rituals the U.S. crowd does. You also have to get used to the clapping after a song as opposed to the stage diving and beer spray. Oh, wait, we got a little of that in Germany.

Let's sidetrack for a moment and talk about Lifeguards and your new album, "Mist King Urth". Why do these eleven tracks with you and Bob without the GbV name? Can you talk about how the album was put together, how you composed and recorded the music and how Bob added the lyrics and it was all put together?

You pretty much described the process right there. I made up a bunch of instrumentals, then Bob came up with words and melodies after I sent him the mixes of the songs. I gave him a little more than needed, so there were a few instrumentals not used for the album. Bob came up with the project's concept. We wanted to do something a little heavier than the "Speak Kindly" album, and a little more obtuse.

I did all the music recording at home, on an 8-track hard drive recorder and a cassette 4-track.

I wouldn't ask this of any other band that just released a new album and a major box set, but what are the next recording plans for GbV? Do you anticipate a follow-up to "Earthquake Glue" in 2004, and is there any schedule yet for recording tracks or releasing the album?

We are going to record in December, and it will be out next late summer or early fall, I believe. We're going to do the whole thing in Kent at Waterloo studio and it will be produced by Todd Tobias and us again.

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Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing.