We gotta make it live: One GBV fanboy’s dream realized
By Benjamin Dale
Guided By Voices probably means more to this town than any other rock band in the Gem City’s history. In case you’ve been living with your ears closed for the past 30 years, or you’re new to the area, Guided By Voices is one of the seminal bands of the original wave of indie rock that followed the grunge movement in the mid-1990s. Most of the bands from that era have either morphed into new, albeit perhaps less-than-stellar incarnations of their previous glory, or faded into obscurity in the torrential pace of media consumption that revels in the hype of a new artist as fast as they cast them aside as one- or two-hit wonders.
Not GBV. Firmly placed atop the best-of list of many music critics, the albums Propeller, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, Under The Bushes Under The Stars, a host of singles and EPs remain influential, essential and relevant even today. These are the albums of the so-called Classic Lineup; its present incarnation containing Robert Pollard, Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos, Tobin Sprout and Kevin Fennell.
After touring the festival circuit this summer, Dayton’s Guided By Voices found the crowds to be larger and more fervent than ever in their appreciation for the music. Somehow, along the way, the band secretly recorded the material for what would become a full album of brand new songs to be released in January 2012. The reunited Classic Lineup laid down all the tracks, utilizing many of the very same recording techniques that made those early albums so endearing to the ears. Let’s Go Eat The Factory proves, beyond disbelief, that GBV is back and back for good.
There’s really no reason a veritable rock star should donate his time to a lowly 22-year-old reporter with a receding hairline writing for an alternative weekly newspaper. And yet that is precisely what makes GBV different. The band, like their music, is eternally accessible. Whether it’s the annual Heedfest where GBV acolytes from across the globe converge on Dayton for a weekend of sightseeing and drunken carousing with their heroes, or my own chance encounter with Mitch Mitchell at Fricker’s on Woodman, the impetus for this story. I was finally able to track him down at Blind Bob’s on Sept. 24.
The question on everyone’s mind: Will Guided By Voices tour again in support of the new record, and the subsequent record to be released in May?
Mitchell replied with a wink. “I can’t say for sure if we’re going to tour, but if we do tour it will definitely be in support of the new material, because it sounds great live and that was the idea this time around.”
“On this past tour,” said Mitchell, “we played a lot of the bigger venues, and that’s nice because more people get the chance to come hear the music, but we still want to play the smaller venues along the way too. I’m just hopeful for some demand for the new record, and even if there isn’t we’ll just keep putting out records.”
It’s strange hearing Mitchell speak with such humility. Demand? For the first GBV record in nearly a generation? It just demonstrates that the true focus of the band has always been recording, and the writing and recording process.
“I always looked at it as an opportunity to record music and listen to finished recordings,” said Mitchell. “And that’s what great about Bob’s (Pollard) phenomenal writing talent. I think he writes a song every day at least. As long as he keeps doing that, I’ll be happy.”
Looking at Mitchell, with tattoos extending from his wrists to his neck, surrounded by an entourage of well-wishers, musicians and female admirers, it’s hard to imagine him as anything else than a bona fide Dayton deity of rock. It wasn’t always this way though — Mitchell used to work as a truck driver, a job he says he’d probably still be doing if it weren’t for Guided By Voices.
“I’ve always liked to travel,” said Mitchell, “and it’s kind of similar to being in a band since you get to see so many places all the time.”
Since GBV “came of age” when the band members were all in their 30s, those long years of working and drinking and making records in garages and basements served to remind the band of the hard work that goes into hard-won success. Mitchell is imbued with a contentment and wisdom of someone who is master of his craft, and happy to give anything he can to the fans and to the town he calls home. Mitchell is still the consummate gentlemen — politely offering a light to any lady about to spark up a cigarette, and patiently listening as the drunks try to get close and tell stories of their own — too shy to talk to him unless thoroughly dosed with liquid courage. It’s a bit surreal. Mitchell says he has to pinch himself sometimes to make sure he’s not dreaming.
“Listening to our records, which I still do, feels like an out-of-body experience,” said Mitchell, “because I’m a part of the recording but the music also affects me on a personal level, in my personal life as well.”
GBV is a band of musicians who make music that they actually like, not products to make money, and to that they owe their endurance.
“It’s real, it’s fucking real, and everyone can relate to reality,” said Mitchell.
And indeed, amid a flood of artists peddling their castrated eunuch rock — the kind preferred by the stale tastemakers of this generation of critics — Guided By Voices has a new record on the horizon, at a time when a fresh breath of power chords, high kicks and testosterone is desperately needed.
“It’s time for some good music again,” said Mitchell. “We can’t let it die. We gotta make it live.”
Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Dale at BenDale@DaytonCityPaper.com.