Guided By Voices Classic-Era Lineup returns in classic form
By Kyle Melton
Upon disbanding the beloved Guided By Voices (GBV) in 2004, Robert Pollard proclaimed that he would never reform the band and that GBV were a thing of the past. After 20 years serving as both reclusive home recording enthusiasts, indie rock darlings, and Dionysian live juggernauts, GBV left an impressive back catalog in its wake featuring some 20 albums and countless singles, EPs and various one-offs. Setting off on an insanely prolific solo career that saw him release a new album seemingly at every whim of his hyperactive muse, Pollard issued dozens of releases under his own name, as well as with Boston Spaceships, Circus Devils and Mars Classroom. In 2010, former GBV label-home Matador Records invited Pollard to reunite the mid-90s incarnation of GBV to play their 21st birthday party in Las Vegas and the rest, as they say, is history…
Although initially slated as a one-off performance, the public demand for the reunited GBV — featuring Robert Pollard [vocals], Mitch Mitchell [guitar], Tobin Sprout [guitar/vocals], Greg Demos [bass] and Kevin Fennell [drums] — resulted in a nationwide tour. As the chemistry within the group built, Pollard and co. decided to set about recording a new batch of material. While retaining elements of their haphazard “lo-fi” approach that served as a convenient tagline in the band’s early days, the results of the new album Let’s Go Eat the Factory reveal a degree of polish and discipline uncharacteristic of this lineup’s heyday. DCP spoke with GBV mastermind Robert Pollard about the reunion, the new album and what the future holds for this reincarnation of GBV…
How did the reunited GBV get from a single show celebrating the anniversary of Matador to a full-blown world tour and now a new album? Did you expect any of this when you first agreed to reform GBV? How do you feel about all of the developments?
When Matador asked us to do the anniversary show, I said “no” at first. “We don’t do Vegas.” I also was adverse to them dictating what members were going to be in the band. But they were able to persuade me through various agreeable means. Once I warmed up to the idea of getting the Classic-Era Lineup back together, I thought it might be a good time to do the dreaded reunion tour, since we were going to be practicing a two-hour set anyway. I expected a one, two or three-week tour, but it went so well and everyone had such a good time, including the audiences — which were fairly sizable— that I decided to continue. I felt the chemistry was right to maybe try an album and that went well so we did a second one. The entire affair has really exceeded my expectations. [Robert Pollard]
With nearly 15 years having passed since the last album from the Classic-Era Lineup, what sort of expectations did you feel with this new album? How do you feel it compares with the releases from that era? Do you perceive any sort of continuity?
I naturally expected it not to be as lo-fi as the records from that era because we weren’t going to use a four-track. It turned out that some of it sounded pretty lo-fi anyway. “Lo-fi” is pronounced “Loafee” in certain parts of Europe and Asia. I think it turned out good and is fairly true to form with the way we made records then in the manner that it’s very diverse in songs and sound. We took a lot of different approaches and angles. We took a little bit more time on this record. We deconstructed some of the songs we recorded and reconstructed others to make them more interesting. [RP]
When you decided that this reconvened lineup would record, did you already have material written that seemed to cater to this band’s style/strengths or did you try to write fresh material for the album? In terms of recording, why did you decide to do most of it yourselves rather than try to go into a studio? How do you feel about the results of the recordings?
I wrote new material, but some of it was comprised of fragments of old songs that I’ve had swimming in my head for ages. I combined new things with old things. “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” is made up of three songs — a couple of them very old. A couple of Toby’s songs are pretty old. We recorded it ourselves to capture an “in the room” home studio sound, although we didn’t want it to sound small. The process captured a means to an end as a springboard to what we wanted the next step to be in recording. [RP]
Why do you think fans of GBV have been so responsive to the reformation of the Classic-Era Lineup? What do you think it is about having a group of regular guys from Dayton playing together that people respond so favorably towards? What is it that people not from here find so interesting about Dayton?
People are sentimental and nostalgic in general. Our fans like the combination of band members. I think they even think our names are cool or at least funny. They really like the short, poppy, punky songs and the silly imagery in the lyrics. We had a lot of anthems. I’m not sure we’re so “regular.” I broke up this lineup to begin with for a reason. There were complications and personality clashes. I’m sure that happens with most bands that have been together on the road for a while. We’ve all made adjustments in our lives and we’re much more easygoing now. We still like to have a good time and we have a tendency to overexert ourselves on stage. That hasn’t left us yet. [RP]
I understand that there is already a second album near completion from this lineup. When will that be out? How did a second album come together so quickly? Do you see additional recordings/releases from this band further out into 2012 and beyond? Is this a group that you think will continue to work together for a while?
The second album will be out in May. It’s called Class Clown Spots a UFO. The title track and first single is a very old song. It came together very quickly because we were on a roll and we’re very prolific. Also, although I’m the chief songwriter I’m not the only songwriter, so the process of making and finishing an album is sped up. I’ve been releasing five to six albums a year for the last five or six years now. I’m not sure how long I’ll continue making records with Guided By Voices. We’ll just have to see how it plays out. I change my mind very quickly and easily about what I want to do next. It’s an ongoing, perpetual process of thinking and writing. [RP]
How do you view this reunion in the scope of the history of GBV? Does this feel like a distinct chapter or more of a continuation from the earlier era? How do you think this will affect the overall legacy of GBV? Do you care either way?
It’s just another chapter, albeit a good one. It’s a continuation. A nice addition to the catalog. Put it on random selection and see what comes up. [RP]
What else should people know about Let’s Go Eat the Factory and GBV in 2012?
Let’s Go Eat the Factory is stirring up a good buzz from the handful of people who have heard it. We [have been] invited to play “Fats Domino” on Letterman, January 3. We’re going to do it. We … [released] Factory January 1 and then Class Clown May 1. Then we’re going to do some shows supporting both records. After that, we’ll see how the striped white pants are holding up. [RP]
Reach DCP Music Editor Kyle Melton at MusicEditor@DaytonCityPaper.com and read his blog at thebuddhaden.net.
Let’s Go Eat The Factory: THE REVIEW
By Benjamin Dale
It’s been nearly eight years since the last GBV album, Half Smiles of the Decomposed, and almost 16 years since the so-called Classic-Era Lineup got together in musty North Dayton basements and garages to record the sort of boozy-sweet pop nuggets that first cemented them in the annals of rock history.
Uncle Bob and the boys are back, this time with an album less triumphantly ebullient than the classics. Let’s Go Eat The Factory [due out in stores January 17] is instead filled with a somber subtlety and the sort of contemplative satisfaction reserved for master craftsmen after working in their medium for the majority of their lives. Like the GBV albums of yore, the record features many songs produced in the classic lo-fi aesthetic, as well as some songs featuring heavier production in the vein of their later efforts. The result turns out to be a great pleasure for fans, and a great starting point for those new to the gigantic GBV oeuvre.
The album begins with “Laundry and Lasers,” a Who-esque power chord drone followed by the unmistakable guitar twang of Mitch Mitchell’s rig. Then they lash into a four-on-the-floor beat, announcing loudly the return of Dayton’s golden boys.
As the album’s lead singles, “Doughnut For A Snowman” and “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” serve as excellent distillations of the band’s current trajectory and reckoning of their sonic legacy. The former begins with an intro played on recorder, and sounds slightly more produced, with a string section that adds a sort of melancholy to a song allegedly penned by Pollard to be used in a Krispy Kreme commercial, while the latter is a lively snare-driven stomper with a shimmering harmonic chorus that will surely become a crowd favorite should they decide to tour again in support of the album.
From the spooky dirge of “Spiderfighter” to the punky shredder “God Loves Us” and the harmony-laden pop genius of the humorously-entitled “How I Met My Mother,” GBV demonstrates their trademark range and brevity. Indulging their penchant for experimentalism and questionable fidelity on “The Head,” “The Big Hat and Toy Show” and “Cyclone Utilities (Remember Your Birthday),” they strike a balance with a pair of introspective ballads: “Who Invented the Sun” and “Old Bones.”
“Waves,” is a distinctly Toby song, complete with the post-punk chord strokes and bubbly melodic changes that Sprout has come to perfect, similar to “A Good Flying Bird” and “It’s Like Soul, Man.” This one sounds like it could belong on any of the Classic-Era Lineup albums from the ‘90s, and would be my pick as a closer should they choose to perform the album live. It just has that punctuation to it – it screams, “We are GBV, damnit!”
“Chocolate Boy” is probably one of the album’s most accessible tracks, a contemplative, sting-driven confection that ends abruptly at the minute-and-a-half mark and seems to wave a goodbye after a reunion that was as short as it was sweet. It’s a romantic summery song that warrants a double-dip to truly taste its sweetness.
Let’s Go Eat The Factory closes with “We Won’t Apologize For The Human Race,” the record’s longest track at four minutes. Pollard sounds alternatively intense in his trademark wail, telling us, “If you want some, if you need some, just go ask for her,” before dipping into his more serious lower register for the chorus.
Before you know it, the album is over … and shit yeah it’s cool.
Guided By Voices will release Let’s Go Eat The Factory through Guided By Voices, Inc. It will be available in stores January 17. For more information on the band and their latest release, visit www.gbv.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Dale at BenDale@DaytonCityPaper.com.