Guided by Voices' name sums up their musical life perfectly – a lifetime outer limits sound-making mission prodded along by the creative (and hopefully benevolent) whispers in their heads. Straight out of Dayton, Ohio, the band has been following their own path doggedly since 1983, going from lo-fi basement records to full-on major label ambition and back again as the mood strikes. The Guided by Voices roster is a hybrid of family tree and revolving door, gaining and then losing countless members along the way, but figurehead/songwriter/singer Robert Pollard and assorted company have followed their wildly erratic muses faithfully for 35 years.
If anything, Guided by Voices circa 2018 are a stateside answer to British post-punk institution the Fall, with Pollard as a Midwestern Mark E. Smith, tirelessly leading his band through a prolific release schedule and a seemingly infinite number of infamously sodden and uproarious shows.
Their new release, Space Gun, released on Pollard's own GBV Inc. imprint, delivers the goods to fans of the band. There's a breath of fresh air within the new songs, as well as the sturdy songwriting instincts of an alternative-rock survivor. The opening salvo of the title track immediately sets the tone for the shambolic melody and cacophonous joy of this album.
A longtime and recurring member of the band since the early '90s, guitarist Doug Gillard spoke to Orlando Weekly from his home in Queens, New York, about the new album, the tour, the record business – or lack thereof – and the nature of his collaboration with the mercurial Pollard.
More than just another sideman, Gillard has an adventurous CV all on his own, as a member of both Cobra Verde and '90s alt-rock stars Nada Surf. He's a guitar player in the tradition of Nels Cline and Johnny Marr, a prolific and adaptable musician who adds distinctive color to any session he plays. And, crucially, he's able to roll with the glorious creative chaos of Robert Pollard and his Guided by Voices.
This is your second time in the band; what's different this time? You've done three collaborative albums with Pollard – what keeps bringing you two together?
What's different is that we're more self-contained. There's no label telling us what to do, and no label paying for promo, but it's a bit freeing in that we can put out our own records.
It's freeing to think that we don't have to worry about our label losing interest, and not knowing how to promote us, or not taking the effort to find our niche.
What draws us together? We're both from Ohio, and we draw from the same influences, and he liked some of the bands I was in. Music-wise ... '60s British invasion, psychedelic rock and a lot of post-punk. We have the same sense of melody, maybe. We both pick up on melody and catchiness in the same way.
There are some standout tunes on the new album – the title track, "Ark Technician," "I Love Kangaroos" – what inspired them?
When Bob writes a song, we're not there; he writes them alone. I'm not sure what's in his imagination, or what he conjures up. Sometimes he surrounds himself with images from a book he's reading, which could from something spiritual on Buddhism, or a study on how bees work in a beehive. Musically, though, it's all over the place.
On "Ark Technician," Bob referenced a Go-Betweens tune, one of their earliest ("Cattle and Cane"), that he wanted to get the basic feel of for us to go in that direction. With "I Love Kangaroos" ... nothing in particular on that one, we were just trying to do a breezy song about kangaroos. I think if it came out in 1985 it would have been a big hit. I mean prime-time hit!
What are we going to see on this tour? Oldies? New material?
It's an "Evening With ..." so it's just us. No surprise guests, new stuff, old stuff, and the classics are always peppered in there, and it changes before we get to each city. We never know the setlist, which is what I like about playing live with this band.