Got a handful of songs. . .
They proclaimed themselves to be ‘scientists’ and, what’s more, ‘kickers of elves’. But Alastair Mabbott knows that what Guided By Voices are is one of the most in- spirational bands in America.
The chances are that you‘ll be vaguely aware of Guided By Voices. perhaps having heard of them as the bunch of unconscionably old (late thirties) geezers who had released about a dozen no—budget al- bums and played in their hometown of Dayton. Ohio for a decade before knocking ‘em dead at the I993 New Music Seminar in New York and getting a real- live record deal. It‘s all true. folks. You might also know of their talent for grabbing handfuls of deli-
But don’t go away with the idea that they’re the brand leaders in this move- ment called ‘lo-fi’. Yes, Guided By Voices records tend to be of less than pristine digital quality - it it’s a great song, they believe, the recording quality is secondary - but the Portastudio/ghet- toblaster ethic isn’t an article of faith for them the way it is for some other bands.
cious pop melodies out of the air and rendering them in a scrappy but endearing way. That's true. too. but the part about lead songwriter and vocalist Bob Pollard sounding like a young Paul McCartney is rather overstating the case.
But don’t go away with the idea that they‘re the brand leaders in this movement called 104?. Yes. Guided By Voices records tend to be of less than pristine digital quality — if it’s a great song. they be- lieve. the recording quality is secondary — but the Portastudiolghettoblaster ethic isn’t an article of faith for them the way it is for some other bands.
'It got us noticed. but we weren't trying to be 104"]. it was just kind ofa tag that stuck. Even some of our earliest stuff was 24-track. We always had boombox stuff mixed in with it. but it‘s not like we always did four-track.‘
Thus speaks the splendidly-named guitarist Tobin Sprout. who. despite being swamped by Bob Pollard's inhuman output of songs in the past. has lately started to edge his way onto the GBV writing
credits. Pollard himself is unavailable for comment. probably working on his first solo album. Well. such a prolific chap had to do something (other than touring) in between finishing one GBV album and starting the next one in September. Not to be out- done. Sprout is working on his solo debut too.
But back to the matter in hand. The new album. Under The Bushes Under The Stars. is their best recording. if not their best album. but even so it‘s ended up as a mish-masb drawn from four separate lots of sessions. There were the recordings with Steve Albini (who approached the band. offering his ser- vices) and tracks produced by fellow Dayton resident Kim Deal. But that was all before Bob Pollard de- cided to junk the lot and insist on releasing a home- taped album of new songs. Then. by the time Pollard had changed his mind again. he had given birth to a couple of million new songs. Which Guided By Voices went in to record. In a 24-track studio. What will be on the following GBV album? Depends what the band are playing when someone shouts ‘stop!’. probably.
Guided By Voices have the aura about them of a seminal band of the future — it‘s easy to imagine them going the same way as The Velvet Underground — ig- nored in their time. but becoming a major influence on a generation of bands ten or ﬁfteen years later. I
Guided By Voices: off to kick an elf
put to Sprout the oddball theory that any group worth its salt has to acknowledge right at the start that they may actually be totally crap. and once that‘s out of the way they can just get on with doing what they do and not worry about it. He swallows it.
‘Yeah. that's pretty much what we did. We played out early on and it seemed like. from the response we got from people. they thought we were crap. But we enjoyed it. so we just kept on slogging and doing what we wanted to do.’
And slog they did. to the widespread disinterest of the world at large. until the I993 New Music Seminar. when they unexpectedly found themselves the subject of a bidding war between leading American indie Matador and giant conglomerate Warner's (Matador won. by the way).
‘That was the first time we‘d played out in seven years. and we‘d thought ifthey didn't like us in Dayton. they sure weren't going to like us in New York. But it turned out pretty well.‘
Don‘t mistake this for a communal self-esteem problem. though. Sprout reveals how. in the early days. the band would have ‘fake photoshoots and fake interviews' as though they were real stars. ‘I think we had egos.’ he admits.
Guided By Voices play The Cur/muse. Glasgow on Wed I 9.
The List l4-27 Jun I996 39