AshvegasDotCom is happy to welcome music writer Caleb Calhoun to the fold with his preview of the upcoming Guided By Voices show at the Grey Eagle on Nov. 11. Look for much more from Caleb. Cheers!
By Caleb Calhoun
Trying to explain Guided by Voices in the length of one article is like teaching your 12-year-old about the birds and the bees over breakfast. What do you mention and what do you leave out? How graphic do you want to be? Where do you even begin?
At the beginning, I guess. With Bob Pollard writing songs in between day jobs. With albums that were produced numbering in the low hundreds. With the entire world looking the other way.
Fast-forward to today and where are they now? Pollard’s new albums Please Be Honest by Guided by Voices (on which he plays every instrument) and Royal Cyclopean by ESP Ohio (his newest group project) represent studio offerings #98 and #99 from him with lucky #100, Guided by Voices first ever two-disc album, set to release in March of next year. This long, strange trip has spanned three decades and almost 20 band members, creating a legacy and a family that even the Grateful Dead would be proud of.
And the band is back together again.
Featuring a collection of classic members and new faces, Guided by Voices is once again taking their unique sound on tour, including a stop Friday, Nov. 11, at The Grey Eagle here in Asheville. Despite the fresh lineup, it appears that they won’t be lacking any of the chemistry or excitement of previous iterations.
“We are in a really good place as a band right now,” guitarist Doug Gillard, whose work for Death of Samantha first caught Pollard’s ear back in the early 90’s, tells me. “We are getting along and happy and just loving what we are doing. It’s really a lot of fun.”
The current lineup, while not out for the theatrics of GBV’s heyday, feel like their energy still resonates strongly with the audience. “It’s a little more mature of a show, it’s about the songs,” Doug explains, “although Robert still does a few kicks from time to time. I mean, every show, but just special occasions. He is a natural-born athlete you know.”
“Every one of us is elevating the game of every other musician on the stage every night,” bassist (and youngest member of the band) Mark Shue says. “All of these guys are just really excited about making good music.”
While Doug has connections to GBV going all the way back to his band Cobra Verde (who frequently opened for GBV) Mark is relatively new to the family. “I think the first record I heard was Alien Lanes and it hit me like a bolt of lightning. Later I met Bob at his first art exhibition in the city (circa 2006) and just kind of kept in touch.”
After a solid stint working with The Doug Gillard Band, Shue joined the official Guided by Voices family this year. “It’s really a dream come true playing music with your favorite rock band every night,” he observes.
This tour, in addition to playing from the traditional Guided by Voices catalog will also feature several songs from ESP Ohio, Pollard’s new band made up of Bob, Doug, Mark and percussionist Travis Harrison. The album was written entirely by Pollard in Ohio and acoustic versions of the songs were self-recorded, mix-tape style. Those tapes were sent to Doug, Mark, and Travis who wrote and recorded their own parts in Harrison’s Serious Business studios in New York.
While Doug and Travis had worked with Pollard before, doing their recording, according to Gilliard, “sometimes for a week in the studio together, sometimes for a few days, sometimes separately, sometimes in friends basements,” this was Mark’s first experience with Bob’s unorthodox methods.
“It was all a new process for me,” bassist Shue tells me. “You get these tapes and it is like Christmas or something and you just listen to them over and over hearing what they are and what they could be. So you put the work in and flesh it out and record your parts and then later hear it all put together with Bob’s vocals and it is just mind-blowing. It’s just so much fun.”
Which, in all honesty, was the most basic theme, the baseline vibe of the entire band. Fun. As a group and individually, every single one of these musicians is doing what they want to do, how they want to do it, and doing it for the simple, pure-hearted reason that they enjoy it. Doing it because it’s fun.
That’s why 30 years and countless basements removed, Guided by Voices signature style of lo-fi, progressive garage rock is still going strong. That is why Pollard has been able to defy critics, genres, and the status quo for three full decades. That is why they are still packing bars and venues across the country. Because the whole thing is just so much damn fun.
Of course, not every load-in and sound-check and fast-food dinner are enjoyable but, as Mark tells me toward the end of our conversation, “What you need is a voracious appetite for rock and roll,” something which these musicians, individually and collectively, clearly share.
At the end of the day, no matter how you measure success, these guys are about as successful as they come. Their stage presence, combined with the intimate setting of The Grey Eagle, should make for a legendary show this Friday.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.
You can reach him at [email protected] and/or Facebook.com/GonzoNC.
Guided By Voices will play The Grey Eagle on Nov. 11. Tickets are $22 in advance. Show starts at 9 p.m.