Indie rock band Guided By Voices just keeps doing what they do
To indie rock fans of a certain age, there are few more potent names out there than Guided By Voices.
Along with Pavement and Sebadoh, Guided By Voices pretty much owned the '90s, when indie rock first bubbled up from the underground. The band came out of nowhere (actually, Dayton, Ohio) powered by the restless, eccentric musical mind of Robert Pollard, who recorded hundreds of fragments and shards of pop/rock genius while working as an elementary school teacher, to little notice. Until, suddenly, lots of people noticed.
Guided By Voices was something strange and familiar at the same time — taking a wide-angle lens to the British bombast of The Who, forgotten nuggets of psychedelic fuzz, and sharp to-the-point post-punk, and boiling it all down into strange, catchy, perfect pop-song fragments, recorded as imperfectly as possible.
In fact, Guided By Voices' raw, low-tech recording style, full of ambient noise and glaring audio imperfections — dubbed “lo-fi” by critics — became a catch-all description for indie rock in general.
Guided By Voices' newest album, “Cool Planet,” came out last week, and the band will be playing songs off it May 17 at Mr. Small's in Millvale.
“We recorded at Cyberteknics, this old vintage-gear studio in Dayton,” says Guided By Voices' Tobin Sprout. “It's all done on a two-track tape and has a really raw feeling to it, but clean because of the way it was recorded. We love getting a ‘live' sound. We'll get together and practice a song, and we usually go in and (use) the first take. Or, we'll run through it a few times and run it to tape. We've never really sat around laboring over it.”
Their lackadaisical approach to recording masks a fairly intense work ethic. “Cool Planet” will be their second album this year, which isn't even half-over yet. It's their sixth album since 2011, when Pollard reassembled the band's classic lineup (having broken up the band in 2004). Sprout's high-pitched, British Invasion-inflected voice complements Pollard's boozy, weathered vocals perfectly, just like it did on their landmark record “Bee Thousand” in 1995.
The band's prolific output is also kind of surprising, since they don't all live in Dayton anymore.
“Bob writes his songs, and I'll write my songs, and we'll get together and record them,” says Sprout, who lives in Leland, Mich. “It seems like it would be a big deal to be this far apart, but it's not, except for all the driving.”
When your job is rocking, you're never really off the clock.
“Once I got up here (Michigan), I thought I'd lay back and half-retire, but then I was like, ‘Why?' ” Sprout says. “What else are we going to do? You miss the energy of making songs, and the road.
“I get up in the morning, and I either paint or write songs,” he says. “It's not something I have to force myself to do, it's something I just do.”
Playing second fiddle to an outsized personality like Pollard never bothered Sprout. He left the band, initially, for personal reasons.
“I never had any problems with Bob,” Sprout says. “My son was born when I was in Canada. I missed that. When my daughter was born, I thought it was time to stay home with the family.”
Robert Pollard also is getting some acclaim for his visual art, which has long adorned the covers of Guided By Voices albums. An exhibit of his collages, “Junk Collector and Scrabble King,” is on display through May 23 at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination in Garfield.
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7901.