Guided By A Lot Of Voices: GBV Members Weigh in on ‘August by Cake’
Guided by Voices has had a bevy of different lineups over the years, but the current iteration is primed to go down in power-pop history. Front man Robert Pollard is out with his hundredth release (including solo and side projects) — Guided by Voices’ August by Cake — and each member contributed tracks to the double record.
TIDAL spoke with guitarists Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare, Jr., drummer Kevin March and bassist Mark Shue about their GBV originals, lineup changes and the proper way to hold your beer. Check out their stories — in their own words — below.
On writing songs for GBV… “This is the first album where every member writes a few songs. We didn’t plan it this way, but each one of us plays drums on our songs. [Bassist Mark] Shue played drums on his songs. Bobby Bare played drums on his. Myself on mine. We all pretty much did everything on our own songs. So it’s a very diverse record that way. I wrote the songs ‘Goodbye Note’ and ‘Deflect/Project.’”— Doug Gillard (guitar)
“Bob asked each of us to contribute some songs to the album, which was a massive honor. We didn’t have much time — a few days or something in which to record our songs before we left on one of the tour legs. So we wrote the songs in very short order, maybe overnight. It was an extremely fun process in keeping with the spirit of Bob’s music. We didn’t have time to second-guess it too much. I’m really proud of how it came out and it’s really cool to hear everybody’s contributions. I wrote ‘Sudden Fiction,’ ‘Absent the Man’ and an instrumental track called ‘Chew the Sand.’” — Mark Shue (bass)
“‘High 5 Hall of Famers’ I wrote on the spot. Bob wanted a song within, like, two hours. I came up with something that I thought was really fun. I had the title for a while, as it referred to being in the band — because we high-five a lot when we’re out and we’re laughing. A friend of mine would refer to restaurants he didn’t want to go to and say, ‘There are way too many high-fivers there. I don’t want to go hang out there.’ I never even thought of it as a thing. Still, my buddy pointed that out and I was like, ‘Yeah, we are high-fivers.’
“And then ‘Upon the Circus Bus’ I wrote acoustically while we were in Canada. I think we were in Montreal. I wrote it about a picture from The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus where I was taking everybody that was in the film — I just did a list of all the people and all the things that were in that. That was my contribution. It was like one of those reality TV shows, like The Apprentice or something — like, ‘OK, you’ve got two hours to write a song that will be on your favorite band’s album.’” —Bobby Bare, Jr. (guitar)
“I wrote ‘Overloaded’ and ‘Sentimental Wars.’ I had actually already had those recorded, so I sent those to Bob — so I wasn’t in the same situation as the other guys. Bob came back and said, ‘You’re done. I like them just the way they are.’ So I was really flattered and honored that he picked those two songs and thought they were done.
“I’m always influenced a little bit by Bob, just because he’s an influential writer. I had written ‘Overloaded’ a while ago, but I remember being inspired by the song ‘Fair Touching,’ which is an old Guided by Voices song. The simplicity of ‘Sentimental Wars,’ I was just trying to write with two chords — limit myself. I remember thinking of limitations that Bob puts sometimes on recording. I thought about it that way. I think that everything works together, but as Bob explained it one time, this record, each side has a certain element and it’s like a radio station — like if you listen to a really great radio station and songs come on and they all work together.” — Kevin March (drums)
On the album cover… “We were in Calgary last spring or something playing a festival there. We were hanging out after the show at this bar and Bob was like, ‘Man, I bet this is the official method of drinking beer in Calgary’ [holding the bottle with two hands]. We were just joking around and we started doing it and everyone at the table started doing it. We were laughing our asses off. Throughout the year, occasionally I would get pictures of Bob drinking that way from buddies of his in Dayton, or I would send pictures to him of me drinking that way. One of the pictures, he said, ‘We gotta use that for the cover.’ Bob has dubbed it the ‘Calgarian Method.’ I hope to see it widespread.”
— Mark Shue (bass)
On lineup changes… “When we lost Nick [Mitchell], the other guitar player, we got ahold of Doug. [Nick] was asked to go home as we walked off stage in Cleveland. We had to get Doug to Cincinnati the next day, and he was in New York. We didn’t hear from Doug until 4 a.m. — and he could do it. He immediately got in a car and started driving to Newark. He missed the flight in Newark, got back in his car and drove to Philly and just barely made the flight from Philly. As we were setting up our gear onstage, Doug walked on for sound check. It’s like the real deal showed up. When I first saw Guided by Voices, Doug was the guitar player. I just watch the band the whole show. I’m turned sideways just staring at the other guys the whole show. I try to direct everything at Bob and let Bob reflect it to the audience.” — Bobby Bare, Jr. (guitar)
“I knew [Mark Shue] when he was in another band called the Library is on Fire in New York. My solo band played with them and Mark also played in my solo band before joining Guided by Voices. Bob met him when my band opened up for Guided by Voices a couple of years ago and everything kind of went from there. I think it’s great that Mark already knew some of the songs and was a big fan of Bob’s.” — Doug Gillard (guitar)
On playing all those songs live… “It’s great because we get to do material from a huge spectrum of Bob’s career. It’s always a blast to play the new stuff and the old stuff is just timeless and great. It’s a lot of songs and it’s a great show to be able to put on. We’re going to do a couple of other band members’ songs on tour. I’m excited for that, too. I think we’re playing more songs that we did last year. There’s going to be a whole lot of stuff from August by Cake. I remember the first show that I played with Guided by Voices I went up onstage and it went by so quickly. Once it was over I was ready to go back and do it again. You feed off the audience. Bob’s fans are so great.” — Mark Shue (bass)
On the fans… “You never know when someone’s going to show up in one city from another state. We have a lot of travelers. Sometimes you see people out of context. You start to expect that. People like to travel, see the band, follow them around sometimes.” — Doug Gillard (guitar)
On Robert Pollard… “When you watch somebody as talented as he is, you’re inspired by that energy. How amazing Bob is at his craft. He’s worked his whole life. It’s inspiring to watch because it’s always new and fresh. You’ll see him in the van, writing titles down and lyrics and you see him get really excited. When you’re around that — when you’re playing all these great songs — you’re like, ‘Wow, I want to write.’ He’s just such a unique artist. He’s a national treasure, the way I look at it. And hopefully people will realize that some day.” — Kevin March (drums)
On years of memories… “I have amazing memories of each year I’ve been with GBV. This is going to seem rote, or like I have a list in my head of each year. I really don’t, but here goes: late ’96 was a thrill joining for the first time and recording the Mag Earwhig! LP. 1997 was fun; filming the ‘Bulldog Skin’ video in Cleveland, touring the album and meeting new and old fans. 1998 was a unique year, as we were a four-piece: Pollard, Greg Demos, Jim MacPherson and myself. We recorded the Do the Collapse album at Electric Lady with Ric Ocasek with that lineup.
“1999 to 2000 saw lots of touring, BBC sessions, etc. … Since TVT didn’t have overseas licensing, we got to be on Creation in the UK, Flying Nun in New Zealand and other labels in Japan, Netherlands and Europe. We visited the Creation and Flying Nun offices and all made sure we took swag of the bands we’d all loved for some time. 1999 was more touring, and for a couple of weeks I worked on a 4-track project with Bob that became the album Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Dept. That was great fun, and a real pleasure to make.
“In late 2000, we recorded Isolation Drills in New York with Rob Schnapf, which was also a blast. 2001 to 2004 consisted of more touring and albums recorded in Ohio: Universal Truths and Cycles, Earthquake Glue and Half Smiles. In 2002 and 2011 respectively, Robert and I recorded two albums under the Lifeguards moniker.
Just prior to me rejoining in 2016, Mark Shue, Travis Harrison and I recorded the ESP Ohio album Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean. Fall 2016 had us recording what became August by Cake, and a couple of months later, we recorded another great album, which will be out August 2017. So here we are, supporting August by Cake with an LP in the can. We’re still having fun (are we still the one?).”
On being a GBV fan first… “I first saw Guided by Voices in Austin in ’98. Some friends of mine from Nashville have a band called Nashville Pussy, which is insane. They’re just six-foot-six blondes in bikini tops blowing flames and doing this great rock & roll show. I’m thinking to myself, ‘How is anybody gonna follow Nashville Pussy?’ And then Guided by Voices came out and just destroyed the universe.” — Bobby Bare, Jr. (guitar)
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