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Interview: Guided by Voices - Treefort 2022 Pick of the Day

23 March 2022

Guided by Voices vocalist Robert Pollard – Photo: Tim Bugbee

Guided by Voices are in a class of their own. Widely regarded as helping ignite the college rock explosion in the early ‘90s, the little ol’ band from Dayton, Ohio, is still going strong. In fact, thanks to the tenacity of frontman Robert Pollard, guitarist Doug Gillard and other immortal members of the band, it’s difficult to imagine a world without Guided by Voices.

The band is continuing to cement its legacy with a just-released new record, Crystal Nuns Cathedral, and plenty of concerts in support of it. More so than just about any long-running band — with the possible exception of the Residents — Guided by Voices have cranked out too many studio albums to count.

Now in its 10th year, Treefort Music Fest will undergo a rite of passage with a pair of Guided by Voices concerts: a Wednesday evening performance at El Korah Shrine that is booked for a two-and-a-half-hour set — nope, that’s not a typo — and a Main Stage dinnertime show slated for the following day.

The gigs will be tentpoles of the five-day event, which — like Guided by Voices’ record catalog — is almost too sprawling to imagine. At last count, the number of Treefort participants hovered around 530, with more out-of-state artists than ever before (and by a long shot).

At Treefort, prolificacy is the name of the game — and no band better represents that “more is more” approach than Guided by Voices, a band who claim nine studio albums in the last three years alone.

The Big Takeover recently caught up with Gillard ahead of Treefort to discuss performing amid (and, hopefully, after?) the pandemic, future plans and the band’s already-legendary 100-song concert two years ago.

How does it feel to be on the road touring again? How long did it take to kick off the rust? Are you game for your shows at Treefort?

DOUG GILLARD: Very, very good. It only took a rehearsal or two to shake off the rust. We all practice individually at home. We’re well-rehearsed and will continue rehearsing before we embark on our next tour leg.

What does a Guided by Voices rehearsal look like thee days?

GILLARD: It’s just the band members who are involved. We kind of go down the set list. We especially go over the new ones songs we put into it.

Does one band member tended to take more of a lead role in choosing which new songs should factor into the setlist?

GILLARD: Robert takes more of a lead role in determining those songs; our set lists are somewhat fluid from show to show. Bob’s good at sequencing a set, and he has a master list from which he compiles it. The sequence is a bit different every night.

This sounds ridiculous to ask, but are you performing around 45 songs these days?

GILLARD: No. It’s usually in the 50s. The festival sets are shorter, of course.

When did Treefort start signaling the Guided by Voices radar?

GILLARD: For the last couple of years, I think.

What do you recall mostly clearly about your last gig in Idaho?

GILLARD: Years ago, we played Boise. It must’ve been in ’97. We also played in Moscow at a very small club. I stopped for a day off in Boise while touring at one point.

Do you prefer playing club shows versus main stage performances at festivals?

GILLARD: I’d say the club shows.

Are you especially excited to play any of your new songs?

GILLARD: We’re going to do “Climbing a Ramp” from Crystal Nuns Cathedral. It features cellos and is fun to try to pull off live. We have a pretty good arrangement for it, and we add in backup vocals that Bob does on the albums.

How far do you go with overdubs?

GILLARD: Well, we never have any loops or anything like that. Sometimes I just use a Mellotron [organelle] patch to help play arrangements.

Is it tough to keep track of all the songs? How do you distinguish one album from the next?

GILLARD: We try to have something unique with each album. [Last year’s] Earth Man Blues was more of a concept record, designed as sort of a junior high school musical production. With Crystal Nuns Cathedral, we have kind of a larger sound — more of an arena/stadium rock sound. Not in a reverb-y way, just sort of a bigger drum sound and more sprawling guitar tracks. We also went for a more homogenous amp sound throughout the album.

Are you mostly writing remotely these days?

GILLARD: We’ll send ideas back and forth between band members. Sometimes we track the progress of a song. We spread out this recording in the studio over a few weeks.

How do you even view the Guided by Voices catalog?

GILLARD: I think it’s great. It’s vast and diverse.

Are you closing with “Teenage FBI” [from 1999’s _Do the Collapse] and “Glad Girls” [from 2001’s Isolation Drills] each night?_

GILLARD: I haven’t really noticed. … I guess you’re right, those have been the last couple of songs for a while.

Are you still tossing in some cover songs during shows?

GILLARD: We were doing that in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Right now, we’re not even playing “Baba O’Riley.” But you never know … we might pull it out again. It’s up to Bob.

Is it becoming tougher to tour as you get older?

GILLARD: It seems to be a little more challenging. You have to focus on conserving your energy and trying to get enough rest. You have to budget your time and make sure you use it efficiently. It’s challenging to carry around gear too.

Was your New Year’s Eve 2020 show, when you performed 100 songs in Los Angeles, the longest set you recall playing?

GILLARD: Yeah, that was right before COVID. There might’ve been a time or two that matched it.

Are you still bringing the fluorescent “open bar” sign and picnic cooler onstage?

GILLARD: The cooler for sure, We don’t have the sign anymore. We have something else we’re taking on this tour as a backdrop …

What are you most looking forward to with your Treefort performances?

GILLARD: We’re looking forward to the fresh air.

For more Treefort coverage, check out this interview with Deafheaven frontman George Clarke ahead of the band’s must-see Thursday night concert at the Egyptian Theatre.