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The Sound

Guided By Voices: Reunion is like riding a bicycle


Guided By Voices plays Wooly’s on Monday, June 2.

Guided By Voices plays Wooly’s on Monday, June 2.

It’s hard to describe any particular portion of Guided By Voices’ quixotic, meandering career as a creative low-point, but fans were nevertheless thrilled when frontman Robert Pollard announced in 2010 that he was getting the “classic lineup” back together.

The lineup, consisting of Pollard, guitarists Mitch Mitchell and Tobin Sprout, bassist Greg Demos and drummer Kevin March, was responsible for GBV’s most iconic successes — albums like “Bee Thousand” and “Alien Lanes.” GBV has released a half-dozen albums through the legendary indie label, including “Alien Lanes.”

“It came out of an anniversary party (Matador Records) was going to throw,” explained Mitchell in a phone interview. “They wanted to have a bunch of Matador bands play these three days, and I guess they pushed (Pollard) about doing a GBV thing. It wasn’t really hard to find us all. We’d all stayed in touch over the years. So he called and said, ‘Hey, they want to do this thing, are you in?’ Since we were doing all this practicing for one gig, the thought of taking it on the road and doing a little more with it made sense.”

The one-show reunion has been humming along for four years now. After initially stating that he had no intentions of writing new material or releasing new albums with this lineup, Pollard almost immediately reversed course, and the band released three albums — a stunning 61 tracks of music — in 2012 alone. That explosion was followed by an album in 2013, and one already this year, with another in the works. All of this, however, is constantly at the mercy of Pollard’s mercurial nature.

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“Initially I think he has feelings about what he’s going to do, but those feelings just change,” Mitchell said. “But I think it’s easier for him to write GBV stuff for us.”

It’s a hard statement to argue with. “Bee Thousand” and “Alien Lanes” represent the high water mark in GBV’s sound, and Pollard clearly enjoys working with this group of men. Mitchell in particular, with his low-slung Les Paul, prodigious drinking and chain-smoking, has always seemed like a particularly simpatico combination for Pollard’s antics.

“It was real easy,” Mitchell said of getting back into the swing of things with GBV. “We were highly motivated. It was just like getting back on back on a bicycle.”

Not all bike rides are smooth, however. Mitchell — who was there for GBV’s earliest of days — recalls the frustration of being ignored in the band’s own back yard of Dayton, Ohio.

“Initially we didn’t get any reactions in Dayton other than negative ones,” he recalled. “We had to go outside our hometown to get our first kind of reaction. Philadelphia was where we first felt like we really connected with an audience. Philly opened our eyes, because it was good to see that people were kind of getting what we were doing.”

Over time, Dayton came to embrace the band as favored sons, and now there’s no place in the country that holds GBV in higher esteem.

“When your hometown doesn’t support you, it’s a big disappointment,” Mitchell admitted. “We don’t do it to be recognized, but it’s nice that other people care about it. We have a lot of pride in our hometown.”

And now, GBV is back on that bike. One leg of a tour has just finished, and another is starting this week. With festivals lined up and an album to finish, Mitchell couldn’t be happier with the workload; it’s what he does best.

“I don’t really have any hobbies,” he said. “Other than playing guitar and drinking beer.” CV

Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines.

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