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Guided by Voices (often abbreviated as GBV) is an American indie rock band originating from Dayton, Ohio. It made frequent personnel changes but always maintained the presence of principal songwriter Robert Pollard. Guided by Voices initially disbanded in 2004, though many of its former members remain musically involved in solo careers or other projects.
Noted at first for its lo-fi aesthetic and typically Portastudio four-tracks-to-cassette production methods, Guided by Voices' music revealed influences from post-British Invasion garage rock, psychedelic rock, progressive rock, punk rock and post-punk. The band also garnered much attention for its prolific output, with a seemingly endless stream of releases. Most songs are in the two-minute range, but many are even shorter; often they end abruptly or are intertwined with odd and homemade sound effects.
In 2010, the "classic lineup" of Guided by Voices reunited to perform at Matador Records 21st anniversary party, and subsequently undertook a national tour. After reforming, the band released six new albums. The band broke up for a second time in late 2014, but reunited once more in February 2016.
Early years (1983–1991)
Formed in Dayton, Ohio in the early 1980s, Guided by Voices began their career as a bar band working the local scene. As lineups and day-jobs shifted, however, Pollard moved the band towards a studio-only orientation. Guided by Voices' recording career began with a stream of self-financed, independent releases including Devil Between My Toes, Sandbox, Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia, and Same Place The Fly Got Smashed. With only a few hundred copies of each album being pressed, these tended to circulate only among the band members' family and friends.
With the release of the ultra-limited album Propeller in 1992 (of which only 500 copies were pressed, each with a unique, handmade cover), Guided by Voices for the first time gained some recognition outside of their hometown. This was due in part to gaining fans in the college rock circuit and bands such as Sonic Youth, R.E.M. and The Breeders. New York City and Philadelphia were host to Guided by Voices' return to the live stage (and first shows outside of Ohio) in 1993. At this time, the always-fluid Guided by Voices lineup coalesced around the core of Pollard, guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell (not to be confused with Jimi Hendrix's drummer), bassist Greg Demos, and drummer Kevin Fennell. Sprout, who was briefly featured in an early-'80s version of the band, had re-joined circa Propeller and soon became Pollard's primary musical foil, in addition to contributing several of his own songs to the band's catalog. 1993 also saw the release of Vampire on Titus, as well as the Fast Japanese Spin Cycle and Static Airplane Jive EPs. Over the next year, the band began to receive national media exposure from sources such as Spin magazine.
In 1994, after culling both new songs and reams of archival recordings from GBV's history, Pollard delivered the indie landmark Bee Thousand via Scat Records, with a distribution deal through indie label Matador Records. Soon, the band officially signed with Matador, concurrent with Pollard and his bandmates finally retiring from their day jobs to work in music full-time. The band surprised early audiences accustomed to the generally shambling, lo-fi and collage-like quality of the records with their energetic live show, featuring Pollard's homegrown rock theatrics (consisting of karate-kicks, leaps, and Roger Daltrey-inspired mic-twirling), Mitch Mitchell's windmilling and chain smoking, sometime bassist Greg Demos' striped pants, a never-ending barrage of tunes that all seemed to clock in under 90 seconds, and prodigious alcohol consumption all around.
Their true Matador debut came in 1995 with Alien Lanes, which, despite a five-figure recording allowance, was constructed out of home-recorded snippets on the cheap. The band's underground following continued to grow, with notices coming from mainstream sources such as MTV and Rolling Stone. After sessions for a concept album entitled The Power of Suck were aborted, the band assembled Under the Bushes Under the Stars out of their first 24-track studio sessions, recorded with Kim Deal and Steve Albini among others, in 1996. However, the strain of heavy touring would ultimately lead to the demise of the "classic lineup", with Sprout deciding to retire from the road in order to focus on raising his first child, his painting, and his solo musical career. Sprout and Pollard marked the occasion by releasing simultaneous solo albums on the same day in 1996: Sprout's Carnival Boy and Pollard's Not in My Airforce, with each making a guest appearance on the other's album. Pollard maintained an active, parallel solo and side project career alongside GBV releases for the remainder of that band's existence. These records were primarily self-released. Because GBV alumni were regularly featured, and songs from these albums were frequently included in GBV setlists, they are informally considered to be part of the GBV canon. Also in 1995, the band contributed the song "Sensational Gravity Boy" to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Bothered produced by the Red Hot Organization.
Major label (1997–2001)
Pollard created a new incarnation of Guided by Voices with Cleveland glam rockers Cobra Verde in 1997. The following album Mag Earwhig!, combined a new hard-rocking swagger with classic lo-fi fragments and one track, "Jane of the Waking Universe", that featured the classic lineup for one last time. However, after another year of rigorous touring, the "Guided by Verde" lineup split in late 1997 following Pollard's announcement in an interview that he intended to work with other musicians on the next Guided by Voices project.
Cobra Verde's Doug Gillard was tapped for yet another new Guided by Voices lineup in 1998, which also included "classic"-era bassist Greg Demos, former Breeders drummer Jim Macpherson, and eventually, former Amps/Breeders guitarist Nate Farley. Departing from Matador, this lineup (without Farley) worked with producer Ric Ocasek to create what was intended to be Guided by Voices' major label debut. Initially produced for Capitol Records, Do the Collapse was repeatedly delayed and finally released in mid-1999 on pseudo-indie label TVT. (In the UK it was released on Creation Records). Featuring a slick, heavily processed sound previously foreign to GBV albums, Do the Collapse failed to catch on at radio, and was for the most part greeted with mixed reviews.
Through touring heavily throughout 1999 and 2000, Guided by Voices' live act became legendary, with shows often stretching past the three-hour mark, and populated by an endless stream of new and classic songs, Pollard solo tracks, impromptu covers of The Who, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones, all accompanied by continuous alcohol consumption. In addition to multiple swings through the United States and Europe, 2000 saw the band's first and only visits to Australia and Japan. 2000 was capped with the release of the massive Suitcase, a four-disc, 100-song trawl through three decades worth of Pollard's enormous reserve of unreleased material. (Two more box sets of unreleased songs, Suitcase 2 and Suitcase 3, were released in October 2005 and November 2009, respectively.)
2001's Isolation Drills was recorded with Rob Schnapf, who aimed to capture the band's live sound more closely than did Ocasek. Though the album debuted in Billboard's top 200 and received higher critical notices than its predecessor, it did not achieve the sought-after radio breakthrough.
Later years (2002–2004)
After departing from TVT in 2002, Guided by Voices returned to Matador and released Universal Truths and Cycles, a departure from the previous two radio-aspiring albums, and a return to the band's mid-90's, mid-fi aesthetic. Universal Truths producer Todd Tobias would also record the band's final two albums for Matador. 2003 saw the release of the prog-styled Earthquake Glue, followed by the anthology box set Hardcore UFOs: Revelations, Epiphanies and Fast Food in the Western Hemisphere and the greatest hits compilation Best of Guided by Voices: Human Amusements at Hourly Rates.
In 2004, Pollard announced he was disbanding Guided by Voices following the release of the Half-Smiles of the Decomposed LP, and a final farewell tour. According to Pollard:
This feels like the last album for Guided by Voices. I've always said that when I make a record that I'm totally satisfied with as befitting a final album, then that will be it. And this is it.
On November 9, 2004 Guided by Voices performed on the stage of Austin City Limits, broadcast by PBS on January 22, 2005. Their last television appearance was on Late Night with Conan O'Brien on December 2, 2004. They played the single, "Everybody Thinks I'm a Raincloud (When I'm Not Looking)". After a select round of final US shows, Guided by Voices played their final show at The Metro in Chicago on December 31, 2004. The four-hour, 63-song marathon finale is documented on the DVD The Electrifying Conclusion.
Pollard released his first post-GBV album in 2006 on Merge Records. The album, titled From a Compound Eye was a double LP produced by Todd Tobias. Later Pollard albums have been released on Merge and Pollard's own label, Guided by Voices Inc.
Following GBV's demise, Pollard was frequently asked about band reunions. In 2007 he told MAGNET: "To me, it's just cashing in. If you're gonna get the band back together, it should be to support a new record, not just to play the hits. That's like doing the county-fair circuit. I don't see Guided By Voices reforming. For one thing, there were 50 or 60 people in Guided By Voices over time."
Pollard also commented on the fact that GBV and his solo output are basicially the same, when he told Harp Magazine in 2005, "You know, a lot of people try to distinguish things between what is Robert Pollard and what is Guided By Voices. I tell them basically that there is no difference; I am Robert Pollard and I am Guided By Voices."
In 2008, Pollard admitted to almost bringing GBV back for his album Robert Pollard Is Off to Business but decided against it, instead forming a new label titled Guided by Voices Inc.
The 1998–1999 lineup of the band reunited for a few songs, for Pollard's 50th birthday in 2007.
In October 2008, it was announced that Guided by Voices' music would be used for a 3-D film musical based on the life of Cleopatra to be directed by Steven Soderbergh with script by former GBV member Jim Greer. Soderbergh and Greer will rewrite the lyrics of the songs to fit the story. Soderbergh had previously used a Guided by Voices song in his film Full Frontal, and wrote an introduction to Greer's book on the band. Pollard wrote the soundtrack to Soderbergh's film Bubble, and that music was released as Music for 'Bubble'.
In June 2010, Matador Records announced that the "Classic '93–'96 Lineup" would reunite to perform at the label's 21st Anniversary celebration in Las Vegas, in October of that year. A full reunion tour was subsequently announced, with the band selling out nearly every date. The tour included stops at Hoboken's Maxwell's and the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky, two venues that the band had built a history with due to legendary shows there in the past. When asked by Spinner if there might ever be another proper GBV record Pollard said "I've thought about it sometimes but it's a very long shot," he says. "We all kind of do our own thing. I'm not completely eliminating the possibility."
On September 21, 2011, it was announced that a new GBV album, Let's Go Eat the Factory, had been recorded for release in January 2012. On January 4, 2012, the band performed their single "The Unsinkable Fats Domino" on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote Let's Go Eat the Factory. During their performance, bassist Greg Demos fell while attempting a dance move. However, Demos was not seriously injured and the band continued to perform their song.
The band canceled what was to have been their first post-reunion show in the UK at the All Tomorrow's Parties 'I'll Be Your Mirror' festival at Alexandra Palace, London, in May 2012 as well as a planned appearance at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona. The band's management denied reports that the cancellations were due to them splitting up again and confirmed they were still working on new material.
The band released a second post-reformation LP, Class Clown Spots a UFO, on June 12, 2012. Generally regarded by fans as the best of the latter-years' albums, it marked a return in tenor and quality to this line-up's mid-90s heyday. A third, The Bears for Lunch, followed in November. GBV began touring again in September 2012 with a 13 show "Tour of the South", starting in Dayton, Ohio, on September 8, 2012, which included gigs in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and stops in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, New Orleans, Texas (Houston and Austin), Missouri and Kansas, with the final show on September 29, 2012 in St. Louis. Another album, English Little League, was released in 2013.
In a July 2013 interview with Magnet Magazine, Pollard stated that English Little League could be the final GBV album. However, in September, a fifth reunion record, Motivational Jumpsuit, was confirmed for release on Guided By Voices Inc. and Fire Records in February 2014. A sixth reunion album, Cool Planet, was released on May 13, 2014.
On September 18, 2014, GBV abruptly released a statement on Facebook that they had once again disbanded. Remaining tour dates were canceled.
Second reunion (2016–present)
In February 2016, the official Guided By Voices Facebook page announced that GBV has been announced to headline the Sled Island Festival on June 25 and that a "strikingly fresh Guided By Voices album in the works," on which Pollard plays all the instruments. Pollard subsequently confirmed the new lineup for the band which would include returning drummer Kevin March along with newcomers guitarist Bobby Bare, Jr., guitarist Nick Mitchell and bassist Mark Shue.
For a show on July 16, 2016, guitarist Nick Mitchell was replaced by former member Doug Gillard. Gillard subsequently rejoined Guided by Voices permanently later that month.
Robert Pollard - vocals (1986-2004, 2010-2014, 2016-present)
Kevin March - drums (2001-2004, 2014, 2016–present)
Bobby Bare, Jr. - guitar (2016–present)
Doug Gillard - guitar (1997-2004, 2016-present)
Mark Shue - bass (2016–present)
Mitch Mitchell - guitar (1986-1997, 2010-2014)
Tobin Sprout - guitar (1986-1997, 2010-2014)
Jim Pollard - guitar (1986-1992)
Kevin Fennell - drums (1986-1989, 1993-1997, 2010–2014)
Don Thrasher - drums (1989-1992)
Greg Demos - bass (1990-2001, 2010-2014)
Dave Swanson - drums (1997-1998)
Jim MacPherson - drums (1998-2001)
Nate Farley - guitar (2001-2004)
Tim Tobias - bass (2001-2004)
Nick Mitchell - guitar (2016)
Guided by Voices Day
In 2004, during the band's originally announced final tour, many cities around the United States proclaimed a certain day to be "Guided by Voices Day" in that city. Among the cities were:
Saint Paul, Minnesota – June 6
Houston, Texas – October 1
Newport, Kentucky – October 22
Bloomington, Indiana – October 25
Austin, Texas – November 5
Dallas, Texas – November 6
San Diego, California – November 11
Los Angeles, California – November 12
New York, New York – December 5
Chicago, Illinois – December 30
Guided By Voices