GBV’S latest release, “Mirrored Aztec,” is the band’s 31st album, and the second of three albums to be released this year.
On August 21, Guided By Voices released Mirrored Aztec – and it is, remarkably, their 31st album. Since forming in 1983, the band established themselves as one of the most prolific indie rock acts, sometimes releasing up to three albums in the same year. Such will be the case this year: earlier in 2020, the band released Surrender Your Poppy Field, and after Mirrored Aztec, they also plan to put out another album before the year’s end, Styles We Paid For.
Even if releasing albums is a frequent occurrence for Guided By Voices, guitarist Doug Gillard says that the band members don’t take it lightly. “We do get excited because we’re all jazzed about the work we did on the record,” he says, calling from his home in Queens, New York.
Gillard says that he and the other members accomplish their extraordinary level of output like this: “Bob [Pollard, the band’s frontman] will give us a tape of demos of the songs that he wrote for the album, [with him] singing and playing guitar, and then we set about doing our parts on those songs.
“Sometimes, we’ll be in the studio together,” Gillard continues. “Other times, maybe Kevin [March] will do his drum parts in a studio in New Jersey and send those over, and then we’ll add things later. Or I’ll start some guitar parts without any drums, just playing to the demos. So it’s a mish-mosh sometimes. But we like that sort of variety.”
As for what stylistic direction the band members will choose to take on each track, Gillard says that, too, can vary. “Bob will send over a sheet of instructions, production notes. Sometimes he only has a few ideas about what course it should take. Other times, he’ll have some very specific notes for a particular song, [such as] if he wants it to be very epic or prog-rock. There’s different feels for each song. We just go with the flow.”
Even with Pollard’s direction, though, Gillard says that he still feels like he is given a lot of creative freedom. “Speaking for myself, I’ll be doing guitar parts, and it will strike me in the moment to throw an effect on; ‘What will it sound like if I put some crazy flange on this part?’” he says. “Sometimes it’s just a whim. It’s fun.”
“Haircut Sphinx,” from Guided by Voices new LP, Mirrored Aztec
Beyond putting out albums at a frequent pace, the band members are also kept busy lately with another project, a service called “Hot Freaks” wherein fans who pay $100 for a year’s subscription will receive a weekly email containing exclusive band rarities – everything from WAV files of rare demo songs to photographs, and even clips of live shows.
“We’re always going through our tapes that we have from our past and trying to see what we can mix, or transfer to make digital for that project. Or we’re always recording new material, as well. (To sign up, visit the band’s official website.)
Gillard credits the band’s producer and studio engineer Travis Harrison for helping them keep everything straight, despite the enormous amount of material they always have in the works. “He is amazing at compartmentalizing and keeping all the projects separate,” Gillard says of Harrison. “He keeps it organized. He’s really great at putting things together and making everything work.”
The great wealth of material that Guided By Voices have produced has earned them a fiercely loyal following that is known to pick over every detail of the band’s prolific output. Gillard says the members first noticed that that was happening around 1994. “I think that the amount of material probably helped create the cult and mythology about the band,” he says, because fans can “wonder who was on what song, or is this song only Bob? And everything’s so diverse, it creates allure that is appealing to a lot of rock fans.”
Gillard attributes his own loyalty to Guided By Voices (he first joined the band more than 20 years ago) to the fact that “It’s really fun and musically fulfilling to play on Bob’s songs. He has a great degree of trust in us and what we’ll do. We enjoy a fair amount of freedom as musicians. And if something isn’t working, he will let us know, too, but that’s rare. Which is pretty remarkable, given the amount of material.” Gillard compares Pollard to a “benevolent leader.”
Gillard started learning how to be an adaptable, open-minded musician early in his career. He started out as a DJ on college radio, which he says expanded his musical knowledge greatly. “I was exposed to a lot of music and record libraries,” he says of that time, which lasted from the mid-‘80s through the early ‘90s.
From there, Gillard came up through the Cleveland club scene, first with the punk band Suspect Device, followed by stints in several cult favorite groups (Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde, and Nada Surf). He first teaming up with Guided By Voices in 1997. Throughout it all, Gillard has also maintained a solo career, putting out numerous releases under his own name.
Gillard says he always seemed destined for a career in music. “I was playing music since I was really young, just playing things around the house. Banging on pots and pans.” Given that propensity, Gillard naturally chose to start playing drums as his first instrument. But when he picked up the guitar next, he “found that I was actually even better at that. So that became my focus.”
When he started out, Gillard says his goal was simply that he “always just wanted to make records.” He’s certainly done plenty of that by now, with Guided By Voices and his various other projects. Considering this track record, fans can undoubtedly look forward to many more future releases, as well.