Words by David C. Obenour
After a 2018 that saw the release of only one album with Space Gun, Guided By Voices are blasting into 2019 with a vengeance, following up February’s Zepplin Over China with April’s Warp and Woof and dropping the news of Sweating the Plague in October, preceded by three more EPs.
But let’s not get too far ahead, because Warp and Woof may be one of the most exciting albums that Guided By Voices has put out in the modern era.
Ripping through ideas and hooks while under the strict time restrictions of the 7″ format the songs had originally appeared, the album rocks from the kinetic motion that spawned it. Created and recorded in green rooms, their touring van and anywhere else a guitar could be passed around, this is a band firing on all cylinders with no signs of slowing down.
Off Shelf: 2018 only saw one new Guided By Voices album while 2019 has already seen two with a third announced, was there a sense of pent up songs waiting to come out?
Doug Gillard: No, it was just a conscious decision to have only Space Gun come out in 2018, while we worked on Zeppelin Over China and Warp and Woof within that same year. There wasn’t really a buildup of songs. Bob writes in, and we receive them in, concise groups of planned albums or EPs.
OS: Do you think the lull in releases might mean we might get another Suitcase compilation?
DG: No plans for that that I know of, but there are always demo treatments from past albums that could be compiled for a Suitcase comp. I recently found a bunch of 4-track demos from Do The Collapse that I sent Bob. These are like select things that appeared on Suitcase in that its Bobs acoustic demos with my guitar & occasional drum/bass treatments sent down to him just to see if he thought the ideas would gel.
OS: Warp and Woof feels like the most exciting album with the current lineup. Does it feel like a different album to you and the rest of the band?
DG: Yeah, it does, for sure. The songs are concise and fairly short, but that’s due of course to the need to fit three per side on each 7″ EP that was released. I dig having those parameters to work within and I think we all had fun doing things this way.
OS: In a similar matter to the Alien Lanes era, there are a lot of ideas on Warp and Woof that are introduced, explored, executed and then onto the next one. But it’s not the same ideas as before. Was that an intentional effort or more just a matter of how inspiration struck this time?
DG: Not so intentional with this record in particular, as we try to explore different sounds and approaches with each release. I think any experimental sounds may seem magnified here because these songs are shorter, but good observation!
OS: Can you talk about some of your favorite songs from Warp and Woof?
DG: “Angelic Weirdness” may be my favorite; a catchy yet strange number. Mark made up that amazing bassline on the spot, tracking it in the van. I played some mellotron on it & used some of the old mellotron voice sounds for the ending.
“Photo Range Within” is also one of my faves. Somehow it slowly revealed itself as a sort of New Zealand à la Flying Nun Records pop tune. We didn’t set out with that in mind, it ended up that way.
“My Dog Surprise” is a fave. “Cool Jewels and Aprons” & “My Angel” seem like classic songs, and with “It Will Never Be Simple”, Bob wanted me to write and record a song using 100 guitar tracks for the 100 Dougs EP, so that was the result.
OS: Warp and Woof was envisioned by Bob as a series of EPs, can you talk about the decision to release it as a LP as well?
DG: Four 7″s came out from last fall thru early this year: Winecork Stonehenge, 100 Dougs, Umlaut Over The Ozone and 1901 Acid Rock. Midway through the process Bob got the idea to collect them all in one LP and resequenced the track order for Warp and Woof, because he thought all four EPs together would make a great album.
OS: Knowing that genesis of the album, do you think the new direction presented by Warp and Woof is a sign of things to come or just an EPs-to-LP one-off sort of experiment?
DG: That’s a great question and I understand why you might ask that. I know the next couple albums we’re doing don’t have this approach. We may do something similar in the future but I’m not sure about that at all.
I think for now it may be more of a one-off approach. I know we have some different production methods in store for some future releases that are not similar to Warp & Woof at all. Some things may end up with a similar sound but we have no way of knowing right now.
OS: Some of the other more recent albums were recorded with Bob sending out demos for the songs and the members recording their parts independently from where they’re based out of. The press release for Warp and Woof makes it seem like a more dynamic process this time with recordings happening whenever inspiration struck and a spare moment could be found. Could you talk about how it all came together?
DG: Well there was always a good chunk of the recent albums being tracked all together as a band, with certain overdubs added remotely, while the rest of it was tracked as you said. Parts of Warp and Woof/the EPs were also done this way, but lots were recorded in the van or at soundchecks & hotel rooms on tour so that we didn’t have to worry about doing the majority of it when we were home.
OS: In an interview I did with you last year you talked about how you enjoyed how recording allowed you to experiment, tracking pedals, trying different chain sequences, playing tape backwards, what was your favorite thing you or the band did for Warp and Woof?
DG: Speaking for myself, I guess it would be just the passing the guitar around the van, taking turns doing parts. Its fun, and keeps your mind off of whether the Taco John’s is digesting okay or not. We found a way to monitor via the van’s speakers, so that was neat.
OS: Does the base fan’s response to the Cash Rivers albums give you more of a sense of freedom about what you can do and still expect to have fans follow you on?
DG: I guess so in a way. Its more just Bob’s encouragement and the general spirit of the project that gives us that sense. I haven’t had a lot of comments or seen much discussion about those, so I hope they are received well. We all put in a ton of work on those. The pressing is limited and they aren’t digitized, so they haven’t reached a ton of folks. I hope someday they’ll be available via the digital platforms.
We just do the songs however. Sometimes Bob wants a direction for them, lots are just us on our own having fun. We always feel that sense of freedom anyway so we just do ’em up & put ’em out. We never think in terms of ‘will people like this?’
OS: With so much new material, is it harder to still fit in the old fan favorites to the live performances? Is that something you talk about as a band?
DG: Bob thinks about the setlist a lot, and he’s very cognizant of keeping the ratio of fan faves to other material roughly the same as its always been. So those fan faves will always be in the set for sure.
OS: Lastly, any possible ESP Ohio updates or have you been working on any new solo music?
DG: I have been working on solo material, yes. Not sure about ESP Ohio. Nothing has been discussed, but would welcome doing another album under that project name if it were to happen, sure. Later this year will see the 20th anniversary reissues of Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department and Kid Marine, so everyone should look for those.