Q&A: Guided By Voices’ Tobin Sprout

Tobin Sprout (far right) and Guided by Voices

Have you ever been to Las Vegas?

I came through once for a day on my way to California and just kind of played the slots, but I’ve never really spent a whole lot of time there. I’m glad that they’re doing the show there, to get things moving back into Vegas. I guess they were hit pretty hard.

So take me through this reunion: Did Bob just call you up one day and say, “I’m getting the band back together”?

Yeah, it was one of those things that I never thought would happen. I mean, there was no reason for it to happen. But this Matador thing came up, and it was definitely something we all wanted to do. And then we thought, Why not do some more shows? If we’re gonna practice to do one set, why not do some more shows? And we started getting some pretty lucrative offers all around the country. We had, maybe, a week in the West and a week in the East and then all the dates started filling in. So it went from a two-week tour to almost a six-week tour with a few days off.

So the Matador festival was really the impetus for the reunion?

Oh yeah, if it wasn’t for this Matador thing there wouldn’t be a reunion or a tour or anything.

Did you ever have an inkling Bob might want to reunite your GBV lineup someday?

I could see maybe somewhere along the line, but we never really talked about it. It seemed like the last shows [GBV] did in Chicago weren’t that long ago, so it seemed pretty early for a reunion. But I guess that was ’04, so it has been six years.

What was your reaction when he asked if you wanted to do it?

I didn’t even give it a thought. I said, “Sure!” Why wouldn’t I wanna do this? It’s something I’ve missed ever since I left, and to be able to do it now, to be able to go out and have fun with it ... I can’t wait to do it.

Were you at all concerned the others might not all join in? I heard [drummer] Kevin [Fennell] was somewhat hard to locate?

He’s still in Dayton. I guess he had just moved around and nobody was really sure where he was. But he’s married, he’s got a couple kids, and he’s pretty excited about it, too. And we were already in touch with [Mitch Mitchell] and Greg [Demos]—they kinda still hang out together in Dayton—so Kevin was the last duck to get a row.

Had you stayed in touch with Bob much over the years?

Maybe once a year I’d be in touch with him. On the last Guided By Voices albums I was in there somewhere. I was either playing on it or there were some songs that would come back up, so I had a credit on all the GBV albums after I left. But we’ve always been fairly in touch.

It’s commonly reported that you left GBV to focus on your family and your artwork. Is that accurate?

Yeah. My son was born when I was in Vancouver. He was born five weeks early. The plan was to go on the tour and be back by the time he was born, but things don’t always work that way. So I missed that. And then when my daughter was born she was premature, so I needed to be home. So I just mentioned it to Bob, that I had to leave, and he understood. And he kinda was having some other ideas about what he wanted to do, so we just parted ways. We did the last show at Edgefest in ’96, and then about a year later I moved up here [to Leland, Michigan].

And then, since you were leaving anyway, he figured he’d start over with a whole new band?

Yeah, I think that was kind of his idea. Mitch was still in the band for a while—there were some overlapping things there. And I think Greg would have stayed, too, but he was in law school and kinda had some other things to do. So all of us were sort of splintering off into our own areas, and Bob still wanted to keep going.

Do you think there were some bridges to mend in order to do this again, with, say, Mitch or Kevin, over the way things went down back then?

I don’t think so. I mean, I can’t speak for the other guys. There was probably some disappointment for them that things kinda fell apart the way they did, but I don’t think there were ever any harsh feelings other than just disappointment maybe.

You guys had your first rehearsal a couple of weeks ago in Dayton. How did it feel?

It went great. If you’ve been friends that long, you just pick up where you left off. We got through the set really easy and even skipped over some songs that we all knew we knew. So we’ve got a pretty good set. We’ll practice quite a bit more before we leave.

Was it strange to be in one room again?

Yeah, it was. I was the last one to get there and they were all kind of set up. Demos said the hair on his arm stood up. It was a really eerie feeling being together after all these years. It’s been 14 years since we had actually played together. But everybody is healthy and excited about it. It’s something we’re all looking forward to.

What kind of setlist do you have planned?

Right now it’s the Matador era, and there’s also some Scat stuff in there. But for the most part it’s Propeller through Under the Bushes right now. The crowd pleasers are in there. “Gold Star for Robot Boy,” “A Salty Salute,” “Shocker in Gloomtown,” “Buzzards,” “Striped White Jets.” Lots of Bee Thousand, and a few from Alien Lanes. A pretty good cross-section of all the albums.

Are you getting to do some of your songs, the ones where you do lead vocals?

Yeah, I’ve got four or five right now, and I’m sure we’ll be adding songs as we go.

Any songs that you tried and decided not to do?

(Laughs.) “Non-Absorbing.” A lot of those songs were recorded with a guitar that wasn’t exactly in pitch, so it’s kinda hard to figure out what chords to play. So Bob said let’s forget that one and go on to the next one.

Do you expect to do be more touring beyond the current dates?

Right now we’re gonna try to get through this tour. They’ve talked about maybe going to Australia and Japan, but I think that’s out right now. A U.K. tour is a possibility. And there’s nothing beyond that. We may try to do the festivals in the U.K. in the spring or early summer, somewhere in there, but there’s no dates set for that yet. We may hate each after this one (laughs).

What’s it like to be around a songwriter as prolific as Bob?

I have to sit down and force myself to write songs, but I think it’s something he does it every day. I remember on tour he’d have a notebook and he’d always be jotting down titles or lyrics.

You released albums on Matador with GBV and as a solo artist. What comes to mind when you think about the label?

It was a good experience. I liked all the people at Matador, and I’m glad that they’ve got a 21st anniversary coming up. They’ve got a nice catalog of bands and they’re just good people. I enjoyed being on the label.

Do you have any favorite Matador albums?

Superchunk’s No Pocky for Kitty.

Will you guys be around all weekend?

No, we play Austin on the 30th and then we have two days to get to Las Vegas, so we’re probably not gonna be able to see anything except the night of our show.

What kind of crowds do you expect to see on tour?

You’re gonna have the old fans that maybe had seen us or wanted to see this lineup and then people who are like, “Who are these guys?” There’s a lot of fans that probably got into [GBV] that never saw this lineup or maybe never even knew about this lineup. Some of them probably weren’t born when we started.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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