Guided By Voices has played Las Vegas only once during its 24 years of touring, yet the city has played a central role in the band’s overall timeline. In 2010, six years after disbanding, Ohio’s indie-rock dignitaries reunited at the behest of Matador Records, to participate in that label’s 21st anniversary bash, Matador at 21, at the Palms. Seven years later, Robert Pollard’s best-known project remains an active pursuit, having released nine full-length albums during that span and crisscrossed the country several times over. On October 27, the band will headline a show of its own here for the first time, playing the Bunkhouse with support from Blair and Chani (aka Rusty Maples’ Blair Dewane and Dusty Sunshine’s Chani Leavitt), Halloween Town and the just-reunited A Crowd of Small Adventures.
The Weekly caught up with New York City-based guitarist Doug Gillard, who returned to Guided By Voices in 2016 after 12 years away, to discuss the band’s potent live lineup, its latest music and Pollard’s songwriting prowess.
I caught Guided By Voices last summer in Cleveland, and the next day we heard you were back in the band, playing a show with under 24 hours to prepare. What was that like? It was muscle memory. That was a fill-in, in Cincinnati, so mostly older stuff and three new songs that I learned pretty quickly. And then after that they asked me if I would consider rejoining [for good]. There were a few weeks between that show and the next tour, so there was time to learn the newer material.
You already had a good gig playing with Nada Surf, which you still do when you’re not out with GBV. What led you to decide to make Guided By Voices your primary band again? Nada Surf can represent as a three-piece if I’m not with them, but Guided By Voices really needed a guitar player, and they had more shows happening at that time. So I was able to work it out with both bands.
Had you paid much attention to GBV’s “classic lineup reunion” period (2010-2014)? Yeah. I actually played afterparties for the first two shows that they did, in Texas on their way out to Las Vegas. My solo band opened up a couple of shows for them on the East Coast, and my old band, Death of Samantha, opened up for them a couple of times, too.
I’ve seen this version of the band—you, Bob, Kevin March on drums, Mark Shue on bass and Bobby Bare Jr. on guitar—a few times, and it’s been an extremely powerful experience. How does it feel to you? It does feel powerful—tight but with a little of the requisite looseness. It has the right groove. And I think live, Bob is singing better than ever. The last couple years, he wants the emphasis to be on the music, instead of the spectacle of the beer, the cigarettes or whatever.
As a songwriter yourself, what’s it like being around someone who’s able to produce so much consistently interesting music? He really focuses on it. He gets up early every day and writes. He’s always coming up with titles and lyrics, either that or doing artwork. He’s always inspired.
I listen to a lot of podcasts and interviews while I’m doing things around the house, and lately there’s been a lot of interviews with[LA glam-rock band] Sparks. For as long as they’ve been around, they still talk about doing music as if they’ve been around 10 years. They have a youthful approach to their music, like Bob does. That’s very inspiring.
Bob recently released a book commemorating his (first) 100 full-length albums. Have you had a chance to look through it, and if so, what struck you? It hit me that there’s a lot more than that—in the 7-inch department and all the compilations and things. I really like the 12-by-12-inch album scans. It’s awesome. I’m on a couple of those covers.
Has he incorporated newer technology into his songwriting method, or is he still entirely old-school? No, it’s still notebooks and cassette tapes.
Each member of the band contributed songs to April’s August by Cake. That must feel good, to have a songwriter of Pollard’s stature asking you to get involved in that process. Yes. We wanted to get it to enough tracks to warrant a double-album, so he had each member write two songs. [Follow-up] How Do You Spell Heaven and also the next one—Space Gun, which will be out in March or April—does not have that. All those songs were written by Bob.
Actually, on How Do You Spell Heaven I ended up co-writing an instrumental track. It started out as a song with vocals that Bob had, but he decided he didn’t like the melody or the vocals or something, so he asked me if I could just play leads the whole time. I changed the bassline a little bit and a couple of chord progressions, but it’s mostly written by Bob, except for the melody and lead lines that I came up with.
How important have the new tunes been in keeping things fresh onstage, as opposed to just relying on old songs, which you could easily do? It’s more fun, always energizing. The odd thing is we end up promoting a record for six months, and then we’ll promote the next one and drop some of the songs from the currently promoted album to promote the next one. It kinda makes me feel like I’m in the ’60s, which is great. Nothing gets too precious—you start loving a song, but you know you can’t love it too much, because it might get dropped from the setlist.
Do the setlists for each tour come exclusively from Bob, or do you and the other members have input? It mostly comes from Bob. Every now and then one of us will express a desire to play an older song, and Bob will consider it and maybe put it back in. It has to be something he enjoys singing. There have been songs we’ve put in and then dropped because he’s discovered he just doesn’t like singing them anymore.
“Surgical Focus” was in for a little bit [recently]. But I think [in 1999], our producer at the time [Ric Ocasek] made him put an extra verse in, which was just a repeat of the first verse, and he’s not really crazy about that method, so for that reason he doesn’t have as good a time singing it. I can completely understand—he did something that someone else wanted instead of doing it the way he wrote it. When I write a song, sometimes I will repeat the first verse for the third verse because I didn’t come up with a third verse (laughs).
I saw a YouTube clip of “Hold on Hope” from a show earlier this year. Was that just a seat-of-your-pants kinda thing? It was supposed to be in, and the first show of the tour we did it, and I think Bob just didn’t have a good time hearing it or playing it. He was never that crazy about it. That used to be a heavy, Black Sabbath-sort-of rock song, and Ric wanted it to be a ballad. There was a time in ’98 before we went into the studio where that lineup played it out a few times as a heavy version.
You guys have been breaking your tours up into short legs—a week or so at time with breaks in between. Do you practice between legs, or if you’re adding or changing songs, does that just happen during soundcheck? It depends. We’ll add songs in the middle of a tour, which necessitates working it out in soundcheck a couple of times. But usually before these chunks of shows we will get together to practice if we’ve been off for a while.
Prior to you rejoining GBV, you and Bob collaborated on the ESP Ohio album Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean. Any plans to do another one of those or any other side-project release together? That’s not on the horizon right now. We’re all pretty busy recording Guided By Voices songs. Each member’s been writing songs for B-sides. There’s gonna be four singles for the lead-up to the next record, Space Gun—four 45s, so each of us has a B-side song.
Judging from the band’s Facebook feed, Bob tends to visit record stores as he tours. Is that something you do, too, and if so, what do you hunt for? Occasionally. Mark’s been going with him a lot, to build up his collection. Bob can tell him about cool older things that he may not know about. And Bob is still looking for certain psych and prog stuff, the rare things that are up on the wall behind the counter sometimes.
I don’t really have a list anymore, but I’d like to find certain sunshine-pop things. I had a radio show in the ’80s and early ’90s, so I had a large collection. A lot of it’s in storage in Cleveland, so I’m conscious of space. Sometimes I’ll look for soul 45s or things that you could possibly DJ with, in case that opportunity ever came up. You never know—sometimes someone asks you to do that, at a bar, just for a night or something.
The Pollard-Gillard collaboration Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department  has always been one of my favorite albums in the catalog. Have you listened to that recently, and if so how do you think it holds up? I’ve listened to it a lot since it was released. It’ll be 20 years old two years from now, and I would love to be able to remaster that if possible. It came out a little thin. The mastering guy at the time cut out a lot of the low mids. It was a little fuller-sounding when it started off.
In my solo band we’ve done “Pop Zeus” and things like that. I wrote the music for four of the songs, and that was one of them. I love that record. Bobby Bare Jr. wants to put one of the songs from the record into the setlist, either “Pop Zeus” or “Tight Globes,” which we might do, or it might never happen. It’s up to Bob, if he’s feeling it. But there’s so many other things [to consider]. We just put “Jane of the Waking Universe” back into the set, which we used to play during my time in the band in the past.
Guided By Voices has only played here once before, and that was during your time away from the band. Anything special you’re looking forward to doing while you’re here? I’m looking forward to playing the show there. I’ve never really played live in Las Vegas. I’ve stayed there. I was there as a kid. But I’ve not played music there, so I’m really looking forward to it. I think we all are.
Guided By Voices With A Crowd of Small Adventures, Halloween Town, Blair and Chani. October 27, 7 p.m., $30-$35. Bunkhouse Saloon, 702-982-1764.