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Guided by Voices Has Come a Long Way Since Featuring Beatle Bob



Closing out RFT's ShowcaseSTL on June 17 in support of its most recent album Space Gun — its fourth in two years — the band has always been known as much for the volume of its lo-fi, psychedelic-tinged output as for its two- to three-hour marathon live shows, which can often resemble an indie-rock version of a keg party — kind of like the Flaming Lips, but for the "last call" set. And while much of the credit for both elements of the band's persona has been attributed (appropriately) to singer Robert Pollard — onstage the beer-chugging frontman, and offstage a songwriting machine with more than 100 albums to his credit — guitarist Doug Gillard isn't one to sit idly by either.

"There's a lot going on right now," Gillard says. "You're asked to do something, and you do it."

Gillard came to Pollard's attention while playing in the Cleveland-based bands Death of Samantha and Cobra Verde. The singer would tap Cobra Verde to join as his backing band for Guided by Voices' 1997 album Mag Earwhig!, and Gillard would stay with the band until its first disbandment in 2005. After reforming in 2010 with a new lineup, Pollard once again reached out to Gillard in 2016 to play a festival date in Cincinnati. He has remained a member since — a job that would keep most musicians more than busy enough. But not Gillard.

The guitarist was introduced as a member of Nada Surf in 2010 and most recently has contributed parts to albums from artists ranging from Neko Case to his nephew's Columbus-based band Bummers. All this is in addition to his role working alongside the never-ending spout of creativity that is Pollard.

"We've finished a double album, Zeppelin Over China, that should be coming out sometime in the next year or so," Gillard says, adding that the band has also begun recording two six-song EPs that should be "coming out later in the year."

Choosing setlists from such a vast catalog might seem like a Herculean task for some, but Gillard says the band has worked out a process where they start with "a basic list of 60 songs that gradually change" to feature tracks from the new album. Once another record has been released the band then subs out songs from the previous album, allowing, according to Gillard, for "a little holdover."

While 60 may be pushing the number of songs one might see at any given Guided by Voices show, the sheer length of their sets allows for it as a possibility. Gillard says the group's members keep up their stamina from night to night by working from a "two shows and take a night off" philosophy that Gillard says Pollard prefers. The band's live sets are also distinct from some of its '80s and '90s indie rock peers in the sense that Guided by Voices still seems to maintain a relatively young fan base, even as the band is now in its third decade.

"People are attracted to the lore, the mythology," Gillard says of the band's ability to continually gain new fans. "But it's not just the band's story; the songs are also really great. There's a lot to read into it. There's a lot to delve into when you have so many various characters and song titles."

And yet, Gillard says he doesn't worry about living up to the band's live reputation.

"There's not really pressure to live up to any of that," he says, "just the pressure to keep playing well and always give it your best effort." Speaking of his role specifically, he adds, "I start and stop every song. There's not a lot of time to grab that bottle."

Gillard and the band have a bit of a connection the city for which they are closing out a local music showcase. Scat Records, a label that started in Cleveland and eventually moved to St. Louis, released a number of early Guided by Voices albums, as well as five albums by Cobra Verde.

Gillard also remembers a show at Mississippi Nights in the early 2000s where Beatle Bob was taped dancing beforehand to be used later in a Guided by Voices video.

Gillard mentions the band's fondness for having a nice Italian meal before shows — something the guitarist notes that St. Louis "definitely has." He also makes mention of Rise, the Grove-area coffeehouse he visited during Guided by Voices' appearance at the Ready Room last year.

And that makes sense. With two-hour shows, a double album and two EPs in the pipeline, and Pollard writing songs seemingly as fast as he can breathe, good coffee seems almost a requirement.

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