In the early ’90s, before lo-fi music was defined as a branch of indie-rock, there was The Captain, aka Robert “Bob” Pollard and his crew: guitarists Mitch Mitchell and Tobin “Toby” Sprout, drummer Kevin Fennell and bassist Greg Demos.
Dayton, Ohio-born Guided By Voices released a lot of albums, some on big labels, and became The Godfathers of Lo-Fi because of their strong DIY ethics.
Everyone left the band in 1996 except for Pollard, who went on to form many other lineups until 2004 and record solo.
In 2010, the “classic lineup” from the ‘90s reformed with Mitchell and the others returning to the fold. For the past two years the band has toured extensively and released their first records of new material in eight years.
In January “Let’s Go Eat the Factory” was released, June saw “Class Clown Spots a UFO” and a third record, “Bears for Lunch,” is already in the can.
When Mitchell isn’t playing in his side project, Mitch Mitchell’s Terrifying Experience, or touring with GBV, he delivers houses for Ryan Homes via truck. We caught up with Mitchell in Maryland, where he’s been working for the past six months, before he headed back to Dayton to rehearse with the band.
What’s it like to be a truck driver by day and a rock star by night?
Being a truck driver is pretty fun. I don’t know what I like so much about it, other than it’s always something different every day. We haul the same stuff but things aren’t always the same. Every day there’s something a little different that might happen. I wouldn’t know about the rock star thing. I don’t think I’m really a rock star.
Yeah you are! Do your fellow drivers know that you’re in one of the greatest bands of all time?
I think they know, but I don’t think they really know any more than just I’m in a band and sometimes I go away for a day or two at a time, or week or two. I don’t know if they really grasp what kind of band I’m in. They ask, ‘What kind of music do you all play?’ They don’t really get it.
How has the reunion tour been going?
It’s really a blast. The energy is really high. We have a lot of fun all the time. I’m really pleased and thankful that we got one more chance to do it again. Back in the day I guess I didn’t really think of how lucky I was and now that I’ve kind of been removed from it from a while, I really understand that I’ve been pretty lucky over the years and I’m really more happy with being able to relive that again.
Is it different this time around?
Not really. We’ve always been really good friends, even before we got into music, like back when we were starting out. We had strong friendships kind of before the band started. I think that’s one thing in our favor: we were good friends before we got into the band. Sometimes when you’re travelling and touring it really puts a strain on relationships. If you’re not really, really good friends, a lot of bands are destroyed on tour because they’re not really good friends. We’ve had our ups and downs but most of the time we’ve had our ups; we’ve not really had much downs.
Do you think through the current reunion you’ve acquired a bigger fan base?
Yeah, I do think more people are starting to get hip to what’s going on. And I’m glad that we’re having a lot of older fans that are still with us and we’re gaining some newer fans that are kind of getting into what’s going on. That’s really nice that we’re getting a diverse mix of people. We have some older cats coming in, we have some younger kids and everything in between. I’m glad there’s more people getting to know about the band.
Is the band more collaborative today than it used to be?
It’s about the same. I mean, Bob writes up all the new material and he’s a creative guy to where we go. He’s the captain of the ship and we’re all just kind of the happy crew that go along on the ride with him.
What’s the set list going to be like for this tour?
We’re rehearsing the new material that we’re going to be putting into the set. It’s going to be pretty kick ass. It’s going to be a fun trip for the people who come and take it with us. We’re going to have a lot of fun together.
I know you guys like to get really drunk before your shows. Is it still a part of your pre-show ritual?
We still do a couple shots of tequila, drink some beers, this and that. I don’t think we get quite as drunk as we used to. I think we kind of keep things a little more even than we used to, maybe. We still like to drink.
Do you think you could ever play a show sober?
No. I actually had to play a gig one time sober. I was in jail and they let me out of jail to play the show. The sheriffs escorted me in the back of the car with the handcuffs on to the gig and they stood on side of the stage where I was playing and then after the gig they put the handcuffs on me and took me back me to the jail. So, that was a weird, weird gig. It was hard to play sober for me. I get scared sometimes. I usually get kind of scared but now I get excited. It’s like nervous excitement, not nervous.
Are there any plans to stop playing in GBV?
I’m hoping it’s going to be an ongoing thing. I’m sure as far as doing gigs and tours -- that might be over. You never know. I think at this point and time, it’s probably going to do it for live gigging. There might be plans for more records, there might be other things coming down the road. I can’t see us stopping and not putting out some kind of musical thing. I think that’s probably going to continue, at least I hope it does.
What’s your favorite GBV album?
I think my favorite GBV record’s “Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia”. I like the first one, “Forever Since Breakfast”. I really like “Devil Between My Toes” a lot. I think that’s probably a tie between “Self-Inflicted” and “Devil”. “Class Clown” kind up slipped up there. It’s such a good record. That’s such a hard question because tomorrow it might be something different.
Do you like any GBV albums that you didn’t play on?
I do. I like “Isolation Drills”. That was cool. “Do the Collapse”. That’s a really good record.
You guys have been playing in this band since you were kids. Do you ever sit back and reflect upon the past decades?
I sometimes do reflect on what happened in the past and from the beginning to now and the whole thing and I think when I reflect on it, I consider myself a really, really lucky guy that I’m involved with these guys and this band.
I was just talking to a friend of mine from New York today on the phone, and I just told him another thing that I like about this band is throughout the years I’ve met a lot of great people from shows and from different things that’s happened with my association with Guided By Voices. I think that is one of the nicest things. I can’t even express how grateful I have been that I’ve been able to be a part of this. I can’t imagine not having this in my life. I don’t know what kind of person I would be if I wasn’t involved in Guided By Voices.
Is there anything you would’ve changed? Any regrets?
Everything happened the way it should’ve happened. I don’t regret anything. From then ‘till now I think everything went according to the way it’s supposed to go. If we started all over again and turned back the clock, I think the way it went is the way it should be and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
How would you explain the band’s enduring legacy?
I can probably sum that up in one word: it would be integrity. Guided By Voices has kind of been its own thing. We pretty much do what we want and we do it how we want to do it. I know Bob really is passionate doing things the way he wants them done. He doesn’t want people to come in and try to manipulate his creative process or change it. He’s pretty passionate about doing it the way he wants to do it and that’s one of the reasons why it’s been so good.
We’re all kind of like that. When we put something down, that’s the way it’s going to be. I don’t really know personally, but I know from things I’ve heard there’s been creative tensions between Bob and label people or producer people and that’s been one of the reasons why we did it ourselves, anyway. Because early in the game, we were trying to deal with people that were trying to manipulate the process, change the songs and the things. It just wasn’t going to work. Bob had his idea and that’s the way it was going to be.
Like I said, the integrity of it is probably the biggest key to the success. We haven’t been manipulated by record people or music people. We’ve done it the way we want to and that’s why I think it’s been as successful as it has because it’s pure and true.
It seems like a lot of bands today are going their own route.
It doesn’t seem right when somebody comes out and they’re not like even a real band. They’re just some producer’s idea of what a band should be and they’re not playing their music. They’re not really doing it and they’re being called a great rock band and they’re not even a band. I think there’s more really good bands that never get heard of.
So, what’s next for the band?
I’d just like to see that we’re all still having fun doing this and hoping that maybe we can surprise some people and surprise ourselves and I think we can all look forward to having a good time again.
Let’s say someone gave you a million dollars to do the band full-time. Would you do it?
For a few million dollars, I’d do just about anything. That sounds good and all, maybe a lot of people focus on making lots of money, to be quite honest, I was never in it for the money. I’m in it because I love it, and it’s kind of who I am. I’m a guitar player, rock ‘n’ roll guy. I do it because I truly love it. I could not go through life without making some kind of noise.