The band had someone on the side of the stage whose only job was lighting their cigarettes, and the dudes still kick ass well into their fifties.Lil’ RASCAL Emily Votaw was able to interview Kevin Fennell of Guided by Voices for ACRN, Ohio University’s college radio station, when the group was gearing to play Nelsonville Music Festival.
Emily Votaw: How do you guys work together, as a band, to write songs? What is that process like?
Kevin Fennell: You know, Tobe and Bob [Tobin Sprout and Bob Pollard] they’re basically the chief songwriters. What Bob will do, and he writes a lot of songs, he’s like a machine, he will have like 10 or 12 songs sketched out, like on acoustic guitar, and then the rest of the band will get copies of those rough sketches and then we come up with our own ideas so far as we are going to play those songs.
EW: On a slightly different note, are there any songs that you particularly like to play live?
KF: God, you know, I like them all. I don’t think I have any particular favorites. Obviously, I like to play the songs that I recorded, from the records I was on. For instance, Do the Collapse–which I think came out in 2001–I wasn’t on that record, I wasn’t a part of the band. And for me to play songs off that record, it’s fun, but it’s just not as fun. Because I am just not as familiar with the songs.
EV: Are you guys planning on playing any of that material, from the sort of Do the Collapse era?
KF: No, we mainly, since we’ve reformed, a lot of the stuff we are doing is stuff that we actually did, records like Propeller, and Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, you know, those records that we all played on. And that is basically what we were doing, but now that we have three records done, we had one come out in January, another in June, and the third out in November–so we don’t lack for material.
EV: You certainly don’t! And you guys have done a lot, a lot of touring over the years, collectively, do think you can describe your typical fan?
KF: Well, I don’t think that there is a typical [fan]. You know, we were doing a festival in New York last summer, and this kid, his mother brought him on stage to meet us, and he actually got on stage and knew all the words to like three songs. And he jumped on stage, and he was singing with us.
And I’ve seen people in their 60s at our shows, so there isn’t really an age group. But I think, typically, that people who like Guided By Voices may be of above average intelligence. You know, I like to think that our music, it’s not just ear candy. It takes a little getting used to.
EV: How has the touring experience changed over the years?
KF: Well, we don’t do as much of it as we used to. And we all have day jobs, so it’s not like we have to go out and promote records, you know, it’s more laid back. We do shows that we feel passionate about, and we’re not really into going out of the country. You know, we feel like there is enough here in the United States that we can pretty much find places to play, venues that want to have us. We’re all in our late forties, early fifties, and I don’t know man, I’m not in a place where I really want to feel like glo-pop and all that.
EV: I know that Guided By Voices started out playing a lot of prog-rock covers, how did you guys find your sound, one that is definitely more lo-fi and, in my opinion, much more punk rock?
KF: [Laughs] I don’t know, man. I think that we have always had that kind of punk influence. And I think that you would get ten different people what the Guided By Voices are and get ten different answers. That punk esthetic is definitely there, but I think that you can also hear other influences, like prog-rock, like early Genesis.
This is only a snippet of the interview- for the rest, be sure to check out ACRN. We’re gonna be featuring a lot of Emily’s work in the future, so stay tuned.
(The featured photograph is Guided by Voices, live in Philadelphia in 1993. Credit unknown.)