Time to Take Sips: A Conversation with Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices

by Joel Greatbatch

Doug Gillard

Doug Gillard is a rock music veteran spanning two decades of playing guitar on and off for Guided by Voices and releasing several solo recordings along the way. Guided By Voices have been touring throughout the year and he was recently asked to re-join the touring party to play classic GBV tunes, learn new songs and in correspondence with Joel Greatbatch, dropped us a hint of his contribution to a new Guided By Voices album on the horizon. We spoke with Doug just before the band’s performance at the inaugural Sound on Sound fest, where he gave us details about GBV’s writing methods, trying to keep pace with Robert Pollard’s on-stage drinking and memories of playing Austin throughout the years.

Joel Greatbatch for Ovrld: How are you doing balancing Guided by Voices, your new project with Robert Pollard on ESP Ohio and your usual work with Nada Surf at the moment?

Doug Gillard: It’s been going well, albeit hectic! ESP Ohio was a recording project we did in one week in March, so that was finished before rejoining GBV. Nada Surf have been gracious enough to play as their classic three piece when I have GbV obligations, but there have been a few consecutive-night shows where I’m with GbV, then Nada Surf the next. I’m powering through it though.

Ovrld: Have you been involved with any new GBV recordings?

DG: Yes, there is a rather large-sized album coming out next year that we’re not talking too much about right now! Exciting things are happening.

Ovrld: You were a mid-tour addition to the band earlier this year and you had 30 new songs to quickly master. Do you now feel the utmost confidence when playing them?

DG: Yes, I do. There was a learning curve of about a week for those, but a lot were things I’d played in the past. It was fun learning the songs from recent GbV, Pollard solo and Ricked Wicky LPs.

Ovrld: Did you spend much time re-learning songs from the past or did they come back to you quickly?

DG: They came back very quickly. The old riding a bike metaphor applies! There were licks and chords I had to re-study, sure, but for the most part it was a fast process.

Ovrld: Have you played many gigs in Austin before? Do you have any distinct memories of the city?

DG: Yes, many times I’d say. Tons of memories going back to the ‘90s. Played at Liberty Lunch in GbV in 1997, then to 10,000 people at Waterloo Park in 1998, many other shows and ‘South Bys’ over the years. I recorded half my last solo album Parade On with Louie Lino there a couple years ago, recorded with Sally Crewe on her EP there, had a solo band anchored by Austin drummer George Duron several times.

Ovrld: Do you have any solo recordings in the works?

DG: I’m working on a 4th solo album currently, and co-wrote and recorded a song for a Scott Miller/Game Theory LP out soon, comprised of song idea fragments Scott left behind.

Ovrld: Have you witnessed Robert using a particular discipline for writing new songs? It seems like he writes a new album every day. 

DG: He writes lots of lyrics and titles in the van on tour, but I know he also writes at home constantly and records cassette demos with a guitar fairly frequently. He employs a few different methods, but lately he has been writing whole albums in one sitting.

He gets in a mode and songs keep pouring out with an eye toward that batch appearing on one full length record.

Ovrld: Have you done much tweaking of the old GBV songs when you play live or do they stay exactly the same even after 20 years?

DG: The structures are always the same, but as for my own parts, I tweak here and there, sure. Lots of improvisation occurs depending on the night and the mood, but more in the form of occasional subtle licks or melodic lines.

Ovrld: Have you ever matched Robert for alcohol consumption?

DG: I don’t have the opportunity to onstage! I start almost every song so there’s precious little time to take sips. I make up for it before and after the sets, though.

Ovrld: Do you have a favorite GBV album? 

DG: I used to say it’s this one or that one, and if I was asked my fave that i’ve played on, I would say Universal Truths And Cycles, but I’ve realized that I can’t really pick a favorite.

Ovrld: Does playing with GBV again feel purely nostalgic or is there a sense of momentum into a new era?

DG: We all strongly feel a momentum into a new era, for sure. We are busy learning brand new songs to record, and always support a current release on tours. Bob has always done that with Guided By Voices ever since I joined back in ’96. If he had a solo project out, we’d play a few of the songs in our GbV set. Bob rotates the selection of older songs we play as well— for instance, “Brides Have Hit Glass” is in the set right now, but may leave after the new year. Now we are putting in some ESP Ohio songs, so it’s very much a currently relevant and vital band, and we never feel any differently.