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Doug Gillard talks about his Guided By Voices return in an exclusive Q&A

(Photo: Doug Gillard)
(Photo: Doug Gillard)

It was announced Monday that guitarist Doug Gillard is returning to a full-time gig with Dayton, Ohio king shits Guided By Voices, following Gillard filling in for the band at a festival gig in Cincinnati on July 17. Gillard originally joined GBV in 1997 when frontman Bob Pollard brought Cobra Verde on as his backup band for the recording of the Mag Earwig! album following the disbanding of the “classic” lineup (Tobin Sprout, Kevin Fennell, Mitch Mitchell, and Greg Demos). Gillard remained with Guided By Voices throughout most of the 2000’s “hi-fi” era, playing with surgical focus on 1999’s Ric Ocasek-produced Do The Collapse, Isolation Drills, Universal Truths And Cycles, Earthquake Glue, and the group’s “final record,” 2004’s Half Smiles Of The Decomposed, before the “classic lineup” reformed in 2010.

Not only is the guitarist playing out and recording with Guided By Voices again, but he and bandleader Robert Pollard have started a new side project, ESP Ohio, which has two singles currently for sale on the Rockathon site with a full-length album due this October. Doug Gillard chatted with The A.V Club about his history with the band, joining Nada Surf, what he’s been doing since 2004’s Electrifying Conclusion tour, and being called back to the lake.

The A.V. Club: GBV broke up in 2004, playing its final shows over two nights at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro. What have you been doing in the 10-plus years since?

Doug Gillard: I’ve made three full-length albums and a single under my own name, [gone on] solo tours, [done] soundtrack music for two films, recorded and toured with Richard Buckner for a year, and played on records by Sally Crewe, The Oranges Band, and The Hold Steady. I’ve reunited for shows and recordings with my first band, Death Of Samantha, with Cobra Verde’s John Petkovic. I also joined Nada Surf in 2010, and became a proud member of Hamburg-era Beatles project Bambi Kino with Mark Rozzo, Ira Elliot, andErik Paparozzi. In addition to that, I co-wrote a couple songs with my good pal Kendall Meade, recorded on two full-length Nada Surf LPs, did the second Lifeguards album with Robert Pollard, played Carnegie Hall with Nada Surf, played a show backing Ronnie Spector in her band, and got invited to play at one of Yo La Tengo’s Hanukkah shows at Maxwell’s. I also produced an album by Eternal Summers, recorded with Indiana’s The Easthills, played bass and guitar for comedian/guitarist Dave Hill, played with lots of great friends in NYC here and there, solo or collaborations, and lots of world touring and great times with Nada Surf.

The A.V. Club: How did you get involved with Nada Surf?

Doug Gillard: I had a solo weekly residency at a club in New York City in 2009, and [Nada Surf bandleader] Matthew Caws came to see one. We met then, and ran into each other at another show. Talk turned to my playing on an album of covers they were doing, and they asked me to start playing live shows here and there. We got along great, and had a lot in common musically and otherwise.

The A.V. Club: How did you end up filling in for Guided By Voices at the last minute in Cincinnati?

Doug Gillard: I got calls and texts very late one night, but didn’t see the messages until morning. Bob let guitarist Nick Mitchell go in Cleveland, so they needed a guitarist so they wouldn’t have to cancel this festival show. I flew down [that] same day, learned three or four new songs, had an acoustic hotel room cribbing with Mark Shue and Bobby Bare, Jr., and voila.

The A.V. Club: After the Electrifying Conclusion shows, did you have an inkling that GBV would reform, with or without you? What made now the right time to return?

Doug Gillard: I thought maybe it would happen, but didn’t give much thought to who would be involved. I was supportive of the old lineup reforming, and knew they would be successful with that. I was happy for them but also very happy doing what I was doing, as I am now. What made now feel like the time was the fact that they reached out to me, and I want to play with the band. Robert, Mark Shue and I had also just recorded the new ESP Ohio LP with drummer Travis Harrison in March, and that was the first batch of songs I’d worked with Bob on since Lifeguards in 2011.

The A.V. Club: It’s great to see yourself, drummer Kevin March, and Bob together again. Ever talk to former GBV members Chris Slusarenko or Nate Farley?

Doug Gillard: I saw Chris a few years ago, and I played on a song of Nate Farley’s this year. Anyway Records recently released a split 7-inch with Nate and Motel Beds. Nate’s song is a cool pop/rock tune reminiscent of Big Star. He’s doing great and we’ve kept in touch through the years.

The A.V. Club: “I Am A Tree” was a song you wrote that became a staple of GBV sets. It feels very Pollard, even though he didn’t have a hand in it.. Was that intentional on your part or simply a coincidence?

Doug Gillard: I wrote “I Am A Tree” in ’91 or ’92 before I was aware of GBV. Over the next year or two we worked it up in my band Gem, and it was on a compilation in ’95 [but was] never released on an album. When I joined in ‘96, Bob expressed a desire to cover it on Mag Earwhig! so we went for it.

The A.V. Club: What will be the fate of Nada Surf with your new old gig?

Doug Gillard: I’m co-existing in both bands. I’ll definitely continue to record and release solo music, and a recent project involved writing parts of a song using sound fragments & ideas left behind from the late Game Theory maestro Scott Miller for an album Ken Stringfellow’s putting together with Scott’s family called Supercalifragile. I’ve also been contributing tracks to the Cleveland project Scarcity Of Tanks. Nada Surf has no plans of stopping & has more touring and recording happening into the future, including something to be released fairly soon we recently recorded in a very special setting! They are like family to me as is GbV, so both feel like home.

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