As I’m sure you’re well aware by now, that Guided By Voices were forced to postpone this weekends East Coast shows due to illness. Thankfully a new date has been announced for their return to Boston on January 15th at Royale. With a handful albums added to their cannon during a time where they were unable to tour this news hits particularly hard, but these continue to be truly strange times to live in. Taking measures to keep both the band, their fans safe and healthy is paramount. Last week I had the good fortune of connecting with GBV’s Doug Gillard via zoom to discuss the band’s recent output, the challenges of recording and releasing albums during a pandemic, and the forthcoming LP It’s Not Them, It Couldn’t Be Them, It Is Them. A huge thank you to Doug for taking the time chat and stay tuned for part two of our conversation coming this winter.
*Photo of Doug performing at the Telegram Ballroom, Los Angeles 12/31/19 as well as the image that runs throughout the interview (DG on the balcony) provided by Ana Luisa Morales. With audio assistance from Reuben Bettsak.
Since 2005 Columbus, OH’s lo-fi concern, Smug Brothers have been responsible for some the finest hook laden DIY rock music I’ve come across in recent memory. Led by principle songwriter and guitarist Kyle Melton, Smug Brothers seem to up their game with each subsequent release with material that is equally engaging as it is infectious and with the forthcoming, Application of The Twig Smug Brothers may just have released their finest record to date. Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with both Kyle Melton and his longtime collaborator and drummer, Don Thrasher (Guided By Voices / Swearing at Motorists).
The Ash Gray Proclamation: On September 10th Smug Brothers will release Application of the Twig, your band’s 10th album with a bunch of EP’s as well. Can you tell me a little about the creative process that went into the new songs?
Kyle Melton: Well, we had to be a little extra-creative with this album simply due to the limitations imposed by the current pandemic. Since we weren’t able to work together in-person, we had to dive into our pile of outtakes to see what we might be able to whip into an album. In the fall of 2020, after we’d released the trio of EPs, we took stock of what we had and Don (Thrasher) really carved out a really cool path out of what we had laying around that we could work on. Luckily, Scott, Kyle Sowash, and I had enough experience working remotely to finish tracks that we pulled it all together fairly quickly once we got on a roll in January 2021.
Don Thrasher: We have 10 short-form releases, EPs or singles or whatever you want to call them. Of course, some of them are packed with songs. Echo Complex, our split EP with Brat Curse, has nine songs, but it’s only like 15 minutes long.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: Are there plans for the band to support Application of the Twig with Live dates this year?
DT: We had hoped to play out this fall. Back in the summer, we optimistically booked some October shows in Dayton and Columbus. However, with the rise of the delta variant, we decided to push those back to a date TBD in 2022. It just seemed needlessly risky to ask people to come into a club to watch us play right now. We’re definitely looking forward to playing some of the newer material for people. We started rehearsing again in June and with the exception of a few older songs, the set we’ve been working up is packed with songs from 2019 forward, which really reflects the output of our current lineup with Scott Tribble and Kyle Sowash. It’s been really fun to play a lot of fresh stuff.
The AGP: Which of the new songs are you most looking forward to playing out Live?
KM: We’ve been rehearsing Lesser Commodore and That’s News I Could Have Used Yesterday. We may get around to some others, but Twig may honestly wind up more of a studio album that doesn’t really make it to the stage. But we did pick up several from the 2020 EPs that have been a lot of fun to finally play as a group, since those were all put together remotely for release.
DT: There are too many to list. We haven’t played anything live from Application of the Twig or any of the EPs we released in late 2020. We barely played anything from the three full-lengths we released in 2019 so the songs we’re playing all sound fresh and vibrant.
The AGP: How has the approach to writing and recording evolved since you released Buzzmounter EP in 2005?
KM: I’ve worked at this a while now, so the writing keeps evolving. But the motivation is still basically the same: I just want to write a song that gets me excited in some way when it comes to life. And that’s at each stage of “coming alive.” The initial buzz of knowing a new song is cool and has potential, when we start recording it and working it up, as the overdubs sweeten it up and it gets to a final mix, and then when it’s put down on physical media or whatever. What I write about and how I put ideas is always changing and I think I’ve gotten better musically and lyrically over the years. A lot of the inspirations are still the same, but as time goes on you get inspired by new and different things, you know? The recording certainly has evolved enormously over the years. Starting out in 2005, it was just Darryl Robbins and I working separately with him doing all the music and me doing vocals on 4-track. Don and I have been recording together now for 13 years and have worked in all kinds of spaces. But now instead of me just dropping songs on him out of the blue, I send him demos recorded on my phone in advance of a session so we can move a little more quickly and he can at least have some familiarity with the material. Now that he’s an hour away instead of 10 minutes down the street, it’s more important to make what time we have to be productive.
The AGP: I noticed that these tracks were recorded as far back as 2014 and up to 2021. Can you tell me a bit about the decision to include the older material on Twig?
KM: Well, we’re always recording. Even if there isn’t an album that’s imminent, we try and find time to put something new down. Our term for it is “sweeten the pot.” We like to record, and we like to find cool ways to put songs together that hold together in an interesting way. A lot of the older stuff was just done on a random Sunday when we had some time and no particular direction for a new album, and those just sat around unfinished until we found a spot for them. And many of the more recent albums had a handful of songs that we liked that just didn’t fit the flow of the album we were on at the time. “In Between A Wave” was one of the first things I worked on with Scott as we were working toward Attic Harvest. It just kept not fitting with what was happening, but on Application of the Twig, it really feels like a standout. It’s all timing, really.
DT: We couldn’t get together to record any of the numerous untracked songs Kyle has written so we basically plundered our archives for material that was left unfinished. We were also able to add a few newer ones like “That’s News I Could’ve Used Yesterday” and “It Seemed Like You To Me.” I really thought the album would be some kind of Frankstein’s monster, you know, a cobbled-together collection of disparate songs, but it’s actually pretty cohesive for what we do. We cast a fairly wide sonic net, from acoustic songs and jangly material to power-pop, indie rock, and post-punk, so this record is a continuation of that.
The AGP: Last year you decided to eschew the full LP format in favor of issuing 3 EP’s Flame Verbatim, Room of the Year, and Every Surface Under Heaven, respectively. Can you tell a little bit about those releases and the decision to release them separately?
DT: I’ll speak to that since it was my concept. As I mentioned before, we have released as many EPs as full-lengths. There are things we like about both formats but we had released three full-lengths in 2019 so it just made sense to do a short-form release next. I never imagined it would turn into three EPs but that’s just how it worked out. The songs that make up those three EPs were the last things Kyle and I recorded in late 2019. As is usually the case, we weren’t working toward any specific project, we were just recording rhythm guitar and drum tracks onto four-track to add to our pot of songs to finish. Sometime in late spring or early summer of 2020, I was listening to that latest batch of songs and trying to figure out what we could do with them when the concept of the three EPs hit me. It was divine inspiration or something, but I could basically see that we had a really strong batch of songs and there was like an equal number of longer songs and shorter songs. The whole thing just kind of presented itself to me like some “Beautiful Mind” situation. I sequenced them and, sure enough, they worked out to be three solid four-song EPs. We knew they were being released digitally but they were still sequenced and packaged as if they were 7-inch records. I presented the running orders to Kyle and he liked what I had, although he replaced one of the songs. I think he flipped the sequence on one of the EPs, too. Sonically and aesthetically they turned out just like I had envisioned so I was especially stoked when we got the opportunity this year to do the limited-edition lathe-cut runs of the three EPs.
Smug Brothers – Application of The Twig Album Premeire
San Francisco’s The Telephone Numbers, are the recording vehicle for Thomas Rubenstein‘s charming and enganging jangle pop composistions. On The Ballad of Doug which was released in June on Paisly Shirt Records Rubenstien is joined by a full cast of musicians including Glenn Donaldson of The Reds, Pinks, & Purples who provides various instrumentation as well as mixing the album. However, the spotlight is firmly focused on The Telepohone Numbers’creative leader who has a knack for creating concise and intelligent guitar driven pop songs with anbundacne of razor harp hooks. By the end of the albums openner, You’re Nowhere I was hard pressed not to sing along. There’s something familiar yet competely unique at work with the songs chiming guitars chords and bouyant melodies even though I was hearing it for the first time. Elsewhere, on Pictures of Lee the gently strummed guitars and varied instrumentation provides a fondation for the albums most compelling and addicitve track. I don’t think I’ve managed to make through the album without playing this song 3-4 times in a row. Come to think of it with a running time of just 33 minutes it’s easy to play The Ballad of Doug over and over. The Telephone Numbers have delivered one of the years most enjoyable albums of the year, filled with subbtle melodies with nod to classic jangle pop touchstones.
Today marks the release of the 33rd album from Dayton, OH indie legends, Guided By Voices and the 10th in 4 years from the lineup of Robert Pollard, Doug Gillard, Kevin March, Mark Shue, Bobby Bare Jr., and producer Travis Harrison. Now that we’ve dispensed of the statistics let’s dig into the utter magnificence of Earth Man Blues. The album is tied together with the loose concept of a rock opera that takes place at the John H. Morrison Elementary School and consists of material that Robert Pollard wrote in recent years but, for one reason or another never included in the recent recording sessions or the bands output, until now.
On my very first listen I was struck by each of the 15 tracks that occupy Earth Man Blues, some of which I connected with immediately while others took more time to reveal themselves. I’m not sure if I would classify the album as a grower due to Pollard’s striking pop sensibilities throughout, but on each and every listen I discover something new and enthralling to latch onto. Let us skip the comparison to the bands revered back catalog and allow Earth Man Blues stand on it’s merit. Made Man opens the album with a bit of swagger and manages to make full use of all 1:12 seconds, while making a strong case for brevity with twin guitar crunch, pop hooks, and a gorgeous albeit concise string section. Dirty Kid School is a minor curveball in terms of the GBV aesthetic, but when the rockabilly punk rave up hits, it hits hard. The track contains one of a few effective interludes found throughout the LP which adds an element of psychedelia and experimentation before Gillard’s insanely catchy riff returns and the listener has been transported back to the hallways of the aforementioned learning institution. Elsewhere, the band delivers one of the albums high water marks with Lights Out in Memphis (Egypt), a progish number, skillfully balanced with some the album’s finest pop hooks. That track also provides another how the hell does he do it moment, with the line “trained alien sales reps for aluminum can Siberia” Earth Man Blues flies by in no time and before you know it you’re already 7 songs in before another EMB stand out and my current favorite of the set, Sunshine Girl Hello arrives with an intro and coda that sounds as if culled from one of Bob’s suitcases during a Monkees/Herman Hermits phase, then quickly switching gears with chugging chords, sublime leads, and a gorgeous chorus. When the band returns to the Live setting I imagine Ant Repellent will be a new staple of the set, the track features a sinister chorus/chant, a Mark Shue buoyant bassline with Pollard delivering a stunning vocal hook near the end of the track. The one-two punch of the strange yet stunning, How Can A Plumb Be Perfected? a song that exudes Pollard’s penchant for stirring melancholic ruminations and Child’s Play, a track that to my ears could’ve worked just as well as an opening and ends the album on a euphoric high note.
Who would blame you dear reader, if you greeted the above claims with a raised brow or even a bit of skepticism, because although this current run that started with 2017’s August By Cake has been quite impressive, with each new release there are inevitable claims from casual and obsessive fans alike, myself include who suggest that GBV’s latest offering is to be its creators finest hour. But, with Earth Man Blues there is something different at work, something completely compelling and unique, more so than any of their recent recordings. Although this isnt an album of reinvention its one that finds an artist 38 years into an venerable career continuing to push limits and create vital art on his own terms. Earth Man Blues is a singular and exquisite artistic achievement which further illuminates Robert Pollard’s unparallel songcraft as well as GBV’s adroit musicianship.
Earth Man Blues is available now through Rockathon
I considered a recap of the heinous year that was 2020, however I realize none of us need to be reminded of the state of our county or a laundry list of the attrocities we have all witnessed. Instead, as I begin to wind down activities at The Ash Gray Proclamation over the coming months I thought I focus on the artists that helped us through the past year and specifically the 100 songs that provided comfort and solace when we needed it most. You should expect our belated favorite albums of 2020 sooner than later. In a year that we had to settle for watching our favorite bands on our computers and T.V.’s instead of in our sorely missed local clubs, it remains crucially important to support their efforts. Most if not all of these tracks on this playlist were purchased on Bandcamp, usually on the sites no fee Friday’s where they continue to waive their standard fee which ultimately puts more money in the pockets of the bands, labels, and charities. I ask that if you find something you enjoy and I hope you find plenty, please seek them out on https://bandcamp.com/ and support them by purchasing their music. As always thank you for your support and readership.
Earlier today long standing AGP favorites, Hallelujah The Hills premiered their incredible stop motion video for The Memory Tree. The song can be found on their most recent LP and the outright triumph, I’m You. An album that landed in the top 3 of our favorite albums of 2019. Over the current pandemic HTH leader, Ryan H. Walsh began working on the concept for the stop motion video that led to the creation of The Memory Tree.
Walsh explains: “About four & a half months ago I started crafting these little ghost figures. And then I started searching out miniature items—like typewriters, coffee cups, and television sets. And then before I could blink, I had multiple small houses inside my singular human house and I was working on a stop motion animation video for The Memory Tree. It all kinda snowballed from there.”
Hallelujah The Hills recently shared the new track Popular Anti-Depressants of The 21st Centruy as well as the 2020 Halloween Mix Tape, The World is Most Certainly Haunted And I Am One Of It’s Best Ghosts, which you can score over at their Bandcamp site. Lastly the band is offering a spiffy new ghost t-shirt to mark the relase of their new video, just in time for your trick or treating adventures.
Since disbanding Boston’s dream psych concern Guillermo Sexo, Reuben Bettsak has been busy recording music with Infinite Room and recently the reconstituted Emerald Comets and with the Covid-19 Pandemic Reuben has taken to writing and recording a forthcoming LP, Strangelands. He recently gave us a sneak peak into to recording process as well as a taste of what we can expect from the new album.
“When this whole quarantine thing took place, it really disrupted everything in the way we ran our lives. After about a week of being isolated in my house in this weird new world, I wrote, and recorded Isolation Daydreams. The experience was very therapeutic for me. I realized that writing,and recording would really help my state of mind through this thing. I asked the band if they would like to work on music remotely. The rest of the band, Jason Layne, Tim O’Keefe, and David Altman, added their parts, then I had Jeremy Lassetter (Ghost Box Orchestra)add some guitar. We then sent it over to Justin Pizzoferrato to mix and to Carl Saff to master. What started with one song has progressed into an album called Strangelands that we are finishing up. It’s been a weekly process. I have the rest of the band add their parts to one song each week, and then Justin mixes the song at the end of the week.I think the best part about this experience for me besides the musical therapy is that I’m really excited about this album. I’m really proud of this collection of songs, and the great contribution made by the band, and everyone involved.”
For Strangelands Bettsak enlisted the assistance of some notable guests Bo Barringer (The Wrong Shapes), Ryan Connelly (Hallelujah The Hills), Chad Shivers(Infinite Room), Jeff Barsky (Insect Factory),Jeremy Lasssetter (Ghost Box Orchestra), Anar Badalov (New Dog), Sophia Cacciola, Michael Epstein (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling), and Katharine Rahilly Altman.
The band had been working on a batch of new songs before Covid-19 turned the world upside-down, but Bettsak wanted to create another batch for Strangelands, unique to what he’s been experiencing through this ongoing global pandemic. It’s a pleasure to share Isolation Daydreams, the first track from the upcoming Emerald Comets full length release. It’s a lush and layered composition witch captures those daydream prone moments of life in quarantine, perfectly.
It’s a pleasure to share Twin Sun Trajectory from Chattanooga’s lo-fi garage pop concern, Mythical Motors‘ forthcoming album Leviathan Messiah. Matt Addison has been releasing records under the Mythical Motors moniker since 2006 while managing to quietly amass a strong catalog of arresting and hook heavy fuzz pop recordings.
Addison describes the new track: “it’s a power pop song featuring prominent synth and an unusual structure. The lyrics describe the joys of raising a family despite the uncertainty of modern times”
For the latest release Mythical Motors return with the 14 track Leviathan Messiah which follows last years terrific, This Is What The Twilight Zone Prepared Us For. The album was mastered by Todd Tobias (Circus Devils/Robert Pollard) and will be available tomorrow digitally and on limited edition cassette.
Addison recorded Leviathan Messiah at home over the past year or so and describes the album is a bit of a departure from their recent releases. “some songs stretch out a little longer than usual. In addition to our lo-fi power pop sound, there’s also more of a focus on fully fleshed out acoustic songs. There’s also songs that combine the more aggressive elements of post-punk, psychedelic rock, and prog rock.”
We’re thrilled to premiere the forthcoming split release from two of New England’s finest bands. Boston’s moody punk concern Fake Rays (F.K.A. Sorry) and the New Hampshire Seacoast’s post-punk rippers, Greed Island have teamed for a split release on Midnight Werewolf Records. Each band contributes 3 tracks to the release which you can hear in full below. The cassette can be pre-ordered now.
The bands contributed their own bios for the uninitiated: Greed island is a Seacoast, NH post punk band that kills time by watching anime and shredding fuzzy riffs together. We take influence from bands like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr to bring our own brand of weird rock.
Fake Rays – “For a bio we’ve opted for a haiku format”
Once we were Sorry
Now we are Fake Rays ”