Field Recordings & Amp Drops: A Conversation With Doug Gillard

With today’s release of Guided By Voices’ 35th album and instant classic, Crystal Nuns Cathedral as well as their highly anticipated return to Boston tomorrow night at Royale, I thought it would be a great time to check back in with GBV’s Doug Gillard. This time around we focused our conversation on the creative process behind Crystal Nuns Cathedral.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Crystal Nuns Cathedral has been accumulating high praise from critics and fans alike and with just a few days until release day, I’m curious to know what makes CNC so special among the already impressive run of releases from this line up?

Doug Gillard: We approached this one with more of an eye to get slightly bigger sounds, slightly more homogenous throughout the album and deliberately less idiosyncratic mixes than usual perhaps.  Its still us and all our same instincts, so there are still occasional synths, field recordings, amp drops, wild ideas, etc.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: On one of many standouts on the album, Climbing A Ramp offers a bit of orch pop before coming to an anthemic and rather exhilarating finish. Can you tell me how that track came together and what your vision was for both the string arrangement and guitar composition?

Doug Gillard: Bob’s demo had all the elements in it, plus his production notes. On this one, the cello line was something Bob already had in mind and sang it on the demo. I transposed it and wrote it out for the cellist Chris George, ex of the NYC string quartet Invert.  For the song Eye City, those were cello parts I came up with.  As far as guitar for this song, I just played Bobs chords on a couple electrics and acoustics, and already had the lead tracks done on a session at home so we used that instead of my trying to re-play it in studio. I could’ve tried, but it was one of those that came together so well I didn’t wanna fuck with what was already down.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: I read that on Earth Man Blues the band recorded their parts separately due to constraints of the pandemic. Was there a chance this time around for you all to get together in the same room to work on these songs? 

Doug Gillard: We tend to do a great deal of remote home recording each album anyway, but especially during 2020 and 2021. For CNC, most of us were at the drum sessions one day or the other, and Travis Mark and I worked on guitar and bass parts at his studio.  We did basics on select tracks all together for Its Not Them, Mirrored Aztec and prior, but not for Styles We Paid For or Earth Man Blues. Straynge dayze, you know.

The AGP: Did the process for recording Crystal Nuns Cathedral follow the usual process with Bob sending each of you demos to work on individually or was there any deviation from that or special instruction for this batch of songs?  

Doug: Well, we receive the demos as a group at the same time, and that process didn’t change for this album. Bob usually gives us general production notes each record, so, nothing unique about this process with regard to past albums.

The AGP: As the band is currently in rehearsals for some upcoming East Coast show’s this weekend, what songs are you most looking forward to performing and can I cast a vote for Huddled?

Doug: Thanks, I agree, that’s a great tune! It’s a nice challenge doing Climbing A Ramp, which is sounding really great, and Excited Ones is such a great pop song that it’s really fun to play. Mad River Man has a special quality, so am looking forward to that one as well.  Eyes Of Your Doctor is a slow boiler too. Total rock.

The AGP: What’s the rest of the year ahead look like for you personally as well as GBV?  

Doug: Continuing to record, release records and play live shows, some side recording projects here and there, hopefully traveling to see family.

The AGP: During the last few conversations we’ve delved into some current listening habits. What albums have you been enjoying as of late?

Doug: Mainly, its going back and refamiliarizing myself with things I used to put on all the time but haven’t in a while. Lately its anything by The Groundhogs from ’68-’75. I’ve always been a big fan and can find a few things to love on all those records. Highly interesting stuff. Magazine- first 3 albums plus have been delving into their live performances from the time, TV appearances, etc., John McGeoch’s always been near the top of my favorite guitarists, and Barry Adamson’s career started here. All the Thin Lizzy output and solo Phil Lynott material. Probably prompted by news last year of a statue of Phil unveiled in Bromwich, UK which looks more like Vonnegut than Lynott.

Thank you to Doug for taking the time to chat during a busy week of rehearsals and travel to conduct this conversation.

Crystal Nuns Cathedral is available now via Rockathon

Don’t miss Guided By Voices Saturday, March 5th at Royale

Premiere: Red Pants – Another Haircut [Video]

Madison, WI post lo-fi concern, Red Pants will release their 2nd long playing album, When We Were Dancing on February 18th via San Francisco’s exemplary Paisley Shirt Records. The release will be available both digitally and on limited run of 100 cassettes. For the uninitiated, Red Pants is the solo project of Jason Lambeth: curator and owner behind Painted Blonde Tapes, avid 4-track cassette user, father, and all-around supporter of independent & DIY music-makers. Jason is joined by longtime collaborator Elsa Nekola on drums and vocals to complete their most spacious sounding album yet.

Today Red Pants give us the privilege of premiering their new song and video for Another Haircut. On the track the duo delivers massive hooks, guitar fuzz, and driving beats. The video for the noise pop gem has the feel of an adorable home movie, featuring Lambeth’s two daughters.

Red Pants forthcoming new album, While We Were Dancing is avialable for pre-order now.

Premiere: Emerald Comets – Memory Factory

While Boston’s pysch-shoegaze concern, Emerald Comets continue work on their next full length they have shared a day dream inducing new song, which will also seve as the title track for the Comets forthcoming longplayer, Memory Factory. The new track finds the quartet that features current and past members of such Boston rock luminaries as Guillermo Sexo, Ex-Hyena, Drab, and Sunken Armada delivering a liberal dose of dream pop over waves of buzzing guitar and lush instrumentation. We recently caught up with bands guitarist and vocalist, Reuben Bettsak to chat a bit about Memory Factory as well as what’s next for Emerald Comets.

Memory Factory was one of the first songs I wrote for the 2nd album. This song is about memories. Like remembering a certain memory from the past, and trying to remember details. A lot of the songs from the 2nd album, also called Memory Factory explore different memory stories. We recorded this song similarly to how we did the last album. I recorded my vocals, guitar, and some synths, Tim O’Keefe added drums, then Jason Layne added bass, keyboards, mellotron, and added backup vocals along with David Altman. Justin Pizzoferrato mixed the thing in his magical way. As far as more new music, we are getting closer to finishing tracking the whole album and I’m hoping we can release the album early fall of 2022. There will also be another single probably coming out this spring.” – Reuben Bettsak

Pinch Points Announce New Album And Share Am I OK?

Melbourne’s rising post punks, Pinch Points have announced details around their forthcoming second album, Process which will be released jointly by Exploding In Sound Records here in the US and Misletone Records in Australia on March 18th. This morning saw the release of album’s second single and accompanying new video for Am I OK? Which features the band and thier alto egos promoting mental health wellness and selfcare. The 10 tracks on Process deal with “engaging with the fractures in so-called ‘Australia’ from catastrophic bushfires, gendered violence, mental health struggles to First Nations incarceration and deaths in custody – with clear-eyed directness, along with an uncommon nuance and empathy.”

Quite likely one of the years most hotly anticipated releases is now avaialable for pre-order.

Sub-Underground: The Ash Gray Proclamation Presents A Conversation With Jason Henn of Honey Radar

It was sometime in 2015 when I received my official introduction to the music of Jason Henn and his recording vehicle, Honey Radar. Since then, the project has evolved into full-fledged band with Henn at the helm delivering one engaging and arresting song cycle after another. With several LP’s, EP’s, and split singles to their credit as well as Henn’s remarkable 2020 solo debut, Jazz Pigs In High School, Honey Radar can be a bit hard to classify at times. Early on they seemed to connect a lot with lo-fi acts that came before them, but as the band have continued to push their songcraft and sound in exciting new directions the Avant Pop and Sub-Underground tags have been tossed about. Regardless of the genre that gets pinned on Honey Radar the takeaway should be that they are a rare act that consistently offers up something wholly original, completely unique, and not to mention, catchy as hell.

On Sunday we will have the pleasure of welcoming Honey Radar back to Boston when they  play AGP 15 at O’ Brien’s Pub alongside Thalia Zedek Band and Germ House. I recently had the chance to speak with Jason for a rare interview to discuss a handful of upcoming releases, getting back on the road, and what’s next for Honey Radar.

AGP 15: Sunday October 3rd with Thalia Zedek Band, Honey Radar, & Germ House at O’Brien’s, Allston Event Info

Special thanks to Reuben Bettsak for audio production assistance.

The Ash Gray Proclamation Proudly Presents: A Conversation With Doug Gillard

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.

Smug Brothers’ Application of The Twig Interview & Album Premiere

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

Order via Bandcamp

Review: The Telephone Numbers – The Ballad of Doug

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.

Review: Guided By Voices – Earth Man Blues [Rockathon]

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