Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of corresponding with Tobin Sprout. The musician, songwriter, illustrator, surrealist painter, and former Guided By Voices member was incredibly generous with his time and was willing to field my questions on his upcoming music and art projects. He shared some thoughts on the now 25 year old Bee Thousand, his former bands 1994 masterpiece and we even chatted a bit about his short lived but superb band, Eyesinweasel.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: Last summer marked the 25th Anniversary of the release of Bee Thousand. How do you feel that the album stands up after all these years?
Tobin Sprout: I think it’s as strong as ever. B-1000 could come out today and sound just as relevant as it was in the 90’s. Time makes the masterpiece. I think a lot of the music today draws from this album.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: When is the last time you listened to it?
Tobin Sprout: It’s been awhile. I will have to sit down and listen to it.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: What was the one song on the album that you enjoyed playing Live the most?
Tobin Sprout: I think we played everything on the album at one time or another. Queen of Cans and Jars, love the riff. Tractor Rape Chain has that chord slide that’s hypnotizing. Smothered In Hugs just pounds power chords, its getting louder. I still play Awful Bliss into Mincer Ray in my sets, love playing those too. Mincer Ray I just play a D most of the time, the bass carries the rest. Echos Myron was always a great one to play live. On a lot of the album I used a guitar to play bass, and EQ the 4-track to give it more bottom. That’s how I recorded the end of Echos, it was easier to hit those notes on guitar than a bass. I think we just didn’t have a bass available at the time. I guess the one I liked playing most was I Am A Scientist, I think it was the hit and the one that really got the crowds up, loved the video too.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: Over the last year I’ve seen that you’ve been recording new material. What can you tell me about those tracks and plans to release your next album?
Tobin Sprout: I have an EP and an album pretty much finished. Working on getting a label right now. The EP will come out first, it has a remixed version of Supersonic Chairman and 3 other songs. It’s more guitar driven than the LP. The LP will be called Empty Horses or The Return. Its very piano driven, and a bit darker than the EP. It was recorded mostly with my Band at Tommy Schichtel‘s Studio Goon Lagoon in Grand Rapid. Tommy on lead guitar, Gary Vermillion on Drums, and Steve Vermillion on bass. Also did some of the recording at my studio in Leland Mi. A song called Every Sweet Soul was recorded by Ferris Henning. Ferris also did a video for the song. Hope to get the EP out before the end of the year. The Album will come out next year. Then hope to tour it.
More to come!
The Ash Gray Proclamation: Can you tell me a little bit about your current art related projects and/or a follow up to your children books, Tinky Put His Little Moon To Bed and Elliott?
Tobin Sprout: My Wife Laura is also an artist, she does 2D and 3D mixed medium. Uses old magazines and found objects. She calls it Life In A Box. She just had her 4th show at the Old Art Building here in Leland. We also do collaborations, where she gives me a box and some found pieces and I Paint something on the box and give it back to her to add something. It’s interesting to see how the original Idea changes into something different.She also has written a follow up to Tinky that I am going to illustrate. Elliott is out of print, but I plan to re edit it and make it available on Kindle, along with another book I wrote before Elliott called April and Elliott. Still painting and might release a booklet with the EP of my paintings.
The AGP: What was the creative process like behind the new releases?
Tobin: I worked with the band as much as possible. Mostly at Tommy’s studio in Grand Rapids. I would send demos to Gary and Steve so when we meet at Tommy’s they would have ideas and had worked out the structures. Tommy would be placing mics and running the tape machine so would add his parts later. It also gave him time to think about his guitar parts. Once we have the basic tracks, I would add vocals and overdubs. By the next session Tommy would have his parts recorded, so we would spend time adding whatever we felt was needed then mix. At one point we also brought in Drew Howard to play pedal Steel on Breaking Down and All In My Sleep.
The AGP: As you mentioned the album is more piano driven than the EP, so I’m wondering if you had a vision going into the studio and how does the recording match up with that?
Tobin: I don’t think I had a vision but the album just grew into two different albums. About two thirds of the album worked really well together which stayed on the final album. And the others were put on the EP. Not that one was better than the other. The album is more darker piano along with a few simple acoustic pieces. Where the EP is straight up two guitars, bass and drums.
The AGP: I was in attendance for The Cambridge, MA Eyesinwesel show that ended up being captured and released as Live In The Middle East on that tour and to me there was something very special about that line up that night performance. What comes to mind when you look back at that creative period, those two releases, and the subsequent tour?
Tobin: Gary and Steve (Vermillion) were in the band then, might have been the first tour with them. Don’t remember it being one of our better shows but it seems to be a favorite of a lot of people. It was recorded by the CBC from a mobile recording studio. It was recorded digitally to tape.
*Live Photo of Tobin Courtesy Of Mike White
Thanks again to Tobin for the time and for the follow up to our 2010 interview.