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