| Home | Fading Captain Series | GBV News | The Band | The Music | The Critics & Fans | Merchandise | Other Stuff |

Guitar World 
August 2001 
By Adam Levy

Isolation Drills' Three-Guitar Pileup

“I wanted layers of guitars – a thick wall of power-rock sounds,” says Guided By Voices frontman, Robert Pollard, of his band’s new album, Isolation Drills (TVT). Pollard got his wish. Isolation Drills is saturated with great guitar riffs – from the Byrds-like jangle of “Twilight Campfighter” to the all-acoustic “Sister I Need Wine” to the Big Star-style punch of “Glad Girls”.

To realize his guitar-heavy concept, Pollard and fellow guitarists Doug Gillard and Nate Farley recorded most of their parts live with bassist Tim Tobias and drummer Jim MacPherson. ‘I wanted to capture the power of our live performances as closely as possible,” says Pollard, who directed Gillard and Farley to copy his rhythm parts on the basic tracks.

Developing fills and riffs to expand the album’s guitar as­sault, however, wasn’t as easy as putting the players in a room and Letting them blow. “We all live in different cities, so we don’t get to practice much,” says Gillard. “Before we started recording, Bob sent us his work tapes. First, I learned to copy what he was playing, and then I threw his demos onto my 4-track machine and came up with little fills and ambient things that comple­mented what he played. I also
wanted to stay out of the way of his vocal lines. When I sent my tapes back to Bob, he dug most of my ideas.”

Pollard also traded tapes with Farley, so when the band finally came together to rehearse for the album sessions, most of the songs were already worked out. “Fed Ex was our best friend,” says Farley.

To maximize the impact of the guitar layers, the guitarists used different guitar and amp combinations to craft distinctive tones. “The formula changed a little, depending on the needs of each song,” says Gillard. “In general, Nate and Bob used clean sounds with just a little dirt, and I went with more distorted sounds.”

In the studio, Gillard mainly used his ‘76 Gib­son Les Paul Custom and a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier head through a Mesa/Boogie 4x12 cab­inet. For variety, he plugged into Marshall and Hiwatt heads, and a VoxAC3O combo. Farley’s default setup was a borrowed Gibson ES-335 and his own 100-watt Laney AOR Pro Tube half-stack Vintage SGs and Telecasters stood in when he wanted a non-335 timbre. Pollard used a Tele and a ‘59 Les Paul goldtop—jacked into a Vox AC3O—for most of his tracks.

If you’ve noticed that effects pedals weren’t included in the session gear log, it’s because the GBV guitarists rarely used them. To insure getting full-bodied guitar tones on tape, the trio agreed to “cut out the middle man’ and record sounds straight from their amps. The exceptions included a Korg ToneWorks AX1G (the wah effect on “Want One”), a Line 6 MM4 Mod­ulation Modeler (the chorus on “The Brides Have Hit Glass”), and a Boomerang phrase-sampler pedal (the backwards, two-chord arpeggio on “The Enemy”).

One of the albums most interesting sounds is the lush steel-string ambience on “Sister I Need Wine.” Pollard wanted a complex and fo­cused timbre, so he suggested that he, Gillard, Farley, and Tobias all play the same acoustic-guitar part simultaneously. The four gathered around one stereo microphone, and the thick guitar bed became the song’s central track. “I wanted a lot of room sound on that one,” Pollard says, “with all the acoustic guitars ringing to­gether in one space.”

Onstage, the GBV guitar squad keeps things nice and simple. Farley’s warhorse is a late-model Telecaster, and his backup guitar is an ‘89 Les Paul Studio. His only stompbox is a Boss TU-2 tuner. “Having anything more onstage confuses me,” Farley says. “The less things that might get kicked over, the better.” Gillard plays his ‘76 Les Paul Custom through his Mesa/ Boo­gie Dual Rectifier half-stack, and uses a pedal-board loaded with a Boss TtJ-2 tuner, a Boss BD­2 Blues Driver overdrive, a Boss TR-2 tremolo, and an Ibanez CF-7 chorus/flanger.

Pollard, however, doesn’t play any guitar on­stage. “I used to play in our early days, but it was a bit of a burden,” he says. “I was too concerned with conducting the band, listening to everyone else for balance, and staying in tune. And I had to sing on top of all that. Now I just stand there and sing, talk to the crowd, and throw stuff at them. And it’s a lot harder to throw things at peo­ple when you’re busy playing guitar.”