EA: GBV is a fairly atypical guitar band. Stylistically, in keeping with your
lo-fi aesthetic, you all seem to delight in being fairly primitive.
Mitchell: Yeah, there s a method of recording that s pretty much kept
simple. There s not a lot of time wasted laboring over the parts so that
they ll be absolutely perfect. But it s getting to the point where we re
approaching it more professionally -- we re trying to take the time to make
complete songs, complete statements on the guitars.
EA: Is that a positive development?
Mitchell: Well, yeah, I think so. Everybody in the band can kind of play
guitar, so that helps. And then we got other guys that come into the
recording sessions sometimes to lay down parts, or lay down the solos,
or put in whatever s needed to make the song what it is when it s
finished. So for me, yeah, it s nice, because I like playing the parts that
I m supposed to play, and I enjoy that. I started out playing bass, as a
matter of fact.
EA: In GBV?
Mitchell: Yeah. I started out from the very beginning. I guess me and
Bob are the original members.
EA: So you go as far back as the first record?
Mitchell: Yes. I m the guy with the black hair smoking a cigarette on the
front cover. Do you have that one -- Forever Since Breakfast?
EA: No, that one I don t have...they re pretty hard to find these days.
Mitchell: That s, like, an EP. There s some I don t even have. I don t have
an original Propeller, or Same Place the Fly Got Smashed. I ended up
giving all my copies away thinking, ah, I ll get more...
EA: So you ve been in the band consistently from the beginning?
Mitchell: Yeah. Like I said, I started out playing bass. Then I switched to
guitar -- on Propeller s when I really kind of like started playing guitar.
EA: In the very beginning, was the intent for GBV to get a record deal,
and play live, and behave more like a normal band?
Mitchell: Well, we started out just wanting to be a band, and the main
thing about being in a band was to put out records. I mean, that was the
whole point of being in a band was to have a record. If you didn t have a
record, you really weren t a band. So our intention was to do everything
-- to play shows, and to record, make records. Not for the purpose of
being signed, and being famous, or whatever. Mainly -- and still -- we
played because we love the music. That s always been the driving thing
behind GBV -- we love the music. We don t want to put out anything that
is going to be embarrassing, or be considered second rate -- we don t
want to put out just any old piece of shit. A lot of time, and effort, and
energy is put into making it the best record it can possibly be. Even the
snippets are done that way.
EA: But a lot of the things you put out might be considered embarrassing
by other bands -- tape hiss, song fragments, instruments out of tune...
Mitchell: Well, all the records are to be looked at as a piece. Each piece
that s put on the record is there for a purpose. Some of the pieces are
just short -- just total spontaneous ideas. Others are thought out songs
and structure, you know, and a lot of effort is put into playing the songs
as perfectly as possible. As far as the primitive recording techniques
that we ve used in the past, it simply came out of the fact that no studio
that we recorded at could give us the sound that we wanted. Like vocal
sound, for example. Or we d go into a studio and there d be a guy in
there kind of frustrated -- maybe a musician or producer -- that would
not try to work with us to create the sound that we wanted. So we d
just look for other means to achieve that goal, and that s where the
four-track came in.
EA: That s interesting. So in a sense, you were able to get much closer
to what you wanted by doing it at home...
Mitchell: Yeah. The tape hiss is just like an unfortunate part of the
primitive nature of a four-track machine, and multi-tracking. You know,
you can only get so much on a four-track, and then you re going to start
having to bump down, and you kind of like lose quality. But actually,
every song that was recorded was done with the intention of it being big
and professional. It s just unfortunate that the technology that we had
wouldn t allow us to have that perfection.
EA: You seem to be saying that the lo-fi aspect was less an aesthetic
than a necessity.
Mitchell: I guess there are bands that might want to do the lo-fi thing just
for the sake of doing a lo-fi record -- noisy, sounding bad, or kind of
sketchy songs, or whatever. But GBV, and Bob being the main
songwriter, and with his foresight -- and what he wants to do is make
something good -- but with the limited resources that we had as far as
studios go, the four-track was the only way to get that sound. So it s not
like we re actually trying to make a poorly-recorded record, or put the
tape hiss on intentionally. Like I said, that s just the way it kind of
Now, the stuff we ve done in big studios, it s really incredible -- I mean as
far as -- just kicks ass, the guitar sound, totally -- I can t believe how
much better it sounds.
EA: This is stuff we ll be hearing on the next album?
Mitchell: Yeah, and like we ve re-recorded a couple things. We
re-recorded Game of Pricks off Alien Lanes, and we re-recorded My
Valuable Hunting Knife. I think there s going to be an EP, or maybe a
couple of singles, with those songs re-recorded. And when you get a
chance to hear those, you ll see that the people that we ve worked with
in the studio now are more -- they want to try to give us the sound we
want now, whereas before they just wouldn t care. Now that, you
know, we re GBV or whatever, now it s kind of like -- it rates a little bit
more attention to what we want, whereas we ve gotta do what they
EA: On stage, GBV is incredibly tight, with a very up-front guitar sound --
totally different from any of the records you ve put out. A lot of people
say that s your influence...
Mitchell: Well, I like to play loud, and I mean I got that old 75 Super Lead,
and it s got a master volume on it, and I turn it all the way up, no matter
where I m at. We ve just kind of always been a very loud band to begin
with. I m mean, when Bobby and I played in bar bands, we were
super-loud then. We go back to playing in heavy-metal bar band kind of
stuff, from way long ago.
EA: How did you start playing in bands?
Mitchell: I ve pretty much always wanted to play in a band, ever since I
was a kid. I talked my mom and dad into buying me a little bass from
Sears, and I d sit in front of the stereo for, like, hours on end, like
learn how to play Funk 49" by the James Gang. That was the first song
I learned how to play. And I just was pretty much hooked, forever, on
being a musician and being in a band. That s always kind of what I
wanted to do.
EA: Was there a particular band, or concert, or moment, that made you
say this is for me ?
Mitchell: Well, the first was records. The first thing that really got my
attention was, I just bought Can t Get No Satisfaction by the Stones,
and I had a little cheap record player...
EA: Was that right when it came out?
Mitchell: Yeah, that s how old I am. I m 35. So I was just like a kid, and I
bought Satisfaction at a little store, and I brought it home, and I put it
my record player thing, and I was just totally into it, and kept playing it
over and over and over. And my grandmother was visiting at the time,
and I don t know, I wasn t aware, but she walked in the room and
snatched it off the turntable and threw it down and said: Don t play that
stuff in my house kind of thing, and I was like whoa, that is great. Yeah
-- I want to cause a reaction like that. That s as far as records go. As
far as concerts, there s a place called Hara Arena [in Dayton] that all the
great bands like Ted Nugent and Kiss played. We used to go see all the
shows that came. My first concert was the J. Geils Band. And they just
rocked my world, man. I was like, damn, this is great. When you hear
a record, you don t think about a live performance. But then when you
see the performance, it just adds to the whole excitement of being a
musician and being in a band.
EA: So how far back do you go with the guys in GBV?
Mitchell: Two or three of us went to high school together.
EA: Does that include Bob Pollard?
Mitchell: Yeah. Me and Bob, Jimmy -- he went to Northridge, and Kevin
went to Northridge, too -- the drummer.
EA: Were you in bands then?
Mitchell: Yeah. Kevin and myself, our first band experience was in 1971.
We had a little three piece band, and I played bass. And we played little
dances, and we played wherever we could, cause we were just kids.
And we entered like a battle of the bands, and got like second place to all
these older guys, and were just, like middle-school age kids. And I kept
playing, and then Bob and myself got into a band in high school -- like I
said, it was a heavy metal bar band thing, and we played at these little
clubs around Dayton, and we were like the house band at a place called
the Domino Club.
And then Bob and myself continued on, wanting to do more original stuff,
and kind of get away from the bar band covers. We actually had a
bunch of original songs that were really pretty good. If we would have
had an opportunity to record them, I m sure we probably would have.
But anyways, we just wanted to continue at being an original band more
than being a cover band. But the other guys in our heavy metal band
weren t very happy, and so they kicked us out.
So then, from there, me and Bob just kind of like continued on. Like we d
get a little cheap tape player, make up songs, we d get drum machines,
or try to get some drums somehow, and record songs together. And
then we started to try to get another band -- an original band -- together.
And we tried to keep getting guitar players to come in and play, and a
couple of shows Bob actually played the guitar and sang, so it was like a
three-piece again. And we just had like different people that would come
and go. We d have different names. Finally, we had a bunch of names
on a piece of paper and were trying to pick out a name, and none of
them really sounded too good, or fit. But when we came to Guided By
Voices, we were like, yeah, that s it...
EA: How did you come up with that name?
Mitchell: It probably was Bob s idea, I think, because we all would just
spout off names and write em down, and I m sure he probably thought
of that one. And we had all kinds of crazy different names. One of them
was The Stella -- just crazy names like that. Guided By Voices seemed
to be more of a serious-sounding name for a band -- you know,
something that would merit some kind of serious attention -- like a band
should have a good name. And even the titles of the songs. The titles
are just as important as anything else. You know, having good titles, not
stupid ones. But having good, serious-sounding titles.
EA: I m not sure how many people would say that your song titles are
serious-sounding, as opposed to just strange or bizarre...
Mitchell: I guess it s kind of our obsession with weird imagery, and
space, and werewolves and vampires -- and just like all that mystical
stuff, and far-out stuff, has always been kind of an attraction to us. Bob
writes most of the material, so he s probably more qualified to speak
about where that comes from, but I just think that we all have an
obsession with the far-out and the weird.
EA: Musically, your material is all over the map -- ballads, hard rock,
jangly pop. So you have to be pretty diverse in what you play...Mitchell:
Oh, yeah. We all have big record collections, and the influence from
these records definitely comes out in the music. My playing style -- I try
to emulate some of my favorite guitar players when I m playing...
EA: Such as?
Mitchell: Well, I m a big fan of Ace Frehely, and I really like Malcolm Young
of AC-DC, cause he s just like a really super-solid rhythm player, and I m
kind of a rhythm player. So if there s an opportunity for me to use a style
of a guitarist that I like, then it s cool that I get an opportunity to do
EA: Seeing you live, it s not hard to see those hard-rock influences. But
the records come across very differently -- almost as mid-60's garage
Mitchell: Well, that s kind of like -- the records are more of an
experimental format, and the live thing is more of a deliberate format.
There s not really a whole lot of room for weirdness. It s just a more of a
direct line to the music. Whereas on the records, you have more of an
opportunity to experiment a little bit, and use different amps and different
guitars, whereas live we pretty much use what we ve got, and it s
EA: Do you like that more experimental side of GBV?
Mitchell: Yeah, as far as recording goes, I love the experimental nature of
recording. And live, I like just kicking ass -- loud as hell.
EA: On the records, what are some of the ways you experiment? Do
you play around with different amps?
Mitchell: Yeah. And there s more than one guy that can pick up a guitar
and play it. We record in my garage, and there s a bunch of different
amps in there, and everybody s got one or two different kinds of weird
EA: What are some of the ones you use?
Mitchell: The ones I use are mainly the Les Pauls -- the 73 Custom and
the 75 Custom. Jimmy s got a really nice SG -- a 1981 SG. It s really
super-sweet. Toby s got like an old 66 or 67 Tele. That s really sweet.
That s the one he plays live. He s also got like a real cheap twelve-string
that he bought in Memphis. I don t even know what kind it is. Bob s got,
like, an old Harmony hollow-body that s just like super-sweet. The sound
of that guitar could go from punk to, like, Byrds-sounding. It s got a really
good dynamic range of sound.
EA: Which seems to match your albums...
Mitchell: Yeah. I don t exclusively play guitar on the records. Bob plays
a lot of the guitar. He s a super-good, super-tight rhythm player. He
does a lot of the recordings. I do some, but he does a lot. And Toby
does some; Jimmy does some. So we all kind of chip in.EA: You would
think that doing lo-fi recordings, choice of amp or guitar wouldn t matter
Mitchell: Yeah, you would think so, but actually it does. You can actually
tell the difference between a Marshall and a real cheap Silvertone amp
on the four-track. It s kind of weird. Four-track is a really good way to
record. You get really good sound -- sometimes better than you can in
the studio. I don t know why that is.
EA: When I talked to Bob Pollard a few months ago about the upcoming
GBV album, the tracks you ve recorded in big studios, he almost seemed
disappointed about going high-fi -- about losing some of the spontaneity.
Is there a part of you that s reluctant to make that leap?
Mitchell: Well, not really because I think in addition to doing the
high-fidelity, high-fi recordings we re going to stay with the four-tracks,
and we re going to continue to put that in with our records, mixed in with
the high-fi recordings. I don t know if there will ever be a time when we ll
have to go totally high-fi. Maybe we will. But I think we re not going to
abandon the four-track method of recording. It s what we all love and
know. And it s kind of like our trademark thing. Yeah, we ve got a nice
deal with Matador, but they re super-cool about letting us do whatever
we want. So we re going to continue, I think, to mix high-fi and lo-fi
EA: You must have had a day job during all those years of basement
Mitchell: Yeah. I just recently retired -- I worked in a sandpaper factory
for about three years. And before that, I worked at Emory Air Freight at
Dayton International Airport. I worked there for about twelve years.
EA: While you were cranking out all those basement albums, and
basically keeping all the copies yourselves, did you think that this would
ever take off?
Mitchell: Myself personally? Yeah, I ve always had faith in Bob s and
also Toby s writing ability. Toby came in a little bit later, because he was
in another band called Figure Four. And he writes good songs, too. I
have a Figure Four record that s really good. He s a really good
songwriter, too. So we ve got two good songwriters. It s pretty much
hard to go wrong when you ve got two good guys that can write, and --
I ve always had faith. Whereas I think Bob was a little more skeptical
than me. I ve been a big fan of Guided By Voices since I started playing
with them. I think all of us are kind of like fans as well as musicians. I
think that s important -- to be a fan of your own band...
EA: I think that comes across...
Mitchell: Yeah. Like I said, I ve always been totally confident that we
could make it. But, you know, it s nice that we didn t have to, like, what
they call sell out to make it. I mean, we kind of like made it on our own
terms, which was kind of the plan anyway. Instead of going out and
trying to get something to happen, it s just kind of like, wait for something
to happen to you. And it worked out. I think maybe that s why it took as
long as it did -- but I don t know. I just think that our time was before we
were started, as far as our music. But we kind of like -- we missed it.
But then we caught it on the second time around, so now we ve kind of
like hit at the right time again.
EA: Your time was before you started because...
Mitchell: Just because of the British Invasion, and punk and progressive
rock. Because while that was going on, while that was big, we were
going right along with it, but we were pretty much unheard of. But after
all that stuff kind of faded away -- and you know how music is kind of
like a cycle, where it goes in cycles, like punk rock is kind of big again --
you know, we all were around when punk rock first started, so to us it s
not like trying to jump back on the style just to make it. That s been our
thing all along. And people are now starting to get hip to us.
EA: You say you had a lot of faith that GBV would succeed, but you
weren t taking any of the traditional steps to get a record contract. So it
actually seems fairly unlikely that you would have received the kind of
recognition and success you ultimately did...
Mitchell: But you see, we pretty much had our own record contract,
because we had our own record studio, we made our own records, we
put them out ourselves. So in a way, we pretty much had our own
record deal that we made with ourselves. I mean, we weren t really
making any money off of it -- we just kind of like put out records to pretty
much date where we were at musically. You know what I mean? When
you put down something on record it kind of like dates you -- it s like your
statement of that time. And that s pretty much what we were doing --
making statements as to where we were, musically or physically or
spiritually, at that time. And we just kept doing it. So I think we ve
much had a record contract the whole time. But we just had it with
EA: There are very few guitar solos on your records -- and it seems like
there s almost no guitar ego in the band...
Mitchell: There s no real ego like that. There are certain songs that a
certain guy can maybe cut off a little lead, or just a short little signature
piece, you know, but as far as having solos every song, the guitar ego is
pretty much non-existent. We all pretty much do what we have to do,
and not really make it out to be any more than it is. You know, having to
do the solo, or having to set yourself apart from another guy. Because
this is like a team effort -- it s all a team.
EA: Does any part of you wish there was more of a highlight on guitar
Mitchell: No, because the albums are so guitar-oriented anyway, there s
plenty of room for us to do all the guitar playing that we want. Because
it s predominantly a guitar band -- you know, it s three guitars, and a
bass and drums, and that s it. So there s plenty of room and opportunity
to play as much guitar as anybody wants to. That s what I love about it
-- it s like a guitar band.
EA: Is there any part of you that wants to be in a more conventional
band, for lack of a better word?
Mitchell: No. I couldn t see myself really being in any other band but GBV,
actually. I don t think I d ever even want to be in another band. That s
definite -- I definitely would not.
EA: So where do you see the band going musically?
Mitchell: Well, musically, it s maturing more, as far as recording in bigger
studios, more high-fi songs -- but there s still a mixture of the lo-fi
songs. And also, there s less of the little snippets and fragments of
songs. There are more actual songs with choruses that then go back
into the verse, back to the chorus kind of thing. So the structures -- it s
more structural now.
EA: And that s deliberate?
Mitchell: Yeah, it s deliberate, because we ve read a few things about,
well, it d be nice if they could just learn to write complete songs, and
like I said that goes back to Bob and Tob, because they re the main
songwriters. So they ve worked out complete, structured songs that are
just kick-ass. Anybody should now not be able to say they should be
able to write complete songs. With these records coming out there ll be
no question as to their songwriting ability.
EA: That s interesting, because what is hardest about writing a good
song isn t repeating the parts, but writing them in the first place. So it
seems like GBV was saying, why bother to repeat it?
Mitchell: Right. If you want to hear it again, just play the song over again.
You can play the song as many times as you want. Just keep
re-playing the song if you want to hear it over and over. Plus a lot of it
comes because there s so many ideas and so many songs, that if you
would make every song three and four minutes long, you wouldn t be
able to put as many songs on a record. And that s because the
songwriters are so prolific, and they have so many songs and so many
ideas, to keep it short gives you an opportunity to put more on a record.
A lot of our records have, like, 20 or 30 songs on a record. Whereas if
you did a conventional verse-chorus kind of song, you wouldn t be able
to have as many.
EA: How do you keep up with someone like Bob, who has such a
massive songwriting output?
Mitchell: Oh, man -- I just hang on and go, man. I learn as many songs as
I can. I constantly practice, I play every day. I work over the set on my
own so that I stay on it. You know, I ve got the greatest job a guy could
have. I just love my job.
EA: For a band that s untraditional in so many ways, everybody who s
seen you live says that you embody the rock and roll look: the tattoos,
the long hair, smoking while you re playing...
Mitchell: Well, I live rock and roll, man. I study it, and I try to live it
-- and I
want that to come through in my performance. I mean, I take great pride
in being a professional. And even though I do have one or two too many
sometimes, my main job is to play every song as perfectly as if I had
written them myself. In a way, that kind of makes me a better musician.
I m like a blue collar guy, man, I like work, work, work, work. You know,
that s the main thing. Especially live -- you only have one chance to do it
live. If you screw up, you re going to look kind of bad. And I don t want
to look bad.EA: On stage, Pollard definitely has quite a few beers during
every set. Is that part of the ethic of the band?
Mitchell: Oh, yeah, man. That s rock and roll -- get drunk, get wild. You
never know -- don t get too close, something might fly off and hit you.
That is what rock and roll is about. It s a little bit of danger involved,
there s a little sloppiness, maybe a little drunkenness, whatever. But
there s a total love of crazy-ass rock and roll, man.
EA: So when you say that you live rock and roll, what does that mean?
Mitchell: Well, I play guitar every day. It s working on songs. I live fast,
man. I try to live hard, I try to have fun, I try to get out, make the scene,
make the parties, make practices, make shows. Everything I always
wanted to do revolves around rock and roll.
EA: GBV is so off the wall -- it s almost surprising that so many people
seem to get it...
Mitchell: Well, I think there s a lot of people that want it. There s a lot
people that are tired of listening to mushy, kind of self-indulgent stuff.
They want to hear rock and roll, man. They want to get rocked. And
that s what we do, man. We want to rock, and we want to rock you.
We re opening up our world to people that want to be a part of it. People
that are fans of GBV -- we look to them like our friends. When we play a
show, it s like a party for our friends. Everybody there that s into GBV,
it s not like we re here and they re there. It s like, no, we re all there
together. We re there for rock. That s totally what our attitude is.
EA: On the records -- and I never know whether this is somewhat
tongue in cheek -- but there is a sense that you re elevating rock itself to
a kind of mythic status. On Propeller that feeling is very pronounced.
Mitchell: That s the way rock and roll is from our eyes. When we were
growing up, checking out rock and roll bands, there was a whole
mystique about what it took to do that. Not long ago, we did actually play
at the Hara Arena with the Breeders, and there were like 5,000 people
there. It was so weird, because we d grown up going to these shows,
saying man, I d love to play here one day. Goddamn. And then going to
that point where you actually step out on the stage at Hara Arena and
you look out and see 5,000 people and you re going, Goddamn, this is
great. It super-charges you. That s what rock and roll is supposed to
EA: In some ways, your stage show, even at a small club, has the
feeling of an arena show.
Mitchell. Oh, yeah.
EA: Do you ever want to play big arenas and stadiums?
Mitchell: That s a good question, because I m not really looking that far
ahead. I like filling up mid-sized clubs. Wherever we play, I like it to be
packed. But I wouldn t want it to get to the point where I would lose
contact with people who are down with the band. I like to hang out with
people before the show, walk around out front and drink beers with
people. Even if it got to that point I would still walk around with the
people. We re not rock stars in the sense that we have to shield
ourselves away from people, because we actually enjoy being around
people and talking to them about rock and roll. So I mean, I don t know if
we d ever get to the point where we could not communicate with people
who would want to talk to us. I mean, if someone wants to talk to me,
there s no reason they shouldn t be able to. So I hope it doesn t ever get
to that point. But as far as playing in a big stadium -- yeah, I d dig it.
EA: Would everything be different if this notoriety had happened to GBV
in your teens, rather than in your late 30's?
Mitchell: That s a good question. If this would have happened to us
when we were eighteen, maybe a couple of us might be dead right now.
(Laughing) I don t know. It s hard to say, but I would think it wouldn t
change no matter how old we were -- I mean, even if we were younger.
I m just glad it s happening now. Part of me understands that I could
very easily be getting up tomorrow morning and going into a factory,
whereas my job is to play guitar. That s something I could never take for
granted. Part of the reason for that blessing is people buying the
records and digging the band. So my job is to keep that good vibe going,
to keep that happening so I don t have to go back to a factory. It s like a
little p.r. sometimes, but you know what? I enjoy that. I enjoy talking
about not just GBV but any kind of band, anything that s going on. I like to
talk to people.
EA: I get that sense from both Pollard and you.
Mitchell: After the shows, a lot of times, he talks himself hoarse. He
won t say, no, I can t talk to you, or no, I don t want to talk to you.
We ll stand around and talk to people until they kick everybody out.
That s just a good thing that I think means more to everybody involved --
the people coming to the shows and the musicians.
EA: If for some reason the notoriety went away tomorrow, and the
record deal went away tomorrow, would you go back to doing this from
Mitchell: Yep. Totally. As long as somebody writes a song, there s going
to be a need to record it, and I hope to be there when that need arises. I
hope to always be a part, you know. I would think that if it would end
tomorrow, I m sure we d go back to somebody s basement with a
four-track again, and we d just pump out our own records for ourselves.
I always think that would be so.
# # #