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New York Press
Volume 16, Issue 16
As the current lead guitarist of Guided By Voices, Doug Gillard is behind many of the songs now considered indie rock classics. From the "call to arms" riff on "I Am a Tree" on 1997’s Mag Earwhig!, to his multi-instrumental arrangement on Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department, (a collaboration with Bob Pollard), to last year’s GBV effort Universal Truths and Cycles–Gillard is one of very few rock guitarists who consistently achieves a high level of pop ingenuity.
Gillard recently `completed a soundtrack album for the independent short film Creative Process 473, a look at the frustration faced by two screenwriters (Acme Pictures). The 15-minute short film–which has snagged awards at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival, the LA DIY film festival and the Fargo International Film Festival–somehow supports a soundtrack with 13 songs, plus three bonus songs. All 16 tracks were written and performed by Gillard.
"It was recorded in my house on an eight-track hard drive, and some of it was on four-track cassette," he told me from his home in Cleveland. "They had sent me a rough edit of the film, and their sound-editing person provided some guideline music to let me know what they were shooting for."
The first track, "Theme from the Writer’s Garret," is a classical nylon-string guitar piece that serves as the film’s opener. There are free-jazz snippets for the subway chase scene and a true rock-pop gem called "Give Me Something" that serves as the film’s theme song. There’s even a "Shakespearean" track for which Gillard stitched together eight acoustic guitars "to get a mandolin or lute…kind of sound," and a 70s "porn version" of that same song. The brief but amazing "Let’s Light Matches" is a straight-up country tune that reminded a colleague of Jerry Reed’s "East Bound and Down." When I mentioned that to Gillard, he replied that "the guideline music" that Acme had provided was the solo from that very song.
Why does a 15-minute film need a soundtrack album? Michael Nigro, one of the filmmakers and one half of Acme Pictures, admits that "it’s a little absurd, putting out a soundtrack to a short film." But for a movie about dueling imaginative bursts from two screenwriters, he felt there was enough happening to warrant so much music. "Every scene…calls for a different style and feel, from classical to jazz to country to rock."
And so Nigro, a long-time GBV fan, tapped Gillard.
"I had no idea that his talent swept the musical spectrum," he admitted. "Whatever we threw at him–‘Hey, Doug, in this scene could you give us a plucky Renaissance mandolin and then blend it with cheesy 70s porn riffs?’–he would…come back with something better than we had ever imagined, which is what you dream of: The person solicited elevates the project beyond expectations."
According to Nigro, the CD release wasn’t part of the original plan: "Once we started winning all these awards at festivals, [it] was inevitable."
Last month, at a screening party for the film at Makor, Gillard performed two sets that book-ended a performance by Invert, a string quartet that contributed additional music to the film. Together with songs from the film, he also put up some surprises, such as Lou Reed’s "The Bed," "I Am a Tree" from GBV’s Mag Earwhig! and "Malamute Jute" from Gillard’s 1998 EP of the same name.
Before closing with the Creative Process 473 theme song, he deadpanned that "you’ve probably heard this four or five times already." Though that was true, no one protested. It’s one of those songs you can hear 10 times in a row, and it sounds better every time you hear it.