An interview with Tobin Sprout of Guided By Voices

At the Patio, Broad Ripple, Indiana, Friday Feb 17, 1996
M: Me, Dominic DeVito
D: David Bunnell
T: Tobin 

M: I'm a writer for the University of Notre Dame school paper, music
critic type.  I'm one of the few, the proud, the GBV fans. I saw you guys
were doing the tour out here and I'm going to be hitting this and Eau Claire
and Chicago and I thought I'd just do this story on the band and expose
the people at school to what's going on and why they should check you out.
Because I have been talking you guys up for the last few months and they're
all like "who?" and I was just like, "They're great."

D: That's Notre Dame for you. Or South Bend.

M: Yeah, it's kind of a homogeneous student body there.

D: it's kind of never land, it's not Chicago, it's not Detroit.

M: kind of fall between the cracks there.  But anyway I was wondering if you
could say, if you were talking to somebody from Notre Dame and they'd never
heard your music before, what would you say to them?

T: I don't know. It's kind of power pop.  They'd like it.

M: you and Bob and Mitch, you guys write some great hooks, that's what I
try to tell people, "there are these short little songs."

T: yeah, there's definitely a lot of melodies a lot of...they're not obvious.
If you concentrate on the songs, and melody, the way they work with the band 
it's definitely pop. It's rock.

M: who would you say, as far as, in addition to your guitar style of play,
who influences the way you and Bob and Mitch write the songs?

T: a lot of Big Star, Beatles, Who, Robyn Hitchcock, Soft Boys, a lot of
real power pop guys.  Bob was into Genesis and some of the prog-rock
stuff. Just really good songs.  Carole King, Jimmy Webb.

D: you guys will have in one song, you'll have enough hooks for really two
or three songs, yet you'll cut them off so short. Do you ever get the
to say, draw them out some like other bands?

T: one of the reasons, some other people have been asking about that...I think
one of the things that makes our songs shorter is that we don't go into a
guitar break, so that keeps our songs down to about two minutes.  Otherwise, a
guitar break would add about thirty seconds, a long intro...
I think the songs are all there, but they don't particularly NEED...

D: but do you ever get the temptation to go into a guitar break?

T: um....

D: that would probably be the only unexpected solo ever.

T: usually most of the guitar leads are on third verse where it needs to be
a little stronger or something.  I don't know how versed Mitch is on guitar,
and I'm two notes and playing chords and that's it.

M: so playing a solo isn't something that you'd ever look forward to doing?

T: no, I look more for layerings of guitars than solos.  The way the guitars
work with the melodies and just how flashy that can be. 

M: do you guys have a lot of good cohesion to write songs like that? I konw
bob has played guitar, so does that help with you when he's trying to teach
you the songs and stuff like that?

T: yeah, we understand how each other, and the chord sequences we use and 
we've played as a band enough that I kind know he'll play a sequence
and I can pick it up after a couple of listens.

M: another thing i've seen is if you look at the past history of the band,
you're starting to pop up a little bit more on the last couple of albums
here...should we look for that in the future?  More Tobin songs?

T: I'd like to do more. I wanted more on this album actually. It's Bob's call.

D: damn it, Bob (laughter)

M: would you say you're going to be prolific, just in terms of stuff that you
come out with that doesn't even make it on the albums?

T: yeah, I'm starting to write a lot more. the first album I had a song on
was "Propeller" and then I had two and then the next one...and so I'm writing
more and I think my songwriting's getting stronger. I hope the next album, I'd
like to have four or five on.
And I've got other stuff...I thought about doing a solo album because I've
got all this other stuff that will never make it on the album. I think it's
just more me making sure that I'm more forceful but whatever.

D: standing up to big Bob?

T: I just kind of came in on "Propeller" and i didn't want to take over.

M: speaking of the new album, are you happy with it, even though you
didn't get all your songs on it?

T: yeah, I'm real happy with it, because it works better. There's reasons
why...I mean, Bob had just as many songs that didn't go on it.
It's more because we're looking for a sound on the album than just trying to
get our own songs on it or who has the most songs on it.

D: are your songs on this album still more story-oriented, like Bob's
are still more abstract?

T: Yeah, I think bob's songs are a little more focused on a certain type
of story now. It's the same as writing songs, I'm getting better at lyrics,
too. It just takes some time.  

M: like Bob said, he could write five songs while taking a shit and three
of them would be good.

T: yeah, that sometimes really pisses me off, cause I'll show up with
this great song and bob will be like, "I've got eight."

M: so what's the deal with Jim Greer? Is he getting tired of the whole band

T: no he's not getting tired of it. He's a writer and he's got a couple
of publishing deals and he's got some deadlines he's gotta meet. And that's
what he does and he was only doing this because we lost a bass player, and
he's the one who wanted to help out. So he's back to writing and he has
time to do writing.  And we got Greg back.

M: and he's been able to pick up all the songs?

T: Greg was the bass player before Jim Greer.

M: I mean, during "Alien Lanes", wasn't Greer doing the bass for that?

T: oh yeah, he picked them up.

D: maybe they'll be nice to you in SPIN now.

T: I think we caught a lot of shots for that. I think a lot of shots were
because "you took this guy because he writes about you." Well, I think
the worst thing we could have done is put him in the band, because then
he doesn't have time to write about us.

M: that's true. So this is your first night out, but you played Philadelphia
not too long ago as the Burning Assholes. What was that all about?

T: we wanted to play  and that's one of the places we used
to play a lot and they asked us to come back and we had all this new material
we wanted to try out for the crowd there and it was a great show.

M: so how would a hardcore Guided By Voices fan in Philly know that you
guys were in town if you guys were playing as the Burning Assholes? I mean
obviously with the internet...

T: yeah, word of mouth. people figured it out.

M: I'm on your mailing list and nobody mentioned anything about it until
after the show, but people did say that they managed to make it to see the
show, but nobody was announcing it beforehand, so...
So you guys had a couple of weeks off, and now you guys are doing some

T: yeah, Bob and I just went over to Europe to do some press over there
so we wouldn't have to go when the album is released.  we just got
back from that, and we've got Chicago next week.

M: yeah, I'm going to that.

T: is it at the Metro?

M: yeah, the Metro.

T: it's a pretty nice club, I guess.

M: yeah, from what I hear it's a great place to see a show.  and I'll be
at Eau Claire as well.

D: I don't think I can make it.  I'm from Michigan.

T: whereabouts in Michigan are you from?

D: I'm from Flint.

M: I'm from Virginia, but i go to school in South Bend.
   Then you guys are going to be in Kentucky and then that's about it until...

T: yeah, we got the Chicago thing and then the 25th of April we start the
tour and I think it starts in Louisville, but I'm not sure if it starts
there...oh, we've got Louisville and then we go out west.

M: yeah, I was reading a lot of stuff on the internet that said you guys
didn't have a real good tour with Urge. Is this kind of to make up for
it or were you planning on doing this anyway?

T: we probably would have done it anyways. With Urge, we thought we had toured
enough with "Alien Lanes" and the Urge guys were fine to us, but we had some
trouble with management...and so it kind of set the stage for that, we
could only play half an hour, and so....they ended up cancelling the tour
after Chicago.

M: I was gonna go to that Chicago show, but I don't think you guys made it
to that, so I was bummed about that.  I'm glad you guys are doing this.
So you guys are going to have New Radiant Storm King opening up in Chicago.

T: have you heard those guys?

M: a little. You guys seem to have a pretty good relationship with them.

T: with them? Yeah. Them and the Grifters and stuff like the Black Crowes.

D: what other bands do you like?

M: yeah, do you guys get to listen to a lot of stuff that's coming out now?

T: I like that Cardinal album.

M: I'm not familiar with them.

T: Eric Matthews is on it.

M: Yeah, he's on Sub Pop

T: I enjoy that, and I like that album and Superchunk stuff ..and I got a
baby now so it's kind of hard to ...I buy albums all the time but I don't
listen to them.

D: Raffe?

M: Barney? How is that?  Is this your first kid?

T: yeah. it's 10 months now, so you can't really listen to music, and for a 
while there, I just don't have time to listen to music.

M: it's kind of hard to make it to practice when you have to babysit.

T: babysit during the day and practice at night.

M: snother thing is, you guys have been a band since '87, '86, formally,
since you've been putting out much has stuff changed for you
guys since the old days?

T: eell, actually, in the last two years it's changed quite a bit, because
we've been able's our life now.

M: yeah, with "Bee Thousand," you guys took off.

T: well, with "Vampire on Titus" we got pretty big, and then "Bee Thousand"
really took off, then we did the New Music Seminar in New York City and we had
to put the band together in some semblance and tour more and more, and we've
been able to quit our jobs and...

M: yeah, I read that Mitch used to work in a sandpaper factory.  That must've
been horrible.

T: yeah.

M: and I'd like to ask Bob about teaching kids, because my parents are

T: he enjoyed it, but I don't think he wants to go back, but if he does,
it's his element.

At this point, the house PA kicks on some really loud music and renders
further conversation pointless, so David and I thank Tobin and end the
interview.  I'd like to apologize for any misquotes or spelling errors in
advance...this transcription stuff is pretty hard.  

Many thanks go here to David Bunnell for getting me to the show and back
and for loaning me his tape recorder.  Also thanks go to Deborah Orr from
Matador Records for allowing me to conduct the interveiw.  And most
Pete Jamison deserves loads of credit for setting everything up and allowing
me to integrate myself into the GBV "scene," which is possibly the coolest
scene on the planet, next to that of the Observer (Notre Dame's school
paper for which I write) staff.  Just kidding.  Hope you like's
only my second real musical interview, which is my only excuse. Feel free
to email me with any questions or comments.