Of the record Class Clown Spots a UFO, drummer Kevin Fennell says,”You need to hear it. It kicks ass. You need to hear it repeatedly. I mean, it’s like everything we do. Our music takes repeated listenings; the more you hear it the better you like it.”
Guided By Voices are at it again with its classic lineup of Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Kevin Fennell, and Greg Demos since 2010 when they played Matador’s 21st anniversary bash. Many love the band so much that they made the trek to Bunbury just for GBV. Get to know a bit of the band from drummer Kevin Fennell.
Why did you guys decide to record lo-fi originally?
It was kind of out of necessity. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of ideas that we felt like we needed to get down on vinyl at the time. We couldn’t really afford to go into a big studio, so we figured Tobin had a four-track recorder, and he was pretty good at that, and we kind of liked the sound. Initially it was out of necessity, but when we heard the finished product, it reminded us a lot of the music that we were hearing growing up in the sixties.
A lot of that stuff was done on four-track, and it sounded more raw; it wasn’t slick and polished, and we kind of prefer it that way. It has a more real sound to it. Of course, we got criticized a lot for it.
Did you ever get grief from the record labels after being signed for wanting to produce stuff that was lo-fi?
Before we got signed to Matador, we were signed to a small, independent record label in Cleveland called Scat. And one of the stipulations was that we would sign if we could continue doing what we do. We didn’t want to get with a label that was going to be too controlling and try to change what we were doing. We had a lot of huge record labels at the time—Warner Brothers, A&M, Sony—a lot of labels who wanted to sign us, but Matador was the one after we finished with Scat and they said, “You guys have artistic control, and we’re not going to try and change that.”
You guys played together up through the nineties into the early 2000s. What did you do with yourself while the band was separated?
Well, me and Mitch and Bob, the three of us, we were playing together. We weren’t always Guided By Voices. We played together in different bands since ’79. In ’84, we decided on the name Guided By Voices. We played together, did all the early stuff in the ’80s and into the ’90s. I left in ’97. When I left the band I was pushing forty, and I thought, you know, I’m getting a little too old be doing rock music, so I went to grad school and got my Masters in social work, and right now I’m doing drug and alcohol counseling. I figured my playing days were pretty much over, my fifteen minutes had expired. I didn’t have any desire to hook up with anyone new or anything, but we got invited to do this Matador show in 2010, and I guess the rest is history. It turned into a full-blown tour, and we figured, “hey, we’re having so much fun, why not just continue?”
Do you feel like the time apart was beneficial in creating new music?
I don’t know. It was like fourteen years since I had been in the band or played with anyone. I think the time away from it brings new life into my appreciation for playing music and being in a band. I don’t know if it changed the way I look at things, but I know that this time around, I’m much more appreciative of being able to do what I love to do and enjoy it. I think back in the day I kind of took it for granted. I think I’m a better musician today than I was in ’95. We’re all coming out with better ideas since then. You know, you get older, you get better.
Do you think the music scene has changed a lot since the band started?
Oh, yeah. I think it’s changed a lot. I don’t think there is as much good music out there today as there was. When we first got discovered, there were a whole lot of really good bands. This music is quite different. To be honest with you, I don’t like a lot of what I hear, and I’m not inspired by what a lot of people are doing. That’s a shame. I don’t mean to sound full of myself or egotistical, there’s just not that much out there.
I know what you’re saying. It’s less intellectual.
I like what we’re doing. I think Let’s Go Eat the Factory and especially Class Clown just stand right up there with anything we’ve done. In a lot of ways, I think it’s even better.
It seems a lot of the reviews noted that these two albums were better than those previous works.
It’s unfortunate that people always want to compare what you’re doing now to what you did in the past. People will never just take what you’re doing now for what it is, they always want to say, it’s not Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes. Of course it’s not. Hell, that was eighteen years ago. I would hate to think that we’d still be making music that sounded like that. I listen to Class Clown, and I just really love that record, I’m so proud of it. I can’t wait to make more music. We have another record coming out in November, Bears for Lunch, and it seems like they just keep getting better.
Your band has existed through a variety of recording mediums. How do you feel about the resurgence in vinyl right now?
I love it! I love that we can make both formats, CD and vinyl. For me, it’s not complete until I have that album in my hand. I could care less about the CD. I love the way vinyl sounds, I love the artwork, I like being able to read lyrics without needing to use a magnifying glass. I like the feel of the vinyl in my hand, putting it on the turntable. Maybe hearing a few snap, crack, and pops. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
I think music needs to sound less synthetic. Some CDs are so polished that they don’t sound real, they don’t have the warmth. I’m glad we don’t make sterile-type recordings. The thing that I love is the same thing that people criticize us for; it’s a double-edged sword. We’re always been the kind of band that we do what we like, and if people like what we do, then that is icing on the cake. If people don’t like what we do, well then, fuck ‘em. We’re not out to try and please anyone. It’s always been that way. That’s why we’re not Foo Fighters.
Guided by Voices is playing Landor Stage on Sunday, July 15th from 7:45-8:30.