EVERYWHERE AT ONCE Doug Gillard

From
Beefheart and Beatles tributes to collaborations with Sally Crewe, Robert
Pollard and My Dad Is Dead, the multitasker also finds time for his
own music.

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

“It’s a whirlwind this
year. There’s just so much going on.”

 

Doug Gillard takes a brief
pitstop to take the journalist’s phone call. Reached in his hometown of Cleveland, he’s currently
working with Cobra Verde bassist Ed Sotelo to get ready for a tour with Tommy
Keene.

 

Busy? That’s not the half
of it. If we could get him to wear a red-striped shirt and a beret, Gillard
could easily stage the rock and roll version of Where’s Waldo?  He’s everywhere,
all the time, and no, he never gets his gigs mixed up. I asked. He said no.

 

For instance, if you caught
the Captain Beefheart tribute at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City in
June, you might have spotted the ex-Guided By Voices, ex-Cobra Verde, ex-too
many bands to even list guitarist Gillard holding court with the Bush Tetras,
covering the Beef’s “Hot Head,” “Tropical Hot Dog Night” and “Big Eyed Beans
from Venus.” If you happened to be in Hamburg
last year, at the Indra Club, on the 50th anniversary of the
Beatles’ first club dates, you might also have noticed a certain familiar
guitarist rocking out with Bambi Kino. Show up at a Nada Surf show lately? Gillard
was there, too. Ditto for the recent reunion shows for Homestead Records’ My
Dad Is Dead. He also found time to record a second Lifeguards album with Robert
Pollard. Right now, he’s getting ready for a tour with Tommy Keene, where he
will play in his own band  and  back up Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves on
guitar.

 


Breaking In Two 7″ excerpt by 347 Records

 

 

You might think that the
man who’s spent the last few years channeling the Fab Four, conjuring
Beefheart’s tangled oddities, or backing up Nada Surf, would have trouble
setting all that aside to write his own material. You’d think wrong. Even as we
speak, Gillard is putting the final touches on a seven-inch vinyl single. The A
side, “Breaking in Two,” is raucous, melodic power pop, with hard Who power
chords and softly accessible hooks. The B side, “So Much More” is a slower,
more shoe-gazey drift, a daydreamer’s long, perfect gaze out the window on a
rainy day. Neither sounds much like any of Gillard’s current projects.

 

“It’s never been a problem
to let all the other projects go,” says Gillard. “I make up chord patterns and
riffs in a certain way. The songs just kind of come out. It’s not hard to shift
gears and make up a song.”

 

***

 

At
the epicenter of lo-fi

Gillard is probably best
known for his mid-1990s stint in Guided by Voices, beginning with 1997’s  Mag
Earwig
!  and continuing through 2001’s
 Isolation
Drills
. “Robert Pollard was a big fan of Homestead Records, and through
Scat Records, they were up in Cleveland
and they became friends with John [Petkovic] and me from Cobra Verde,” he
remembers. “Cobra Verde ended up opening some shows for Guided By Voices, and
then in 1996, when the guys from the original line-up were gone from the band,
that’s when Bob decided to try Cobra Verde as his band.” Gillard says joining a
well-known band in progress has its downside. Journalists thought that they
were session players. At that, at one point as a joke, he told a writer that
he’d met Pollard while playing in a Journey covers band at the Ohio State Fair.

 

Asked about how his own
songwriting process differs from that of his former boss, Gillard says that he
primarily works out his songs on guitar, trying out chord progressions and
exploring melodies. The words come later. Pollard, by contrast, would often
start with a lyric, then build a song around it. In Lifeguards, the pair’s
intermittent collaboration, the two of them divide songwriting duties along
similar lines. Gillard puts together instrumental beds for songs, makes a demo
and sends it off to Pollard, who then creates lyrics and vocal melodies. Their
latest, Waving at the Astronauts (reviewed
here
at BLURT), is a wonderfully quirky, infectious collection of pop songs,
out earlier this year on Ernest Jennings Records.

 

Back
to the GDR

Gillard’s other big project
this spring was Bambi Kino, a faithful recreation of the Beatles’ earliest
material, put together originally for some live shows and later documented on a
self-titled CD, released on the Tapete label. The band, which includes Gillard,
as well as Mark Rozzo of Maplewood, Ira Elliot
of Nada Surf and Erik Paparazzi from the Cat Power Band, was drawn together by
a shared enthusiasm for four young men from Liverpool, playing their hearts out
in gritty Hamburg.
“We really formed Bambi Kino so that we could go to Hamburg and celebrate the
50th anniversary of the Beatles first playing over there last year,”
he says. “We played the Indra – the first place they ever played – four nights
in a row.” The band played songs from old Beatles setlists, mostly the R&B
covers that John, Paul, George and Ringo learned early on, before they started
writing their own material.

 

“Those shows at the Indra
were really how the Beatles got to be good,” says Gillard. “They played for
hours on end, night after night. We learned a lot from learning the songs that
they learned.”

 

Gillard says that digging
into the Beatles’ influences gave the members of Bambi Kino a different
perspective on their later material. “You could hear the things in the covers
that they picked up, that they used later in their own songs,” he said. “It was
just kind of a discovery for us, learning these songs for Bambi Kino.”  

 

Same
playing, different music

All
this activity, in such different outfits, makes you wonder if there’s a
constant. “I can see similarities in my playing from project to project, but
sometimes not a lot of similarities in the projects themselves,”
 says Gillard. “The My Dad Is Dead
material, for instance, those are very different songs and different guitar
tunings and everything, but I love that music so much. It was really great to
be part of that.”

 

Gillard is getting ready to
ship out again, embarking on a brief, early September East Coast tour with
Tommy Keene and Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves. Gillard played guitar on Crewe’s five-song EP  Transmit/Receive (reviewed here at BLURT). He’ll be reprising his work in the live setting,
backing Crewe in her set, and having her join
his band during his set.

 

Asked if there’s anybody
he’s  not  played with yet that he’d like to
collaborate with, Gillard takes a an extended pause. “Well, since I moved to New York, David Bowie has not been out and about in New York City. He’s not
doing much right now, so I haven’t gotten to play with him,” he says finally. “Nick
Lowe, maybe. I don’t really think about it.”

 

 

[Photo Credit: Ana Luisa
Morales]

 

 

Go
here to see Gillard’s tour itinerary
(which kicks off Friday in Arlington, Va.),
with Sally Crewe and Tommy Keene. For more details on Gillard and how to order
his new single, go to his Facebook page.

 

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