Plenty of indie-rock bands have had lineup changes. But Dayton's Guided by Voices take the gold medal, with 20 or so people claiming membership over the past 30 years. After their 2004 farewell tour, GBV's "classic" lineup — featuring singer Robert Pollard, guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos, and drummer Kevin Fennell — reunited in 2010 for the 21st anniversary of Matador Records, the label that helped break the band in the mid '90s. The group has released two albums so far this year, with a third on the way. Fennell talks to us about the band's reunion, its legendary boozing, and Pollard's fake British accent.
How surprised were you when Bob Pollard called you about playing the Matador anniversary concert?
I was very shocked. When I first moved to Columbus in 2008, I ran it by him and asked him about putting the band back together. He had been doing his solo stuff and said he wasn't interested. I told him that if he ever changed his mind to count me in. When I got the call, I was pleasantly surprised. I was worried I would not have my chops, but it all came together.
And what about the drinking?
I don't drink at all. I've been sober for 15 years. I was always the sober one.
How do you put up with the drinking?
Years ago, in my twenties, I had to go through rehab. I like being the one that they can slip the keys to at the end of the night. They never get so tore up that they get nasty. It's all in good fun. When they drink, it's not a problem for me at all, and never has been.
How was it determined that this lineup was the "classic" one?
I don't know how we got tagged with that. That wasn't necessarily our idea. But we are the original lineup, especially me, Mitch, Bob, and Tob. That is the nucleus. We always had floating bass players, but Greg was the more constant bass player. Whenever we had work to do, it was always Greg that got the call. This is the original lineup, [so] "original" is more accurate than "classic."
Did you ever think the band would last for 30 years?
When I left in 1997, I always hoped it would continue. I knew Bob had a lot of songs left in him. It doesn't surprise me at all. As long as Bob is breathing, he's going to be writing songs. That's what he was born to do.
Are you a better band now than you were back in the day?
No doubt about it. Being more mature has helped. The songs Bob is writing have a more mature sound. There's more love in the band, just as far as the vibe goes. We get along better and appreciate each other more. In every way, this band is so much better.
Is Bob's British accent more or less pronounced now than it used to be?
You have rabid fans. Who's the craziest fan you've ever met?
There are legions of people who even come from outside the country. We're talking diehard Guided by Voices fans. If Guided by Voices had a color, they would be bleeding it. It's hard to single out any one individual. We do have people who think we're the greatest band in the world. Who am I to argue with them?