When Guided by Voices roll through town this week, the lo-fi boozehounds—in the form of the reunited "classic" lineup responsible for 1994's masterpiece, Bee Thousand—will surely sing to a Cat's Cradle loaded with musicians. After all, while the Robert Pollard-led crew has hardly been a mainstream commercial smash, its tuneful, noisy bursts and early advocacy of inexpensive production have influenced a legion of bands, from four-track devotees to stars beyond the indie universe.
"[Guided by Voices] demonstrated time and again that you don't need the most polished production, the smoothest voice or the best looks to write and perform great songs and be successful," says James Hepler of local pop-punk acts I Was Totally Destroying It and Sorry About Dresden. "They taught me that you don't need to write to any specific formula." John Davis even confesses that "Sucked Out," his alt-rock band Superdrag's mid-'90s hit, began as a rip-off of the outro to Guided by Voices' "Echos Myron."
For Andrew Rieger, whose Elf Power started as a four-track project before he expanded his psychedelic rock into full-band mode, Guided by Voices meant trusting in the power of that cheap technique: "[I realized] you could record an album at home, essentially for free, on four-track cassette instead of spending thousands of dollars in a professional studio recording a 'proper' album."
Davis, Rieger and Hepler's bands are just four of more than 20 artists confirmed to participate in an as yet untitled tribute album to be released in early 2011, curated by Misty Dawn Briggs, of the Chapel Hill band Western Civ. It will be the first release for her new "anti-label," No More Fake Labels. The project has been building buzz from the music press (Pitchfork and AOL's music blog Spinner are on the case) since mid-September, when Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne mentioned his band's participation via Twitter.
The big names present aren't just limited to the Lips: Briggs has also been promised tracks from Blitzen Trapper, Crooked Fingers, former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell, The Breeders' Kelley Deal and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, whose cover of "Stabbing a Star" previously appeared on the 1998 GBV covers disc Blatant Doom Trip. "I don't think many people were even aware of it," Briggs explains. "That track is so powerful and raw that I thought it deserved to be put back in the collective ears of the fans."
While Briggs is a Guided by Voices devotee, she gushes just as much when discussing the artists who have signed on to contribute, many of whom are among her personal favorites. She never expected such strong participation. Briggs, who plays keyboards and percussion in Western Civ, proposed a cover of "A Salty Salute" on a live EP when frontman Rich Henderson jokingly proposed recording an album's worth of GBV covers. The conversation turned toward other artists' Guided By Voices covers. That night, Briggs committed to an album-length tribute. "I really did not expect to end up with something like this," Briggs admits. "It's both humbling and heartwarming to see that the indie mentality does still exist after success."
Bands were drawn to the project for an obvious but telling reason: They loved the original material. "I really first got into GBV when I started playing with the Truckers, since Patterson was a huge fan," says Isbell. "The melodies and odd song structures caught my ear immediately."
In fact, Briggs heard back from so many willing contributors that she now plans an additional digital-only EP to accompany vinyl and CD purchases. For many participants, the incentive was simply the opportunity to put to tape a tune they'd already been reimagining.
"'Echos Myron' has always been one of those songs that I would play over and over again, singing along at full voice despite the harmony being well out of my vocal range," says Hepler. "I begged both bands [to do that one], but Sorry About Dresden said yes."
Katy Goodman of New Jersey band Vivian Girls takes part via her solo project, La Sera; she had always reimagined her tune. "For the longest time, I would listen to 'Watch Me Jumpstart' and envision it recorded in a completely different way, so when Misty e-mailed us to do the comp, I knew exactly what song, instrumentation and sound I was going for." Goodman's treatment turns the messy, guitar-heavy anthem into a dreamy, deliberate piece filled with lush synth and airy vocals.
Besides offering up new, often imaginative interpretations of GBV's overwhelming catalog (the band's released 16 albums since 1987), Briggs hopes the album's release will introduce her No More Fake Labels project to a wider audience. After years of managing indie bands and working in radio, Briggs has seen her share of labels that exist in name only, often created by bands releasing their own music to lend an air of legitimacy to their album packaging. These labels, she claims, "flood the market and make it harder for the real baby labels to get noticed," without giving artists the benefits of being on an actual label. Briggs hopes her "anti-label" concept will give small independent acts the ability to pool their resources without signing away their rights.
She insists, however, that exposure wasn't her impetus for the tribute. "I hope it helps us share the music of the very deserving independent artists [involved]," she says. It seems that motivation translated to artists who didn't know her but trusted her idea. Perhaps Kelley Deal said it best when explaining why she agreed to participate: "The project felt like it was motivated by love and respect for GBV and that's all. And that's enough."