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Tonitruale (Almost) Live: Guided By Voices' Doug Gillard Chats New Single, "Serene King"

The world is on fire, civil unrest washes over the streets in every city, state, and country. The common man has been thrust into an unwanted yet unavoidable conflict, forced upon him by a ruling class that views him as little more than fuel to the fire. There are but an unstable few that can stomach these tumultuous times, and fewer still with a crazed enough demeanor to willingly subject themselves to these conditions. My chainmail rests uncomfortably across my shoulders, my sword growing heavier by the second. As I stand at the ready, anxiously awaiting the order to push on, I fear I may be the next addition to those frenzied few, for I seem to be hallucinating; there's a man dressed like a monarch sleepwalking gracefully, no, rhythmically across the battlefield before me. Surely, I think, I must be developing a mild psychosis, and yet, I refuse to believe that my eyes and ears would deceive me. But I must be going mad, it simply cannot be true, that this Serene King bobbing and swaying his way through shrapnel and carnage looks near identical to Robert Pollard.

That might have been a bit on the dramatic side, but hey, it's not hard to imagine it. The Serene King, clad in his dusted cape and tunic, his makeshift crown sat precariously atop his bobbing head, as he steps delicately, twirling his way across a great Medieval battlefield of legend. Such wild, vivid imagery is what comes of four decades of song writing, 40 years of metaphorical mastery all culminating in Guided By Voices latest single, "Serene King." The first release off their 41st album, Strut of Kings, is a soaring Shakespearean rock opera, recounting the bittersweet, whimsical tale of a man at the top his own made-up world; a fool in fool's clothing, sleepwalking his way through dreams of faux royalty and backhanded celebrity. That, and it's catchy as all hell.

Guided By Voices guitarist, Doug Gillard, mails in to give us to the behind the scenes on all things "Serene King."

According to Robert Pollard's Stereogum interview, Strut of Kings is one of the more focused and cohesive GBV records. Could you give us any hints as to the album's narrative focus?

Doug: If anything I think it would be the theme of kings, kingdoms, history and mythology. There’s a song referencing Olympus, a song titled "Show Me The Castle," a song about cavemen, and "Serene King," of course.

Where does "Serene King" fit into that bigger picture, and why was it chosen as the lead single?

"Serene King" is immediately catchy, and the opening verse melody is from the old football chant. Bob and the band are really proud of the song and wanted to get it out a.s.a.p.

If you have any insight into it, who is the Serene King modeled after, and do you believe such a ruler could exist in the modern day?

It's a somnambulist who drives around, being recognized and waved at, always somehow making it home safely.  I don’t think one could exist today, no.

How will Strut of Kings differentiate itself from Nowhere To Go But Up and other previous releases?

Strut Of Kings is more of a continuation of what Nowhere To Go But Up started, which also has some total bangers we are currently playing in our live set. By the time this posts, we will have “Serene King” and perhaps more from Strut Of Kings in the set.

Hmmm, yes. Serene, indeed...

Hot off GBV's 40th anniversary, and with tour dates already announced, what are your thoughts on the since diluted trend of reunion/retirement/re-retirement tours from jaded musicians/bands? 

I applaud all who are touring. I’m not sure most reunions come from a place of being jaded.  Playing for people is what musicians know how to do and what most love to do best. Sure, there are a couple extremely famous bands in particular that reappear, whose music was on the radio for decades & hell had frozen over once or whatever; or whose feuds, overpriced merch and cruises are documented on many YouTube channels and try to occupy hearts and minds in times of more important and dire matters. But in a time when record sales are no longer a viable source of income for writers and music makers, touring is understandably the vehicle.

Do you think there's a point where some bands are no longer in it for the music or don't have anything left to say?

Probably so, but a lot of bands/artists don’t have anything to say, and just love being able to sing material others write for them, for example, and that’s always been fine for me, as a music fan or consumer.  As a writer, I don’t have much to say message-wise, but I always do musically. I’m always coming up with chord progressions, lines and maybe solos, structures, sonic textures I can’t wait for anyone to hear, and same goes for melodies. Our band is the same way, with all of us coming up with things on each record we’re psyched about, and Bob writing tons of stuff every few months to get out there - and that includes his visual art, not to mention the obvious lyrics, titles, music, and album concepts.

As a native Ohioan, what are your thoughts on the state of indie music today, and is it reassuring to see so much young talent emerging in the Midwest rock, punk and hardcore scenes? 

It seems to be thriving pretty well. Yes, it is reassuring, and I hope it continues.

Besides Strut of Kings, what are you listening to?

Lately, stuff that Leon Sylvers has written or produced, Lola Young, Peter Hamill’s Nadir’s Big Chance LP, old faithful Kaleidoscope by Siouxsie, Aaron Lee Tasjan’s new album, Outkast’s earlier stuff, The Montanas, Fairport Convention’s first LP, Earth, Wind & Fire, Dr. Feelgood, and John Cale.

Strut of Kings is out everywhere on June 28.

Rob Lucchesi

Guided By Voices


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