Born in London in 1946, Mitch Mitchell joined the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966, when he was only 20 years old. Known for his aggressive drumming and “fusion style,” Mitchell was—
Wait, no. Wrong Mitch Mitchell. As it turns out, Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience died in 2008. This Mitch Mitchell served as lead guitarist for Dayton, Ohio-based lo-fi boozehounds Guided By Voices during the band’s “classic” mid-’90s lineup, squalling beer-stained power chords all over “I Am A Scientist,” “Tractor Rape Chain,” and approximately 3,742 other Bob Pollard mess-terpieces. Mitchell exited in 1997 to focus on Mitch Mitchell’s Terrifying Experience, but rejoined GBV in 2010 for every 1995 college radio DJ’s wet dream: a lengthy “Classic ’93-’96 Lineup” reunion tour. The first reunion record, Let’s Go Eat the Factory, popped up in January; another, Class Clown Spots a UFO, is completed for May; and, according to a Guardian feature, a third may already be in the works.
At any rate, I had the immense pleasure of speaking with Mitchell about rejoining GBV, performing on Letterman, and getting mistaken for Mitch McConnell during a White House press briefing.
The Argus: How has the reaction to the reunion tour been? Have you been surprised at all?
Mitch Mitchell: Yeah, I was kind of pleasantly surprised by how well we were received—I didn’t expect that and I was really happy that we got the reaction that we got. I figured we were gonna have some fun, but it was nice that we got such a good response and I was really happy to see a lot of people that I hadn’t seen in a long time.
A: What were some of the most memorable moments?
MM: I think every night was really pretty special. I mean, every show was different, and all the cities were different, and they all were very welcoming to us.
A: What makes the classic lineup so special in Guided By Voices’ history?
MM: I think probably the fact that we know each other so well and have been friends for so long and basically grew up together. I think it adds a different dynamic to the band just because we know each other so well.
A: How has that affected your music, in the past and present?
MM: When you play with somebody for so long, you kinda get a feel for what they’re going to do and it’s just a feeling you get, you just can feel what’s gonna happen before it happens. Kinda like ESP or something, know what I mean?
A: You recorded a lot of Let’s Go Eat the Factory in your garage and members’ homes instead of a recording studio.
MM: We did some recording in my house, we did some at [bassist] Greg [Demos]’s, and we did a majority of it at [multi-instrumentalist] Toby [Sprout]’s.
A: What prompted the decision to record in your homes instead of in a studio? How did that experience compare to making records like Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes?
MM: We’ve kind of always done it that way. I think we are more comfortable recording in the smaller studios. In a big studio, the guy—the producer—doesn’t get what we’re trying to do, he doesn’t understand that Guided By Voices is not really that high-tech in terms of recording. It’s more of a, you know, low-tech feel. Sometimes it’s contradictory to what big bands do in big studios. We don’t do more than one take usually, one or two takes at the most. The way we approach the recording process is different than most other bands, I think.
A: Some songs on the album have keyboards and string effects, too—like “Hang Mr. Kite.” Were those studio overdubs?
MM: Some of the things that were done with the synthesizers were done after the fact. I think Toby had some problems recording the guitars. Most of the songs were done with guitars and bass and drums, and the keyboards kinda came in after the fact. There was some kind of a problem with his recording gear, and after we had left he was having some trouble getting some of the levels on the sounds. He kind of supplemented some of the tones with the keyboards.
A: You just released Let’s Go Eat the Factory, and the band already has another album coming out in May. Is that accurate?
MM: I think, yeah. Um, I think there’s another record that’s gonna come out later this year.
A: According to the Internet, it’s called Class Clown Spots a UFO.
MM: Yes. That’s correct.
A: How does it compare to Factory?
MM: Well, it’s a different record. To say the least, it’s a different record, has a little bit of a different feel to it, it’s more of a guitar—you know, rock record than Let’s Go Eat The Factory. It doesn’t have as much of the keyboards.
A: Was the band planning to release two records in such quick succession?
MM: That pretty much took us by surprise. I didn’t expect even to do the first album! When Bob said he was going to write material for Guided By Voices, it was a nice surprise. And then we came up with more songs for a second album, and it was doubly a surprise and the fun was doubled because now we’re doing a second record. With every record we do, I’m really happy that we’re doing that.
A: How many albums are you planning to put out this year?
MM: That I don’t know. The other one’s gonna come out later this year. I don’t think there are any plans other than that that I know of right now.
A: Have any new influences gone into the new records compared to what you were listening to in the ’90s?
MM: That’s a good question. I think that back in the early ’90s we were influenced a lot by the new bands and artists that we were listening to at the time. As time has gone on, I don’t think there are that many new artists that are very influential in my opinion. I would say that our influences have stayed pretty much the same.
A: Are there any new bands that you think are memorable?
MM: Oh yeah, there are some really cool bands that I have personally heard that I’ve really liked. I’m glad that there are some good bands out there—I’m always kinda seeking them out. I just don’t know of a lot of them.
A: Any you could name?
MM: I like some of the more punk stuff, like a band called Off! That’s the one I can think of off the top of my head that I like.
A: Since you left Guided By Voices in 1996, you’ve been performing with your own band, Mitch Mitchell’s Terrifying Experience. How did that experience compare with playing with GBV?
MM: Well, the Terrifying Experience is just me having some fun. I don’t, uh, I don’t have a lot of hobbies other than drinking beer and playing guitar, so it’s just kind of another excuse for me to drink beer. I mean, it also doesn’t compare just because it’s not really meant to be anything other than me and a couple of my buddies having fun. It’s just a way for me to have some fun when I’m not playing with Guided By Voices.
A: Have your experiences with the Terrifying Experience changed your approach to playing with GBV at all?
MM: Nah, not really. I see it more as an opportunity for me to get better at playing guitar. The only way to get better at it is to play a lot, so I try to play every day.
A: Were you ever expecting GBV to reunite?
MM: Honestly? I really didn’t think so, I thought it was like, we had our fun and it was time to move on. So no, I didn’t expect it. I was really pleasantly surprised that we got a chance to do it again.
A: Did you continue buying the albums and going to shows when Bob Pollard continued the band with a different lineup?
MM: Yeah, I did. I always kinda followed them, and I always enjoyed the records, and I’ve always been a fan as well as a band member. I get the best of both worlds.
A: You also appeared on Letterman recently with GBV?
MM: Yeah, that was a hell of a lot of fun! It was kinda surrealistic in that respect, but it was a heck of a lot of fun, man. It was a nice experience to do that. It’s cool to see how that side of the entertainment business works, know what I mean? Like, how the studio is and how they do all that stuff.
A: It looked like Greg fell on his butt in the middle of the performance.
MM: Yeah, he slipped on the floor—it was really slippery, I mean, I was wearing Converse and I still slid around. He was wearing regular shoes. It’s just one of those things—I mean, stuff happens! That’s GBV! Heh heh heh!
A: What are the setlists going to be like in the future?
MM: Yeah, if it happens that we plan out live, I think it’ll be a majority of new material with some of the oldies kinda sprinkled in for fun. I mean, they’re good songs, it’s not like we don’t really enjoy playing, but I think the new material is what the emphasis will be put on.
A: Okay, last question. You were mentioned at a White House press briefing last year. How did that feel?
MM: [laugh] That was, uh, pretty funny. I got the link to the YouTube clip of it and I just thought it was pretty funny. Funny story about that, I met a friend of mine in Los Angeles after that FYI festival and he actually had Jay Carney’s phone number in his cell phone and I actually called him on the phone and left him a voicemail or voice message or whatever you call it. I was kinda humbled in a sense, too. Pretty unique to have the White House Press Secretary mention you. It’s quite an honor, to be quite honest.
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