“I’ve been playing in bands since about 1972 when I was 10 or 11 years old,” Mitchell said. “I remember when you’d go see a band, they were real musicians and so proficient on their instruments. You’d go see them live and it would blow you away. I love that about that era.”
Mitchell, who lives in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio, still performs regularly, and for years played guitar in a band that mainly did covers of popular top 40 hits. But eventually his desire to play his own songs led him to form Guided by Voices, which will be bringing its eclectic sound to Orlando’s The Beacham on Wednesday, Sept. 19, in a return trip to the Sunshine State.
“I like coming down south,” Mitchell said. “We’ve played gigs in Tallahassee and Jacksonville, and I’ve always had a great time playing there. Our live show is really energetic and gets people pumped up to what is on stage.”
The band will also be promoting its new EP, “Class Clown Spots a UFO,” which was released in June.
“It kind of came about like the story of the boy who cried wolf,” Mitchell said. “He’s the kid always making crazy comments and doing silly stuff, and he spots a UFO — and no one believes him. It’s a concept album. It’s about the class clown who goes through all of the things that a class clown is doing, and he’s on a journey and finally at the end he’s taken away.”
The band, he added, doesn’t want to get pigeonholed into one genre. Their influences, Mitchell added, are much too varied for that.
“We’re kind of an experimental band, in that sometimes we do things one way, sometimes we do things another way,” he said. “We’re a little bit of everything. We are ‘guided by the voices’ that have inspired us.”
In one sense, he said, Guided by Voices is similar to a band like The Grateful Dead, which over the years changed its style of music over and over again.
“They did a lot of experimentation and they were very non-conformist in what they were doing,” he said. “That was way cool to us.”
At the same time, Mitchell admits, his earliest bands found greater success by providing audiences with the familiar, and not the experimental or original.
Growing up in the suburbs of Dayton, “My parents really influenced me because in my house they listened more to records and radio than we watched TV,” Mitchell said. “I listened to everything from Benny Goodman to Nat King Cole to Frank Sinatra. That kind of had an influence on me. I was more into music than into TV. As I got older, I was into bands like the Rolling Stones and Grand Funk Railroad and stuff like that. All the music that I’ve listened to and heard had an influence on me, and impact on me, as far as wanting to play music and the style of music I wanted to play.”
He got involved in playing music, and found success in the clubs in Ohio. He began playing with Kevin Fennel, who is the drummer now in Guided by Voices.
“Kevin and I had played in a couple of bands together when we were really young,” he said. “From there to middle school and high school, we started playing music and we didn’t have a real band yet, we just had some guys who played music together. Then we called some dudes that we knew and kind of put a band together. We just kept at it and kept playing, and developed into a bar band/cover band kind of thing, and that turned out to be pretty successful. There was a pretty big scene for that.”
But again, despite the success, the lon-term frustration came from knowing that audiences wanted to hear the top 40 hits – and not get introduced to any originals the band was creating.
“It’s not a big market for original music,” he said. “It’s for Johnny who wants to go out and hear the stuff he hears on the radio at work. When we did original things, people didn’t want to hear it, so we met with a lot of resistance. But that made us more determined to keep doing original music.”
And they found ways – creative ways – to get their own songs before an audience.
“We had a pretty crazy repertoire, from Ted Nugent to Blue Oyster Cult, and we had a few originals and we’d sneak them in by telling people it was a cover – ‘This is a Grand Funk cover,’ we’d tell the audience, and we’d play a song that we wrote. That was one of the main reasons I got booted out of the cover band. The other dudes said, ‘No, we want to stick to playing the covers.’ It was too radical a departure from what they wanted to do.”
Guided By Voices as been around, on and off, for nearly 25 years, and they reunited in 2009 with Tobin Sprout and Mitchell on guitar, Greg Demos on bass, and Fennel on drums, and recorded the album Bee Thousand, which Amazon.com has heralded as the #1 All Time Greatest Indie Rock Album.
Following sold out shows, the band went back into the studio to record Let’s Go Eat The Factory, which was released in January.
This time, Mitchell said, the band has stayed true to its desire to create original music – and not just recreate what others did first.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily the right way in finding an audience, but it’s finding ways to amuse ourselves musically,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re geared toward writing for others as much as for ourselves. We write for ourselves. It’s not like we have to write a hit single so the kids will like it. But there just happens to be a lot of people who dig us.”
Mitchell also believes the band has succeeded by working hard to refine their sound, as bands did back in the 1960s and 1970s. With the Internet allowing anyone to download their music and aim for a global audience, not every so-called performer today puts quality over accessibility, he said.
“It’s opened the doors for millions of bands who maybe shouldn’t continue as a band,” he said. “The Internet exposes you to a newer, wider fan base, but many more bands are out there who should never continue on as a band. It deludes the water.”
Guided by Voices will be performing on Sept. 19 at The Beacham at 46 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando, starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are $70-$95. To learn more, call the theater at 407-246-1419.
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