Just like thousands of small-town music nerds before and after him, Mark Shue spent much of his adolescence in his bedroom in Staunton, cranking Guided By Voices songs on the stereo. He not only listened along, but fantasized about breaking through and earning a devoted following of fans, just like those beloved underground indie rockers in the backwater of Dayton, Ohio. Little did Shue know, one day that fantasy would be fulfilled beyond anything he could imagine: He now serves as bassist for the re-formed Guided By Voices, playing night after night alongside his hero, frontman Robert Pollard.
Ahead of the band’s October 7 gig at the Jefferson Theater, the bassist says he’s thrilled to return to the area where he first honed his musical chops. As a teen he played guitar in a band called The Sad Lives, which performed at house parties and small clubs around Charlottesville and Harrisonburg.
“Because of the university, Charlottesville had more of a robust and diverse kind of scene than other towns in the area,” he recalls. “Jagjaguwar was also based in Charlottesville around that time, and when I was around 14, some older kids in my high school formed a band called The Union of a Man and a Woman and put out a record on that label. That stuff had a big influence on me early on.”
Shue has since moved to New York, but doesn’t forget the yearnings of his youth and his appreciation of Guided By Voices. “As a small-town arty kid I definitely could identify with their beginnings,” he says. “I had never even been to Dayton, but I felt akin to them somehow. I think growing up in a smaller town can force you to be more creative because you don’t have the support around you and the luxury of having everything in your own backyard. You have to build your own kind of world. …So Guided By Voices’ origins were relatable and inspiring in that way.”
GBV’s humble Dayton beginnings prompted Rolling Stone magazine to describe the band’s lo-fi production aesthetic (which was minimalistic due to the lack of slick studios that were in bigger locales) as setting “a new standard for the possibilities of home recording.”
Those accolades sound apt to Pollard. “Well, lo-fi is fine,” he says. “It’s accessible and cheap, and sometimes it even sounds cool. But the main thing is the songs. You gotta have the goods or it doesn’t matter how it’s recorded. I do appreciate Rolling Stone’s assessment though, and I do like the possibilities that home recording opens for other aspiring artists that may have great potential.”
Pollard adds that he was happy to have had such an influence on Shue, whom he met when the younger musician was a member of ESP Ohio, a side project of Guided By Voices’ guitarist Doug Gillard.
“They were playing some dates with us on the East Coast. That was probably four or five years ago, and I instantly liked him,” Pollard says of meeting Shue, adding that he loves the younger bassist’s “playing and his attitude.”
Such compliments have left Shue overjoyed, and he is quick to return Pollard’s praise: “He inspires all of us in the band to consistently elevate our game, and it’s enabled us to be at the point now where we can add new songs constantly on the road,” Shue says. “It makes every night a surprise for longtime fans and newcomers alike. Being onstage together playing over 50 songs a night is a pure joy. When it’s over I just want to go back for more. It’s a total blast.”
The positivity and enthusiasm seems well-earned, considering how tumultuous the band’s journey has been. Through the years, Guided By Voices has repeatedly split up and reunited, while a revolving door of members have come and gone. Pollard remains the group’s sole constant, though even the most dedicated of fans would concede that his output has been anything but stable.
After years of personnel changes, the group officially disbanded in 2004, re-formed in 2010, split up in 2014 and re-emerged this year, releasing an album called Please Be Honest under the band’s moniker even though Pollard played all of the instruments himself, before enlisting the current lineup to accompany him on tour.
Although the album received mixed reviews, Pollard defends his decision to go solo and the songs he chose for Please Be Honest. “I just wanted to see if I could pull it off on my own,” says Pollard. “My thing was, that if I decided it didn’t measure up to the standard of what I think a Guided By Voices record should be, I would put it out under the name Teenage Guitar, which is what I have used in the past when I do everything [solo]. I felt that it did merit the GBV tag and so I recruited this band to go on the road with it and they make it so much more powerful. The songs from Please Be Honest are some of my favorite ones that we do live.”
Regardless of critiques from music reviewers, Pollard is thrilled by his band’s current standing in the indie rock world. He can vividly recall Guided By Voices’ formation in Dayton in the early ’80s. The then newly formed and underappreciated group would play shows at a loss because venues refused to even cover their beer tabs. Now Pollard is thrilled to be past hurdles, play for adoring fans and collaborate with musicians such as Shue who have long looked up to him. “It’s very rewarding to get paid and be able to make a living as something you would actually come out of your own pocket for,” Pollard says. “We have the best job.”