The Michigan artist and former Guided by Voices member opens his Midwest tour Friday at the Grand Rapids Listening Room. The Local Spins interview, with his picks of songs and bands that influenced him the most.
SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEOS AND SPROUT SONG CHOICES THAT CHANGED HIS WORLD
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When Tobin’s Sprout was growing up, his grandfather would pull out a Civil War-era gun and fire it every Fourth of July.
“I’ve always been… interested in American history and my grandfather was a big fan of the Civil War. He took us to Shiloh and he took us to Gettysburg, and he was constantly reading about the Civil War and telling us stories and things about it,” the northern Michigan indie rocker and songwriter recalled.
Those childhood memories helped inspire Sprout’s newest American-leaning studio album, 2020’s “Empty Horses,” which will be the focus of Sprout and his band’s upcoming performance on Friday in Grand Rapids. listening room.
The 7:30 p.m. show is not only the first performance of the band’s August tour of the Midwest, but the first official Listening Room concert since March 2020. (Tickets are $18 and available online here.)
“I kind of wanted to do a Civil War-themed American-themed album and it kind of grew out of these songs that we were writing,” said the Ohio native and former Guided by band member. Voices which has called Leland, Michigan home since 1997.
PopMatters described the departure from Sprout’s usual musical focus as “a study in Americana” with “stories that evoke the rich past of similar songwriting”. NarcMagazine praised “the power and magnitude of its magical melancholy” deployed in a “wonderfully beautiful album”.
VIDEO: Tobin Sprout, “Every Sweet Soul” (from “Empty Horses”)
But the “Empty Horses” tracks are really only half the story of Sprout’s recording sessions with his band at Tommy Schichtel. Goon Lagoon recording studio in Grand Rapids.
Other “typical rockers” recorded in the studio but that didn’t fit the vibe of “Empty Horses” were released as singles (“Supersonic Chairman”) or shelved for the follow-up album that Sprout hopes to begin ” knock out”. this autumn. (Scroll down to listen to “Supersonic Chairman.”)
“I think we came together in a different way and I think that will continue with the next album,” Sprout said of the all-analog Goon Lagoon sessions he had high praise for.
“IT’S JUST PLEASANT TO COME BACK ON STAGE”
It’s the latest chapter in a story that began in 1983 when the guitarist and visual artist formed a Dayton new wave band called fig. 4, which has opened for touring artists such as The Del Fuegos. Later, Sprout was questioned by Guided by voices founder Robert Pollard to join the indie-rock/psych-rock band, which caught the eye and eventually signed with Scat Records in the early 1990s.
“We finally got signed to a label and I was like, ‘Well, OK, that’s it, you know.’ That’s all I wanted to do,” Sprout said. “It goes a little beyond what I imagined.”
Indeed, he has. Beyond his work with Guided By Voices, Sprout released an extensive list of solo albums, published children’s books and continued to paint, with regular exhibitions of his work in art galleries (also available on his website).
He said he’s even gotten into screen printing lately, something he finds “quite exciting.” It’s always exciting to start a new medium and learn what you can do with it. So that’s kind of what got me excited.
But the 66-year-old singer and guitarist is also eager to get back to touring and performing live after a pandemic scuttled the band’s plans to play Austin’s South by Southwest and forced musicians into self-isolation where “you lose sort of your identity”.
“It’s just nice to get back on stage and, you know, feel like, ‘Oh yeah, I can do this,'” Sprout said.
Sprout and his band – Schichtel on guitar, Gary Vermillion on drums, and Vermillion’s brother Steve on bass – will be joined by award-winning Michigan guitarist Drew Howard as special guest. Sprout loved Howard’s work in the recording studio on “Empty Horses.”
“He’s amazing. He came to record on these tracks…and hit it right away,” Sprout said. “I mean, we maybe walked through it twice and he got it.”
With Howard on board, fans can expect a heavy dose of “empty horses” at the Grand Rapids show. But the band members also “talked about digging into old files and finding stuff that we haven’t played live before”.
Sprout said he was especially looking forward to playing Listening Room with its reputation for “beautiful acoustics and sound system” after such a long hiatus from the road.
“Yeah,” he said, “it’s good to be back there again.”
LISTEN: Tobin Sprout, “Supersonic Chairman”
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians draw inspiration from key recordings that captivated them and influenced their own music. Writer Ross Boissoneau today presents the songs that changed the world for Tobin Sprout. Scroll down for a Spotify playlist of her picks.
As a painter, Tobin Sprout has exhibited his work in galleries in California, Chicago and in his hometown, Leland’s Main Street Gallery. As a musician, he traveled the country and abroad. He was a long time member of the indie-rock group Guided By Voices before decamping to Florida to work as an illustrator. Returning to Dayton in the 1990s, he joined the band again before moving to Michigan.
1. The Devils, “The Little Black Egg” (1965) – The first record I remember liking was “The Little Black Egg”. I learned D and A on the guitar. It programmed me for how I would play guitar for the rest of my life. This is the song that took me on this folk-rock journey.
Listen: “The Little Black Egg”
2. The Byrds, “My Back Pages” (1967) – That’s the song that got me into The Byrds, that song with the 12-string guitar. I do this live. That bright, electric folk sound you heard in all of Byrds’ early songs.
Listen: “My Back Pages”
3. The Rolling Stones, “The Last Time” (1965)/The Yardbirds, “Soulful Heart” (1965) – This simple riff comes out, the way the chords change behind. These are the groups that fascinated me for the guitar. I grew up with the Beatles and all that and started playing guitar at eight. I also liked The Who.
Listen: “The last time”; “Soulful Heart”
Currently likes: The Easybeats, Rolling Stones, Zombies – I go back to older stuff: The Easybeats, the Stones, the Zombies. Bill Fay, I sounded like him. Tom is waiting. I’m always exploring all kinds of things, song structure.
Listen: Easybeats, “Friday in My Head”
RECORDS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Tobin Sprout’s playlist on Spotify
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