By: Robert Pollard with Doug Gillard
Appears on: Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department
I don’t know how to properly explain it, but there’s a certain kind of magic that occurs when Robert Pollard teams up with Doug Gillard. You can hear it all over the Guided By Voices records that feature Doug as lead guitarist, on the insanely great ESP Ohio album Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean, on the two wonderful Lifeguards releases, and of course, on the miracle of modern music that is Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department. Bob has a way with hooks, well-crafted melodies, and cryptic lyrics, and Doug always seems to have just the perfect guitar leads, fills, and other embellishments to compliment them.
On Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department, Bob wrote the songs and sent them over to Doug, who then recorded instrumental tracks for them (along with four he wrote himself). Doug sent these recordings back to Bob so he could record vocals onto them. Let’s face it: if Bob had done this album by himself, it still would have been incredible; these songs are just that damn good (and I’m sure most fans would pay a small fortune to hear Bob’s original demos for these tracks). But it somehow wouldn’t be able to compare to the final product; Doug’s contribution of playing all the instruments gave life to these songs in a way that Bob could not have done on his own.
Today, we’ll take a look at “Slick As Snails,” one of the songs from Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department for which Bob wrote the music—and it certainly shows, as it contains several of his signature guitar techniques.
“Slick As Snails” opens up with an acoustic guitar playing an arpeggio figure over a chord progression of G – Fmaj7 – Am7 – Fmaj7 – C/G – Cmaj7/G. These chords are implied by the notes in the arpeggios, so I’ve included them in parentheses above the tablature in Figure 1. The intro plays through twice, with an electric guitar doubling the acoustic on the repeat.
Figure 2 shows the verse chord progression. The guitars play this progression once, starting at (00:34), before the vocals come in at (00:50). The riff shown in the tablature below is played after the Cmaj7/G, but only after the first two iterations of the chord progression.
In the chorus (Figure 3), we see an example of the Pollard “floating chord shapes” guitar technique: he takes an open chord shape (Cadd9) and plays it on the 4th fret, where it becomes Ebadd9. The beauty of this is the G note, played on the open third string over both the Ebadd9 and the Cadd9 chords. Then there’s a riff played over the lyrics, “Piss away again…” that uses an “open string drone” technique: the fourth and third strings both ring out as the notes on the fifth string change from G to F#.
Following the chorus is another verse, then another chorus, then a guitar solo played over the verse chord progression. The final chorus, shown in Figure 4, starts off the same as the previous two. At (03:56), however, instead of playing the open string drone riff, use the G5 and D/F# chords shown in the chord diagrams from the beginning of this post.