Indie rock icon Tobin Sprout kicks off Grand Rapids tour


The Michigan artist and former member of Guided by Voices opens his Midwestern tour on Friday at the Grand Rapids Listening Room. The interview with Local Spins, with his choices of songs and artists who influenced him the most.

On the Road Again: Tobin Sprout, right, and his band perform in GR’s listening room this week. (Photo / Wayne Pickard)


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When Tobin Sprout was growing up, his grandfather pulled out a Civil War-era pistol and fired it every Fourth of July.

“I have always been… interested in American history and my grandfather was very fond 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, ”recalls the indie rocker and songwriter from northern Michigan.

These childhood memories helped inspire Sprout’s most recent American-trending studio album, ‘Empty Horses’ of 2020, which will be the focus of Sprout and his band’s next performance on Friday at the Grand Listening Room. Rapids.

The 7:30 p.m. show is not only the band’s first performance of the August Midwestern tour, but the first official concert inside the Listening Room since March 2020. (Tickets are $ 18 and are available online here.)

“I wanted to kind of do an Americana themed, civil war type album and it kind of grew out of those songs that we put together,” said the Ohio native and former band member. Guided by Voices which has made its home in Leland, Michigan, since 1997.

PopMatters described the departure from Sprout’s usual musical direction as “a study in America” ​​with “stories that evoke the rich history of writing similar songs.” NarcMagazine praised “the power and breadth of her magical melancholy” unfolded in a “wonderfully beautiful album”.

VIDEO: Tobin Sprout, “Every Sweet Soul” (from “Empty Horses”)

But the tracks on “Empty Horses” are really only half the story of Sprout’s recording sessions with his band at Tommy Schichtel’s Goon Lagoon recording studio in Grand Rapids.

Other more “typical rockers” recorded in the studio but not fitting the vibe of “Empty Horses” have been released as a single (“Supersonic Chairman”) or set aside for the follow-up album Sprout hopes to start ” knock out “this fall. (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 praised for.


This is the final chapter in a story that began in 1983 when the guitarist and visual artist formed a new wave band called Dayton fig. 4, which has opened its doors to touring artists such as The Del Fuegos. Sprout later was requested by Guided by voices founder Robert Pollard to join the indie-rock / psych-rock group, which went viral and eventually signed with Scat Records in the early 1990s.

“We finally signed to a label and I was like, ‘Well, okay that’s it, you know. “That’s all I wanted to do,” Sprout said. “It went beyond what I imagined.”

Indeed, it is. Beyond his work with Guided By Voices, Sprout has published an extensive list of solo albums, published children’s books and continued to paint, with regular exhibitions of his work in art galleries (which are also available on its website).

Many career milestones: Tobin Sprout (Photo / Ferris Hennig)

He said he’s even turned to screen printing lately, something he finds “pretty exciting.” It’s always exciting to start a new medium and learn what you can do with it. So that’s kind of what motivated me.

But the 66-year-old singer and guitarist is also eager to resume touring and performing live after a pandemic that threw down the band’s plans to play Austin’s South by Southwest and forced musicians to isolate themselves where “you are. somehow lose your identity “.

“It’s just nice to come back on stage and, you know, to feel like, ‘Oh yeah, I can do that,’” 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 praised 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 hiked 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 going into the old files and finding stuff we’ve never played live before.”

Sprout said he was especially looking forward to playing Listening Room with its reputation for “good acoustics and sound system” after such a long hiatus on the road.

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s good to be there again.”

LISTEN: Tobin Sprout, “Supersonic President”

EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians find their inspiration in key recordings which captivated them and influenced their own music. Writer Ross Boissoneau presents today the songs that changed the world for Tobin Sprout. Scroll down for a Spotify playlist of her choices.

As a painter, Tobin Sprout has exhibited his work in galleries in California, Chicago, and his current hometown, at Leland’s Main Street Gallery. As a musician he has traveled the country and abroad. He was a long-time member of indie-rock group Guided By Voices before decamping to Florida to work as an illustrator. After returning to Dayton in the 1990s, he rejoined the group before moving to Michigan.

1. The Nightcrawlers, “The Little Black Egg” (1965) – The first record that I remember loving was “The Little Black Egg”. I learned D and A on the guitar. It programmed me for how I would play guitar 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 Last 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 that you heard in all of Byrds’ early songs.
Listen: “My last pages”

3. The Rolling Stones, “The Last Time” (1965) / The Yardbirds, “The Heart Full of Soul” (1965) – This simple riff comes out, the way the chords change behind. These are the groups that got me excited about the guitar. I grew up with the Beatles and all that and started playing guitar when I was eight. I also liked The Who.
Listen: “The last time”; “Heart full of soul”

Currently likes: The Easybeats, Rolling Stones, Zombies – I come back to older stuff: The Easybeats, The Stones, The Zombies. Bill Fay, I sound like him. Tom is waiting. I’m still exploring all kinds of things, the structure of the song.
Listen: The Easybeats, “Friday on My Mind”

WORLD-CHANGING RECORDS: Tobin Sprout’s playlist on Spotify

Copyright 2021, Spins on Music LLC


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