Low-Fi Indie Rock Royalty Tobin Sprout to Play The Union March 15

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Tobin Sprout, one of Ohio’s great rock ‘n’ roll heroes, studied art right here at Ohio University in the late ’70s. He even recalls trudging up Jeff Hill in the wintertime!

Sprout might be known best as the secondary major songwriter for indie rock gods Guided By Voices, serving as both a foil for frontman Robert Pollard as well as the chief or co-songwriter of some of the band’s most beloved tracks, such as  “Little Whirl,” “Hot Freaks,” “Ester’s Day,” “A Salty Salute,” “Motor Away,” “King and Caroline,” and so many more 3-minute-or-less sonic gems. Sprout is also an acclaimed musician in his own right, having released numerous solo albums, most recently 2017’s The Universe and Me. 

On Friday, March 15, Tobin Sprout is headlining a show at The Union that features opening acts Joseph Airport and Unmonumental. WOUB’s Emily Votaw had the pleasure of speaking to Sprout about a week before the performance.

Tobin Sprout

WOUB: So, you attended Ohio University when you were a kid?

Tobin Sprout: Yeah, I lived on New South back in the late ‘70s — I remember living in Martzolf and maybe Cady. They were single rooms back then, they didn’t have the module, the community rooms yet – but yeah, I studied art there.

WOUB: Did you enjoy it?

TS: I did. I went to Wright state for my first year and then OU for three years, and lived on New South most of the time. I remember those hills were kind of brutal during the wintertime, getting to the art building up Jefferson, I think it was called? We used to hang out at the Frontier Room quite a bit, and the C.I., I don’t know if that is still there. But yeah, I had a good time while I was there.

WOUB: I’ve often been curious: what is your songwriting process like? When listening to your work it always sounds to me like I am listening to a radio station from another dimension or something – like what I am hearing feels familiar, but I’ve never heard it before.

TS: Well, I usually start off with a series of chords, and I might record those and maybe a chorus and a verse. Then I will either try and make stuff up over the top of that or just leave those tracks until the next day or so. That way you sort of forget the process. Then I’ll maybe put a melody on the sequence so that you’re kind of throwing melodies that change before you are ready for them, which sometimes creates some interesting stuff. Generally, after I get the melody down, I flesh it out with different lyrics, like take bits and pieces of one thing that makes sense and then rework the second verse – it’s a process that works well for me a some of the time, and other times, I struggle. I’ve found that the better ones come pretty quickly, like all of a sudden I channel something. Then it all comes together, like magic.

WOUB: We are so excited to have you performing in Athens!

TS: We actually played Athens back in ’96 or ’97 – but that was probably way before you were born, you were probably in grade school, if that, by then. We sort of played between two buildings, as I remember it, next to the C.I., I think. They had the stage set up so that we were playing down a hill. My son was there, and he was maybe 1 or 2 years old – my wife had him in a front carrier the whole time. So, this will be the second time that I have played OU since going there, and I’m pretty excited about it.

Tickets are $10. Doors open at 9 p.m., Unmonumental plays at 10 p.m., Joseph Airport at 11 p.m., and Tobin Sprout at 12 a.m.