Five Questions With… Bob Guido
Just prior to delivery of a new self-titled solo album, the Ontario-based composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist reflects upon the creative process, astral projection, the current state of ambient music, and love of Debussy.
By Jason Schneider
On his new self-titled solo album, officially out Jan. 17, Ontario-based composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Bob Guido offers 12 stunning pieces that affirm his place among the leading voices within Canada’s ambient music scene.
That may be the simplest way to describe Guido, but it barely scratches the surface of what the album offers in terms of his journey to reach this point. Having followed in the footsteps of one of his primary inspirations, Daniel Lanois, Guido crafted the album out of many sessions held in various locations ranging from churches, small theatres, and an abandoned silo, to his residence and even field recordings made in Iceland. No idea was off-limits, as long as they conveyed his unique vision.
Although Guido handles the bulk of the instrumentation himself, the album also includes a guest appearance from renowned Lanois collaborator Bill Dillon on guitar, along with several notable drummers. Mixes were divided between Guido, Warne Livesey (Matthew Good Band, The The, Midnight Oil), and Julian Kindred (Hammock, Aimee Mann), with mastering handled by Australian sonic wizard William Bowden (Gotye, The Church). Added up, Bob Guido tells his story in vivid detail, whether through words or simply through sound.
We recently caught up with Guido to get more details, and you can hear more here.
What was your general approach to making this album?
In a word... honesty. When we’re born, we all start life learning some fundamental skills like walking, talking, eating, going to the bathroom on our own, holding a spoon, putting on our clothes and shoes. I learned how to play music before I had any of those other necessary skills down. Whether I want to or not, music is and always has been an essential function of existence. It’s as involuntary as breathing and as necessary as water. I don’t know how to live without it.
What I do today with music is an entirely spontaneous response to the view that I see through my window into the world. One observation is that most of us live in response to our greatest fears—life and death. I have always embraced vulnerability, and I choose to live in response to the unknown where my imagination is wildly free to discover so much beauty, wonder, and infinite space within the mysterious. I celebrate not knowing what I’m doing or why I’m here.
So, to return to the question, the process of making this album was spontaneously putting together thousands of pieces of an unsolvable puzzle
What song on the record are you most proud of and why?
Astra Eterna. In 2018, I had a brush with death that made me aware of my impermanence. I saw the arc of my entire life, and the most profound, life-changing moments came right into focus. Surprisingly, the one that stood out the most happened when I was only seven years old. I experienced astral projection, also known as an out of body experience. I was at the grocery store with my parents, and for some unknown reason I was drawn to something outside. I wandered off, walking out into the parking lot on a sunny afternoon and suddenly, it was as if the world stopped, I left my body and was floating above the ground looking down at myself standing there.
When I came back to reality, I just stood there frozen. It felt as if I was gone for a very long time, but in fact, it was only seconds that passed. After that day, I was completely changed. I immediately felt like I had a super heightened level of awareness, almost as if I had been given some new right. My mind started to size up the world in acute detail; distinct conclusions were made about disruptive and distracted humanity that moved me at that moment to focus on a different way of being.
Right after this event, I began hearing very abstract sounds in my head – fragmented imaginary sounds that arrived unexpectedly, accompanied by flashbacks of my astral projection experience. Over decades I collected over 20 of these imaginary little soundtracks and did the best I could at the time to transform what I heard in my head into recordings, using mostly electric guitar with space and time-domain effects to facilitate abstraction of the guitar’s pure vibrations.
These experiences were recorded onto different recording mediums at random times over the years and put into a box for safekeeping. Finally, in 2019, I combed through all of them and assembled these ideas into an audio repository where I could attempt to unravel their mystery and solve the puzzle of fitting them together without a plan, trusting only in my intuition to guide me. I wanted to maintain the feeling each one of them had and articulate an exciting outcome. One that might allow anyone listening to feel a measure of it.
Where do your ideas generally come from?
All of my musical ideas are spontaneous. Inspiration is everywhere, so it’s a natural response to my surroundings here in Canada and everything I see through my view of the world. I don’t own a television, and I don’t pay attention to what media outlets push or what any kind of organizations want me to believe or buy into. I don’t care.
The world has become a global community, and you can feel that here in Canada. If we talk to people around us face to face, and I mean everyone, not only people who share our culture and beliefs, but all people from all walks of life, then we learn something greater about the world. The noisy voices clogging up media channels, and social media platforms speak loud and say nothing to me. I prefer to talk to people directly. People inspire me, and I find that the people who have lived the longest lives are filled with fascinating stories. There is nothing better than sitting, and listening to someone with great wisdom and amazing experiences tell you a story.
So, I don’t follow anyone else’s plan. No agenda. This allows me to be ready to receive whatever inspiration comes about spontaneously. Then I can respond to that, and whatever I’m feeling in the moment, I amplify that. Music is like magic that happens mysteriously, within a moment, and if I think about it too much it spoils it. I enjoy keeping it fun and mysterious. I know that I have something right when it’s got heart and I’m feeling it. When it’s not good, it’s usually pretentious baloney, and I’m reaching for something that isn’t me.
Listening back to the recording a day later is how I can tell if it has a heart. I’ll put the headphones on or turn up the speakers, and if the feeling comes right back to me and I can feel it like I remember feeling it, then I know the idea will live. In my world, ideas have to be deserving of a life beyond my studio. Otherwise, they are just unnecessary. I don’t know where all my ideas come from, but I put the most time and care into the ones that seem to have the biggest heart.
How would you gauge the state of ambient music at the moment?
I have lots of friends abroad who make ambient music, and their work is becoming increasingly beloved and sought after. From what I’ve seen and heard, it seems to be burning up streaming sites like Spotify with growing playlists. I have some ambient pieces of my own in some successful playlists.
But I’m not sure I like that label “ambient” because my music often falls way outside of what most people would consider ambient. Surprising the audience with something unexpected and different that challenges singular categorization is my overall ethos, and I think that is quite evident in my new album. Anything goes, and there’s nothing to lose by experimenting. Targeting a specific sound or genre is too inhibiting for me. The last thing I want to do is produce work that is filled with a feeling that I’m trying.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
Maybe Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune? But seriously, I’m very thankful that I can trust myself to compose something that is an accurate reflection of my imagination—my ultimate listening experience. I’m not interested in spoon-feeding people the same thing they’ve already tasted. I want to give people something new they haven’t heard before.