Guppyboy Biography

Zach Ward, Mike Barrett, Chris Ziter, Jeff Baron

Smart, prolific and methodically sloppy, Guppyboy helped epitomize the Burlington slacker-rock scene in the 1990s. Their catalog wanders through at least three different bands with innumerable lineups across more than 30 recordings, released in just about every format. 

Guppyboy formed in 1991 when the band members were 20 years old and dressed up in Alice in Wonderland costumes. Guitarists and singers Jeff Baron and Zach Ward (who also plays bass) were writing music for a performance of the Lewis Carroll classic at the University of Vermont’s Royall Tyler Theatre. Chris Ziter, a singer, pianist and guitar player, was the Mad Hatter, and drummer/vocalist Mike Barrett assumed double duty as the Cheshire Cat and Walrus. Offstage, the band solidified over a Tascam 4-track recorder, adopting the name Guppyboy — Baron’s childhood nickname — and dove down the beer-greased rabbit hole that is, or was, the Burlington music scene of the 1990s.

Influenced in part by 1960s British Invasion bands, ’70s-era Dylan and Fleetwood Mac, ’80s new wave, and punk, the Guppyboy sound emerged from their Tascam with a tape-hiss-kissed weirdness that was divorced from their more polished idols. On their early tapes, Guppyboy accomplished genuinely what Ariel Pink and cohorts now tackle with burnout irony.

After college, Guppyboy moved for 18 months to Chicago, where the band recalls not leaving the house much and playing a significant amount of Sega Golf and Road Rash. After recording seven plus albums worth of material while on leave in the Windy City, they returned to Vermont and added flutist, keyboard player and singer Sasha Bell, who mellowed the band for their more folk-minded 1997 release, Jeffersonville.

Jeffersonville marked the formal end of Guppyboy, as all but Ward moved to Brooklyn to join former Silver Jews drummer Tim Barnes in creating the Essex Green. This incarnation warranted the most widespread recognition, due largely to putting out records via Elephant 6—the Athens, Ga., neo-psychedelia label that hosted Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control and others.  Simultaneously, the Guppyboy crew formed another band, The Sixth Great Lake, considered as “kind of a Guppyboy 2.0.” The 6GL acted as an experimental alter ego to the Essex Green.

Taken from John Flanagan's article in Seven Days.