Dinner with Guided By Voices? Dinner with GBV?
This is the daunting and unlikely prospect we are confronted with on a recent night in NYC. On behalf of Privy Magazine, my wife, Ty and I have requested an interview with indie-legend Bob Pollard. What better way, we ask, to launch the debut issue of a magazine dedicated to celebrating unsung art heroes than with the lead singer of the best and most unsung rock band on Earth? After much friendly give and take (picture it: hitting your answering machine and hearing, “Uh, this is Bob Pollard, I got a message saying…”) we decide that a phone interview just won’t do, and something more intimate is in order. Then, much to our fortunate surprise, we learn that the band just happens to be in town the following week for a private show! And so, somehow, dinner is planned. How this happens we are not quite sure. A joke is made and taken seriously; a suggestion is made and then upped – it doesn’t matter: We are having dinner with Guided By Voices of Dayton, Ohio. The whole band. Yes, dinner, at our least favorite, but their most beloved, restaurant in NYC, La Mela; in the heart of what is left of what is still known as Little Italy.
We are having dinner with Guided By Voices, and we are a little frightened.
The night of the interview we prepare by sipping Red Stripes for courage in my Little Italy apartment, listening to Tonics and Twisted Chasers, a collection of GBV out-takes. There are three of us: Guillermo and myself (longtime GBV fanatics) and my wife, Ty (a recent convert, but threatening to surpass us in intensity). We are strangely quiet, and an air of the ominous hangs over the proceedings. If you’ve ever seen GBV live, you cannot blame our trepidation. This is Guided By Voices, folks, the band that has a roadie strictly in charge of beer; that has a tub of iced Budweiser in front of the drum kit at all times, as familiar and omnipresent as another instrument. The band whom when they hit the stage you can tell have been drinking since sound check. The one with the lead singer who has perfected the art of continuing to sing though he has fallen through a wall of amps and is lying flat on his back in a puddle of suds. The band that brings the “family size” Jack Daniels on stage – and finishes it.
My God, what have we done?
Drinks, we think. Drinks with GBV – that would have made sense. A bar. A controlled environment, a drinking environment. But dinner – Jesus! We’ll get thrown out – this, we think, is inevitable. There’ll be gnocchi fights, bottles of beer flying like boomerangs. Law suits. Table clothes on fire. La Mela in cinders. (Only this last thought can make us smile).
We look at each other, check our watches. It is time. We amble down Mulberry Street, sweaty-palmed and silent, prepared for drunkenness and disorder. For carousing and chaos. For anarchy and –
Ah, but what do we find? Four quiet and unassuming gents smoking cigarettes and waiting patiently for our arrival. By God they are early, and clearly sober. Friendly too, though dare I say a little shy? And hell, yes, even on second inspection…. sober. And so of course now we are confronted with our own naiveté, our own taste of the rock and roll illusion: The one of rowdy wild-men Gods, debauched untouchables, needles hanging from their arms as they are interviewed, barfing on your tape recorder…
We have been duped. We have seen one Behind the Music too many. GBV are pleasant, mild-mannered young fellows.
We are escorted to a table for ten, magnums of red and white wine open, waiting for us. Bob acts instantly as sommelier, pouring before anyone can sit down.
The night, I am reminded, is young.
Back now to1994. The year of reunion tours and their inflated prices. Tickets for shows were going for $40, $60, $100. But for those of you lucky enough to be there at Irving Plaza, NYC, for the Guided by Voices, Alien Lanes tour, $10 got you two and half hours with the greatest band in the world. $10! For they were, at that moment, the greatest, the coolest band in universe – and everybody who saw that show knew it. I remember knowing so little about them that night. It was the joy of pure discovery. I’d read a good review of Alien Lanes and picked it up. The album had just began to take hold of me, it having needed more than a few spins to get into. (And here is the secret to GBV, and, perhaps, all good music: be wary of stuff you like on the first try.) On first listen, Alien Lanes seemed esoteric, and, worst of all, ironic, which was, to me, the bane of rock in those years. The too-cool-to-rock deconstructionist garage college-punk bands. Weezer being the unfortunate model of the form.
So we went in blind, Guillermo and I. A kind of lark. Ten bucks, we thought. How bad could it be?
And then out comes Bob Pollard. Having no idea what these guys were supposed to look like I thought for sure he was a roadie, this dude with his corduroy slacks and untucked striped shirt straight from your local Chess King. Obviously he was not a rock star. He had a cigarette and a Bud long-neck in the same hand, while high-fiving the front row of fans with the other. Yes, a roadie, I thought. The rowdy one whose job it was to rev up the fans. Then he grabbed the mic, and the band took their places. An intrepid fan, I was thinking now; I must have missed him sneaking up on stage. As I waited for security to hall him off they kicked into Over the Neptune…
And wow! I remember looking at Guillermo halfway through the song, him nodding back at me, both of us knowing right away that this was it, that we had stumbled across something extraordinary. The set heated up, one song right after the other. Just as one two minute classic was ending, Bob would scream “one two three four!” and they would crash right into another. No, these were not the most accomplished players in the world, but fuck did they rock. The lyrics were inventive, intelligent without being artful or too worked over. Yes, we decided then, this was it. The great void that had been left after the demise of the Pixies and the Replacements was being filled. This was the new shit.
For a while, that seemed to be the pinnacle. The album Under the Bushes, Under the Stars was the last with the old band. The GBV lineup changed a year later. The results were mixed. The album Mag Earwig had great things on it, but seemed diffused, disparate. A free concert in Central Park seemed flat. The new band has no camaraderie, we complained. We missed Tobin Sprout’s effete vocals, a great foil to Bob’s bombast. Sure, we knew Mitch Mitchell couldn’t play guitar much past power cords, but does Doug Gillard seem a little aloof? The band, the group of rag-tags from Nowheresville, Ohio, pumping out classic albums from the basement is over. It is done… Or so we thought.
“i wanna rock out with my cock out”
Back at dinner, the wine moves fast. Before the bread can arrive, the half magnum on our side of the table (no vouching for the other side) is almost gone. Bob, of course, is leading the charge. And here the first Bob Pollard Fun Fact is revealed. Are you ready? Drum roll ladies and gentlemen… Bob is shy. The drunken louche you have seen lolling about on stage, preening and pumping his fist at you, is actually quite reserved and bashful in person.
Ty, for example, has the tape recorder on, clicking away with her camera. Guillermo, Privy Mag’s very own walking music encyclopedia, has jumped right into the “questions” period, but Bob, we notice, cannot look him in the eye. Nor can Ty get him to pick his head up for a few photos. At first we take this for remoteness. Who are these New York smarties looking at me? we see him thinking. Judging me. But no, it’s quickly revealed that Bob is shy and the drinking is to make himself comfortable, to quell self-consciousness. The tub of beer on stage, I now realize, is to get Bob through the show.
I can’t socialize, Bob sings on As We Go Up We Go Down, I’ll be institutionalized.
They have driven up from Dayton in a minivan, via a quick stop in Cleveland to pick up guitarists Nate Farley and Doug.Gillard. As Bob tips the magnum of red once again, I ask him if there is ever a time when he is not in the mood to drink before a show.
“One time,” he says, eyeing the tray of appetizers as they’re set down. “There was one show where I didn’t drink, it felt really weird. I think the audience felt like they were being cheated somehow.”
Doug amends this idea. “It’s kind of part of the show,” he says. “They like this idea that it’s one big party.”
Yes, I think. Beyond the songs, part of the greatness of GBV’s live shows is the feeling that it’s a big party, a party you’re invited to. I’ve seen Bob give out many a beer over the years to some thirsty folks in the front row.
This party atmosphere though has occasionally gotten GBV – and more specifically, Bob – into some trouble. Especially with the bands they’ve toured with. They were booted from a show in Austin for heckling the opening band. Cheap Trick, whom they played with for part of the Do the Collapse tour, often lectured them about their drinking, and lead singer Robin Zander seemed none-too amused when a loaded-up Bob came out during the Trick’s set at the Hammerstein Ballroom for an unrehearsed duet of “Surrender”.
And then a few years back, there was the incident with Urge Overkill, another band they toured with. Something about GBV not knowing it’s place.
“Their roadies started gettin’ on me about whose stage it was,” Bob told us. “They pushed me, then I pushed back, then they beat the shit out of me. I was fuckin’ drunk, man.” He smiles a little bit as he tells us this. “We didn’t know our place, you know.”
I think I understand this smile. It’s of a man pleased to be a part of something, to be continuing the spirit of unpredictability which is so sorely missing from music. No need to lecture here on the prefabrication, the sterility of contemporary rock and its practitioners, but instead to praise those who avoid it, and for whom operating within those confines is just not worth the ride.
“Another red, please,” someone asks the waiter. Ty finally gets Bob to mug for a picture, playfully giving the lens the finger as he does. They’re out of red at the other side of the table, and so Nate Farley – who is really the bands biggest partier – begins swigging the white wine right from the bottle. Things are going well, we think. Things are getting looser.
The question of the new GBV , though, the new lineup, still hovers over the table. We can feel it. As always – and deservedly – Bob is fielding most of the questions. Nate and Tim are relatively quiet (the drummer, Jim MacPherson is to fly out tomorrow we are told). But Doug Gillard is very friendly and talkative, which is welcome and perhaps a little surprising; we had guessed him the quiet one in the band. He punctuates a lot of Bob’s answers, and in his assertiveness I see a point being made, subtly by firmly. This is not simply the Bob Pollard show, he is saying. This is a band. I am a part, and integral part of Guided By Voices.
And of course he’s right. Anyone who has listened to Do the Collapse can tell that whereas Bob Pollard wrote most of the guitar music for the old GBV, Doug Gillard is the man now. In fact, Pollard’s last solo effort, Speak Kindly Of Your Local Fire Department, is actually co-credited with the guitarist. The album – an absolute must for all GBV fans – is filled with blistering licks the likes of which we know Mitch Mitchell was never capable, love him though we did. (Check out the track Slick as Snails, if you don’t believe me. It’s as crisp a lead as you will hear in music this year).
“What about the old lineup?” I ask Bob, and as I do, I notice Doug straighten up a bit in his chair. It’s a sensitive topic, I know, but I can’t help it, I really want to know what’s happened to the old guys, the where-are-they-now thing.
“They’re doing okay,” Bob begins. “Toby’s got his solo stuff, and Mitch has got his own band now. Mitch Mitchell and the Terrible Experience.”
“How is it?” we ask.
“It’s alright,” Bob says enthusiastically. “You know, it rocks pretty good. Kevin Fennel on the other hand…”
“Oh, yeah, Kevin,” Doug says.
We are told that Kevin Fennel, the drummer of the band’s yesteryears, has found God. Fair enough, we all agree – good for him – except Bob goes on to tell us that he has renounced GBV as “the Devil’s work”. We look at Bob dumfounded. Then one of us laughs – we think he must be kidding. But no, Doug reaffirms this. The “Devils work”, he repeats. This seems astounding to us for a number of reasons, especially since we’ve seen the very cool documentary of GBV called Watch Me Jumpstart. There the interviews with Kevin show him as perhaps the most gung-ho of all the band members, and certainly the most romantic, speaking eloquently of his “rock and roll dream”, which was finally being fulfilled with GBV.
Bizarre we all agree. Doug fidgets, and then, sensing the potential minefields that lay ahead in pursuing this territory, we move on to other things.
Doug and I talk briefly about the Replacements – “I loved the Replacements,” Bob chimes in, but were “pussies” for not being able to drink and play at the same time – Gillard telling me a story about the late Bob Stinson. Doug was playing with his very first band, he tells me, and after the gig he was approached by the Replacement’s guitarist who let him know how much he liked Doug’s work.
“I was nineteen at the time,” Gillard tells me. “You can imagine how much that meant to me.”
Yes indeed, I tell him, I can imagine.
Still, I can’t help thinking there is a sub text to this story. All the while now, I believe Doug is thinking something else. There is a question in his mind, and it is only a matter of time – perhaps after a few more drinks – until he pops it.
Rob Pollard is the most prolific songwriter in rock, hands down. In an off year, fans can expect at least two albums, one GBV record and one solo. Then there are the B-side compilations (the best, in my opinion, is Tonics and Twisted Chasers. A real find.) All told, Bob estimates that he as written over 5,000 songs. Yes, folks, that’s right. Five thousand songs. Just last year we had Collapse, Fireman, and the brilliant Ask Them, by the Pollard-led Lexo and the Leapers. A startlingly fecund year for any artist.
Now, coming in September we are given Suitcase. A box set of no less than 100 new songs. 100! It’s almost hard to believe. These are out-takes going pretty far back – way back, in fact; “There’s something on there from my high school days,” Bob says, though we don’t know whether this fact is charming, or something we should be wary of.. No doubt there will be many throwaways and so-so demos of what became better songs, but also there will surely be the diamonds in the rough, the jewels that are too good to pass up. Though Bob has a routine – the morning coffee, a pencil and notepad – he can write songs anywhere, we are told. Driving in a car, brushing his teeth. Sitting in a bar…
I want to live the Lit Life. The Lit Life…
After dinner the entire gang goes across Mulberry Street to Tony’s, a simple bar that I know they like because it reminds them of their more familiar watering holes back in Ohio. Nate buys the shots – Tequila for the band (To-killya, Bob jokes), bourbon for the New Yorkers. And after a few rounds Bob hears that I’ll be publishing a novel next year called Lit Life, which he immediately turns into a song. The hand goes up for the air-mic, and off he goes, “I want to live the Lit Life. Ev-er-y night, the Lit Life.” The lyrics are strangely appropriate, and a song I fully expect to see on next Suitcase II.
And, I fantasize, it will be a favorite of Ray Davies. The former Kink’s front man is a big GBV fan.
“Yeah,” Bob says, “I heard this through the grapevine. When Ray wants to get his Beatles fix on he listens to Guided By Voices.” Bob is obviously pleased by this, we can see. And why not? At Tony’s bar, he mentions the Kinks and the Beatles as two of his favorites, along with The Who, REM., and perhaps most unlikely, Genesis (the Peter Gabriel years).
Movies, though, are not an influence. Especially – and nor here is Bob Pollard Fun Fact #2 – Bob is not into horror movies.
“Don’t like ’em,” says Pollard. He downs another To-killya and chases it with a sip of Bud, then admits to us that he has always disliked the films of Hitchcock, for example, and finds the images of horror in films upsetting; even traumatizing. “Horror is more pernicious than pornography,” he cites.
This surprises us, we tell him, since many of his lyrics have elements of horror imagery. We sight Smothered in Hugs, among others.
But these are his nightmares, he tells us, and writing them is a way of purging them.
His favorite film of last year?
“Flawless,” Bob says.
Flawless? We rack our memories. He doesn’t mean the one with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in drag, DeNiro as the homophobe. He couldn’t…
“That’s the one,” he says, straight-faced. “Hilarious.”
“GBV is about confusing people”
We dispose with yet another tray of Nate’s shots, then and are back out on the street, wandering through the Lower East Side to a bar Mr. Farley has in mind. He lived on Rivington Street a few years back and wants to say hello to an old bartender friend at the Parkside Lounge. It’s around 2a.m. by now, and this has to be the last stop, as I’m living the Lit Life right now, I think, feeling groggy from drink as we shoo away shoebox-sized rats that scoot out in front of us as we walk.
At the Parkside, I ask Nate and Tim if they can make a living from GBV. Yes, a slightly trashy inquiry, but then I’ve always been curious to know what the money is like in a mid-sized act like GBV (Haven’t you?). Tim and Nate are forthcoming, agreeing that the dough is not great, but they get by, sometimes taking an extra gig hear and there. Nate even does a little bouncer work from time to time. They both are looking forward to the new album, set to record some time in March. Hope springs eternal: They’re both sure this is the one.
Then Doug sits down next to me. He’s not through with me yet. There’s that question he has for me. That bone he has to pick.
We continue on as friendly as ever. Chummy as Bob is, by now I’m thinking that Doug Gillard is hardly aloof at all, is in fact the most approachable guy in the band, the one most likely to become your buddy. He is not content to simply let you fire questions at him – he is actually interested in you, in what your doing. He asks me about my book, where I live, tells me about his side project, Gem, which I know I will look into. And then, because we are drunk, we begin to talk about guilty pleasure artists.
He mentions Cat Stevens. A brave move which I happen to agree with, and so I try to top him with Marshall Crenshaw. But nothing doing, he loves Crenshaw too.
“Downtown is a good album,” I say.
“Try Mary Jean”, he says. “Even better.”
Nate is acting as barman here too, and another beer appears in my hand along with one for Doug. This reminds us that it’s men’s room time, and as Doug and I tack on to the back of the line, we find Guillermo there, one man ahead.
Now, having us both in his clutches, Doug springs it on us, the question he’s been wanting to ask since dinner – the question he probably would like to ask all longtime GBV fans, and it is so honest and direct that we are taken unawares.
“You guys preferred the old lineup, didn’t you?”
Doug has directed this arrow more towards Guillermo than me, so I turn away, pretending I didn’t hear. There is a moment of quiet, and then Guillermo, God bless him, turns and looks Doug in the eye and tells him the absolute truth, speaking for both of us, echoing an opinion we have agreed upon for many months now.
“I did,” he tells Doug, “until I saw the Irving Plaza show last January. That show blew me away. That was the best GBV ever.”
How true, I think, though at the time I didn’t think it was possible. Though we loved Do the Collapse, we went in to that last show skeptical, almost as a kind of ‘for old-time’s sake’. After Central Park we’d all but given up.
But we ate crow that night. It was, no kidding, the most rocking two hours I have ever seen, a new precedent, the best Guided By Voices show ever. GBV fans talk of it in hushed tones, the stuff of legend. It has all come together, we discover, everything has jelled. Bob was in all his sodden glory that night, his voice richer than ever, and he even added to his repertoire a good fifteen minutes of stand-up shtick late in the show, cracking jokes and goofing off extemporaneously. The band, especially Doug’s guitar and Jim’s drumming was superb. And, of course, debauchery reigned, especially when Nate bowed out of the last few songs letting whomever could reach play his guitar and sharing his family-size Jack bottle with everyone in the front row.
We are won over, GBV is better than ever. An awesome night.
We tell Doug all this and he smiles a little, and then I know it’s time to go home. All business is finished. The night is complete.
The next evening is a private gig at the Bowery Ballroom. Rumor has it that the last time GBV played here Bob was a little too drunk, having fallen through the drum kit and causing a twenty minute delay. Sorry we missed it.
This night though, feels a little different. An invite-only show, the room is filled with dot-commers and not the usual band of GBV fanatics that give their shows that great energy. Still, the tub of Budweiser is delivered on stage, and Nate Farley comes out swigging from the ‘family size’ Jack. As he plugs in, he leans down to my wife, gives her a peck, quickly reminiscing about last night, telling us that he went out after we all left the Parkside, drinking somewhere else until dawn. At this we don’t even blink.
The concert confirms our feelings of the ‘new’ GBV. The show is great, loose and confident. It’s a shame that the room is only 3/4 full, but then it’s nice to be able to walk right up to the stage. It’s open bar, and Bob urges the audience to drink up, to take advantage, though we are shying away tonight; just one or two to break last night’s spell. They play a half of Collapse and Fireman, and of course some old goodies, then close with ‘Baba O’Reilly’, the first cover we’ve ever heard from them. And it packs a wallop! Bob’s vocals positively out-Daltrey Daltrey. What a voice, we think.
After the show the dressing room is tight, cluttered with pizza boxes and more tubs of iced beer. Obviously the night for GBV is just beginning, though it’s time for us to say goodbye. Bob stands up and gives Ty a sweaty, alcohol-laced, hug and kiss (she swears she’ll never bathe again), while I shake with Nate and Tim.
Then Doug comes over, thanking us for last night’s dinner. He tells us he had a good time, which we choose to believe. The new album is due in Marsh, he reminds us, maybe GBV will be back in the spring and we can get together again. I shake his hand, hoping this will happen.
Walking home, sounds of the show still echoing in my ears, I realize I haven’t thought about the old GBV for a long time now. Mitch and Toby and Kevin seem a lifetime away. Another era, another band.
Instead I just choose to think of Guided By Voices, such as it is, and their coming album, and how they kick ass, and how lucky we all are to have them.
– KURT WENZEL
q & a
Guided by Voices is an entity in the mind of Robert Pollard. Some say it is a band, a rock band. Guided by Voices has always been the figment of Mr. Pollard’s imagination. And what an imagination! Through several line up changes, Bob is the only one to remain on the ship. That is because it is his to captain. Any doubts? In 1999 he produced 4 albums and 1 ep’s worth of material. Only one bore the GbV logo, the rest are solo albums and/or other figments of his imagination; Lexo & the Leapers, “Ask Them” for example. These multiple outputs stem from his prolific song writing and his association with recordhead/LUNA music (IN) & Rockathon Records (OH). Having a website (GBV.com) also helps. So if his major label TVT (NY) is not interested, the stuff comes out anyway. This is post-Matador Pollard,
gone are the alternate releases between solo and group material. Since he no longer has to teach 4th graders, his output has increased dramatically. And if you measure him by what GbV releases, throw away that grade school ruler and break out your industrial measuring tape.
Whether your talking to GbV, Lexo, Nightwalker, Crabmeat Izreal or the Grand Poo-Bah of the Monument Club, you are talking to Bob. Bob, from Dayton Ohio, a/k/a “the land of good dudes”. It seems this place is his wellspring of inspiration and that moving on up in typical rock star fashion is not his modus operandi. Then again Bob is not your typical rock star. Mr. Pollard is more of a “stay at home” type. We like our rock stars to live on the edge or at least a life that most of us don’t get a chance to live. Where do you think most artists get their inspiration? Some say drugs, booze, etc. But it is the limb they choose to climb on, the unconventional life, that gives most creative types their inspirations. Grow up in some mundane small town, escape it through their musical abilities, transform yourself into something you once dreamed of being, live on the road, never settle in one place, flirt with death, etc. Mr. Pollard and his band have stayed right where they are. We get the better end of the deal through their endlessly inspired music.
Although there have been several line up changes, Bob and his circle are close. This comes with his deep roots and his willingness to stay mostly with the local color. Many of the photos in his cd’s feature snapshots of several “good dudes” who aren’t musically in the band, but are closer to the spirit of the GbV than most other bands are to their music. This in the current climate of music is such a breath of fresh air that you might just start to hyperventilate. Music is still a relationship between artist
and listener, this seems to be the deal for Bob. Keep it simple, don’t kill the music. Asked if he ever had writer’s block, “Nah, I’m always at least an album ahead… No! Fuck it, fuck writers block!”. Not fashion
conscious, not video conscious, etc., might relegate GbV and Bob to the basement of the current music business. But, as you can see in the photos inside the last GbV realease “Do the Collapse”, being the janitors suits them just fine as long as they can continue to rock out with their cock out.
Q-Lexo & the Leapers was a great and overlooked cd from last year. Is there any of that material that you want to re-release under the GbV flag?
Bob- Yeah, “Fair Touching”. It deserves a better quality recording. I like that cd very much as it is. We practically recorded it live, with vocal overdubs.
Q-Last year you toured with cheap trick. It was strange seeing you as an opening act.
Bob- We got to play for 75 minutes, it was sort of like a double bill. Overall though I would rather not open.
Q-You seemed to have some interaction though, you joined them for a song if I remember correctly.
Bob-Yeah well they were not too crazy about that. I was not invited, I just went up on my own. I think I spilled beer on one of them. They tried to be nice in a fatherly, veteran kind of way.
Q-When you’re on the road how do you handle the music selection of what you all listen too?
Bob- Well we’re pretty democratic about it, with similar taste. We listen to Jimmy Webb or the “quiet tape” (no music at all).
Q-How do you fit in with the music that comes out from the mid-west?
Bob-Well, Ohio seems to produce different bands; Devo, Pere Ubu, they say there is something in the water. But for us in particular, we just didn’t have anything to go on. We pretty much kept ourselves in the basement, doing our own thing. It always seemed pretty derivative of other things, but there were so many influences that went into what we did, that eventually it sort of twisted itself around into something original.
Q-You seem to be a great fan of music. Your music shows the multitudes of songs that you yourself have listened to and your influences show through. Most artists have one or two major influences you seem to have steady stream of twenty.
Bob- Yeah, its really hard to pinpoint the influences. Since I’m 42 years old and I started out listening to Mersy Beat, bubblegum and 60’s pop, then I went through all the musical eras from there and picked up on anything that was good. Glam Rock, Psychedelic through Punk and Post-Punk. Although when punk first hit I have to admit it did not grab me in quite the same way that the Post-Punk era did; Wire, Devo & XTC. Some people like to pigeon hole us as a sixties band and that’s just not true because there are too many things going into the music we make. I was a pretty avid listener through 1980, after that it gets pretty spotty. Early R.E.M. was great, though. Besides the obvious 60’s melodic influence, Peter
Gabriel era of Genesis was a huge lyrical influence with his stream of consciousness, far out style, as were Bowie and Lennon’s use of surreal imagery. Wire and were also a giant influence, “154” is a great album. Those post punk bands are what really shaped my songwriting, it was a total revelation to me.
Q-How do you write your songs? Do you start with music first?
Bob-I have used different techniques in the past, but right now I tend to start more with words. Before I used to brainstorm with song titles and come up with pages of titles and then go back over it pick the choice ones and then work lyrics with a particular title. That’s how I worked up on through “Do the Collapse”. Sometimes a melody will come first but that is a more difficult way to go about it. I write lyrics on coffee a lot of the time. For me the harder and more complicated the lyric, the easier it is for me to remember when I’m singing it live at a show. I don’t find it necessary for it to make sense. People can interpret it themselves. For the new cd I have 15 songs and that is it, no added tracks like “Under the
bushes…”. I have more focus and direction going into recording this record than I’ve ever had. We’re going into the studio to record it sometime in October, it will be called “Broadcaster House”. Some of the
song titles are; ‘Keep it Coming’, ‘Skills like this’, ‘North American Vampire’ and ‘Twilight Campfighter’. You see, I write lyrics first now, because I’ve learned how to sing these words. I’ve learned how to take a
good lyric and sing it. This time around, on the new album, the songs are more poetic. Lyrically it is much better.
Q- Do you have a release date?
Bob- hopefully February or March.
Q-In September a new box set of solo Bob Pollard comes out. “Suitcase-‘Trashed Aircraft & Failed Experiments'” features 100 songs over 4 cd’s. How far back does this material go?
Bob- Well there is one song I did in high school in the mid-seventies. Its ridiculous. Its embarrassing, I figure what the hell. You know I was embarrassed when the original GbV box set came out, because at the time I figured that we were a much better band and I did not want people to hear that, but there were enough interested people that in hindsight, it was not that embarrassing. On “Suitcase” however, there is some real embarrassing stuff but its funny, its humorous, it just about covers every style of rock music in the rock genre that you can cover. On a couple of songs Mitch Mitchell sings lead. The title is a reference to the suitcase you keep under the bed, filled with stuff that you don’t want people to see, but that’s part of the fun. Every fidelity also is represented , from the lowest to…, for example there’s a song on there called “Mr. McCaslin will sell no more flowers” and I did it on two really cheap tape recorders. You know when you record yourself on one tape recorder and then play it and then record on the second recorder what was playing before. That’s the lowest fidelity and it actually goes up to some 24track recordings we did. Its by far the strangest thing we’ve ever done. It’s hard to get through it. It’s the kind of thing where you’re going to have a party with a bunch of people who like GbV and we’re going to get stoned or drunk and listen to it. Or by yourself. I’m not saying its wine and candle light stuff. There’s also an abridged version called “Briefcase-‘Drinks & Deliveries'” with an abbreviated selection of nineteen tracks.
Q-When you’re doing a new album are you going to the well and drawing on old stuff?
Bob-I always do occasionally go to the well and rework a song or just one line from a song or steal a bridge or a finale from an old song. I usually go with fresh stuff and sometimes something old will pop up. My solo albums come together a lot quicker. I have a bunch of new songs and bam that’s it. As to where with Guided by Voices albums, it takes a lot longer to make and occasionally I’ll go to the well. On “Do the Collapse” ‘Teenage FBI’ is an old song. The original is shorter and rougher.
Q-On your earlier albums was the low-fi thing by design or just a necessity?
Bob-Well we would spend all this time in studios in Dayton, spend money and it would always sound like shit. At the same time we started to experiment with 4track and it sounded good but I thought it just didn’t have enough quality to be a record. Then after a while, I liked that, that sounds good I’m sticking with that. To me it sounded more immediate, it sounded more like the way it sounds in your head. There’s not a whole lot of sounds of instruments competeting with each other, because you got that noise from the tape hiss and that causes it to be bright so you hear really bright sound quality. Its not radio friendly but to me, my ears are kinda worn from the high end stuff , so it sounds good to me. We did’nt start this because it was “low-fi”, it just sounded good to us. The strange thing is on “Speak Kindly to your Volunteer Fire Department” Doug Gilliard recorded all the music on his 4track and to me it doesn’t sound low-fi, it sounds like 60’s hi-fi and I love that sound.
Q-There are GbV caliber songs on “Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department”. Was it just a matter of timing that they did not end up on a GbV record?
Bob-Whatever I write, that batch of songs goes on whatever comes next. So if the GbV record is already in the can then whatever name I give it, that’s what it is. It could be Lexo & Leapers, or it could be my new band “Psychic Pricks”.(laughs)
Q- It was a pretty abrupt line-up change between “Under the Bushes, Under the Stars” and “Mag Earwig”. What was the reason?
Bob-I decided it was time for a complete overhaul. Toby was quitting to be with his family. I thought Mitch was loosing his enthusiasm. Kevin was loosing his mind. It also took some time to find these guys but my band right now is super-groovy! They’re shagalicious! (rest of the band cheers)
Q-How are the ex-members of GbV doing by the way?
Bob- Toby is doing well with his solo career. Mitch Mitchell is doing well. Kevin, last I heard had found God and he decided that Guided by Voices was the devil.
Q-Did you get a lot of flack from your family while you were pursuing the rock thing?
Bob-Yeah. Until I started making money, cause they thought I was being irresponsible. We spent our own money making the earlier records, we were taking out loans that we had to pay. They thought that it was an unnecessary money spending. But they’re proud now.
Q-Do you have a quota for song writing? Do you write every day?
Bob-No, I just write when I want to. When I write, I write a bunch. I don’t write every day, maybe once a month.
Q-You chose an odd path for a rock band. You stayed where you were from and took your time doing it.
Bob- Because we took so long we became the heroes of all these struggling people trying to make it in the music business. But that’s not our philosophy. We’re not selling ourselves, we don’t want to make it. But we wanted to make records, even if all we did was put them on a shelf in the basement. Back then we thought we would have to go to Cleveland or New York.
Q- You come from the self-proclaimed “Land of Good Dudes”. Would you ever leave it?
Bob-No I thought about it but I can’t do it. My friends are mostly my age and are into music but more of a classic rock (Beatles, Stones , Who, etc.) Basically the Good Dudes are my drinking buddies. We bring ’em sometimes to NY for a show, you know kinda’ like the Beverly Hillbillies, we pack ’em up. Its great to see New York hipsters grooving with the “Good Dudes”. We do well in New York, its kinda like home to us. We also do well in Portland, San Francisco, London and in Australia. There we did real well. Teenage FBI was a hit, Surgical Focus was getting played on the radio too.
Q-How do you work with the band as far as arrangements?
Bob-I give them the songs and they interpret it as they wish. Sometimes Doug and I exchange tapes. That’s how we did “Speak Kindly…” I mailed him some songs, he mailed me some instrumentals and we just exchanged stuff. Our label TVT was really cool about that because they were willing to let us do our own thing on the side, as long as they could have a first look at it. If they pass on it we just put it out as a side thing. The people that complain that we’ve sold out obviously have not heard these side projects because they are certainly not hi-fi. We had 4 releases last year and by the end of this year there will 4 releases. #4 is pretty interesting. It’s a band called “Hazard Hotrods” with me, Toby and Mitch its real lo-fi, its trash, its scum-rock.
Q-What about the drinking onstage? Is it all for the party atmosphere?
Bob- It started out, out of nervousness. But then it got to the point where it became expected. I don’t get so nervous anymore. One time I went onstage completely sober and I was oooh! Their all out there. I see
people looking at me. And they were like ‘what’s wrong?’.
Q- but at least you guys can still play when you’re lit. Unlike the Replacements…
Bob-Yeah but there’re pussies(laughs). They could’nt drink and play, they could hang though. Neither can I. I’m glad these guys (points to GbV) can play when they’re drunk. I can play guitar and sing, I just can’t play guitar, sing and drink. It’s the three things together that gets sloppy.
Q-Since you like the Gabriel era of Genesis, have ever wanted to do a concept album?
Bob-Oh yeah, “Mag Earwig” & “Same Place the Fly got Smashed” are sort of concept albums. “Kid Marine” is a concept album about the guy with the mullet you see in the photos of the album cover. He represents the typical Dayton guy who has nothing better to do then get drunk down at the American Legion and watch TV all the time. The concept is TV and drinking.
Q- What is the song “Men who create fright” about?
Bob-That’s about Hitchcock , Stephen King, those guys that are big celebrities that think they are doing something good for the world. But I believe that they are not doing something good for the world. I believe they are putting bad imagery in the mind, especially in the youth. I think fright is worse for you than pornography. When I was a kid I was always having bad nightmares from these movies, I wished I had seen porno instead, at least I would’nt be having these terrible dreams. Something I read said “What you create you will meet. Your creations are real in the afterlife.” Although I don’t like horror movies I love gangster movies. It seems to always be about family. Like the ‘Sopranos’.
Q- How about organized crime in Dayton?
Bob- Just a redneck mafia.
Q-Bob what would it be like for you to see the Who perform ‘Larger Massachusetts’?
Bob-I’d be crying. That song should be on ‘Quadrophenia’. Originally we wanted the earlier songs to sound like long lost outtakes from the Who, Beatles & Kinks.
Q-When it comes to the Beatles most people like to claim that they are either fans of John or Paul. Where do you stand?
Bob-I’m a John man. He was a much better song writer. “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, “Come Together” are two of my favorite songs. “Hot freaks” was inspired by “Come Together”.
Q-In the beginning your songs were very short.
Bob- It’s the get in get out approach. At first I thought it was me being lazy, but the songs are what they end up on record. It makes you want to listen to it again. On the other hand we used to jam a lot. I am Sir Jamalot. But we used to have controlled jams. We’d have a title for it. We would wait for someone to come up with something cool and go with it and then cut it. Controlled jams are what we used to call it. We also have something called “Blind Leads”, on an overdub, we would want a guitar player to play a lead but we would let them know what part of the song they were at. We love to play “Blind Leads”.
Q-How about the current line up.
Bob- I finally assembled the band that I wanted, that I dreamed of, and now Jim is leaving, so we have to get another drummer, actually we have a drummer, let’s just call him drummer X. He’s real good though, he has to be because ” the drummer is Rock’n Roll” (Tim Tobias). You see I get the reputation for being a tyrant, that I fire everybody and for the most part I don’t. They just leave me, sitting on my hands. Unless we’re talking about ‘Creative Differences’, like he owes me $100., I created $100. for him and he can’t recreate that $100 for me, so he’s fired. That’s ‘Creative Differences’. (laughs)
Q- Where do your ideas come from?
Bob- Most of my ideas come from misinterpretations or things I hear wrong.
Q-Do you have any conflict of interest between being a rock band and being a father? Would you want your son to get in this business?
Bob- He’s in a band. They’re called TOO PROUD TO PRACTICE.
Q- You produce so much, where does your work ethic come from?
Bob-Its not a work ethic. I love music, I love rock and to become a part of that no matter how minute it is, I just really happy about that. It does not seem like work at all. I just tend to write what does not exist anymore, just stuff that makes me happy.
Q- Do you have a favorite album & song in your repertoire?
Bob- I have a soft spot for the ‘Vampire on Titus’ era, but my favorite song is definitely “Tractor Rape Chain”.
Q- What do you think of the internet?
Bob-It keeps us alive. That’s how I can do what I want to do and release as much as I want. I don’t have anything to do with it, it was created by our fans, but it is essential to what we are doing.
Q-Did you feel you had to justify your dream to your family?
Bob- Oh Yeah! I had to show my first check to my family so they could see it was real. I love Dayton its where my friends, family, my parents are. I left a couple of times but I had to come back. Actually I have not been able to write songs anywhere but in my house.
Q-Do you miss being a teacher?
Bob- No but after I quit teaching I went back with my first check, not to be egotistical, but to show them that I haven’t lost my mind. Because when I quit, the principal asked me to explain what I was doing to the faculty. So she took me to the teacher’s lounge and I basically told them that I was leaving because I wanna’ rock.! I had to rock out with my cock out!
– Guillermo Nanni