Guided By Voices

The Developing Arts And Music Foundation
Minneapolis, MN

Robert Pollard had a good thing going for a while. A fourth-grade schoolteacher in Dayton, Ohio, with a musical hobby he pursued on the side; he had a good career, and lived a rock star fantasy in his spare time. Life was good. Then one day, some people started to notice his weekend band, Guided By Voices, and it gradually became less of a fantasy.

“Most of the people around here thought was kind of a ridiculous thing for me to be doing at that age”, Pollard explained, during a recent phone conversation. “I’ve kind of gotten used to it now, but at first, there was this decision to make – can I deal with all the pressure? Secondly, can I give up a 14-year career with benefits and everything?”

Fortunately, for hordes of rabid fans, Pollard made the choice to leave his old career behind, and embark on a musical path that has become littered with – literally – over 5000 songs, and dozens of releases – many of which are the prized booty of record collectors everywhere. Pollard is a new, humble yet confident breed of rock star, fueled by his love of classic rock, from The Kinks, to The Beatles to the prog-rock of early Genesis, and plenty of beer, to carry him through the band’s marathon two-hour-plus live sets.

Formed in 1983, the revolving door personnel of GBV has – for the moment, it seems – settled on a somewhat permanent line-up: Doug Gillard and Nate Farley on guitar, Tim Tobias on bass, and newcomer Kevin Martch, who will be inducted into the drummer’s throne on the current tour – without the benefit of having practiced beforehand. Former members of GBV still collaborate with Pollard for many of the side projects which come out with alarming regularity between albums. “I write all the time – when I’m inspired, I’ll sit down and write a huge batch of songs”, Pollard explained, “whatever project is next, that’s what the songs go on.”

Since the band’s lo-fi classic Bee Thousand was recorded on a 4-track in 1994, subsequent releases were done in recording studios, working with producers such as Ric Ocasek, of The Cars. Pollard described how recording in a different environment helps shape the music. “As a songwriter, it’s kind of gotten me to work a little bit longer on the arrangements of the songs, and what I want to happen as a songwriter. Not only that, but having a band that is really good, and is able to pull off any of my ideas, anything I want to do – I think I’ve kind of stretched my songs out, and made them a little bit more complex, because of that.”

Pollard’s songwriting pace is such that he started his own side label series, The Fading Captain Series, which includes such aliases as Circus Devils, Airport 5 (featuring ex-GBV alumni Tobin Sprout), Howling Wolf Orchestra (which includes Bob’s brother Jim), Hazzard Hotrods (GBV incognito, playing covers et al), Lexo and the Leepers, Nightwalker, and the granddaddy of alter-ego exhumations, the 4-CD Suitcase box set, touting 100 odds and sods credited to as many pseudonyms. Other recent projects have involved collaborations with Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, and legendary rock write Richard Meltzer. “He’s one of my heroes”, exclaimed Pollard excitedly, “he wrote for Creem, with Lester Bangs, and his books are amazing.”

Look for a new GBV album, tentatively titled, From a Voice Plantation, due in May.

© J.Free / D.A.M.F.; 2002; 2022

To read the pre-edited interview / conversation GO HERE