An interview with Bob Pollard of Guided By Voices
by Charlie Meyer

From left to right: Dayton, OH, Charlie Meyer, Bob Pollard.

    &nbspGuided By Voices, the ultra-prolific band from Dayton, Ohio have gone
through a lot of lineup changes over the past year, but one man has
remained constant: Bob Pollard.
    &nbspPollard, a school teacher turned rock star, is the driving force
behind Guided By Voices. Sponic correspondent Charlie Meyer decided on
Wednesday, February 12, 1997 to venture down to Bob's bar, The
Monument Club, and talk to Bob about various things. The bar was built
with the money from GbV's Matador record deal and exists as a place for
friends to gather, drink beer and appreciate good music.
    &nbspWhen Charlie arrived at the Monument Club, Bob Pollard, his brother
Jim, and a couple of their friends were hanging out and listening to demos
of Guided by Voices songs he had never heard before--ten beautiful
acoustic ballads--the best of which Bob might release as a solo e.p.
Meanwhile, GbV has a new album that's already done. Charlie drank and
talked with Bob from 6:30 to midnight. The following interview is
excerpted from those hours...

Bob: The new album's finished. It's called Mag Earwhig.
Charlie: Mag Earwhig?
Bob: It's a fake rock opera. It has characters and shit.
Charlie: Really?
Bob: Yeah, but I didn't add them until after the album was finished. It
seemed to tell some kind of story. I made it even more linear by adding
characters to it. Plus, Mag Earwhig is the main character in the rock opera.
Charlie: Do you think it succeeds as a rock opera?
Bob: I think Guided by Voices is like a virus. I've always liked to use
little strange characters and things like that in songs.
Charlie: "Queen of Cans and Jars". . .
Bob: We decided to just do a shitload of [songs], so we could play around
with it and analyze it and over-analyze it and all that kind of stuff--try
to come up with some kind of meaning...some kind of implicit meaning.
Charlie: That's cool. I think one thing that's really appealing about your
songs is that the lyrics are really intriguing. You can interpret them
many ways. They're like a bunch of metaphors strung together.
Bob: Yeah, I think so. I think they have meanings that in general really
aren't meanings specifically, but the lines themselves. I just string
lines together. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn't. A lot of times
they have some kind of a general theme. I don't set out writing songs to
make some kind of a statement or something. People always come up with
them, so that's good and fine. That's better than coming right out in
your face and saying this song's about war or ecology.
Charlie: Are there any songs that you've written that you've not been able
to figure out any kind of meaning for?
Bob: You can always sit around and bullshit and get stoned and think of something.
Charlie: Do you sort of make up meanings after?
Bob: Yeah, that's what I do if I can't see [a meaning] the first time
through. This new album is completely an entire concept. I know I'm going
to be getting all kinds of questions, like "What's this mean? What is a
'Mag Earwhig'?" Mag is short for Magnificent.
Charlie: I noticed that in Under The Bushes, Under The Stars and Not In My
you didn't put lyrics.
Bob: I put lyrics for Not In My Airforce,, but they only appeared on the
vinyl. They're supposed to be on the CD's. I think the next pressing of
the CD [will include the lyrics].
(Door squeaks open. In walks a guy named Jack).
Bob: He-ey!
Jack: Shut up!
Bob: (laughs) That's big Jack.
Jack: Who's this guy?
Charlie: Charlie.
Bob: That's Charlie. He's doing an interview.
Jack: (laughs)
Bob: Sorry...
Jack: What d'ya say, Charlie? (or something to that effect)
Bob: Here we go, dude.
(Somebody asks me if I want a beer)....

Charlie: I was wondering if you'd ever do a Nightwalker (GbV under a
pseudonym) full-length?
Bob: A guy asked me to, a guy from Sure Fire Records. Have you ever seen
that label, Sure Fire?
Charlie: The name sounds familiar.
Bob: The label he used to have is called Wabana or something like that.
Charlie: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Bob: I considered him for a full-length. The thing about Nightwalker is
they only do like one song...
Jim: So it would have to be twenty years from now.
Bob: I'll do one in twenty years.
Charlie: But it has a different feel to it, doesn't it? It's more psychedelic.
Bob: It's sort of psychedelic. It's like a collage of a bunch of our
songs. We edit the songs together and try to make one piece out of it.
That was the Nightwalker concept. The Freedom Cruise was just kind of a
groove-type thing. I'm thinking about doing a whole compilation album
full of bands like that. We've been talking about doing that for a long
time. Did you get that last Nightwalker one-sided thing (Firehouse Mountain 7")?
Charlie: Yeah. I haven't heard it yet.
Bob: You got a chance to see what Nightwalker looks like.
Charlie: Yeah. Who is that?
Bob: Some guys from high school, from my yearbook. They look pretty cool,
don't they? (everyone laughs)
Charlie: They look like three people from three different generations.
Bob: I know. They look like nerds. (everyone laughs) Psychedelic nerds.
Charlie: I've heard rumors that the new album is going to bring GbV over the top.
Bob: Every one's supposed to. We've been waiting for that for a long
time. I don't know; there's some songs we recorded up in
Cleveland--they're fuller and bigger and more suited to the radio. We've
got one song called "Bulldog Skin" that just says "bulldog skin" the whole
song and it kicks ass, so maybe that will be easier for the masses to
swallow. And plus there are schools like Georgia that have bulldog mascots...

Charlie: There's a tribute album in the works.
Bob: There's a single that should be out any time now from the forthcoming
tribute album. It's Cobra Verde doing "Striped White Jets" and Lotion
doing "Unleashed!" It's pretty good. I think it's the two best songs. But
there's some other good stuff, like Thurston Moore does something, Local H
does "Smothered in Hugs," New Radiant Storm King does "I Am A Scientist--"
Charlie: Is it the same version?
Bob: Yeah, their's is the same version. Portastatic does "Echos Myron."
We were going to add the Breeders' "Shocker In Gloomtown," but she (Kim
Deal) wouldn't give him (Trader Vic) permission.
Charlie: Really?
Bob: Isn't that fucked up? Because I gave her permission to do it to begin
with and she won't give me permission to use it...
Charlie: Have you been getting along well?
Bob: (shrugs) I don't know... I don't see her very often. Vic told me she
didn't want to hassle with her record label.
Charlie: Is it coming out on Rockathon?
Bob: No, it's on Simple Solution; Trader Vic's label. Nightwalker's label.
Nightwalker's moved over to Luna now. Everybody wants Nightwalker.
Matt: What movie's "Smothered in Hugs" in, Bob?
Bob: Sling Blade. There's a new movie out called Sling Blade. It's out in
video places now, and Local H does "Smothered in Hugs" on it. I haven't
heard it yet, but check it out.
Charlie: What happened with that Superchunk/Guided by Voices single? I
actually got a copy of it on CD.
Bob: Yeah, you got that? That's probably real hard to find. I have a
couple of those. I think that was supposed to be a promotional piece. We
were supposed to tour Australia with Superchunk, but we decided we'd been
through it all. We decided not to tour with them.
Charlie: Do you know how many [Superchunk/GbV] singles survived?
Bob: No, I don't have the slightest idea. I have a couple. I don't know
anybody else that has any. You're the only person I've talked to that has
it. Yeah, that was from the aborted Australian tour.
Charlie: Any reason why you didn't go?
Bob: I didn't feel like flying for 24 hours again. We just came back from
Europe and we had to go, and we had to fly again. I don't like to fly.
That's the reason we didn't do a European tour this year.
Charlie: It's funny you don't like to fly, when so many of your songs are
filled with flight imagery. (everyone laughs)
Bob: Well, I'm a big pussy. I'm like Brian Wilson singing about surfing.
(everyone guffaws) You know, he does all those surfing songs--he doesn't
know how to surf. He's afraid of the water. All the flight imagery is just
because we come from the birthplace of aviation.
Charlie: Do you like the Beach Boys?
Bob: I like the later, kind of experimental, fucked-up Beach Boys songs. I
like some of their early summertime songs. As a band, as an image for a
band, they were kind of pussies. They were pussy. They were pussy. But
they got kind of crazy...

Conversation turns to Bob's songwriting techniques...
Bob: I always go through these moods and shit when I want to limit myself.
So, like, I'm not going to write any songs, I'm just going to make them up
on the spot 'cause it's so fun. And then I'll come up with all these ideas
for songs and then I'll want to work on them. I'm not a very talented
musician, but I think I have a gift for melody.....but I don't think it's
a gift. I think it's a study. I used to write songs when I was a kid. I'm
still using some of those melodies. Those are my best melodies, because
those were fresh. Virgin melodies.
Charlie: Did you make tapes of them?
Bob: Yeah, I just would sing into a tape recorder. And then I'd get two
tape recorders and do harmonies with myself.
Charlie: I've heard that you wrote "Weed King" (from the lp Vampire on
) when you were twelve.
Bob: Something like that.
Charlie: Are there any other songs that you wrote when you were a kid?
Bob: [In] some of these new songs, I put some of the melodies that I wrote
[when I was a kid]. See, that's the thing, sometimes I write new songs,
and sometimes I write from this whole back catalogue. A lot of times the
songs were recorded with silly lyrics, so when I use them I think about
some of the melodies that I used. I take [the best parts] of my songs, and
shitcan the rest of it. And give those songs life. Give those orphans a home.
Charlie: Do you write several songs every day?
Bob: I just write them when I feel like it. The rest of the time I just masturbate. (raucous laughter)
(Someone says, "Don't put that in...")
Bob: We're going to start touring. We're going to start doing some shows
pretty soon--a tour this summer, an extensive US tour.
Charlie: I know you did that song, "Mice Feel Nice," with...
Bob: Doug Gillard. On our new album, I wrote all the songs and he wrote
one. It's called "I Am A Tree." It's a great song. Gem did it on that
Clean Magazine CD compilation.
Charlie: I've heard that's Trader Vic's favorite song.
Bob: "I Am A Tree?"
Charlie: Yeah.
Bob: Fuck Trader Vic. (laughter) It's a great song. It may be the best
song on there. It's one of my favorite songs of all time, so it may be the best song.
Charlie: Do you think it'll be a single?
Bob: It's not going to be the first single. It's going to be a single, but
not the first single. The first single's going to be "Bulldog Skin."
Charlie: Are there a lot of tracks?
Bob: Twenty-one. (pause) Yeah....I hope you guys like it.
Charlie: I like the stuff I just heard.
Bob: That's new stuff. (Somebody says, "I think it's a great album.")
There're some big songs, definitely. There's also some eight-track stuff.
Charlie: Your fans are pretty faithful.
Bob: Yeah, I think. It's really far-out packaging. I think the cover's the
best one I've ever done. (shows me the cover) Plus, there's going to be
all sorts of collages on the inside-gatefold and lyrics and characters and
stuff. It's just going to be real colorful.
Charlie: Did you design the cover for Under the Bushes?
Bob: I designed them all.
Charlie: Where'd you get the pictures?
Bob: For Under the Bushes?
Charlie: Yeah.
Bob: (sarcastically) I cannot disclose it. (seriously) Just old magazines.
You gotta make sure they're old and obscure and I don't use any one
picture. I use little pieces of pictures and I blow them up. The way I
look at it is I take these common-type people and put them on the cover
and immortalize them. Make them stars.. See that back cover (of Mag
), all the little tiny heads? Those are all people's heads punched
out with a hole puncher. Somebody might see their face on there and say,
"You can't do that" or something. I just can't imagine why somebody would
do that. First of all, if somebody had enough time to try to find their
face on there, I would think it would be a Guided by Voices fan. And if
they did, they would be happy....Hey, I'm going to start a fanzine. It's
called Milk and Cookies For Wounded Aliens....

Talk turns to the new Wish in One Hand 7".
Bob: We recorded three songs with Nick Shuld, Travis and John. They had a
little eight track set up in their basement so we went up and recorded
three songs and they're putting it out as an e.p. It's really pretty cool.
Charlie: I've heard clips of "Teenage FBI" (on the Internet).
Bob: It's kind of silly. It's a silly thing.
Charlie: I think the fans are going to be psyched about it. The songs sound different.
Bob: Well, just for "Teenage FBI" alone--that's a hit single. I'm sure
we'll start doing that live. (Bob starts sings: "Someone tell me why I do
the things that I don't wanna do...) And "Jane of the Waking Universe."
That's a song on our new record considered to be one of the singles. I
offered it to this band called Cage, a Dayton band. The guy goes, "Let me
here a tape and I'll check it out." This was about a year ago. I said,
"Fuck you, man. I'm offering you a song. I think it would be good for
you. What do you mean give me a tape?" You're supposed to be going
"Wow..." I should have said, "If I gave this to Sonic Youth they'd go crazy."
Charlie: So what do you think of Guided By Voices covers? Do you like
them in general? Is it weird hearing other people do your songs?
Bob: I like it, I think it's flattering. The first time I heard somebody
do one of my songs I flipped out. I couldn't believe it. In '87 we were
recording in this guy's eight-track studio with The New Creatures, Greg
Demos' band at the time. This guy was sitting in the yard, his bass
player Bill Heustat, and I couldn't believe it. I started singing (along)
and shit. I almost cried. It's nice, you know? It's nice when people
want to do your songs. That's what a songwriter wants. I think of myself
as a songwriter, period. That's hopefully what I'll get to do for the
rest of my life, even if I'm not hawking something. I'll write songs for
Green Day--I need to write a whole album for Green Day...
Charlie: I get the impression that Bob Pollard is a guy who excels at the
things he goes after.
Bob: Things have turned out good for me for some reason. I don't know why.
Charlie: You've got a lot of enthusiasm and energy.
Bob: Yeah, but sometimes I'm overcompetitive...(he trails off then adds),
which has helped a little bit.