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By Jim Sullivan
A simmering stew of rock
By Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, 01/13/2000
The saga of Guided By Voices, one of the most consistently creative indy rock bands, actually began 16 years ago, when Dayton, Ohio, fourth-grade teacher Robert Pollard began moonlighting (in his basement at least) as a singer-songwriter-bandleader. On a rudimentary four-track console, Pollard and his changing cast of players bashed out twisted punk rock.
A collegiate fan base started to build in the mid-'90s, as Matador signed the band and released a series of lo-fi pop gems such as "Alien Lanes," "Under the Bushes, Under the Stars," and "Mag Earwhig!" Then, a kick upward last year into this, with "Do the Collapse," produced by ex-Car Ric Ocasek and released on TVT. That album's catchy, edgy songs twist and turn, yet have a polished sheen. Already the band's biggest-selling CD, it may get a boost Tuesday from the release of the single "Hold on Hope." GBV play the Middle East Downstairs Monday and Tuesday.
"We've always embraced the big arena rock aesthetic," says Pollard, from his Dayton home, "and some people might be thinking there's some kind of a sellout involved, but it's always been that way - we did that with 'Propeller,' an arena rock concept record and that was before anybody ever heard of us. ... The true fans understand it's not about fidelity of sound, it's about songs."
Pollard says that when the first album came out no one noticed; still, he was ecstatic, just happy to hold it in his hand. "But your curiosity gets the best of you - you wanna know how high, how far can I go?" he says. "Let's continue to have a good time and have fun and play three-hour shows and see if we can amass a few more people to come to them. Let the label do their job, see if they can have us played on the radio."
Fun is a word the 42-year-old Pollard takes seriously. "Even though we're more successful, we basically think it's about having fun. It's pretty much my only rule. If you're not having fun - and some people have not had fun in the past and they're not here anymore. If you think of it as a job, you're missing the point." Pollard sees evidence of that when he sends musicians a demo tape and learns three weeks later they haven't found time to listen to it. Members were cut loose when this happened after Pollard passed along songs from "Do the Collapse." The current rosters: guitarist Doug Gillard, drummer Jim McPherson, and bassist Greg Demos.
Pollard explains GBV's sonic stew this way: "I always have been, until recently - because I'm so old and jaded and because we're part of it now - a huge fan of rock. I've listened to everything. ... On the surface it might appear to be arena rock, classic rock style, but there are elements of glam and punk and post-punk and new wave and prog. I called it Ragu rock at one time, you know for that commercial that went 'It's in there.'"
Much of GBV's material has consisted of short, sharp songs, inspired by the get-in, get-out aesthetic of the Ramones and Wire. Of late, Pollard's pushed his songs over three minutes.
"It's kind of two-fold the reason we did it. One reason is obviously we want to get stuff played on the radio and it's not gonna get played if it's a minute long, and the other thing, as a songwriter, I've been listening to a lot of Jimmy Webb and Scott Walker and I wanted to flesh things out and be a bit more serious and mature."
Pollard says he finds it "sad and ironic" that he's made more money in the last six years than he did during his entire teaching stint. People would "rather put money out for entertainment than they would for the education of their own children."