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Columbus Dispatch - Columbus OH - 4/1/01
Guided By Muses
Singer Listens to His Creative Inner Voice
by Voices singer and songwriter Robert Pollard is happy with his band’s new
release, Isolation Drills.
But Pollard said the album, to be released by TVT Records on Tuesday already feels like distant rock ‘n’ roll work.
1994, Pollard taught at Lincoln IGE (Individually Guided Education) School in
the Dayton school system. Toward the end of his 14-year teaching career, his
rock ‘n’-roll life was bumping heads with his 9-to-5 life.
around Bee Thousand, right before we actually signed to Matador, I still
taught,” Pollard said “We played on the weekends, basically; and we’d pull
a Friday; Saturday and Sunday; and I’d come into school and be like, totally
unprepared, smelling like what I said was cough syrup. My principal knew what
was up. She’d come into the room and catch me working on album covers and
things like that, but she was cool about it I finally made the decision and had
to go into the teachers’ lounge and do my farewell speech, and they all looked
at me like I was out of my mind.
going to pursue a career in rock”
exploded right there,” Pollard said. ‘There was no turning back, because
everyone embraced us. I had to make a decision. A lot of big labels came
swooping in on us, so I thought, ‘Well, do I give up my 14-year career with
benefits and all that? Or ’Do I do what I’ve wanted to do all my life? It
really wasn’t that difficult a decision.”
by Voices eventually signed a contract with major indie rock label Matador
Records and released album after album of catchy but brief songs.
Do the Collapse, released in 1999, the band hired the Cars’ Ric Ocasek to
produce. It was the first Guided by Voices album to include songs that Pollard
could hear on mainstream radio in his hometown.
group’s 12th album, Isolation Drills, produced by Rob Schnapf, who produced
Beck’s Mellow Gold and Elliott Smith’s XO, features even more glorious rock
songs than does Do the Collapse.
Songs such as Glad Girls, Fair Touching, Run Wild and Twilight Campfighter boom and ring. The roots of the songs’ melodies stretch back to the Who, the Kinks and Big Star, as many Guided by Voices songs have.
band hinted at the move “to the big leagues,” as Pollard called it, with the
songs on Mag Earwhig!, the 1996
album Pollard recorded with members of Cleveland’s Cobra Verde, and hinted
even harder with Do the Collapse.
Drills’ songs, as on Do the Collapse, are more conventional in sound and
length than those on the band’s earlier releases. Most meet FM radio’s
two-and three-minute requirements. (Previous works may be heard on Suitcase, a
boxed set of 100 songs from the past 20 years.)
Fans of the “pure” — that is, unpolished, cut-and-paste basement-rock records that Guided by Voices used to create — need not be concerned. The “listening experience” is continuous, with some songs used as glue to make the album more than a pile of songs. Pmstman, for one, clocks in at 55 seconds.
think of every record as a film. I’m a director and
still might provoke fans to call Pollard’s home in the middle of the night and
question his words. They remain as vivid and vague on paper and as catchy and
memorable when sung as they always have — no matter how much time has
Fair Touching, for example, Pollard sings: “Under the iron shop / The
farewell ladles wink / Always promising / No one to crush them I Always
poker-faced before bingo / Does it snap or just happen
one of the three songs Elliott Smith contributes organ to, Skills Like This:
“But what’s behind your scattered eyesigns? I want to reinvent you now /
Fifty hats and bargain suits/We will wear them if we must”
Want One?: “I have a positive hot gift / Want one?”
In Twilight Campflghter “Twilight Campflghter, you build your fire into an open wound / you want us to feel better.”
I write lyrics, to tell you the truth, I just kind of, like, channel through
some weird spirit,” Pollard said. “I don’t know what they mean, either,
until I look at them and discuss them with other people. Then they kind of start
to have some focus.
this album is not quite as far out there. There aren’t many whimsical lyrics.
There aren’t many crazy titles. They were written as poetry and, to me, I
think my lyrics have matured. I think they’re better, actually. They started
as poems and kind of reflected how I felt at the time.”
by Voices toured for 10 months in 1999 and 2000 to promote Do the Collapse. The
time together drew the band members closer, but isolated them from “everyone
and everything else.”
took a toll on everything we were used to,” Pollard said. “The album is kind
of a sad record, but it’s also uplifting. There are a lot of anthems and it
means to me it’s a redirection and starting over.”
Schnapf helped the band start over by allowing the members to drink beer in
their New York studio. Ocasek’s in-studio prohibition to make Do the Collapse
left the band tense.
was an easy and very painless procedure this time,”
said. “Rob came into town and hung out with us for a little while and sat with
us and did some arrangements and went in and did it. It all took about three
weeks. He drank with us and hung out. He’s kind of a blue collar guy like us..
doesn’t say a whole lot. If I flubbed something on a vocal take, he’d kind
of just look at me through the glass with this wicked smile, which means ‘Do
allowed us to do what we wanted to and drink and kind of create the atmosphere
that we like in the studio. I think the performances were better because of