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Calling Voices --
Guided By Voices frontman Bob Pollard considering switch to bigger label.
Bob Pollard earned a gold card last year - from Blockbuster Video.
It entitles the Guided By Voices frontman to rent video cassettes at the price of two for one. He says the video chain gave him the deal because he watches a lot of movies; to be exact, he rented 676 videos from Blockbuster last year.
There's a lot of down time when you're in a rock and roll band, Pollard said recently, stopping between errands to talk over a cup of coffee downtown.
Not that things aren't going well for Pollard, who left his job as an elementary school teacher in 1994 to pursue music full-time as the leader of Dayton's best-known and longest-running contribution to the national rock scene. He's doing just fine, he said. But he is at something of a career crossroads.
For one thing, the band's contract with Matador Records has been completed and is up for renewal. Pollard said the plucky independent label is interested in keeping Guided By Voices on its roster, but the higher profile label TVT Records has also come courting.
A TVT representative was in town a couple of weeks ago to talk to Pollard about deal possibilities and a contract proposal is supposed to be coming any day. Pollard said he liked what he's heard so far, particularly in relation to his being able to pursue side projects.
Well-known for the prolific nature of his song-writing. Pollard has more material than one label can handle. While Matador discouraged him from doing work outside his contract - "they think it dilutes the product," he said - TVT acts like they're all for it.
TVT also might push Guided By Voices to the next level --- to getting a hit on the radio. "They say, 'We hear a hit,' and they'll push it until we have a hit," Pollard said, adding that Matador has been good to GBV but lacks those kind of resources.
Still, Pollard admits to some ambivalence about the idea of working towards a hit record. Although some people don't consider you a success without one, GBV's found incredible success on another front - in the underground music scene - where you're an artistic sellout if you become too commercially popular.
Pollard said fans constantly express their dismay that GBV isn't better known, that its songs aren't on the radio more often. But he also knows there would be some negative fallout if that were to happen.
The album GBV recorded last year for Matador, which is still to be released, could be the band's breakthrough effort, Pollard thinks. Produced by Ric Ocasek (formerly of the Cars) the project features typical GBV songs, "only difference is, they sound a lot better," Pollard said.
Waiting for the album's release has been difficult, he said (and accounts for a chunk of the time put in to last year's video rentals). The release date is on hold until contract negotiations are complete. If the band goes with TVT, Pollard said, then TVT would buy the record from Matador and possibly release it as soon as June.
Despite his desire to get the album out as soon as possible. Pollard said the band's manager wants him to hold off making any contract decisions until after the South by Southwest music festival later this month in Austin, Texas. GBV played at the annual high-profile event several years ago and was one of the acts noted by the national press.
This year, the band has a headline spot at one of the major venues on the final day of the festival, which should garner some of the best exposure. With Matador and TVT interested, and Epic Records, also having put out some feelers, GBV could find itself the focus of a bidding war - the way the Chicago-based alternative band Veruca Salt did following the music festival in 1994.
While Pollard isn't opposed to finding out what might happen if the band got wider recognition, he isn't excited about the prospect of spending many more years on the road. At 41, he said the lifestyle is getting harder for him to enjoy. "The last few years aged me".
The physical toll of touring is intense. "The singing part isn't the problem," he said. "When we do a show, it's three hours, and we party pretty hard. It's really rough on old men." The band also from the beginning adopted an "open-door" backstage policy, which on one hand reflected its everybody-welcome, egalitarian ideals, but on the other hand began to get out of hand as GBV's popularity grew. Pollard said he doesn't want to offend anyone, but at the same time he finds himself staying in his hotel room to avoid the merrymaking.
The rigors and time needed on the road are also partly to explain why Guided By Voices' personnel changes are so often, Pollard said, referring to his reputation for frequent lineup overhauls. "People think I'm this dictator and this tyrant," he said incredulously, allowing, however, that he did have a wicked temper. But while he was able to quit his day job, most members aren't in a comparable position, he said,. Some have young families to support, and they need the medical insurance a rock band can't provide. Others have jobs they don't want to leave, like bassist Greg Demos, who is also a lawyer.
Pollard recognizes that GBV may be on the verge of moving to another career level, but he also can't help but "wonder where it's going to stop".
He knows it can't go on indefinitely. But he's thinking ahead.
"My goal is to be a songwriter. As long as I can keep doing that...." But he's particularly interested in getting into writing movie scores. "There's a lot of money in soundtracks," he said, adding that he believes his music is well-suited to the rhythm of film.
Having watched 676 movies last year alone, no one
can say he hasn't done his homework.