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Free Times Columbia SC - 3/2/01
By Greg Broom
Sir Robert Rides Again
Guided By Voices, Elf Power
Elbow Room: FRIDAY, MARCH 2
By Greg Broom
It can be a daunting task to scrounge up new information on someone that has had so much exposure. Of course, Creed fans may not know Sir Robert Pollard (knighted by me), and probably will never care. But I'm sure that quite a few of you out there do care about Robert and the rock band that he sings and writes the songs for, Guided By Voices. I know because you packed the oft-maligned Elbow Room to its greasy gills when Dayton, Ohio's GBV performed there last winter. So, the following informational tome is dedicated to all the folks who care. I hope I don't bruise your expectations.
For some reason, Robert Pollard likes to conduct interviews in the morning; at least that's what his label's contact person says. One would think that someone with a public persona so tied in with heavy recreational drinking would use the quiet early hours for recovery. This is not the case for our hero. Besides, I assume the morning I reached him was the day after a non-gig night. He sounded groggy and friendly on the line (compared to my groggy and unprepared).
The first thing I wanted was a few details on the new Guided By Voices record that, as of early last week, I had not heard. I had heard that it is something of a departure -- a more dark, introspective selection of songs. "Well, it's a bigger guitar-rock album than the last one. Not quite as quirky. More personal. We were on tour for about a year and it caused problems with our relationships," said Pollard.
Now that I have heard the new one, Isolation Drills (TVT) -- scheduled for release April 3 -- I would say that the band has slightly stripped off the veneer from last year's Ric Ocasek-produced Do the Collapse (TVT). Isolation Drills sounds less produced without going anywhere near the sound of earlier albums like Bee Thousand. It has less of the euphoria or even cockiness that I've come to expect from GBV albums.
That's not to say that it lacks "rock" or guile. It does indeed rock. In fact, it is probably the most straight-up rock album the band has ever made. It sounds -- dare I say it -- more mature and certainly more serious. According to the band's press kit, they'll be performing the whole album. "I don't know if we'll play the whole thing," Pollard counters. "We have done shows like that, playing the new album before moving on to older material. Some of the slower more ballad-type songs are quite intricate. We might not do those. I'm not sure."
But most importantly, will the kids like the new songs? "They seem to," says Pollard. "Though, since no one has really heard the new stuff, the reaction tends to be a little less than the old favorites. But, yeah, live the new songs are going over well. They have a Who's Next feel, but with more and shorter songs."
Guided By Voices, circa 2001, is the same as in 2000 with the exception of drums. The new drummer is Jon McCann, who used to drum for Toronto's American Flag. "In fact he played with us last time we played in Columbia," states Pollard. "He's been with us for us for six months; he's done one tour with us. And he's a left-handed drummer, which is pretty cool," says Pollard enthusiastically. McCann will join holdovers Doug Gillard and Nate Farley on guitars, with Tim Tobias on bass, giving Guided By Voices its most steady and most balls-out lineup ever.
Plus, the past year has seen the release of an inordinate amount of GBV-related music -- Suitcase (Fading Captain Series), the Robert Pollard demo box set being the most voluminous and Howling Wolf Orchestra the least. "Well, Howling Wolf Orchestra is just one of the things I do with friends and past and present members of Guided By Voices," says the laughing Pollard. "It was an experimental project that I did with my brother, who used to be in Guided By Voices, and Nate Farley who is in the band now. We actually recorded the drums first before doing the rest of the music. It was just a crazy thing we did. I've also recorded with (ex-GBV'er) Tobin Sprout. We are called Airport 5. Tobin recorded the instrumentals at his house on eight-track and he sent it to me to add lyrics and vocals. We are gonna release two singles in May and June. The album will be out in August, I believe. I've also got a new solo album. That'll come out on July the fourth. I'm also doing an album with Mac from Superchunk." Whew.
And believe it or not, Pollard wants to come back to Columbia. "Columbia was a big surprise for us. We didn't expect that kind of reaction." He then asks me if they are performing at the same club. I tell him yes. "Good. It's a good room. Yeah, we are definitely looking forward to coming back.".