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Raygun - June/July 1998
Robert Pollard - A Wizard, A True Star
Guided By Voices Mainman, Robert Pollard Has A Remarkable New Solo Album. Former Bass Player Jim Greer Doesn't.
By Jim Greer
Full disclosure: I have trouble being objective when it comes to the music of Guided by Voices' majordomo Robert Pollard. Part of the trouble is that I spent two years playing bass in his band, before realizing I wasn't cut out for the rock life (too much work). Another part of the trouble is my uncritical adoration of Pollard's entire musical output: I joined the band as a tan, I quit the band as a fan, and I continue to be a fan in slavish and humiliating ways. So when I say that Pollard's latest solo album, Waved Out, is the most fully-realized and ambitious to date of the man's barrowload of rock-related product, stretching back to 1986's Forever Since Breakfast EP you can discount my judgment as hopelessly skewed by fandom if it makes you feel better. But I hope you won't.
The new record's maybe the best example yet at Pollard's uncanny knack for compressing the complexities and ambitions of classic "progressive rock" into a two-minute song. His devotion to prog isn't the nuanced irony of, say, Sonic Youth or Pavavement, either: He genuinely digs the stuff.
But it doesnt stop at prog - he's got a mammoth record collection and nearly total recall of its contents. Waved Out presents the full range of his various musical obsessions: Wire, Genesis, John Lennon, the Who, Superconducter, Jimmy Webb, Blue Oyster Cult, and on and on. In anyone else's hands such eclecticism might come off as willful eccentricity, but Pollard's songwriting is so organic, unselfconscious, and famously spontaneous (he'll sit down in the morning with a pot of coffee and a tape recorder/notebook and rattle off 10 or 15 at a go) that his efforts never sound forced. Put simply: there's a lot more going on than meets the ear, and while most of his tunes are more or less immediately accessible, repeated listens reveal depths that bring you back time and time again. "Waved Out's got a little bit of everything I like," reports Pollard from his Dayton, Ohio home, after rummaging unsuccessfully around the kitchen for a cigarette. (He doesn't smoke regularly, but for special occasions like interviews and gigs, he finds a cigarette a useful prop) "Post-punk, psychedelia, powerpop, prog every good genne of rock begins with 'p.' if it doesn't start with a 'p' it can't be good.
As a method for determining aesthetic value, the 'p' test sounds as worthwhile as any I've come across. Seems to work for him, too - since the hand's belated discovery by the main-stream press in 1993, some seven years after its inception, critical plaudits have rained without letup on each successive GbV release. Thing is, Guided by Voices, throughout its 12-year history, during which it has undergone more line-up changes than a Little League game, has always been more or less Bobs show. Which begs the question: Why a solo album? Moreover, why a second solo album? (1996's Not In My Airforce was the first, and, while splendid, less fab one man band excursion). Especially since three fourths of the new GbV lineup (Cobra Verde guitarist-and member of the previous lineup - Doug Gillard, ex-Breeders drummer Jim Macpherson, and longtime Pollard collaborator Greg Demos, who doesn't play on Waved Out) plays on the solo album?
"It's like if you work in a factory," explains Pollard, many of whose friends work in factories. 'When you're at the factory you have to do what they tell you, but when you come home your time is your own. Guided by Voices is a little bit like working in a factory now. We've become part of the industry, and certain things are expected of a Guided by Voices record. We have to play the game to a certain degree, in order to get on the radio and so on, But the solo record is my own time - its more just what I like instead of what I think is expected of me.'
Waved Out also features contributions from some other local Dayton musicians, and co-writing by Doug Gillard, on 'Caught Waves Again,' and supernaturally talented LA-based songwriter Stephanie Sayers, on the swingy, twin-melodied 'People Are Leaving.' The recording quality runs the gamut from super lo-fi ('Caught Waves Again' was recorded on a boombox with Pollard improvising a vocal over a tape of Gillard's acoustic guitar) to processed vocal weirdness ('Pick Seeds From My Skull'), to well-recorded progpop (Two 'p's 'Make Use,' 'Subspace Biographies'). Something for everyone, but especially for those longtime fans who mightve been slightly offput by the move towards hard rock on GbVs last longplayer, Man Earwig.
Demos for the new GbV album (recording to begin soon) indicate a continued forced march towards big time R.O.C.K. Even more emphatic: tentative plans exist for the record to be produced by ex-Car Ric Ocasek, who's steered albums for the alt-rock likes of Weezer and Hole. 'He calls me Bob and I call him Ric,' recounts Pollard, who likes what he's heard of Ocasek's production work (the sound of it, not the content, he's quick to point out). 'He'd like to do it, so its just a question of seeing if we can get the budget. We're probably going to record some of the album with him at least But if probably wont come out until March of 1999'.
For the ever-prolific Pollard, just turned 40 years old, the prospect of waiting until next spring before releasing another record was too painful to consider. Hence Waved Out ('Microwaves, radio waves, New Wave, waved out of a basketball game'), and hence another opportunity for you, the listener, to groove to the fruits of Bob's evergreen rock muse. So what are you waiting for?