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Guitar Player Magazine - October 1997
By Kyle Swenson

Indie Heroes Go Hi-Fi

After 15 years and ten independent, lo-fi albums with his band Guided By Voices, songwriter Robert Pollard made a leap into hi-fi territory. He had lost interest in the hissy, muddy 4-track-cassette produc­tions that had established the band’s early reputation, and gladly accepted a major label’s plans to help him make a radio ­ready record.

But Pollard and lead guitarist Doug Gillard—who can deliver pop hooks while maintaining a garagey sound—had no plans to abandon the character of past efforts, even though the band commissioned ex-Cars front-man and superstar producer Rid Ocasek to oversee GBV’s Do the Collapse (TVT).

Right off the bat, Ocasek had Pollard and Gillard add a new word to their recording vocab­ulary: patience. Instead of recording an album over a three-day period—as with past GBV records—Collapse required weeks of rehearsal and pre pro­duction. “I talked to Ric on the phone for a month before I ever met him,” says Pollard. “I gave him 35 songs or so, and we dis­cussed which ones we were go­ing to do, and what we were go­ing to do to them.”

Ocasek and the band whittled the 35 songs down to 22. Of those, 16 made the final cut for the album. ‘All the other songs went into this suitcase full of tapes,” says Pollard. “I call it my abandoned song suitcase.”

Although Ocasek brought GBV from home-grown, 4-track cassette sessions to big-time, 48-track productions—and worked the musicians bard to get the right take—he sometimes sur­prised the band with his indie sensibilities. “We’d do five or six takes of a song, and after the last take, I’d think, ‘Wow, we nailed that,”’ says Gillard. ‘And then Ric would say, ‘Yeah, no one made any mistakes. But I like the first take with the big old mistake be­cause it had a lot more feeling.”’

For the mandolin-like punc­tuations in “Wrecking Now,” Gillard played Ocasek’s B.C. Rich 10-string along with his own Fernandes Elephant—’a child-sized guitar with a battery-pow­ered, built-in amp and speaker. In the end, Ocasek preferred the character of the Fernandes (played with a capo). “The Femandes gets this kind of Pignose tone,” says Guard. “It’s boxy, but if you mic the speaker on the guitar, you get an interesting sound. As your hand strums up and down, it produces a natural phase effect as it moves across the speaker.”

Other gear used on the Collapse sessions in­cluded Pollard’s semi-acoustic Harmony, the Gibson SC Ocasek used on the first two Cars records, a goldtop Gibson Les Paul, a ‘59 Gibson Les Paul with P-90s, a Fender Stratocaster, and Martin and Gibson acoustics. Amps included a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, a Fender Concert, a Matchless, and a Marshall half-stack.

Despite the major-label backing and fa­mous producer, Pollard had no fear of aban­doning his indie ideals. “I’ve purposely kept my­self undereducated,” he admits. “Because some people who are well educated do really pre­dictable stuff.”

Of course, it’s difficult to be predictable when someone is keeping you off-balance. A case in point is Gillard’s solo on “Hope on Hope.” The guitarist’s practice take ended up being the solo on the record. “You can hear me switching pickups because I intended to redo the solo later,” he says. “And it was slightly out of tune—a little flat. But Ric said, ‘I really like that one, and I bet you’ll never be able to do it again.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna try.’ He was right, I couldn’t do it again with the same feel­ing. Sometimes if you concentrate too much, you just lose everything.”   




Ex-Breeders guitarist and one-time GBV roadie Nate Farley on playing rhythm guitar with the band an tour:

“I used to use thick picks because I thought you couldn’t get a crunchy sound with a thin pick,” says Farley. “But when I finally tried a thin pick, I realized I had more control. You can hold the flimsy pick so it won’t bend, and you can still get the crunchy sound out of it. So I switched to nylon Dunlop .060 picks.

“My amp—a Laney AOR Pro Tube 1 OO-watt-— is really bassy. It even has a bass boost, but I don’t use that unless the stage monitors are crappy and I need to feel my guitar. I usually keep the treble at 6, t ikhdF67and the bass at 4. I try to keep my sound on the clean side be­cause the pickups on my ‘91 Gibson Les Paul Studio are real responsive. If you want to play heavy stuff, all you have to do is play a little harder”