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June/July 2003
Issue #59
Matt Hickey

Robert Pollard
Motel of Fools
#26 in the Fading Captain Series

Mist King Urth
#27 in the Fading Captain Series

Phantom Tollbooth
Beard of Lightning
Off Records

Bob Pollard has been criticized for releasing seemingly every scrap of non-Guided By Voices material emanating from his hyper-creative being. The guy does crap an entire albums after morning coffee, but what sometimes gets lost when slamming Pollard's prolific urges is that most of the stuff found on his flurry of platters is pretty good - and sometimes great. Motel of Fools, a mini-LP, is the soundtrack to a nonexistent film; a collection of mumbling noises, tape tricks, found sounds and some trademark pomp rock, it isn't always listenable in a traditionally direct way, but it's never less than interesting. Amidst the clamor are crazy gems like a cappella opener "In The House of Queen Charles Augustus," the melodic "Harrison Adams" (which concludes with snippets of drunken party conversation) and "Red Ink Superman," featuring Pollard repeatedly intoning the now rather ominous line, "We'll even the score in World War IV."

Better in terms of melodic tunes is Mist King Urth, Pollard's second collaboration (the first under the Lifeguards banner) with GBV guitarist Doug Gillard. Pollard most often cedes the spotlight to Gillard, morphing into the Lifeguard' version of Roger Daltry to Gillard's Pete Townshend rather than playing both roles as he would in GBV. Gillard's rough-edged tunes and guitar lines shine, as he ranges from scorching Buzzcocks thrash of "Shorter Virgins" to the Yes/Emerson, Lake and Palmer moves of "First of an Early Go-Getter." Mist King Urth is a fine example of just how well these guys know what the other - and the listener - wants to hear.

Rivaling Motel of Fools on the weirdness scale is Beard of Lightning, which, technically, is only half of a new record. With the band's permission, Pollard took Phantom Tollbooth's 1998 farewell album Power Toy (you're not alone if you haven't heard it), and wrote different lyrics and recorded fresh vocals. The music, definitely of the era but not distractingly so, behind Pollard's typically whacked-out words is a heavy slew of jazz, metal and prog. While too many of the tracks devolve into boring, aimless noodling, there are definitely cool things going on; the poppy-by-comparison "Mascara Snakes," the tense "Iceland Continuations," the mostly acoustic "A good Looking Death." Beard of Lightning, a curiously worthwhile effort, could open up an entire cottage industry for Pollard - just think of how many records would be improved by his presence.

MAGNET talked to Pollard as he was killing time before watching a basketball game.

MAGNET : Motel of Fools has been described as different from any record you've done. Do you agree with that?

Bob: It's different, but I've done this thing in the past where I sprinkle in these tapes of phone messages and people at parties at the Monument Club. So I just wanted to make the record appear to be a soundtrack. There's a line from (1994's) Alien Lanes (on Ex-Supermodel) where I say "I write music for soundtracks now." But I never got to do that.

M : There's still time right?

B: Hopefully. (Laughs) But since no one contacts me to do soundtracks, I thought I'd do one on my own.

M: What was it about the Phantom Tollbooth record that made you want to add your own vocals?

B: I was a big fan of that period of really heavy, hard psychedelic stuff like Phantom Tollbooth, Das Damen, Painted Willie, some of the Amphetamine Reptile stuff like Helmet and that kind of shit. But I thought Power Toy was the best record of that genre. The music is so complex. Parts of it are just completely jazzy and crazy, and other parts are really anthemic and Who-like. Not to say that the vocals were bad, because I liked them, but I thought it could use more of a classic-rock edge.

M: Can you remember the dumbest question you've ever been asked in an interview?

B : I had someone ask me kind of a dumb question the other day, but it wasn't in an interview. I was at a bar in Dayton, the Southern Belle, and this girl kind of swung around her barstool and said, "I'm sorry to do a double take, but I realized that I recognized you." I was like, "Oh, from Guided By Voices?" And she goes, "Don't you work at the AutoZone?"

M: I'll bet that was a real ego boost.

B: Yeah. See, that's pretty much where I stand.

M: I know you write songs all the time and you're doing other things, but are there times when you get bored doing what you do full-time?

B: Oh, yeah, I get totally bored. I get kind of restless when it gets to be about 4 or 5 o'clock, and that's when I might usually go to  bar or something. I miss working a bit. I miss getting a paycheck on Friday. I used to get in a lot of wrecks on Fridays. I'd be excited that I got my paycheck and I'd be ready to go drink or whatever, and I'd hit somebody.

M: How many wrecks are we talking about?

B: Probably five or six. Not bad ones, though.

M: It's a good thing you work at AutoZone.

B: Yeah, really. (Laughs) I can fix my own car.

M: Do you feel pressure to live up to what you've done or what you're supposed to be?

B: People will sometimes ask me, "Why don't you write happy songs anymore?" Or "Why don't you write another 'Game of Pricks'?" Or, "are you ever going to do Bee Thousand again?" My answer is always, "No, I'll do whatever comes naturally." When we did the jump to TVT Records, I had some people blowing smoke up my ass, and I kind of believed it at times - like we had the potential to have a hit - but I kind of got over that. I was like, "Fuck it just enjoy yourself."