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Mo Ryan - Bob Pollard Interview

GBV Metro, 2/24/'96 The Deal/Albini tracks-did you just scrap them?

Bob: Some of them are going to show up on EPs and things. On the album, we kept two Albini songs and five of the Kim Deal songs. The rest we recorded at a studio we found in Dayton.

Why did you not want to use all the songs you recorded with them?

Bob: Because we wrote better songs after we toured Europe. I got back, and for some reason I was inspired to write a bunch of songs, and they were better.

Do you do that often-just scrap stuff?

Bob: Yeah. We've always done it. Kevin: But it really doesn't get scrapped. Sometimes it might be used later some other time. Maybe it doesn't fit right [at the time].

[Greg enters the room] Greg, you're the man, the striped white pants man. And you're the bassist again.

Greg: Yeah, whenever I can. I can't tour [except for weekends].

Are those you're official "playing a show" pants?

Greg: Actually I borrowed them from my mom.

You're full of it.

Greg: They're the joke pants.

But they're not a joke, they're revered by thousands of GBV fans across the globe.

Bob: When he first got them, I didn't want him to wear them, I thought they were silly, but then I noticed that all the chicks were hanging out with him. One time he forgot them, and I made him go home and get them.

So you wear them at every show?

Greg: Every show, yeah. The zipper broke one time, and had go to the alternative pants. The backup pants.

Did Greg play on the new record?

Bob: [Greer] didn't play on much of anything.

It seemed from interviews like you were really bummed out not to be in the band anymore.

Greg: Well, wouldn't you be bummed out? I tried not to think about it every day, but I'm happy to be back, whenever I can do it.

Bob: Greg is our bass player. We'll get different people to play with us on tour, but as far as anything we do that's really special, [Greg's it.]

So when Greer left, was that weird at all?

Bob: No, it wasn't weird at all, in fact I could see it coming. He didn't seem to be very happy. I think he wanted to get back to writing.

So Bob, here's a really dumb question. Do you think you've ever written what you consider a love song?

Bob: I write love songs to the world. I don't write about personal relationships.

In a way that's really cool. So many love songs are cliched or redundant. What do you consider your love songs?

Bob: I don't know. A lot of them are exorcisms, like apologies for my past mistakes or something. I try to cleanse myself. On the new album there are a lot of them like that, like A Man Called Aerodynamics. On the new album there are songs of apology. A Man Called Aerodynamics is my apology to the crickets. When I was a kid, I went as far as to call myself the Hitler of crickets. I tried to exterminate every cricket in my yard.

My brother used to do stuff like that. Is there some male gene that makes guys want to do things like that?

Kevin: I did it to frogs. We used to brutalize frogs. I cut the frogs up bad, but when you're a kid, you don't know.

Bob: I feel really bad about that [stuff].

Why don't little girls do stuff like that?

Mitch [I think]: Maybe they don't admit it.

Bob: I don't know what it is with the inherent evil of males. Maybe it has something to do with watching wrestling. But I think men grow out of that.

What, when they're forty?

Bob: Twenty-five. I grew out of it eventually. A lot of songs I write now are to rid myself of past feelings of aggression.

And the songs are non-direct about it?

Bob: It's definitely non-direct. It's not intentional, I just write stream-of-consciousness poetry. A lot of times I try to look back and fit some kind of meaning to it, and I find a lot of them seem to be some kind of spiritual. It has a lot to do with things I've done in my past, [like] 'I'm over that, I'll rise above it.'

But do those meanings occur to you at the time, or is it afterwards?

Bob: It's afterwards, always. Sometimes it takes other people to point it out to me.

Do people come up to you a lot with their interpretations of what different songs mean?

Bob: Yeah, that's why I decided not to print the lyrics with the new record.

That's what I liked about early REM records-you couldn't quite figure out what he was saying, but you got enough to sort of make up your own imagery.

Bob: Yeah, I liked it better when it was like that too.

Where do you get your imagery from songs?

Bob: I have an anthology of fairy tales and I get a lot stuff from that.

So what about Dayton? 'The Gem City.' Someone once told me that Cincinnati is the Queen City and Dayton is the Gem City and Dayton is the Gem in the Queen's crown.

Bob: I was talked to Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs about doing a split single-we'd call it Gems and Queens. Dayton, like most of Ohio, is known for the inventions that were created there-the Dayton Cash Register, the airplane, the pop top.

Do you think it's strange in some indescribable way?

Kevin: I think it's strange, but it's a great town. When you're growing up, you kind of despise where you live, but when you get older, you start appreciating the good thing. And Dayton's got a lot of great things-it's easy to get around in, you don't have to wait in traffic jams, you can go from one side of the city to the other [easily], and it's pretty laid back.

Greg [I think]: Dayton has a lot to do with aliens, too.

Bob: You know the Roswell crash, they supposedly harbored the alien [from the crash] at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. We think it escaped and began reproducing. The alien escaped and now he hangs out with us.

He's wearing striped pants, isn't he?

[Much general laughter and in-jokes that I don't get]

Kevin: If you hold a map of Ohio up to a mirror, Dayton won't appear on it.

[Even though it's really noisy and Bob looks kind of green due to a greasy bowl of chili he ate earlier, I persist in asking dopey journalistic-type questions.]

As a lyricist, who do you admire?

Bob: Early Peter Gabriel lyrics-early genesis Peter Gabriel lyrics-and Pete Townshend, Bowie, Blue Oyster Cult.

Did you see the History of Rock series on PBS?

Bob: No. Was that any good?

Well, parts were good but it made it seem like there was no rock after 1980.

Bob: Well, I almost agree with that.

Don't even start!

[Bob is looking really green]

Do you hate getting interviewed?

Bob: No, I just hate that chili. I feel like shit.

Are you going to be able to rock?

Bob: Yeah, but I need to puke. I'll be able to rock.

Well, my last question is this: What are your ambitions for GBV? What do you want?

Mitch: To meet an alien.

Besides the one in your band?

Mitch: [We want to meet] the King Alien.

Bob: Eventually, if evolution takes it course...we'd like to be a new religion. [Actually] I don't have any goals. I never had any goals. Just to make a good album. We concentrate all our efforts on that. Things are kind of escalating for us, now we're in kind of a different league. I think our record label feels that putting out too many records dilutes [the impact]. They also think kids don't have enough money to buy our record. I disagree with that.

What's your favorite record you've done?

Mitch: I love all of 'em

Bob: I like Vampire on Titus a lot, also the new record-there are a lot of standards on it.

PART TWO 3/2/'96 Southgate House Newport, KY

So let's talk about ditching the Albini and Deal tracks again. Did you re-record any of them?

Bob: The album was going to be a concept album. It was going to be called the Power of Suck. An autobiographical concept record about how Guided by Voices had started from nowhere and all of a sudden we were thrust into the limelight. The story was like, Are they going to sell out of not? What's going to happen at the end? And Don't Stop Now was supposed to be the big finale. So originally it was a concept album and I was writing all these songs geared toward this concept record, and was getting really difficult. Jim Greer had already written the story for it, and it was really hard to try to write songs for the record. All the songs that we were doing with Kim Deal and Steve Albini were for the concept album. We went to Europe and did our tour and when we came back, I had decided to shitcan the concept album, and I wrote a bunch of new songs, like 18 or 20 songs, and I thought they were better. They were more spontaneous and more free, they weren't geared toward a concept of anything, so we decided to record them in Dayton. I just decided to get rid of all this stuff from the concept record. Plus [for the concept record songs] we rehearsed for maybe a month in the basement, and took maybe two more weeks to record it-the whole process took two months to rehearse and record, and I don't like to work that way. I like to record as we rehearse. The stuff we did with Kim and Steve is painful for me to listen to. Not all of it, some of it turned out really good, but a lot of it is painful for me to listen to because it took so long and it was so labored.

Was it too polished for you?

Bob: It wasn't a question of being too polished, it was just that the songs were too labored over and worked out, and I like things to be spontaneous. Most of the stuff that's on the record [now] is really spontaneous, it took us maybe three or four hours to record a song.

Was going into a big studio something you always wanted to do, though?

Bob: Oh yeah, we've always wanted to go into a big studio. Our first record, Forever Since Breakfast, was [made] in a big studio. We've always had no success whatsoever in a big studio. The four-track stuff we started doing in the late eighties or early Nineties sounded to me much better than the big studio stuff. We had more control of it and we did things more spontaneously. We'd go into a big studio and work with these unsympathetic engineers and it just didn't work. Finally we got to work with Kim and Steve-some of the stuff is really good, but the best thing is that they showed us that we could go into a big studio and be comfortable and kind of showed us the ropes a little bit.

Are you going to do that again?

Bob: We're going to work in big studios from now on, I think, but we're going to do it ourselves.

You're going to record it yourselves.

Bob: Yeah, see that's the thing,-we've always been called this four-track band, this low-fi band, but the main thing, more than how we record it, is that we do it ourselves. That's the main thing.

Not to change gears too much here, but I was re-reading an interview with you the other night, and somewhere it said that your father forbade your brother from going into your room when you guys were younger because your dad thought you were crazy.

Bob: My brother and I come from jock beginnings. We were really good athletes in school. My dad always had aspirations for us to be sports stars. My brother was all-state in basketball, he got a scholarship to Arizona State and all that shit. But I started getting into music, and it's really ironic because my dad turned me on to music. He was a pretty good singer. By the time I got to be a senior in high school, I started developing a pretty bad attitude. My dad was like, 'You're not concentrating on sports. You're too pre-occupied with music.' But it's ironic because he's the one that turned me on to music. He joined the Columbia record club where you get like 12 records for one penny, and he let me pick all the albums. I picked based on the names of the bands. I really didn't have any idea who they were.

What did you pick? Can you remember?

Bob: Yeah, Moby Grape's first album, King Crimson's first album, all kinds of shit like that. I decided that's how you pick albums, on the basis of names. Anyway, I really got hooked on records, so the time I got into high school, in my little room I maybe had a thousand records. I'd be in there playing music real loud, and even though my dad thought maybe his aspirations for me were shot, my brother still had a chance, [so he told him] 'Don't go in there. He's crazy. He's fucked his career up, but you still have a chance.'

That must have been hard to deal with-total lack of support.

Bob: Nah, I didn't care. I still had not completely blown it. [At that time] I still was a pretty good baseball player, I still was a good athlete, but I was getting into rock and [my dad] thought that was misguided. Misguided by Rock.

[I quote a GBV lyric] "I dare not say the way I feel about your inability to suck it up and win the race."

Bob: Yeah, that song is pretty much about my dad. But he wasn't a fanatic about it, he didn't beat us. We were talented in sports, and he thought we had a chance [to do something with it]. He told me once, 'Do you realize how many bands are out there?' This was when I started joining bands in college. He was like, 'Do you realize how many shitty bands there are out there?' And he was right!

Yeah, there are even more now. This whole DIY four-track thing has given everybody in the world the idea that they can start a band, even if they suck.

I know, I know. That's what I tell people when they ask me, 'What do you think about this whole low-fi movement?' I say, 'Well, I think it opened the door for a lot of non-talented people to think they could do something.' I don't like listening to bad music like that. I like good music. People misconstrue that we're part of some kind of low-fi thing, some home-taping thing-which we were because that's what we had access to. But we always aspired to be as good as we could be. We [just] got a better sound on the four-track than we did with these unsympathetic engineers in the studios in Dayton. That's the reason we did [four-track stuff].

Do you hear a lot of people trying to imitate that low-fi, scratchy sound?

Bob: Yeah, [where they're] trying to be bad. We never tried to be bad. Some of our sloppier stuff, like Matter Eater Lad, some of our 7" EPs and shit, we weren't out of sync on purpose, we were out of sync because we were on four-track and it's hard when you put the headphones on and you start to do the vocals over what you just did, and you can't hear anything, so you sing it, and it's hard to stay in sync with it. We're not purposely trying to be terrible.

What's the dumbest thing you've ever been asked in an interview?

Bob: The first question I was ever asked in the first interview I ever did was from this guy Everett True from the [English music paper] Melody Maker, he's like a legend in England-he even calls himself The Legend and put out a Sub Pop single under that name-but he's pretty cool. He thinks he discovered us, which he probably did [as far as England was concerned]. Anyway, here's the question he asked [puts on ultra-British accent]: "What's your definition of beauty?" I just didn't know what to say. Imagine the first question you're ever asked in an interview [being that]. Of course my answer was completely fucking [useless].

You should have said, "You, Everett. You're my definition of beauty."

Bob: Yeah, I wanted to. "Your house shoes, they're beautiful."

How was touring in Europe for the first time?

Bob: It was good. We always do better in big cities. Our London show was really really good. The rest were good too. We always do well in big cities, like Chicago.

[People start coming up and talking and the Who comes up. Bob breaks into a rendition of "Behind Blue Eyes," and says his old heavy metal band Anacrusis used to cover it. His Ultra-Daltrey interpretation of the line "When my fist clenches, crack it open" gets kudos all around. Bob is presented with a peanut butter pie by a fan, and then talk turns to The Monument Club, the "bar" in Bob's garage.]

I heard about the Monument Club, I heard girls aren't allowed?!

Bob: They are allowed. You just have to be openminded, because we have some sexists in that bar. I got some friends from high school who are just total racists and sexists, and when they start running their mouths you have to be openminded. The rule of the Monument Club is that you can't be offended by anything.

I used to live with guys who used to compete with each other to embarrass or offend me, so I can deal with that.

Bob: Yeah, that's how the guys I know are. They'll do it on purpose. As long as you can handle it, you're all right. We have girlfriends or wives come in there and someone says something, and they'll [get offended].

But the thing to do in a situation like that is to kick the person's ass logically, oratorically. Just cut the legs out from under them verbally, not get offended.

Bob: Yeah, no shit.

[A journalist from the Washington Post stops by and he and Bob talk about possibly doing a story on the sad freaks-people that travel to see the band, etc.]

Bob: Unless you come to the Monument Club, you have no story.

"The club is open..." [Bob starts singing A Salty Salute.]

Jim Pollard [sitting nearby]: We were in the Monument Club and nobody was showing up because there was a big ice storm and shit, and we were going to call in to the stations that had all the school closings and tell them to say, "The Monument Club is open." [much laughter]

Bob: Yeah, all these schools are closed, but "the club is open," the Monument Club is open.

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