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August 2002
Jenny Bulley

Guided By Voices

Their basement is bigger than yours, says Jenny Bulley

If sheer volume and consistency are any measure of genius (and indeed madness), then ex-school teacher, Robert Pollard, qualifies on both counts. As leader of Dayton Ohio's Guided By Voices, he's written literally thousands of songs since forming the group in the early 80s. Indie rock's best kept secret, GBV already had 10 albums and a considerable cult following by the time they singed to American major TVT in 1999.

Two relatively high budget albums (of which only the first, Do The Collapse, made it to the UK) built on their low-fi 
basement bedrock but left Pollard craving the artistic control granted by an indie. So earlier this year they re-signed to 
Matador with Universal Truths and Cycles, an impressive combining of their bedroom genius with a little of TVT's left-over studio polish.

Countless band members (around 50 Pollard's guess) have passed through the ranks over the years, most notably brother Jim, Tobin Sprout and current co-writer/guitarist Doug Gillard, but GBV's songs retain the distinctive mark of Robert Pollard's scattershot imagination - the freaks, geeks, robots and elves of the 10-year-olds he once taught - and recurring plane and flight imagery borrowed from his hometown ("the birthplace of aviation"). From short, infectious fragments of '60s-flavoured pop to noisy, ramshackle prog-patchworks and hissy lo-fi snippets (The Who and Genesis are enduring influences), critics have long proclaimed Bob Pollard's throwaway talent the envy of many a less prolific songwriter.

"People have suggested that I compromise my art by putting out too much stuff," he admits, "but I don't do it for selfish 
reasons. Since I was really young I'd make up album covers and music. It's just a habit now."

Thirteen studio albums, six live albums, two box sets and a bewildering array of side-projects, solo albums, collaborations, pseudonyms, bootlegs and videos later, MOJO asked him to select just 10....

"Our first album and still one of my favorites because there are five instrumentals on it and I never put instrumentals on 
anything. I went through all my tapes, basements tapes, 4-track recordings, studio recordings and took my favorite songs, no matter how they were recorded, so long as I thought they sounded the way they should. It's very lo-fi but has this nice up and down level. It's a good place to start. I like that title too; I have an angel on my shoulder and a devil between my toes."

"This was the one that got us noticed. It's a weird record, it shows our transition from trying to do things in a studio 
to going 4-track. Side one we're in the studio trying to do this arena rock thing, it starts off with this fake chant. We used 
all 24-tracks and everybody in the room shouted "G-B-V", then we digitally multiplied it. Pavement's Scott Kannberg asked "Where did you guys play that show?" We fabricated it in the studio. So this big arena rock concept album fizzles half way through to lo-fi 4 track."

"Bee Thousand got us off the ground. It's a good song record. In my mind, I went through the whole catalogue of songs I'd written since I was a kid, took the best parts and combined them. That began my philosophy that the way to make a good record is to write and record a lot of songs. We recorded about 100 for Bee Thousand. I figured if you record 100 songs there's gotta be 20 good one in there - it worked."

"I met Kim Deal when we did Bee Thousand. She really loved that record, but Alien Lanes she wasn't crazy about. She thought it was too much, too bombastic, but that's what I like about it. It has this concept of a radio station playing these really strange short songs. I just like the way it feels. That's when we pretty much dove in to the whole 4-track process. It's not entirely 4-track, there's some live stuff even. We just had so much music at that time and things were so spontaneous that it kind of culminated in Alien Lanes."

"Our first attempt to work with a producer was with Steve Albini and Kim Deal on her first production job. But I wasn't ready to abandon the way we did things. I heard all the polished studio stuff and was inspired and wrote a bunch of songs. Like us, but better: sound wise, quality wise. We shit-canned what we'd done, with the exception of Offcial Ironmen Rally Song and Don't Stop Now, made the record ourselves."

"I never thought we captured the power of the guitar on our records so we decided to include a producer. Ric Ocasek, got a GBV compilation tape from Melissa Auf Der Mauer (ex-Hole) and really wanted to produce us. I regret not taking more control over what went on tape. Ric's a great guy, but pretty intimidating. There's one song, Hold On Hope. It's kinda corny but Ric said, 'That's the one! That's the power ballad.' If I could do Do The Collapse again I'd delete Hold On Hope."

I was disappointed this didn't come out in Europe. I've always wanted to do a Who's Next type record, and this is our Who's Next. I think it's good, it just has that feel, it's blue all over and it's powerful. It's our serious side. (Producer) Rob 
Schnapf allowed us to drink and give laid back performances, so the album rocks a little bit, and it's got a good bottom 
sound; good drums, bass, guitar."

"Todd Tobias co-produced and he helped us get back the noise element and make it sound more like a GBV record. Working with producers was a good learning experience, but they are like movie directors, it's their thing, with their name on it, so you're gonna get a little of their feel too. This is all Guided By Voices. When I found out that Matador wanted us back I almost cried. That was so sweet."

Robert Pollard with Doug Gillard
Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department
"This was the first record where I wrote songs and sent them to Doug; he played all the instruments and recorded it, then he sent it back to me to do the vocals. We realized this is a good way to make music, I think it's one of the best that I've 
done, it has a lot of good pop songs. Do Something Real is on the new Steven Soderberg movie so we're going to try and 
release the album in Europe. I do kind of regret it wasn't a GBV record."

Kid Marine
My personal favorite, a weird record, almost a concept album, about the typical Ohio male and what he does - drink, watch television, eat pizza. It got mixed reviews, there are people who hate it and others who think it's our best record and I'm on their side. I just love the songs. It feels like one piece, like it all fits together. I like the cover and I like the 
whole package."

Those contemplating membership of GBV fanatics group Postal Blowfish will have their work cut out keeping up with Pollard's numerous solo releases and collaborations in the Fading Captain Series. Though mostly limited, www.gbv.com, still sells Airport 5's excellent Life Starts Here (Robert Pollard with Tobin Sprout) (FCS #18) and Go Back Snowball's Calling Zero (with Superchunk's Mac McCaughan)(FCS #17). His first two albums, Not in My Airforce (1996 OLE215) and Waved Out (1999 OLE 316) are still available on Matador, while the devout should seek GBV's Suitcase : Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft (FCS #6), a 4-CD box of over 100 unreleased recordings.

GBV's Vampire On Titus (Scat/Matador)
"One of my favorites, but for turning people on to us this would scare them off - it's so noisy. It sounded so bad that I 
took all the controls, all the levels and pitched them as high as they could go."