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T.O. MUSIC NOTES
October 19 - 25, 1995
Guided By Voices' prolific predicament
By TIM PERLICH
Ever since Guided By Voices singer/songwriter Robert Pollard quit his job as a mild-mannered grade four teacher, each day starts the same way.
While the rest of his bandmates scattered across Dayton are snoring their way out of hangovers, Pollard, well into his second pot of coffee, is madly scribbling song lyric fragments centered around the usual themes of airplanes, unrequited love, alien invasions and generally being a misfit.
By noon, he'll have thrown away more heartbreaking tunes, complete with unforgettable Kinks-ish choruses, than the Urge Overkill braintrust could think up in their entire chauffeur-driven career. The select few keepers that survive Pollard's ruthless editing process will be timeless twisted power-pop classics destined to confound historians for generations to come. While there are many mysteries surrounding the music of Guided By Voices -like why some songs end after 30 seconds, why the longer ones have three or more movements, why their 24-track recordings still sound remarkably like their basement four-track sessions, how they managed to record and release five albums in as many years before anyone outside of Columbus had heard of them, and why they continue to have a new single or EP out nearly every week many of them can be explained by the accelerated pace at which Pollard functions.
"I don't put a lot of thought into anything,"yammers Pollard pre-emptively from his Dayton abode before his speedy songwriting is questioned. My philosophy has always been to just do a lot of stuff and then choose the best things from it all. So it may look like I put a lot of thought into everything but, in reality, I'm just cramming all kinds of shit onto tapes and paper and then selecting the good parts.
"Lately I've gotten into this writing formula which seems to be the best way to work for me. I write the lyrics first, turn on the tape recorder and then just try playing different riffs or chord changes while I sing the words. When it starts to suck, I stop the tape and move onto the next section until I'm through the song. That's why we'll have like, eight major changes in a two-minute song, which makes our stuff sound like prog-rock.
"We don't usually rehearse songs before we go in the studio. It's a matter of getting a click track going -I play the guitar part and we'll just build stuff up. Somebody gets an idea and they just lay it on top. In about an hour, we'll have a finished song."
Pollard finally got a chance to find out how the rest of the world works in the studio while recording material for Guided By Voices'forthcoming Under The Bushes, Under The Trees album with Steve Albini and the Breeders' Kim Deal.
Although in typically ornery Guided By Voices fashion, the majority of tracks recorded with Deal at Easley Studios in Memphis and Albini in Chicago won't appear on the new album, due in March.
"When I got back from our European tour, I had this brainstorm of songs. I just sat down and wrote 15 new songs in no time at all, which blew away any of the ones we worked on with Kim and Steve. Lyrically speaking, the new songs were stronger and a bit crazier in a way I thought better represented Guided By Voices.
"So we went down to Cro-mag Studios here in Dayton and cut eight of 'em, which caused us to restructure the whole album. I just hope Steve and Kim don't get mad that their songs got bumped.
"It was an interesting experience working with Kim in the studio. She usually likes to rework a song for two or three weeks before she even thinks about recording. And once she's there, she's very patient about working through all the little details no matter how much time it takes. You sometimes think, 'Goddamn, this is crazy!' But you can't argue with success."
Pollard can, however, argue with his record label's constrictive release schedule. Considering Guided By Voices' obscenely prodigious song output, it's easy to see why Matador's one-album-per-fiscal-year strategy for maximizing profits would cause a bit of friction.
"It's unfortunate that we're stuck in this situation where we can't put out as many albums as we did before. We have to allow our records 'time to sell in order to recoup the investment.' Do you believe that shit? So they can recoup our huge advance?
"Our new album is finished but we have to wait five months to release it -that really hurts me. We'll have another album ready to go by then. They said our Alien Lanes album is still selling so they want to work it some more."
That MCA publishing deal should open broad new avenues of expression to the prolific tunesmith. There have already been suggestions that Pollard use his refined popcraft to help resuscitate the careers of failed alterna-pop stars, as well as contributing snappy jingles to big-budget films. It's bound to keep Pollard busy for at least a week.
"The MCA people said they might want me to write some songs for Mary Lou Lord, which is alright I guess, because we've toured with her and she seems cool. But I'm still not too crazy about writing with other people, like Evan Dando for example.
"I've also been offered a couple of movie projects. There's this new Tom Hanks film in which Tom plays this guy in some one-hit-wonder band from the 60s. They told me that Tom wanted the title track to sound like 'a cross between La Bamba and Twist & Shout as played by the Rascals.' Huh? I just said, `Fuck that!' The Rascals? I don't write that kinda shit."