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Ottawa Xpress
September 2000
By Stephen Flood

Thanks to Sean Palmerston

Guided by humour the wit and wisdom of Robert Pollard

Guided By Voices with Werbo
Friday, Sept. 29
Barrymore’s Music Hall, 323 Bank St.
9 p.m., $12 adv., $15 door

Mozart began composing at the age of five. Robert Pollard, the driving force 
behind indie rock group Guided By Voices was not far behind that
exceptional pace.

"I can remember singing songs, that I wrote, into a tape recorder when I was 
eight years old," Pollard claims. "The first one was called ‘We are from the 
Planet Mars’ and I had another one called ‘What Would You Do If You Loved 
Patty Brown,’ who was this really big, scary girl in special ed."

While his early works may not be as timeless as Mozart's, a New York Times 
critic once put Pollard in the class of modern masters Paul
McCartney and Prince.

"It feels good to be in that kind of company," Pollard laughs. "But I'd have 
to say I think I'm better than some of them — like Mozart — now, anyway. 
And, come to think of it, Paul McCartney now, too. It really bums me out 
that once-great songwriters like McCartney and (Pete) Townshend suck now. 
It's like they're not even trying anymore."

Pollard is still trying, despite a long and prolific career. Guided By 
Voices was first assembled 15 years ago in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, and 
managed to release five albums before coming to the attention of indie label 
Scat Records.

With Scat, the band would release the seminal albums Bee Thousand and Alien 
Lanes. Pollard, meanwhile, would finally give up his day-job as a 
grade-school teacher.

"Rock and teaching are pretty much the same in a lot of ways, because you're 
doing it all for the kids," Pollard wryly observes. “You have to constantly 
change, keeping things fresh so you can hold their attention.”

Holding attention — that of the critics, at least — has never been a problem 
for Guided By Voices. In fact, it is difficult to recall a band that has 
more consistently been on the receiving end of high praise than Pollard's 

"They have to respond that way, because our songs are so good and we're kind 
of like the underdogs," jokes Pollard. "But seriously, I think it's because 
we've been around so long — and our peers, folks like Sonic Youth and The 
Beastie Boys created a buzz about us — that the critics felt they owed it to 
us to check things out."

What appealed to all fans of early Guided By Voices music was the rough, 
spontaneous feel of the band’s sound. Tagged with the moniker "low-fi," the 
band's music was the benchmark for other bands who found distortion, in 
production techniques, was not necessarily a bad thing.

"We never really thought of ourselves as low-fi, or any particular 
aesthetic," Pollard insists. "It was just that in recording studios I was 
having trouble getting the sounds in my head onto tape; everything just 
seemed so sterile. Then I met a guy who knew how to use a simple four-track 
machine. And to me it sounded good enough to put out, right from there."

Guided By Voices’ latest release, Do The Collapse, marks a break from the 
group's past in a couple of ways — it is the band’s first album to be 
distributed by a major label (Universal Music) and it features production by 
Ric Ocasek, the one-time frontman for The Cars. This second change 
represented a significant development in the group's approach to recording.

"You know, as a band you like to show progression in your career — you can't 
stay low-fi forever," says Pollard in defence of a move he knows
upset some long-time fans. "My aim on Do The Collapse was to mesh 1960s 
melodies with 1970s guitar rock. The songwriting in the ’60s was killer, but 
it's the heaviness of the ’70s that was key. I just want to make serious 
rock now."

The title, Do The Collapse, also semantically represents the mood of 
Pollard's recent past, a situation he has fortunately shaken off and can 
actually laugh about now.

"I had that phrase as a potential album title for almost every fucking thing 
we released in the last few years," Pollard says. "It was like I was dying; 
I just couldn't deal with the business part of it anymore. But I have to say 
I'm having a lot of fun now. In fact, our show in Ottawa is going to be a 
drunken party and we're going to play for three hours.”

Pollard pauses for sober second thought. “Or, probably more like two and a 
half hours,” he says, “assuming people want us to.”