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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
"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
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
"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
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.”