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From the zine Pink Eye
Special thanks to Jeff Carnevale
An interview with Bob Pollard of Guided By Voices by Alan Crowe. That is how this 'zine came about in the first place. Bob was very friendly and open, but then when have you ever seen him any other way. Thanks to Paul at Matador for his help in setting this interview up. Well, let's see what Mr. Pollard has to say for himself, shall we?
Al: Let me start by saying I saw the show in Sewanee, TN.
Bob: Yeah that's what I heard. I saw it on my fax.
Al: I was amazed at how tight the new GBV lineup was.
Bob: Oh, thanks man. I really like the new band.
Al: How did you get this lineup together?
Bob: Well, Greg Demos, the bass player, he was in our band around Bee Thousand. He's one of my best friends. I wish he would be in the band all the time, but he's a lawyer and it's hard to lure him away from that. It's kind of a family tradition with him. And Doug Gillard was in the last incarnation of the band. He was with the Cobra Verde bunch. He's the only one left now in the band from Cobra Verde. And Jim MacPherson became available. He was the drummer for the Breeders. And he's a friend of mine that I always wanted to work with. Then all of a sudden he wasn't in the Breeders anymore so I said, "I want you in my band," and he wanted to be in the band so... It's my favorite lineup I've had, yeah...
Al: I think it's definitely one of the tightest.
Bob: Oh thanks. It's really a nice, close-knit bunch of guys. We're closer as a band. We're more like a family than ever. And some people might not think that, because a lot of people became attached to when Toby, Mitch and Kevin were in the band. I mean, we seemed close, because we had a good time on stage, and everything, but really, here in Dayton, we didn't really hang out together. We all kind of went our separate ways. But the music was together. But this band, we can actually go out drinking together and doing stuff together, except Doug, of course, who's in Cleveland.
Al: What made the other guys from the Mag Earwhig lineup leave the band?
Bob: Well, I kind of broke that band up, because I didn't like the way it was going. I didn't like the way it felt, the chemistry. It had something to do with the fact that I was here by myself in Dayton, and they were all up there in Cleveland. That had something to do with it. That wasn't the only thing to do with it. When you get a new band together, it's always exciting at first. Sometimes it works, and it doesn't. But it just didn't feel right to me. And when that happens, I have to do something to make a change, cause it has to feel right to me for me to be in a band or make solo records.
Al: Speaking of solo records, let me ask you about your new solo record, Waved Out.
Al: Is the new lineup on any of the tracks?
Bob: Jim MacPherson plays drums on five tracks. Doug Gillard plays acoustic guitar on one track. He sent me down an instrumental that he recorded in Cleveland, and I just did some vocals on top of it, into my boom box. I played his acoustic instrumental on my stereo, and then I sang into my boom box, and that's the recording right there.
Al: Is that "Caught Waves Again"?
Al: That's a good song.
Al: So did you do all the other guitars and stuff?
Bob: I did just about everything else. There were a few things, like people yelling and stomping, and there's a trumpet somewhere. The guy that engineered the record, the guy who runs Cro-Magnon Studios, played bass on five or six songs. But everything else I did myself. That's why there's a lot of really bad playing on it. A lot of out-of-synch stuff, and shit. I would just go, "if it sounds good to me, that's it. cut. that's a wrap."
AL: I think it works pretty well.
Bob: Well, I like stuff that sounds like it didn't take very long to do.
Al: So, some of the tracks were recorded at Cro-Magnon. Where did you do the other stuff?
Bob: The other stuff I did at Dave Doughman's house. He's got an 8-track at his house. See, I started off doing the whole album there. The stuff I did at his house I made it up on the spot. It was all spontaneous, so I was going to do the whole album spontaneously on his 8-track. And then I kinda got tired of it after about a week. I was kind of running out of ideas. So I had a bunch of songs that I had written. And I did those at Cro-Magnon. Now it's got a nice balance to the two. Kind of spontaneous, lo-fi stuff, and the bigger studio stuff.
Al: Where did your inspiration for this album come from? Had you been writing on the Mag tour?
Bob: No. Actually after the last band incarnation broke up... every time you wipe the slate clean, you get inspired to write a bunch of new stuff. You just go, "I'm gonna get ready for the next thing." So I just sat down; I had a notebook full of titles, and just went down the line making up songs. And I wrote 50 songs. I wrote most of the core stuff for Waved Out, and all the stuff for the next... I saved in my mind, what I thought was the best, most meaningful stuff for the next Guided by Voices record. And then I have, like 15 other songs that I don't know whether I'm going to do another solo record with, or just wait and record them for B-sides, or whatever. So I've just got all this stuff. But there's no really specific inspiration. The inspiration was the fact, I guess that, "hey, it's time to start over."
Al: When you write songs, do you write lyrics and vocal melodies first, or do you write the music?
Bob: I write it a lot of different ways. Sometime I have melodies in my head, sometimes I have lyrics first. The best way, for inspiration, is just to have titles in front of you. I like to get my guitar, and my boom box, and have just a bunch of titles, and just go down and make 'em up on the spot. You know, just rough sketches of all of them, and then go back and pick my favorite parts and elaborate. So, it's best just to start with a lot of titles. Good titles will inspire you.
Al: Is GBV going to tour in support of Waved Out?
Bob: No, we're just doing some shows. We did the Tennessee show. We've done a few other shows. We opened for Cheap Trick in Cincinnati. And a show in New York and on in Chicago, and I think that's going to be it for right now, just to polish some of our new material, and test it out with people. But, we're not going to tour the record itself. That's another thing I kind of like about solo records. There are no obligations to play. Of course, Guided by Voices is a different story. And we're going to start recording in August with Ric Ocasek for the new Guided by Voices record, so we're just playing a few shows, and we'll probably do that again in the fall. We won't actually start touring until next February, I think.
Al: So Ric Ocasek is producing the new GBV record?
Bob: We finished talking to him. He's really psyched about it.
Al: Do you have any titles from the album?
Bob: We've played a lot of them at our recent shows. I've got a lot of songs, for some reason on this album, that have to do with eye. Like, there's "Surgical Focus" and there's "Optical Hopscotch."
Al: You did some of those at the Tennessee show.
Bob: Yeah, we did a few of them. I've written some more since then, so we've got some new ones, and some of those have been deleted; "Strumpet Eye," another eye song "Picture Me Big Time." And "Teenage FBI," we're doing a new version of that. We're also going to record a new version of a song that was originally on the Plantations of Pale Pink EP. A song called "Catfood on the Earwhig."
Al: Yeah, you played that song at the Tennessee show. that turned out great.
Bob: Yeah, it's going to kick ass, man. I listen to that...justice wasn't done to that song. I like the way it's done; it's definitely wacky and shit on Plantations. But I'd like to hear a great, big-studio version.
Al: Do you have a tentative release date for the album?
Bob: February. That's what they're saying. So, we record in August. It'll be finished by September, but it won't be out until February. We're trying to work with a major label. We're trying to get on Capitol. We're hoping that they take this record. But, I mean Matador is interested in how serious are we about... you know if we put some money into you are you guys gonna be serious? And we've got Ric Ocasek to produce the record; I don't know how much more serious we can get. (laughs) So we're hoping that'll happen. We're gonna record it anyway, and if they want it, good, and if not, maybe someone else will want it. This is the big rock record everyone's been waiting for.
Al: I'm sure if Matador doesn't want it, you could sell just as much through Rockathon, or something.
Bob: This record...we'll be on a major label. It's time for it. I mean, if you get a producer the caliber of Ric Ocasek, you should be on a major label. We hope it's Capitol, we hope it's Matador. We'll stay with Matador. I mean I really like them. I consider myself part of their family. (Jokingly) Everyone's going to have to do a little extra this time (laughter).
Al: One of my favorites on the new solo album is "People Are Leaving." It's kind of a departure for you, being that it's a waltz-type song.
Bob: That was another where a girl I met in L.A. who's a friend of Jim Greer's, named Stephanie Sayers, when I was getting the new album together, she sent me a tape of this instrumental, which was basically the music for "People Are Leaving." And I had a bunch of lyrics around, so I said I'm going to put some vocals on top of that. So, I went down to Cro-Magnon. Matter of fact, the song actually has two different vocals on it. I did two different vocals. When we played it back, both vocal tracks accidentally came through. You can hear both of them, so I said make one a little more predominant. I like the way it turned out. It is a lot different, because the way that it was done. It's kind of a cool song. It's kind of swing; it's got kind of a swing feel to it.
Al: Yes, it's very danceable (laughter). I noticed some other interesting sounds on Waved Out. I thought I heard a Moog somewhere.
Bob: Well, it's a Casio. No, there is a Moog on a couple of things. But for the most part, a lot of the keyboards are just Casios through amps turned up really loud. That's another thing I like about Waved Out is there is a lot of interesting sounds when you listen to it. We did a lot of interesting things that don't usually happen on this record. It's a good headphone record, I don't know if you listened to it through headphones yet?
Al: Oh, yeah! "The Showbiz Opera Walrus" has got some crazy stuff.
Bob: (laughs) Well that was crazy. I wrote that lyric...I was sitting in my kitchen and I wrote that lyric, and thought it was pretty funny, so I..as I wrote it, there was kind of melody, a rhythm for the lyric going through my head. So I went in and sang it into my boom box, and just kind of kept the rhythm tapping. You can hear me tapping on my leg a little bit on the recording. So then I went down, and we built the song over the vocal, which is why it's out-of-synch and shit, just crazy. It's got kind of a carnivalesque, George Martin kind of feel to it.
Al: Another thing I've noticed about the new solo album, is that it's kind of a summation of previous GBV material. Like, "Wrinkled Ghost" could have been on Tonics and Twisted Chasers or "Make Use" could have been on Mag Earwhig.
Bob: I think Waved Out is the most diversified record I've ever done. It's my favorite one, really. It's like all the songs are completely different. That's interesting. You're the first person that's pointed that out, about it chronicling something from every phase we've been through. That's true. I think that's why I like it so much.
Al: It's also got the longest songs I think you've ever written.
Bob: There's a couple of long ones on there. It's a short record overall. It's only about 35 minutes or so, which I like. I like records between 30-35 minutes, that's as much as my attention span can handle. You know people put out CDs that are 70 minutes long. To me, that's too much.
Al: How many songs do you think you've written since you began writing songs?
Bob: Well, I've mentioned to people about how I've got a suitcase of cassette tapes. Recently a couple of friends of mine, we started going through this suitcase and putting the songs in his computer, and then we're going to put them all on volumes of CDs. I'd say I probably have about 300 tapes in this box. Some of them are probably duplicates. We've gone through probably 50, and we've got 150 unreleased songs from them. So, I bet after we're done, we'll have between 500-1000 songs.
Al: Are you gonna release any of that material?
Bob: I doubt it. We're probably just going to chronicle them for myself, unless I go through and find something that's not too embarrassing. A lot of the stuff's pretty embarrassing. There's a song called "Sweet Jelly" that's fucking embarrassing (laughter). "Rainbow Billy" is on there (more laughter).
Al: That sounds pretty interesting.
Bob: Yeah, "Rainbow Billy" and "Sweet Jelly." But, so there's 1000 songs there, and I've recorded another 600-700 songs. I've written a couple thousand songs probably. I've written other stuff that's never been recorded, that are just in my head.
Al: Are you ever going to release a Guided by Voices singles collection?
Bob: We talked about that. Maybe a box set, or a CD of all the singles. We've talked about that, but I don't know. We haven't caught the attention of any labels, but it's definitely an idea. It's be nice to have them all on one thing. As a matter of fact, somebody did that. I have a CD that a fan of ours gave me. But it'd be good to market something like that, because I'm sure a lot of people haven't been able to find some of the singles.
Al: Yeah, some are really hard to find, like the GBV/Grifters split.
Bob: Yeah, that one's pretty hard to find.
Al: It's good stuff.
Bob: Oh, you have that?
Al: Well, a friend of mine bought it before it became so rare.
Bob: Yeah, they didn't do a whole lot of those.
Al: I recently got the Clown Prince Of The Menthol Trailer EP.
Bob: Oh yeah, they reissued that.
Al: Yeah, Luna did. What was the lineup on that release?
Bob: Well, it was just me, my brother (Jim), and Toby. We banged that out in one day. We did that in about two hours. You can tell, I mean it's really...like the fact that it's really spontaneous. The drums are out of synch. We just banged it out. The only song I had written was "Matter Eater Lad." The rest we just did on the spot. I think "Grandfather Westinghouse," we had an earlier version of that. That's a pretty wacky record.
Al: Definitely. Probably the most lo-fi.
Bob: Oh, yeah. It's terribly lo-fi. (both laugh)
Al: Have you Tobin, and Mitch talked about working together in the future?
Bob: I talked to Toby the other day, he called and didn't leave his number, he just moved again. We talked about the possibility of him sending me a bunch of instrumentals and me doing vocals over the top, like Tonics and Twisted Chasers. We talked about that, and maybe getting another band together, so that we can continue doing that. I haven't talked to Mitch in a while, but I still entertain the notion of having Mitch play with us. I don't know. We're gonna meet...when we start touring Greg's not gonna be able to tour so we're probably going to need a bass player, possibly a guitarist. Mitch's feelings may be hurt, and he may not want to do anything with us, but that's up to him. I have talked to Toby though.
Al: He's living in Michigan now?
Al: Are you a fan of early Genesis?
Bob: That's my favorite shit, man.
Al: I've noticed a lot of similarities between you and Peter Gabriel's vocal styles.
Bob: Oh yeah, man. Early Genesis is my favorite stuff. From like Foxtrot to Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, those are like my favorite records. It's a turnoff to a lot of people because of the long songs and keyboards and stuff. A lot of people are anti-Prog rock. It's a joke to a lot of people, the hipsters. But I proudly talk about that. I love the shit. If they gave it a chance they'd probably like it. If I listened to it now, I probably wouldn't like as much as when I was a kid, but to me that's all I knew of. I didn't listen to any Big Star or anything at the time. None of the record stores would carry stuff like that. At the time, that stuff was weird. But there's a lot of really nice imagery, and lyrics and melody and stuff.
Al: Yeah, and songs you've written, like "Now I'm Crying" and even "Showbiz Opera Walrus" are along those lines.
Bob: Oh yeah. You listen to "Showbiz" or "Gold Heart Mountain Top," they're definitely influenced by Genesis.
Al: Well, Bob I appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions.
Bob: What did you say your name was?
Bob: Good luck to you.
Al: Thanks again.
Bob: See ya.