| Home | Fading Captain Series | GBV News | The Band | The Music | The Critics & Fans | Merchandise | Other Stuff |
Rave Magazine - Australia
By Matt Thrower
You’re The Voices
One of Robert Pollard’s favourite all-time recordings is The Beatles’ White Album.
Which makes considerable sense, as the frontman/songwriter/stalwart of Dayton, Ohio’s astonishingly prolific Guided By Voices has made a career out of chaotic, brilliant rock albums with the same sense of thrilling, unsettling disjointedness that marked Lennon/McCartney’s anything-goes double record.
The differences, however, are numerous, not least that GBV made a tradition out of using four-track machines and garages, as opposed to George Martin and Abbey Road. The result has been some of the past decades’ most organic and riveting pop music. Listening to GBV albums like 1994’s Bee Thousand or 1995’s Alien Lanes is an experience not unlike discovering long-lost demos of a forgotten and wildly gifted ‘60s garage combo. Which has led to the band’s reputation as Godfathers of Lo-Fi. Until now.
Guided By Voices’ most recent collection of Pollard-penned tunes, 1999’s Do The Collapse, is reliably eccentric and at times plain otherworldly, but also includes complete three to four minute pop songs, that depart considerably from GBV’s trademark compact one minute statements that pepper their previous albums. The new record is also buffed by the decidedly hi-fi production of one Ric Ocasek of The Cars.
“I’m not into going over something I’ve done before,” Bob explains. “I kind of did that whole short attention span...I don’t want so say half-baked, but experimental, get in get out approach. I wanted to move on and go into being a more mature songwriter and working on song structures and completing the songs, with bridges and finales and things like that. I dunno, I guess it’s because I’ve been listening to a lot of Jimmy Webb and Brian Wilson,” Do The Collapse took around six weeks to make, I understand? “Yeah, which is a long time for us!” But then again, it’s not exactly Dark Side Of The Moon, either. “Shit yeah, exactly, some people take years on records and we took six weeks which isn’t that long!” says Bob. “But for us it is, because we usually take six days. But I’m into it, it was a good experience and it was kind of like a breakthrough for us. I would certainly like to use strings again on the next record, I think the next record will be much more explosive and much more anthemic. It’s nice to finally be at the point where I always wanted to be...We’ve got 20 years experience under our belt and we’re actually just starting, so it’s kind of exciting. I felt like at 42 years old, I was ready to hang it all up, but it’s kind of impossible to do that right now. We’re getting a better response than ever.”
This increased public enthusiasm for GBV has spread to the sun burnt shores of Australia, where the recent pop-tastic singles Teenage FBI and Surgical Focus have received previously unheard-of airplay. I inform Bob that the band’s imminent arrival is eagerly awaited. “Well I’m glad. We’ve been doing it purposely, making you guys wait a long time to create a frenzy. Ha! Ha! No, I’m just kidding. We were going to come over about four years ago and I just had, like, complete tour burnout from being in Europe and so I apologize. We’re looking forward to coming down, man! It’s summertime down there and we’re stoked.”
With beer being a famously important element of GBV culture, I ask Mr Pollard if the band plans to sample our notorious brews. “You know, we like Budweiser!” he says, after a brief pause. “I’m not very adventurous. I’ll sample (other beer), I’ll check it out, but the thing is with us, we like to POUND beer. We like to get HAMMERED so like, you know, some of the beers that I’ve sampled have been stronger than what I’m accustomed to. So it’s watery domestic beer for us, because we like to drink a lot of it.” I explain to Bob that most of our heavies tend to hit around the five per cent mark. “Oh that would kick my ass. We drink too much anyway, so, like, drink that and you’ll have me falling down on stage, which could happen anyway. Ha! Ha!”
I also understand GBV, with the current line-up including Gem’s gifted guitarist Doug Gillard and former Breeders drummer Jim MacPherson, play value-for-money two hour sets. “We play two, two-and-a-half hour shows,” Bob affirms. “We cram maybe 50 songs within that period of time...we smoke cigarettes, we drink beer, we jump around and it’s a lot of fun. We kind of embrace the old school of rock, you know, we’re not into the whole slacker thing. From what I gather about Australians, they like to drink beer and they like to rock!” You’re pretty much on the mark there. Australia does indeed have a very active pub rock culture. “Yeah, that’s what I’m saying and that’s basically what we’re about...Drinking plus loud rock equals fun!”
Has the slicker sound of Do The Collapse and, to a lesser extent, 1997’s Mag Earwhig!, resulted in the usual “old-school” accusations of selling out? “Yeah, I’ve had people come up to me at shows, commenting that they miss the old line-up or they don’t like this big new hi-fi production, but I think that comes from this fear of losing an old friend or something like that. I remember myself being a fan and I’d discover a band that no one knew about and it was so special to me and when everyone else found out about them, they would kind of lose their mystique a little bit. So I can understand that. But most of the people that listen to Guided By Voices listen to us because we have good songs,”
And fans are still treated to Bob’s William Burroughs-meets-Edward Lear feverdream wordplay. “I’m a born again boot-stomping witch humper” he proclaims on the new album’s hypnotic Liquid Indian. I feel it would be negligent of me to not grill Bob a little about his inspiration for such Britney Spears-unfriendly lyrics.
“At one point when I was teaching, during the lo-fi phase, a lot of ideas came from dealing with little kids,” he explains. “Little kids say some weird shit. I read Grimm fairy tales to them, so like a lot of the spacey, fairy-tale imagery, elves, witches, robots and all that kind of stuff, came from my experience with kids. Whereas now, you don’t see that as much, because I’m dealing with grown-ups now, for the most part. But we get drunk and we act silly, so there’s still a lot of immature ideas and imagery in the songs. Ha! Ha!”
And, thankfully, there’s still a lot of hooks and A-grade melodies to boot. Robert Pollard has apparently written over 5000 songs. What remains remarkable is the sheer quantity of gems among them.