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From Rolling Stone.com

Guided By Voices Embrace the Studio
Robert Pollard expounds on Guided By Voices' "big rock" sound

When Robert Pollard and his band of merry music makers known to the civilized world (and parts less civilized too) as Guided By Voices entered the recording studio to make an album with former Cars frontman-turned-producer Ric Ocasek (the first time the band was to use an outside producer for an entire album), Pollard finally hoped to make the "big rock" record he had heard in his head for years.

A year later, not only is the new Ocasek-produced disc, Do the Collapse, sonically the cleanest, clearest-sounding album of GBV's career (the darn thing's even got strings! And ballads!), but the group's on a new label, TVT Records, and Pollard's even got a new imprint he calls the Fading Captain Series. And yep, in case you were wondering, the label's really just a clearinghouse for Pollard to feed his jones for the trusty four-track.

When we caught up with the man by phone at his Dayton, Ohio, home, Pollard was getting ready to embark on the first leg of a ten-month worldwide tour -- the band's first ever -- with one of Pollard's old faves, Cheap Trick. No wonder he sounded excited.

Last summer you said you wanted to finally make a "big rock" record. So do you think you made that album?

Sound-wise, definitely. I think the songs were strong to begin with, but whenever I come up with a new band I try to write and tailor the songs to 'em. With Doug Gillard, I have a lead guitarist who can really play, so I'm writing big rock songs. I have a split personality. I like a big, polished rock sound, but I like the lo-fi hissy stuff too. In fact, I'm getting ready to make another four-track album that should be finished in a couple of weeks. This is the best situation I could be in, because with TVT I get to satisfy both urges. I'm sure there'll be the four-track people who say they don't like this record, but I was after a big, polished record and I think we got it with this stuff ... The classic rock station here in Dayton has been playing "Teenage FBI," which is the first single, and for the first time, I can turn on the radio and hear one of my songs. That's the first time we've gotten any credit around here.


Oh yeah, man. Everybody else seems to like my stuff, but they don't ever give me any credit around here. So I'm done being a nice guy.

What was it like working with Ric Ocasek?

It was great. I tell people that I have relatively few experiences to compare it with, except for working with [Steve] Albini, and I worked with him only three days. Plus I took inferior stuff to him, so anything that didn't work out was completely my fault. But the main reason I chose [Ric] was that he had empathy for me as a songwriter, because he's a songwriter too. And I'm obviously a big fan of Ric Ocasek.

What did he bring to the recording sessions that hadn't been there before?

He was able to slow me down and teach me to be patient, and I learned about working through ideas a little better. Because I tend to get impatient with songs, crank 'em out, get 'em on tape. But it only took us five or six weeks to do the album, and that's still comparatively a very short amount of time by the usual standards. [Ric] got us the guitar sound that we wanted. I'd always wanted that big guitar sound and he got that. I mean, Mag Earwhig! sounded good to me, but [radio programmers] didn't think it was quite "there" to get played on major radio stations. I don't know what that means, but maybe this one will be different. I'm sure it can't hurt to have Ric Ocasek on your record [laughs].

So did you guys jam out at all, knock around some old Cars tunes, like "Best Friend's Girl", maybe?

Oh yeah, we did "Good Times Roll." I've been pretty surprised at my band's ability to break into a cover, even though we never do covers. People call out for old GBV songs and we never even do those because we don't know 'em.

The first song on Do the Collapse, "Teenage FBI," kicks off with synths. It's not exactly Gary Numan, but it's not what we've come to expect from GBV. Were you at all nervous that in making such a dramatically different kind of album the band's identity might be lost?

When I first heard it in the studio, I was freaking out, saying this is unbelievable. You know, when they crank it up on those big speakers and everything, I was ready to cry. As far as being nervous -- no man, because it was always something I've wanted to do, but we've never had any success. This time it really worked. I've always told people that it would be a slow evolution with GBV being brought into the realm of hi-fi. And now, we've crossed over.

You're on a new label, TVT Records. How'd that come about?

We were trying to get Matador to put us through Capitol and the people we talked to at Capitol were all for it, or whatever -- I'm not sure what happened, I don't really keep up with that stuff -- but all of a sudden, they weren't there anymore, and the deal kind of fell through. I had thought it was "our time" to get that shot. And when that time came, it didn't happen. TVT were there and were all gung-ho about us. And I'm kind of into that three-album cycle anyway. We did three albums with Scat, and three with Matador, so maybe we'll do three with TVT. Who knows? It was a good place to start over again.

What have you been listening to, as far as new music goes?

I haven't been listening to too much new music. I think that's the reason why I write so many songs. There's not too much out there right now -- I mean, there's always good stuff like the Grifters, Pavement, Superchunk -- but too much of what's out there is a hybrid of something else. It's not about straight-ahead rock & roll.

Why, after all this time, do you think Guided By Voices continue to resonate with people, even through several lineup changes?

It's the songs, man. When I was a kid, I always waited for certain bands to put out a certain record, like the Beatles. And I'd go home and put 'em on the stereo and I'd be in bliss, man. I still want to hear a particular song, and if it's not there I'll go ahead and write it. And I write songs because I think that maybe there's other people out there who want to hear it also. Maybe it has something to do with age. Maybe it's because I'm forty-one years old and I've been listening to rock since I was a kid and I have this huge catalog of melodies in my head. That's why I'm not too into a lot of what's out there now -- it tends to rely on grooves and beats. I just don't hear melodies or music that moves the spirit anymore.

What are you planning for New Year's Eve, 1999?

We might be playing somewhere, I don't know. But I'll tell you, if what they say is true about all this Y2K stuff, it scares me. I'd rather be at home here with family and friends when the whole shit-house goes up in flames.

(September 24, 1999)