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SHOUT Magazine
July 2000 (with Jack Black on the cover!)
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By Jordan Heller

Guided By Voices - From Bee Thousand to 2000

In 1994, Guided by Voices broke through the confines of the underground indie rock scene, receiving high praise and accolades from the likes of Spin and Rolling Stone with the release of Bee Thousand-a scratchy, hiss-filled LP of 20 tracks that sounds as if it was recorded with one shitty mic and a boombox. And Robert Pollard, GbV's lead singer, songwriter and chairman of the board, became an instant legend in the indie rock world and a pioneer of the lo-fi craze.

"The whole lo-fi movement kind of opened up the doors for some interesting stuff, " says Pollard, a Dayton, Ohio local who speaks swiftly, with a laid-back, mid-western twang. "That was pretty much the only place I think rock could go-not being concerned with how it sounded, not taking too much time, not pussy-footing around."

The lo-fi sound, with which Pollard is credited, consists of a tinny-sounding bass, crashing drums and crunchy guitars that at times seem slightly out of tune. But what brings GbV to the forefront is the genius of Pollard's songs, which historically have been short and compact, ranging from a darkly spoken word quality to an adversely melodic, uplifting and anthemic feel. His powerful and thoughtful vocal stylings have been likened to that of Roger Daltrey of The Who; GbV has even added a cover of "Baba O'Reilly" to their live set. " Some people say I have this British accent, " admits Pollard. "I like the British accent in singing. It's what I grew up on, I'm kind of a '60s and '70s freak."

For all intents and purposes, Guided by Voices is Robert Pollard. Since its inception 1 4 years ago, Pollard has been the only consistent member, going through over 40 different band members. When asked why he doesn't just bill himself as a solo act, Pollard explains that he likes "the concept of a band better. A rock group is kind of like a positive gang. " And the sound doesn't change drastically, " cause it's still me writing the songs."

Up until the success of Bee Thousand, Pollard juggled his rock band with a career teaching the fourth grade-an experience that had a definite impact on Pollard's writing. " It definitely gave me a child's perspective of life, " says Pollard. "There's this wisdom that kids have, they see things as they are. But, instead of kids, now I'm around immature 40-year-oIds. It's a slightly different perspective. And some people are disappointed that I'm not writing those fanciful lyrics about warlocks, elves and robots. " Though, perhaps to the chagrin of his fourth graders' parents, Pollard has always been inspired ~ by the junky poets. "I like Rimbaud and Jim Morrison, people who are really tucked up. I like the darker, kinda seedier stuff, like Burroughs. I'm not a junky, but I like to write like I am one. It's more interesting."

All in all, the GbV sound is one that has attracted a high profile fan base. They were invited to play a private party for REM. The Beastie Boys and Thurston Moore have sung their praises, and Ray Davies of the Kinks has touted them as the one band he listens to when he gets "the Beatles jones." More importantly, Ric Ocasek's admiration for GbV led to his producing their latest release, Do The Collapse (TVT Records, August 1999), which as Pollard says, "was a good 'in' to the studio, with someone who could help us get what we wanted.

"After you've explored as many possibilities as you can in the basement; after moving the amps around and banging on washers and dryers or whatever, you say, ' now what can we do with this in a big studio?' That was our conscious move. " And it resulted in a cleaner, slicker sound. Gone are the hiss and the trademark two-minute song of GbV past; tighter and longer, more fleshed out tracks have taken their place, leading to radio play and a bigger fan base. "You're kind of shooting yourself in the foot, " says Pollard. " If you've got a really good song and you think it's got some potential for people to hear it, but it's too short to be played on the radio. It's art, but you also want to sell records and have people hear your music." When asked whether he fears turning some fans off with the switch from lo-fi to hi-fi, Pollard states, "Our true fans know it's always been about the songs."

But onstage, the Io-fi feel is kept intact. Not necessarily to keep a connection with the past, but rather as a product of laziness. "And we don't want to lose our spontaneity, either. To practice all the time and to hammer things out, it's just not necessary. And I don't think our fans require that of us." However, what the fans do require, is that Pollard gets as drunk as humanly possible throughout the show.

What started as an obvious cure to stage fright, has become an integral part of GbV live. Between verses, during guitar solos and breaks, Pollard guzzles Rolling Rock and Budweiser, which his fans graciously provide (and subsequently, led to Anheiser Busch propositioning Pollard to write a "This Bud's For You" jingle- which he respectfully declined). The result is an inebriated front-man, stumbling around the stage, leaping into the air and dangerously swinging his microphone. And if Pollard were to forget a lyric-which never happens-you wouldn't know it: virtually everyone in the audience, at any given show, knows every word to every song, and zealously sings along with the man they've come to know and love as Bob.

" It's like every night, we're invited to a party and we're the hosts, " says Pollard, enthusiastically. And the hosting doesn't stop with the encore. Of the hardcore fans, there are few who can't recount some GbV tale of getting drunk backstage with the band. " So, I was drinking a bottle of Jack with Bob after the show is a commonly used phrase among followers of the band. One fan finished the aforementioned phrase with, "and I had my arm around Bob's wife. 'Hey Bob,' I asked. 'Can I kiss your wife?' 'Sure,' he said, toasting me with his bottle."

"It's tough," says Pollard, of the requisite drinking on stage every night. "But it's the profession I've chosen: partying. It's fun to be in a rock band, it's actually the best thing you can do in the world. I think a lot of people, even actors, would secretly want to be in a band."

Fading Captain Series, the joint venture between Rockathon and Recordhead, will release a Guided by Voices box set in September, 2000. Suitcase: Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft is a four-disc, four-hour compilation, including 100 previously unreleased songs.