| Home | Fading Captain Series | GBV News | The Band | The Music | The Critics & Fans | Merchandise | Other Stuff |
Interview With Robert Pollard
Sophie Vick, Psychology Class
AT&T: Its 10:00am where youre calling.
R. Pollard: Hello.
S. Vick: Hi, is Mr. Pollard there?
RP: Yeah, this is Bob.
SV: Hi this is Sophie.
RP: Hi Sophie.
SV: I just called, I think something went wrong with my phone.
RP: Yeah, the phone rang and then it hung up.
SV: Yeah, sorry about that,
RP: Its all right.
SV: Ive already screwed this up. First of all I just wanted to say thank you and Im sorry I was so flustered the other day on the phone.
RP: Oh thats all right. No, you were all right.
SV: I wasnt expecting you to call at all.
RP: I know youve got a deadline.
SV: yeah, well, you know, I could have switched my project, you didnt, I mean, I really appreciate this and everything.
RP: hang on a minute Sophie. HEY SOMEONES KNOCKING.
RP: just a second
RP: Im back
RP: So how are you this morning.
SV: I am tired. I saw the chemical brothers last night.
RP: oh really?
RP: Was it good?
SV: Yeah it was really cool. And so Im a little tired, but Im all right, cause I woke up, and I probably couldnt get to sleep very well last night either. <laughs> so yeah, Im tired, but Im alright.
RP: Couldnt sleep very well because of this interview?
RP: Aww. No, its no big deal. Come on
SV: Oh, well it is for me. I wanted to say to begin with Ive heard a lot of your music but I only actually own "Alien Lanes" and "Do the Collapse."
RP: Oh really?
SV: Because I dont have a job.
RP: Thats pretty uh, you have pretty much the whole diversity of the band there with those 2 records.
SV: Yeah, theyre amazing
RP: Thats like from lo-fi to hi-fi. Right there. As lo-fi as we get to as hi-fi as we get
SV: Yeah, I was thinking about that. But I have downloaded a lot of mp3s and read a lot of interviews so its not like Im some fake fan or whatever.
RP: Well you need to get all of them
SV: Im going to as soon as I get a job.
RP: Its a lot to actually obtain really.
SV: Oh no kidding. Amazing what you guys put out.
RP: "Bee Thousand" especially.
SV: Yeah, you know what, I was going to get that one instead of "Do the Collapse." Then I thought no...-
RP: No you need to get "Do the Collapse."
SV: Yeah, which I love.
RP: Get my solo records too.
SV: I know. I know.
RP: I have 3 of them, I have another coming out in about 3 weeks.
SV: That is so amazing, you just release things all the time.
RP: I know. I stay busy.
SV: Thats so cool.
RP: Yeah, Im not very happy. Matador is trying to, while I was with Matador they actually told me to quit writing songs.
RP: Yeah, they did, they told me to like go fishing or do something, take a vacation from writing songs. But thats what makes me happy so I have to do that. So this thing with TVT is like, theyre pretty cool about letting me put out these solo records.
SV: Yeah I was thinking about the over-saturation. But I think your fans are pretty much all about the over-saturation.
RP: Yeah, theyre all about that, but right now my labels trying to break us, you know, and we are trying to break to a larger audience. Its kind of odd that they are cool with me doing all this side project stuff. But its just like something we fought for in our contract so theres not really much they can do about it. The hardcore Guided by Voices fans are into as much as I can put out. Yeah, I heard this thing that Im diluting myself by putting out so much records, so much music. Its not just throw-away stuff. I write a lot of songs, they need to come out and I dont want to throw them.
SV: Was "Always Crush Me" a throw-away on "Alien Lanes?"
RP: No, not to me it wasnt. There was a review once, the guy said it was a throw-away. Did you read that review?
SV: No, but it says in the liner notes it says "presumed throw-away."
RP: I wrote that because there was a review, it actually c out as a split single on a Columbus label before "Alien Lanes" came out and this guy wrote that it was a throw-away so thats why I put that on the
SV: That has to be one of my favorites on the CD.
RP: Oh yeah, its not really a throw-away, its just kind of cheap kind of <laughs> well thanks, I think its a cool sounding song, actually. Its just bizarre. The guitar sounds really bizarre. Because I just, I played it on an acoustic and I played it on a real crappy tape recorder then when we put it on the four track we put this kind of a some kind of a <?> that caused it to kind of like mute itself. So its a really interesting guitar sound it almost sounds like a plucking, plucking violin or cello or something.
SV: Yeah, see Im rediscovering the songs as I listen to it more and more and I start to like one more than all the others. Its just like the more I listen to it the more I get used to it.
RP: See thats why youve got to get all our other records
SV: I know, I know.
RP: Because they are all equally good to "Alien Lanes" and "Do the Collapse" and they all have their own personality, theyre all different. Youve gotta absorb yourself into the world of Guided By Voices, it doesnt matter how you do it, steal money from your mom or what, but
SV: My mom actually bought me "Do the Collapse."
RP: Oh yeah?
SV: Yeah I owe her big time. She also bought me all the stuff to tape this interview, which wasnt a whole lot, but it was just a hassle.
SV: Yeah, she wanted me to be sure I told you that she really loves me and shes done so much for me.
RP: Wow, cool. Cool moms are cool. <laughs>
SV: One song that I wanted to ask you about was "14 Cheerleader Coldfront," I just think thats beautiful. I heard the live version off of KCRWs website.
RP: Oh yeah?
SV: And I loved it.
RP: Oh thanks. Well thats on "Bee Thousand". Thats actually, Toby wrote the song but he came over to my house and asked me to help him write the lyrics for it. So I wrote most the lyrics for it. But that was the only one really true collaboration that Toby and I did where we actually sat down together and wrote a song from scratch. He kind of had the music and some of the lyrics, so we sat down and actually recorded it in my basement. What we did was we both played it acoustically, and then put it on tape, and we played the tape back through my stereo and then we did the vocals. So its actually live with an overdub in the room. So its really a really lo-fi recording but its like, it came out really good. Some of the stuff that I did in my basement that way came out really good just because of the acoustics in the basement. But its a pretty song, its basically Tobys, but like, you know, I came up with, I had the title, I came up with the title. I was at a basketball game, it was one of the more upper-class schools were playing, one of the wealthier schools here in Dayton I forget which one, either Centerville or Oakwood or something, I dont know. They had really pretty cheerleaders and there were like 14 across the front and they were pretty much oblivious to everyone, kind of into themselves and stuck on themselves, so thats where I came up with the title.
SV: Yeah? Thats so cool.
RP: Yeah. 14 platinum blondes right across the front, you know?
SV: Yeah. Ok, now I have some weird questions, and feel free to say "forget it" to any one of them
SV: Let me see here, As a songwriter, do you ever find yourself particularly haunted by one of your compositions and which one if so?
RP: I think some songs are prettier than others and I think they have more endearing and longer lasting melodies and so I sing them more often, songs like "Tractor Rape Chain" but you dont that one, thats another one
SV: I do know that one, I downloaded it and I love it.
RP: Ok, and like, "Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory," thats another one off of bee thousand. I dont know, occasionally theres just some songs that I think are, the melodies are original enough and kind of like, melancholy enough that they kind of evoke and emotion in me. And that doesnt happen very often because Ive written so many songs that I just kind of always move onto the next one, but occasionally.
SV: OK thats so cool. Ok, is there one person whom you consider to be your muse?
RP: My muse? In what way do you mean my muse?
SV: Inspiring I guess.
RP: Ok, that inspires me? Oh, One person? No, theres more than one person, yet theres noone thats totally awe-inspiring to me. I dont, Ive never been that way. Ive been a fan of music, but Ive never wanted to get someones autograph or something. Theres been some, throughout rock, the history of rock, there have been some bands, The Who and the Beatles first and foremost, especially Pete Townshend and John Lennon. David Bowie was pretty inspiring for me. A band called Wire, I dont know if youve ever heard of them. But they were like, a punk band from the late 70s, English punk band that actually a post punk band, they were better than punk actually. They were a great band and they were, kind of I think very inspirational on Guided by Voices. Im trying to think what else. Theres like, you know, different things, its hard, theres so many things that could be inspiring. Someone could say something to me, like just one line, you know, that can inspire me, thats pretty much how I do my lyrics. With my lyrics also, I wait for someone to say something really cool and then I write it down. Steal it.
SV: Have you always written as prolifically as you have ?
RP: Yeah. Always, I mean, when I was a little kid, before I could even play an instrument, I used to just like sing into a tape player, tape recorder, and just, I used to write songs constantly because I was just so infatuated with rock, especially the British invasion stuff. That I just wanted to contribute to it. Just have more and more and more so I would always write. And thats the reason I do it now actually, its because like, I dont hear as much or enough inspirational music out there so I have to create it myself.
SV: Yeah, you are considered by many to have revolutionized independent music, in a way that all of the sudden its ok to sound independent, what are your views on that whole thing?
RP: Well that was not a conscious effort on my part. Its just like, someone found us. You know, I mean, we just did stuff on our own. And we did it for ourselves and we did it out of a love of making music. And so we just did it on the weekends. Its just like; I never had any ambition for anything to happen with the band. So I think part of the reason they consider us to be that is because its so endearing the fact that this band could make 6 records on their own without even sending them out or without anyone finding out about them. So that kind of like embodies the spirit or the essence of independent rock I think in itself you know. To have no aspirations at all other than the fact that youre just playing music because you love it. That make any sense?
SV: Yes it does, I think thats awesome. Number 5; what was your childhood like, because I was able to find a lot of
RP: It was very sports oriented I mean my parents, my father especially had ambitions of my brother and me to be athletes and do something athletically. And we were really good, especially my brother, my brother was like the leading scorer in the state in basketball senior year. And I was like, kind of a 3 sport star, I played basketball, football and baseball, especially in baseball, I had a really lively arm and so like, my dad kind of had aspirations for me to be a pitcher. I actually was like, had received tryouts and things for the phillies and the reds when I was in college. But then I hurt my arm, you know, and I was glad to because I was actually more interested in music. It was a pretty carefree childhood, I mean, although my dad kind of wanted me to stay away from girls, because he thought girls would ruin me athletically. Cause hed seen it happen to some of my friends, you know, they got girlfriends in early high school and they quit playing sports, that scared him to death, you know. I was allowed to do pretty much what I wanted, I mean, he let me buy records, I had a lot of records. I liked music and everything. He kind of steered me away from actually wanting to participate in music, but he didnt mind me listening to it. And so like, you know, I played sports, I listened to rock, you know, all the time. And wasnt allowed to hang out with girls very often, although I did on the side anyway, you know. I just kind of said, "dont call me my dad might get on the phone." He was just overprotective.
SV: How long had you been a teacher before you
RP: I was a teacher for 14 years.
SV: 14 years, wow. Yeah, when I told my psych teacher about that she was like "Thats so cool."
RP: One year for every cheerleader. She thought that was cool, huh?
SV: Yeah, yeah, she was actually, yeah, she was very surprised actually.
RP: Yeah, well, you know, I just like, I did it for 14 years, it was just, I was still doing Guided by Voices on the side, but kind of kept it really low profile. We were making records even, but I was approaching the point of burnout as a teacher, and I was looking for a way out but I really couldnt see the light at the end of the tunnel. But luckily you know, a couple labels found out about us, somebody from scat records signed us and we went to New York and played an important showcase. We broke, you know, so I was able to get out of it, kind of like, wow, so now Ive been doing Guided by Voices professionally now for 6 years and it looks pretty good. And whats good right now is that if something should happen with the industry, cause sometimes Im not very happy with the industry and the way they operate and their ethical approach. And so if something should happen Ive got a really strong fan base and I think, you know, I could make a living just still, on my own, you know. Its nice to have something like that to fall back on, you know. Its good to have the industry because they can get your name out there and get more people to hear your music obviously. But there are some drawbacks to that too. And so, you know, if at some point, which could be anytime, could be sooner, could be later, but if at some point I decide I want to not be a part of the industry anymore, the big industry, not the small, I would still be part of the industry because Id be putting records out, I meant, marketing mainly low profile off the internet, and just, you know, whatever we can send out. But its nice to know that I have that. Because I dont know if you check out our website ever?
SV: Oh yes
RP: Well so you see how fanatical they are. So its nice to have that you know?
SV: When you taught did you teach a particular subject or was it just Gen. ed.?
RP: Well, I taught 4th grade, so I taught, you know, all subjects. But we did departmentalize, so we paired up, so the lady I taught with taught the language arts so I taught math and science and health and that kind of stuff, for 9 years. So I didnt have to teach language arts, which I did, I had before, when I first started teaching I taught it all. One year I taught 8th grade physical science, 6 periods of it, it was brutal.
SV: Oh ouch.
RP: 8th grades not a good year.
SV: Yeah, I know. Ok, full name? I made some of these easy so I wouldnt use too much of your time. Full name.
<At this point the tape ran out, and the machine didnt tell me, so I didnt notice, but I took notes on the entire thing (in case this thing would happen) so from here until I specify otherwise Im referring to my notes. >
Full name is Robert Ellsworth Pollard, Jr. He mentioned that when he decided to pursue music and more specifically a solo career, he couldnt decide on whether to go by Robert or Ellsworth. I then asked him if he had lived in Dayton all his life, he said yes and that he planned to stay there. Mr. Pollard is obviously pretty attached to Dayton, describing it as "hilly" and "lush." He also pointed out that though there are places to buy big name music, few places cater to the underground rock scene, which, in turn "fosters more creative bands." He was also sure to mention that Dayton has the best pizza in the world, and there are millions of places to get good pizza. According to Bob, "thats all you need."
Then came a question I was a bit apprehensive about asking. "What sort of example to you try to set for your kids?" He answered, after a moments hesitation "Be honest, go with your heart, be happy basically, but not at the expense of someone else." He then brought up that he did drink a considerable amount before shows. Mr. Pollard explained that he got nervous on stage and drinking relieved his stage fright. He worried about whether you would find this material appropriate Ms. Befort, but I told him you had read my article and was cool with it. I think the most profound thing he said, however, was in reference to his drinking. He said that some people do things, and thats just the way they are, and they dont really need to change because others disapprove, and he pointed out that it was a lesson and example in itself. He was actually asked to write a bud light commercial, but he said it was really dumb and he to incorporate "this buds for you" into it. He decided not to. He was then asked to write some music for "That thing you do," the movie with Tom Hanks, etc, but he declined that as well.
I then asked him about a song thats a personal favorite of mine, called "As we go up we go down." He said that was one of few songs written while he was on the road. He had been playing Lollapalooza dates, and he and the Breeders sang that song together. From there I moved to the question, "Who do you respect the most in the industry?" He quickly rattled off a list of names, including Steve Malkmus, Will Oldham, Superchunk, and David Shouse (formerly of the Grifters, currently with Those Bastard Souls).
</end notes, resume taped interview>
SV: What motivated you to answer my letter?
RP: Well, Ive had occasionally, kids write me and say they need to do things for school. Being an ex-school teacher, I dont want to open up the door for everybody to do this now, but being an ex-school teacher, yeah, and working with kids for 14 years, I almost cant refuse.
RP: Yeah. <laughs> When a kid tells me they have to do something for school, its hard for me to like, well I understand that, you know?
SV: Did your teaching have any influence on your songs?
RP: Yeah, well, in the mid-period days, like "Alien Lanes" and "Bee Thousand," when I was teaching or right after I was teaching. I was really into some of the things kids would say, 10 year olds would say. And also, when I taught I used to read Grimms fairy Tales to them, and there was always this strange fairy tale imagery that would crop up, pop up in my songs, like witches and dragons and robots and all kinds of weird stuff. And that kind of imagery would be in my lyrics a lot of the times. And also in my lyrics theres a lot of flight imagery because I come from Dayton Oh, and thats the birthplace of aviation, Wilbur and Orville Wright. So you see those kind of things in my songs. Its nice for a band I think, or an artist to reflect and their music to reflect where they come from. It always makes it kind of interesting and haunting, enchanting. I used to like early REM; they would have all this southern mythology in their music, kudzu and all that kind of stuff. At the time I was teaching and kind of, a couple years after were heavily influential on my lyrics especially. And some of my child like, melodies even.
SV: What question are you frequently asked that causes you to learn the most about yourself?
RP: What question am I frequently asked that causes me to learn the most about myself?
SV: If any.
RP: I dont know, thats a hard question. Ive never been asked that question before and I dont, I get asked so many questions that Im not sure that anything causes me to learn anything about myself.
RP: <laughs> Yeah, I dont know, that requires some thought, maybe Ill think of that later or something, I dont know.
SV: And then, this is kind of related to that one, what question is rarely asked that you believe to be valuable, if any?
RP: Thats rarely asked? People always ask me about, this almost goes back to the last question, what approach do I use to write songs, and thats not a very valuable question. Cause I use so many different approaches, you know? I guess a good question is like, what you already asked is, what inspires me to write. Thats not really asked very often. Where do I draw inspiration for my songs? What inspires me to write? And its mainly people, you know I mean, mainly just hanging out with people and learning from people. And thats also the question that helps me learn more about myself. You know, where do you draw your inspiration, and I draw it from hanging out with people and stealing their lines, stealing their philosophies.
SV: Ok, there arent that many more, I promise. "Do the Collapse"; Hold on Hope has to be my favorite.
RP: Oh thank you.
SV: I had very high expectations for the CD, and I did not expect those expectations to be fulfilled with one song.
RP: Oh wow, thanks, thats a pretty song. I thought it was almost kind of too sappy, I almost didnt want to do it. But recently theres been a remix of it, my label hired, I dont know the guys name, the guy that produced "Closing Time" and the new Goo Goo Dolls CD, hes like a big hot producer but anyway he remixed hold on hope and its just awful. They just destroyed my song. And its just like, I cant let them do it. Im going through a big battle right now with my management and my label and everything, and I havent heard back from them in a couple days since I told them theres no way theyre going to release that. Cause I dont see whats wrong with the record version. I dont see why thats not good enough to be played on the radio.
SV: I think it would actually do well on the radio.
RP: I do too, but they keep wanting to mess with it. Theyve got me really upset right now and depressed, and Im not going to let them do that. Now Im battling with my label and thats a lot of fun. But thank you, like I said, I thought it was too sappy and I didnt want to do it actually. I actually dreamt that chorus, I woke up I was dreaming that chorus, and I thought, "what is that? Everybodys got a hold on hope, its the last thing thats holding me." I was dreaming that. So I woke up and I wrote it. When I first woke up I thought it was something else, something that Id heard before, but then I realized it was mine. Then I sent it to Ric Ocasek, who produced it and, I told him, "I apologize for that song, because I realize its real sappy and creamy, but I dreamt it and I thought you might want to hear it." And he said "No, thats going to be the monster hit." So now were going through all this trouble with the label, they want to add all kinds of synthetic drums, all kids of weird sounds, spacey sounds, and I think they pretty much ruined the song. So I cant let them do it, and thats where were at right now. Its supposed to be our next single actually. We have 3 singles now with Teenage FBI, Hold on Hope, and Surgical Focus. And theres been a remix of surgical focus that sounds awesome. A guy named Lou Giordano did it, from Boston and he beefed it up and it sounds great. Whereas, I thought they were going to beef up Hold on Hope, but that made it lighter and its just indescribably bad. I just, I hope they will change their mind on that because if not were going to have this huge confrontation.
SV: You make yourself, it seems to me, very accessible to your fans, is it important to you to stay close to your fans?
RP: Well, I think thats going to keep me working for the rest of my life, is to be close to my fans, I think they appreciate that. Theres a time when some fans get too close, and most of them understand, and Im glad they understand that Ive got to have my space too. Ive got my family, and Ive got friends around here. Yeah, people come around here, people visit me all the time, they come out and hang out in my garage, which is a bar. And we pretty much open up our dressing room to people to come back. I feel thats part of our appeal; part of our success is the fact that its an open party. Were almost like the grateful dead of indie rock, whereas grateful dead, all the people come to their shows and do acid, people come to our shows and drink beer. Its part of the atmosphere, especially live, its an open party, and it creates for a good show, you probably havent seen us.
RP: Its this nice, carefree atmosphere I think because of our openness to our fans. Like I said I plan on at least being a songwriter and making records for the rest of my life, to do that youve got to have openness with the people who like your music and the people who are loyal to your music. You cant shut them out and take on this rock star mentality, plus I despise that rock star mentality myself anyway. I always consciously try to make sure that I dont show that side of myself.
SV: The last thing I really wanted to ask was, in terms of underage fans, I dont think you guys play very many all ages shows.
RP: Not many, its usually 18 and over.
RP: Sometimes we do, and we play festivals and stuff, we play all ages shows. The thing about all ages shows is they dont let us drink sometimes and we dont like that.
SV: Yeah, you guys are coming to Lawrence, which is like an hour away from here.
RP: Yeah, when we tour we always play Lawrence, we play the bottleneck.
RP: Its a good place, and I like Lawrence. I guess theres no place to play in Kansas City. Or I guess its just hipper to play in Lawrence, I dont know. But we never play both places.
SV: Yeah, Lawrence is more of a college town, too, and so you probably have more of a fan base there than you would here. Here, the last radio station that was actually playing kind of good alternative music went under and is now like, Britney Spears and
RP: Oh really?
SV: Yeah, theres a big controversy over that here.
RP: Well, Lawrence is close enough where you can come there.
SV: Yeah, but its not all ages.
RP: Well, its tough. Gonna have to wait a couple years young lady.
SV: I know.
RP: But, you know, we play festivals sometimes, but we havent played a festival down there. You can always come to a festival if we play close enough. But the thing about playing festivals is you dont really truly get the guided by voices show because we play 40 minutes and thats it. When we have our own shows we play for 2 ½ hours.
RP: Yeah, so, youve gotta come to the show.
SV: I will.
RP: I could get you in sometime.
RP: Probably, I would just say I would have to be responsible for you, so you would have to act responsibly.
SV: Of course. No I actually have people do that. Cause I have friends who are musicians and they say as long as youre on the guest list, if you come with a parent they let you in.
RP: Yeah, youd probably have to come with your mom or something but I could probably do that. Let me know, you know, gimme a call before then, Ill put you and your mom on the guest list or something.
RP: Yeah, for the Lawrence show.
SV: Yeah. Ok, well thats really all I had.
RP: Alright Sophie, I hope it helped you
SV: It really helped, thank you so much
RP: Youre welcome
SV: I was very flustered when you called and I felt like a moron
RP: No you didnt come across that way so dont worry about it. That was good, that was a good interview. Yeah, I think we play Lawrence sometime in earlier November. So why dont you just call or something, let me know if you want to come or not, if you want to, I could put you and your mom on the guest list or something.
SV: Yeah. One thing oh what was I going to say? My teacher wants me to see if the school newspaper will do a story on this, because this is a big thing, you know, small town catholic school actually interviews someone really cool.
SV: So I wanted to make sure that was ok with you.
RP: Thats all right with me.
SV: Yeah, cause also our yearbook teacher who also does the newspaper is really excited about this.
RP: Thats fine, whatever you want to do. Just as long as you arent making money on it you know.
SV: I wont be, dont worry.
RP: But I mean, if eventually you did somehow which is pretty much impossible I wouldnt care. Weve got a lot of people who tape our shows and shit which Ive always thoughts cool and you know, but now theyre like selling them and shit on the internet and so we quit letting people tape our shows.
RP: Yeah, videotapes and stuff. Audio tapes if we can help it. Because people are selling them, its not fair.
SV: Yeah thats kind of dirty when people do that.
RP: But, good luck with it, do whatever you want. You know, put it in the school paper or whatever. And like I said, give me a call if you want to come to the show or whatever.
SV: Thank you so much. Im just so blown away by the way you are so down to earth and so nice to your fans.
RP: Well, Im grateful to them, because, I did this in total obscurity for 10 years and noone cared and people around here thought it was terrible. Now that there are people that think its good Im totally humble and like "wow," and so its hard for me to lose that feeling. Even though our success kind of elevated. Its hard for me to lose the idea and the fact that these people actually like music. Like I said, noone liked my music for so many years, so now they do, and I have to be nice to those people
SV: Yeah. Well thank you very much.
RP: Your welcome Sophie.
SV: I appreciate it. Have a nice day.
RP: Take care.
RP: See ya.
<9:35 -- End of interview. Wow. I sit dumbstruck, then go back to bed. Too much excitement for one morning. >