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It certainly wasn't the food at Joe's Diner in New York City that brought
together SPINonline's Andy Gensler with Guided By Voices singer Bob Pollard
and guitarist John Petkovic. If anything, it was the well-crafted power pop
and head-clinging melodies that make GBV's latest record, Mag Earwhig! one of
the best releases of the year; but, if it wasn't for the Bosnian conflict,
would any of this have even been possible?
SPINonline: What's happened to the band?
Bob Pollard: There's no one left except me. I have these new guys from the
band Cobra Verde, that's John Petkovic, Doug Gillard, Dave Swanson, and Don
Depew. They're my band, but Don can't tour with us, so Matt Sweeney from
Chavez is going to tour with us. We're the new all purpose band.
I read that you've actually had 51 different line-ups.
Bob: Who said that? That's a rough estimate there. That's not for real, but
there have been a lot of line-ups
John Petkovic: It might not be 51 but it is probably in the 40's.
Bob: Well actually there's only been maybe 12 or 13 line ups. That's the
thing people ask "Why have you guys been together for 3 years and suddenly
there's no one left?" Actually we've been together since 1983 and we've
changed a bunch of times, we've only been in the public's attention for a
How long were you, Mitch Mitchell, and Tobin Sprout together?
Bob: Toby joined GBV in 1990, I've been in bands with Mitch since high school
(ANACRUSIS) - But then we saw that there was already a heavy metal band on a
major label called Anacrusis.
So this is the first time without Mitch?
Bob: Mitch and Kevin are the only ones who've been in and out since it's
Bob: After three years together touring everybody just kinda wanted to do
their own thing. Toby's wife just had another baby, and he's got two little
small children, and had to help at home. So he couldn't tour anymore; he
pretty much decided to step aside. He's been doing his own solo thing. Mitch
has three different side projects, and it looked like everybody wanted to do
their own thing. There was also a certain degree of complacency.
It wasn't like a big blow-up and people stomping off?
Bob: No It wasn't anything like that. I look at GBV from a fan's perspective,
and it's getting tired. We've done the whole four-track thing and we've been
into the big studio and worked with people like Kim Deal and Steve Albini.
There wasn't much more to do. The only thing to do to keep it fresh for the
sake of progress was to get some new faces. But there are some things that
happened that I really just don't want to talk about that were negative.
I played in a band with my best friend and it nearly destroyed our
It becomes some kind of family or something and you want to work with other
people, and you can't because like you get another drummer to do something on
a song and it's like "Why didn't I get to play on that?" It's also part of my
ambition to work with other people. I wanted to work with these guys for a
long time, I met John and Cobra Verde on the Scabs Insects of rock tour three
In the press releases Cobra Verde is called "neo-glamsters," while the
Trouser Press says your motto was "Death in small doses."
John: We always like to have a little saying on our record; like a title and
I thought that was the GBV ethos.
John: We had another record that was "Same bed different dream" which I read
in this Chinese financial publication. It's a saying from a merger of
strategic alliances, a merger of two identities.
What's your "line" for this record?
Bob: In one ear out the other (laughs).
In one whig ear out the other. So it all came about from touring together,
that's how you became friends?
Bob: I was always a big fan of Death of Samantha (John's former band).
John: Part of the thing was we were always talking about the early Genesis
album The Lamb Lies Down On Broad Street--the subtitle of this one is The
Lamb lies Down on I-71.
John: That's the highway between Dayton and Cleveland.
Bob: I have to travel four hours, and these guys are so inconsiderate. I go
four hours to practice and they'll be like, "Well we only got an hour, then I
gotta do this...." and I'm like, "Fuck, man."
John: What I always told him was if you look at your all time favorite
record, the record that you always emulated and want to sound like...were
those records done the way you've been doing records?
Bob: They were like, "We can give you the sound that you want,"
But you did 24 tracks last time.
Bob: Yeah, but this stuff sounds really big. It's the best tracks we ever
got. We did it at Don's studio, the bass player. It's only a 16 track studio
but he knows how to cram everything on each track.
John: We had so many different guitar sounds and synthesizer that we were
able to introduce all these sounds and textures.
Bob: I always wanted to get a bigger sound. People always called us lo-fi
guys, but we didn't do that consciously. All we had was a four track.
The patented GBV sound was done out of necessity?
Bob: Yeah, just because that's what was around and we had no money.
But you guys personify the lo-fi sound, you're synonymous with it. The last
record changed that a bit, but this one blows it out of the water. I read
where you were talking about Wire and how they went from punk to ambient and
how you hate when bands change/lose their whole sound. But here you guys have
again changed and shifted gears.
Bob: I changed my mind. You have to. You can't just stay in one place. If I
said that about Wire, I changed my mind. I like how they went from straight
punk, into post punk, and even the techno thing--at first anyway. I think it
got old after a while. You need to progress even if the music's maybe not as
good to some people. I'm sure there will be some lo-fi guys that will say "aw
man, they sold out," but for the most part I've been getting good feedback.
People are going to be really surprised. The songs are the same it's just the
production is really different--much slicker; crisper guitar and crisper
drums. Is that the original band towards the end of the record?
Bob: There are a couple of songs with the last band: "Jane of the Walking
Universe," "Knock 'Em Flyin'," and "The Colossus Crawls West." "Mag Earwhig,"
is a short song, "Choking Tara" is a short song--there are about four 30
second songs. Originally it was going to be just one big huge record. I was
going to do the whole thing at Don's. Then I decided it was too drastic a
jump. So I decided to do some 8-track stuff and some short songs to give it
that "Guided By Voices touch."
John were you really a liaison to Serbia during the Dayton Peace talks?
John: I was covering it and that's why I went to Dayton and why I went to
Bob's house for the first time. I was covering the peace talks for a news
agency. I was with this delegation and couldn't really talk. The reason they
picked Wright/Patterson Air Force Base was because they wanted no
distractions. They wanted a place in the middle of nowhere away from media
and everything else.
Bob: They could have gone to Cleveland.
John: I had to leave because you couldn't really talk there because the
American government had all the rooms bugged there.
John: Oh yeah, because they knew everything. Whenever one of the parties
would say something, the Americans would bring up the issue the next day.
Later that day, I went to Bob's and we talked about doing this thing.
So the Dayton Peace Accords were the catalyst for you getting back together,
so not only did it bring peace to Bosnia, but...
John: It brought peace to GBV; it also destroyed GBV; it also guaranteed a
partition on Guided By Voices as they say in diplomatic language. Do you
think this is Chicken Salad? (pointing to a green blob on his plate)
Bob: What kind of shit is that?
John: I don't know, I asked for a chicken sandwich I don't know what the hell
It looks like tabouli
John: Is it?
Bob: I thought you ordered Chicken Salad?
John: I don't know what it is. A lot of times I can't tell. Here, I guess you
just eat what they give you. If you complain they're gonna call you an
asshole and throw you out. If you even ask what this stuff is they'll throw
you out in New York. Why is that?