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No. 24 1997
By Eric Miller
Special thanks to Phil McMullen, Eric Miller and Lee Ashworth
The last time the Terrascope spoke with Bob Pollard, Guided By Voices
had recently released "Vampire On Titus", the band's first album to get
recognition outside of GBV's hometown of Dayton, Ohio. The group's mixture
of melodic pop and psych of the '60s, the stadium-rock moves of the '70s,
and the college-radio-ready post-punk of the '80s -- recorded in glorious
four- and eight-track fidelity -- earned the band an instant cult following
among the indie-rock cognoscenti. And although Pollard and Co. had already
self-released five albums -- most notably 1990's "Same Place The Fly Got
Smashed" and 1992's still-unmatched masterpiece "Propeller" -- to little or
no acclaim, GBV became an overnight sensation (albeit a decade after
forming), establishing its place in the alternative-rock world with a 1993
industry showcase at New York City's CBGB's. The story of GBV,
post-"Vampire" has been well documented. The band signed to Matador Records
after a two-album stint on the tiny Scat label; solidified its place as an
unforgettable live act with a handful of U.S. and European tours; released a
staggeringly prolific number of albums, EPs, singles and compilation tracks;
and received the kind of press usually given to bands with a much higher
profile, earning GBV favorable comparisons to everyone from the Beatles and
Who to R.E.M. and Pavement.
But the hoopla also took its toll. Following a European tour supporting
1996's "Under The Bushes Under The Stars", the band fell apart. Drummer
Kevin Fennell's drug use was having an adverse effect on the band, and
guitarist Tobin Sprout was quickly tiring of life on the road and being away
from his family. So GBV played one more show (unceremoniously, a short
mid-afternoon set at a Dayton radio-station festival) before disbanding.
The release of solo albums by Pollard and Sprout made some fans suspect
that GBV was dead and buried (although both LPs were recorded when the group
was still together). But Pollard knew Guided By Voices still had a lot of
life in it. Assembling a new band consisting of the four members of
Cleveland's Cobra Verde -- singer/guitarist John Petkovic, guitarist Doug
Gillard, drummer Dave Swanson (all formerly of Death Of Samantha) and
bassist Don Depew -- Pollard headed north to Cleveland to record a new GBV
album. These "Mag Earwhig!" sessions, engineered by Depew at his studio,
yielded an LP's worth of songs, yet Pollard -- notorious for last-minute
changes to albums -- axed a handful of the tracks from the Cleveland
sessions; he replaced them with new songs recorded with his brother Jim,
Sprout and various other Dayton rock types, as well as one cut by the
previous GBV lineup. When it came time to tour, Pollard hit the road with
the members of Cobra Verde, and the fivesome quickly became a stellar rock
But Pollard still wasn't satisfied with the group's lineup, an opinion
he relayed in late October to a writer from Addicted To Noise, an online
music magazine. ATN promptly reported that GBVerde would soon be a thing of
the past, and when the members of Cobra Verde read the article, they
immediately quit the band. (Pollard maintains that he told the writer that
his comments were "off the record" and not meant for publication).
The Terrascope recently caught up with Pollard, who had just finished
writing more than 40 new songs, to find out what the future holds for GBV.
Ptolemaic Terrascope: I know the circumstances that caused the split with
Cobra Verde, but was there stuff that led up to it? Did they have any
indication you weren't planning on working with them on the next album?
Bob Pollard: I don't think so. I wasn't going to say anything until
after the tour was done, because I didn't want to break the morale. We
weren't getting along as well as we were in the beginning. At first, there
was all this enthusiasm and excitement, which ended up dwindling and dying.
There became this lack of enthusiasm, and things were just being taken for
granted. In the past, when I saw a lack of enthusiasm and that things
weren't going to be progressing, I would just make changes. I never said
that they were Guided By Voices, etched in stone, that this was forever.
They assumed the roles in the band. And I said, "That's cool. I'm happy.
This is a good incarnation of Guided By Voices." And I did tell people that
I was probably going to work on the next record with them, because I like
the sound we got on "Mag Earwhig!" But as things went along, I realized that
we weren't as close as I wanted to be, personality-wise and distance-wise --
they live four hours away from me. I didn't want to go into this next album
with this feeling of isolation. I wanted to work with people from around
here that are available and get back to the closeness thing. I don't
understand this stress thing [Cobra Verde has], though. I apologized for it
getting out before I told them, but they have their own band. My band is
Guided By Voices, their band is Cobra Verde. They volunteered to help me
out, and I'm much appreciative. Knowing the past history of Guided By
Voices, people know that anything could happen at any time.
PT: I guess things didn't exactly end well then?
BP: I don't think so. I'm not gonna badmouth them because I appreciate what
they did. It was a good chapter in the history of Guided By Voices. I have
some good memories and bad memories. But I've heard they're saying some bad
things about me, and I'm not gonna get into that combat.
PT: You have said before that you really haven't been happy with the chemistry
with most of GBV's lineups. What are you looking for in a band?
BP: I think I had it with the last band for three years or so. I'm looking
for a band that gets along, sort of like a family-type thing. Guided By
Voices is my thing, but it's also my band -- it's not a solo thing. I crave
having a close-knit band, and it's impossible having that with everyone so
far away. Maybe if one person lived somewhere else, but not the whole band.
PT: Do you think you are difficult to get along with in a band situation?
BP: Yeah. I want what I want. I write the songs and probably put in 90
percent of the work for the recordings. So I may be difficult at times, but
I give them leeway to do what they want. I don't say, "This is how you have
to do this part." As a matter of fact, I let Cobra Verde do what they want.
I went away and said, "Make it sound good." And they put their ideas into
the songs, and they did make it sound good. They had a lot of freedom when
it came to their interpretations of the songs. But if someone crosses me,
I'm difficult. Someone asked me if I was schizophrenic, and I said, "Yeah.
Because I'm a nice guy until somebody pisses me off, and then I'm not
anymore." I can be difficult, but it's my thing. I'm the one who puts most
of the effort into it, and I'm the one who catches hell if it's not good.
But I'm also the one that gets the pats on the back, too.
PT: Are you aware of the backlash on the Internet about the split from Cobra
Verde? Granted, a lot of these people are idiots who have way too much time
on their hands, but some of them are choosing sides.
BP: They don't understand Guided By Voices, and they don't understand me.
The people that are choosing sides -- even if it is my side -- have no right
to do that. They don't know what's going on in our minds. If they want
Guided By Voices to progress and me to be happy, they shouldn't judge me on
the decisions I make. They should accept them. We've been around for almost
15 years now. I think people are happy with the decisions we've made and
like the records and the live shows. I don't understand why it should even
fucking concern them.
PT: Were you nervous when you started playing with Cobra Verde? Even though you
guys were doing your songs, you were essentially joining their band.
BP: It was a little scary. They have a lot of experience. These guys have
been around since '83. They've been in the limelight a little bit, people
have known about them. They've always had a great sound, and GBV always just
kind of tinkered around in the basement. So yeah, I was nervous a little
bit. I was excited, anticipating them showing me the ropes, like how to do
things in the studio. It was not real comfortable at first. Don knows what
he's doing, but he's sometimes a little difficult to communicate with.
Because I'm difficult to communicate with, it's hard to articulate what I
want. With my old band, they'd been with me for four or five years; I could
grunt, and they'd understand what that meant. We had to establish some
grounds for communication. And that took a while. "Mag Earwhig!" was kind of
experimental that way. We felt our way through together.
PT: How much did Toby (Sprout) leaving the band influence you to play with new
BP: That was the big thing. That was it. There were a couple of things that
caused the breakup of that band, but that was the major reason. I felt that
without Toby, it wasn't that band anymore. It was a good time for me to
start completely fresh. But that wasn't the only reason. Kevin was having a
PT: Was Toby leaving an excuse for you to end the band? Not really an excuse,
but something that made it easier for you to do it?
BP: I was not gonna fire these guys and say, "Hey, you guys are out of the
fucking band. I'm doing something else." There had to be some reasons. But
Toby never came to me and said, "I'm done. I quit." But I could tell that he
wanted to. One thing was that he wanted to have more songs on the albums.
But they all understood that this was and is my vehicle; I created this for
my songs. I mean, Toby wrote good songs, and I cut more of my songs,
percentage-wise, than I did of his. But every once in a while, I had to tell
him that I didn't think a song fit; and that's a hard thing to do. So I
think he wanted a vehicle to release all of his songs. And Toby's got a new
family, and he just couldn't do the touring thing anymore. And he did tell
me once, "I understand if you want to get someone else, because it's getting
hard for me to tour." And I said, "No, man. Don't worry about it. We're not
gonna tour that much anyway." But now I realize that he was trying to ask me
if he could get out of it. And with that and with Kevin having trouble with
his life, I thought it would be a good time to start over.
PT: When Magnet put you on the cover in the spring of '96, we used the tag line
"Who are you?" How have you changed since then, since "Under The Bushes
Under The Stars" came out?
BP: Musically, I've changed a little bit, because I'm working on my songs
harder. I'm coming up with them quicker, but it takes more time hashing
things out and smoothing out the edges and working on adding bridges and
things like that. Before that, the original idea I came up with, that's what
I would use. I think I'm a little more deliberate now. Personally, I don't
think I've changed in the past four years, since things have happened for
PT: Are you less optimistic about things now than you were two or three years
BP: I'm less optimistic about music, period. I think I'm a little bit jaded
now. Before things happened for GBV, I was always a big rock fan and used to
really look forward to listening to music. But now I kind of know what goes
on behind the scenes, and I know what bands go through and shit, and I know
what happens in the industry. So it's not as glamorous as it was.
PT: Maybe stuff was exciting when it was happening because it was the first time
for you. Now, you've probably experienced most of what one can experience
being in a band.
BP: Exactly. I've met a lot of people. I know basically all my heroes are
the same as I am. But it's not as interesting anymore. Hell, I used to like
it when I had all these fantasies of myself being part of a rock band. It's
more interesting, you know? When it was just a fantasy for GBV, when it was
just a make-believe kind of game that we were playing, it was much more fun.
We would allocate time to ourselves like, "OK, this Saturday we're gonna get
together and act like a rock band." But now, it's like a full-time thing.
I'm kind of overwhelmed by everything musically. There's so much music out
there now with the advent of MTV and CDs and all this shit that music just
seems so accessible. I mean, I picked up this CD the other day and looked at
it and said, "This is just a plastic piece of shit." Somehow, music -- and
rock -- has just lost its glamour to me.
PT: You turned 40 this year.
BP: On October 31.
PT: Is that weighing on your mind at all?
BP: No, man. It's good. I'm kinda glad, you know? I don't mind getting
old -- you just gotta stay young at heart, young in your mind. It's
unavoidable that you're gonna shrivel up.
PT: Do you feel there are higher expectations? People think, "Well, I'm this
age, I have to do this."
BP: Well, if it wasn't for the profession I'm in I would. As long as I'm in
rock, I don't have to be responsible. It's pretty nice. But I look forward
to growing older because there are less expectations on you. Like people
say, "How much longer does he have to get up on stage and jump around and
act like a fool?" And eventually people say, "Well I don't think he has to.
He can still make records, and that's all he has to do." I'm kind of looking
forward to that, really. But I still think I've got a few years left. I
pulled a ligament in my knee (on tour); I'm not quite as mobile as I want to
be on stage, but I can still drink and kick my leg up all day, you know? I
think I'll be able to do that for a few more years, anyway. At one point in
my life, when we started doing things in the early '80s, I said, "By the
time I'm 30, I'm gonna quit. I'm not gonna do it past 30 -- that's too old."
But shit didn't start happening until I was 36, so the rules of the game
have changed a little bit.
PT: GBV has been around for a long time, but there hasn't been a band in your
position before. You're simultaneously old and new.
BP: It's different for us. You can't really call us "fossil rock." If people
had known about us for 20 years, they could say, "Man, these guys are too
old." But people have only known about us for three years. It's a completely
different case for GBV. All these bands that keep coming up, they want to
cash in, they want to make money. They need money, these filthy rich, old
fucking bands like the Stones -- and lots of it. I would like to see people
like Pete Townshend and Paul McCartney and people like that just do
acoustic. If you get to the stage where you should play acoustic, you
shouldn't be able to play electric music anymore. In the same turn, you
shouldn't be able to play in a band until you're 18 or 21 or of a drinking
age or whatever. At a certain age you should have to quit driving, and you
should have to quit rocking, also. You should have to quit rocking at, what,
55? And you can't rock until you're 21. Because you hear these young
bands -- what's this band called now, Hanson or whatever it is? And even
Silverchair and shit like that. All kid bands are awful. They burn out
before they have a chance to even know what they're doing.
PT: It's like, who's gonna die first, the guy from Hanson or they guy from
BP: Exactly. It's pathetic to see that. It's pathetic to see rockers that
are too young, it's pathetic to see them being too old. Twenty to 55, how's
PT: Fine with me. Did you see The Who this time around?
BP: Yeah, it was fucking sad.
PT: You didn't like it?
BP: Hell, no. But a lot of people did. It's pretty weird. I heard people
say, "Wow, what a great show." But it made me sick. I didn't want to see
Pete Townshend up there with his guitar up on his fucking neck. I liked when
he swung it down by his dick and jumped around. I realize he probably can't
do that anymore, but why does he have to raise his guitar up? He had his
guitar up on his chest. I hate that, man. You're supposed to wear your
guitar like a gunslinger -- you're supposed to have it down on your hip.
PT: It seems on tour, there's always people hanging around with you guys, people
who think they need to be around you. People that you don't even know,
drinking your beer, telling you guys how great you are. Does this sort of
behavior skew your reality?
BP: It's kind of not real. To me, it's all a big party... We got the
routine, we smoke cigarettes and drink beer and throw beer out into the
crowd and we let people come backstage, and it's all part of it. I didn't
originally intend it to be that way, but I opened up that can a long time
ago, and now it's hard to close it. I think that because of that
relationship with out fans, that's what keeps us going. They like the
intimacy of that. I myself don't understand it, because when I was fanatical
about a band, I didn't want to meet them. I wanted to keep the mystique and
shit. I really liked Blue Oyster Cult, but I didn't invite them to Dayton
for a pig roast. I have people calling me from Wisconsin, saying, "We don't
have any money to offer you, but will you please come here? We have beer and
we can cook out and shit." It's like, "Oh yeah. No way."
PT: People really say that?
BP: Yeah. I'm flattered that people want us to come to their town, come to
their house and play. "We can't pay you anything, but you can have all the
beer you can drink." As if we don't have all the beer we can drink all the
time. But I'm glad we have fans like that. Like I said, we can still make
living playing music because of that. And they really like out music too;
they like the songs. They also like the fact that we're from Dayton, and
we're normal people and don't act like rock stars.
PT: I notice that you often talk about GBV in terms of "we," when you really
BP: I like the band concept. A band is a positive gang, which is cool. I
like the concept of "we." So even though Guided By Voices is my art, I allow
other people enter it and become part of it. I let them have input because
they are important.
PT: You told me before that Guided By Voices could have existed at any time.
BP: We could have. There's been no time period that we don't fit into. A lot
of people connect with the '60s thing. I think that's with the melodies; I
don't think melodies have ever been as good as in the '60s. We also have the
metal edge and the punk edge. And sometimes we have that post-punk thing
going. A little glam, power pop, everything.
PT: What about with all the recent interest in electronica and earlier stuff
BP: I don't see where we fit into that.
PT: Freedom Cruise and Nightwalker (GBV side projects) explore that a little bit
more than GBV.
BP: Freedom Cruise is kind of a Krautrock thing, a groove band. Anything
that's kind of Krautrock is Freedom Cruise. Anything that's psychedelic or
really experimental is Nightwalker. I want to do a Nightwalker album. A
couple of small labels have approached me about doing one. I said, "You have
to sign Nightwalker." And they said, "We don't sign people." And I said,
"Well, you have to sign Nightwalker -- or you won't put out an album. It
might just be for a case of beer, but you have to sign them."
PT: Do people from major labels still pursue you?
BP: I know some people at major labels that we met when we were being
courted before we signed to Matador, and those people are still kind of my
friends. I don't know what's gonna happen. Our contract is up with Matador,
but they have options to keep us. So I don't know what's gonna happen. I
think some major labels still have interest in us. And, of course, all the
indie labels want us. But I've entertained the idea of just doing it
ourselves or doing it with one other person. But this is why I have
managers, to help me make a decision. I don't know what Matador wants, but
if they want to keep us we have to talk about a few things. It's basically
up to them, but they have to meet some of our needs.
PT: To me, you seem like a pretty competitive person. But at the same time, you
seem to be rooting for other bands to succeed. If a band like the Grifters
got really big -- bigger than GBV -- you'd probably be happy for them.
BP: It'd be fucking great. I'm cynical and I'm real critical of bands, but
when you occasionally see a great band like the Grifters, I want for them to
succeed. I'm like, "Somebody do something for the Grifters. Somebody do
something for New Radiant Storm King, for Superconductor." These bands are
great. When I was in college, we'd go to shows, and if a band sucked we'd
get right up in their face and go, "You guys fucking suck." But if they were
great, we'd go up to the front of the stage and go crazy. I look for good
music. I'm sick of bad music. I want some good rock. It's probably just me,
the way I am. But then I listen to some old stuff like Scott Walker, who I
just got into, and it's amazing. So it's not just me, that I'm jaded by
what's going on now. I don't know what it is, but for some reason music just
isn't as good as it used to be.
PT: I think there's more good music now, but less great music. At the end of the
year, all the music critics come up with their list of the 20 or 30 best
albums of the year. And people were always like, "How could you come up with
30 records?" And I was like, "Easy." But two years later you look back, and
out of those 30 records how many do you still listen to? Maybe two or three.
BP: Yeah. How many are you gonna pull out like you would a classic like
T.Rex's The Slider?
PT: You think music these days is great, until you consider how many amazing
records came out between, say, '66 and '68.
BP: That was part of the times then. Music was great. It was in the air. It
will never return to that -- it's already been done,. It's hard to come up
with a new music that has that force. People try different shit like
electronic stuff and post-rock, but it doesn't work because it doesn't rock.
You see I like rock music. Now watered-down, crossed-over to something else.
I just want pure rock 'n' roll. But there are still some bands into just
playing rock -- two guitars, bass, drums. Not many, but you can't be totally
pessimistic, because there are some. There are even some good British bands,
which is nice. I like Radiohead, Elastica...
PT: The Bevis Frond, Flying Saucer Attack. We have to plug the Terrascope guys.
BP: Yeah. For a while, nothing good was coming out of Europe. With that "new
romantics" shit, like that Thompsons Twins shit. But now there's some good
PT: Unlike Oasis, who has written the same mediocre song a billion times. Maybe
it's because they have a new record, but I am so sick of those guys. It's
like, write one good song, and then act like rock stars.
BP: Oasis is total fucking bullshit. Every song sounds the same. It's the
same fucking song. And it's over-produced and lush and too long. Everything
is so predictable -- the chord progressions, the melodies. Can I say that I
PT: And they get compared to Ray and Dave Davies.
BP: That's total horseshit, isn't it?
PT: Because the Oasis guys are immature and beat each other up onstage, they get
compared to a band like the Kinks. And one guy quits in the middle of a
tour, then the other guy quits in the middle of a tour.
BP: So the fact that they're big-assed babies makes them big rock stars,
huh? So they act like rock stars so they get comparisons to Ray Davies. I
know some people who like Oasis. I just don't get that. I think Blur is a
lot better than them.
PT: Do you still read the press GBV gets?
BP: Not as much. At first, I read everything. The first thing was in the
Dayton Daily News in '83 -- and it wasn't press, just our name in the paper.
Like when Steve Martin got his name in the phone book in "The Jerk." It was
Guided By Voices vs. No Speed Limit in the Dayton band playoffs, and we
didn't even show up. A few years ago, I was getting everything and reading
it, and I'd get all proud if it was really good and all pissed off if it was
bad. For the most part now, though, I'm used to it and don't really care
PT: Does press that says you're this amazing songwriter build confidence?
BP: That helps. I appreciate it. It does build confidence and encourages me
to keep doing it. When I write a bunch of good songs, it makes me happy -- I
never feel better than that. And when you do that people say it's really
good, that makes you think it's all worthwhile.
PT: You told me before that you think you'll always have a job writing songs for
BP: I think I could do that. But I think I'll always have a job making
records, too. I don't want to keep playing live much longer, maybe a few
years. But I want to keep putting out Guided By Voices records. And I don
want to write songs for people. I just gave Kelley Deal a song. I'd like to
do that more. That's what was so cool with the '60s -- people would write
songs for other people. That's not done that often anymore.
PT: Who do you think could do one of your songs well?
BP: Oasis. Ha! Really, I think I could write songs for anybody. I have a lot
of different kinds of songs. I think anybody could do my songs. Sheryl Crow.
Anyone. There's a wide variety of songs, and anyone could do one --
especially power-pop bands. Here's a fantasy: I want Cheap Trick to do the
entire "Bee Thousand" album. Call it "Cheap Trick Does Bee Thousand."
PT: Magnet recently did a Steve Albini interview, and he talked about the
virtues of Cheap Trick. He also said that he wasn't mad that you guys
remixed some of the songs you did with him for "Under The Bushes."
BP: Cool. We didn't make them slicker, we made them worse. When I asked him
at first, he looked at me kinda puzzled, then, "In the spirit of punk, go
ahead." He's a good guy. I had a good time with him; he's a hard worker. We
worked with Steve, and we worked with Kim (Deal). And I had to choose which
songs we'd do with which person. And I think I kept the best songs for Kim.
PT: How is your relationship with Kim now?
BP: Not good at all. For some reason she doesn't care to communicate with
me. If I see her, she says, "Hi Bob." That's about it.
PT: And that's been going on for about a year and a half?
BP: Yeah. It started with a show we played with her in Kentucky. I think she
thinks we fucked with her sound or something -- that we tried to sabotage
her set. It's really ridiculous. It might have something to do with the fact
that I only used a couple of the songs I did with her (on "Under The
Bushes"). But I'm not worried about that. It's my album -- I'll put the
songs I want to on it. No one can influence me as to what kind of album I'm
gonna put out. It's my decision.
PT: Do you think you'll ever play the guitar live?
BP: I don't like to. I just use it to write songs. I played it in the '80s
live, but I was nervous all the time. I'm good at playing, but I don't know
the names of chords and don't know where I'm going, so I make a lot of
mistakes. In the studio if you make a mistake, you just do it over. I could
do it, but I just don't want to put in the work. But every once in a while,
I'll want to do it.
PT: Personally, I've never seen you play guitar. I don't even know if you can.
I'm beginning to think you write songs on an accordian.
BP: That's good. I like that. That's the mystique. You don't even know if I
can play. Actually, I can play rhythm really well. And some Pete
Townshend-type riffs and power chords. I can play, motherfucker! I just
don't know what I'm doing. But that helps my songwriting. Because I just
make up songs on the spot and hit bad chords, and those are good! Those make
for original parts of songs.
PT: You get away with that because you have such a sense of melody. Your brother
said to me, "I'll listen to something Bob wrote that's just music, and I
won't like it. And then he sings over it, and it's a brilliant song."
BP: That's what I do best. That's what I did for "Tonics And Twisted
Chasers" (the GBV fanclub LP). The whole album is me singing my lyrics over
Toby's instrumentals. I think that's a great record. I want to do that with
PT: How often do you sit around playing songs?
BP: Not a whole lot. Right now, I have a lot of new songs, so I play them
all the time. Only if I'm getting ready to tour do I pick up the guitar to
learn some of my own songs, in case I need to teach someone. I don't sit
around and say, "Hey, let me play 'I Am A Scientist' for you."
PT: How long would it take you to come up with a melody if someone gave you
BP: Instantaneously. I take a lyric and sing it. The song starts, I sing,
and if it doesn't flow all the way through I'll use whatever lines were good
and piece the song together line by line. That doesn't take any time at all,
15 minutes maybe. I'm really good with melodies. I've been singing since the
Beatles started, so I've got a lot of melodies in my head, man. I've got a
headful of music.
PT: That's rare. For most bands, that's their biggest problem.
BP: That's sad. But that's the most important thing... I like songs. I don't
like noise for noise's sake. Anybody can make noise. I like songs. When you
write a song, it has to be the kind you can play on the acoustic when you're
60. Get some kids together on the porch and play them some songs. "Hey,
remember this one?"
Robert Pollard was interviewed for the Terrascope by Eric T. Miller, the
editor and publisher of Magnet magazine. Our thanks to them both for giving
us the opportunity to run this remarkably frank interview in the Terrascope,
and also to Todd Robinson for assistance with procuring us the demo version
of the very wonderful "Scorpion Lounge Shutdown" which graces the EP with
this issue. ŠPtolemaic Terrascope, November 1997.