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By Stevie Chick
Stevie Chick interviewed Bob for an article in Seattle's The Stranger - The article can be read here - http://www.thestranger.com/current/music2.html
Stevie was gracious enough to offer us the transcript of the full interview.
Interview with Robert Pollard, Nov 2 2004
Bob: I'm feeling pretty good, I had a cold for a couple of days and
now I'm ready to get back on the road. Trying to wrap things up,
working on things, trying to keep busy. I just finished a double album
for my first post-GBV solo thing, which I'm pretty psyched about.
That'll be the first thing under my name which I hope will be pushed
by Matador. At least I hope it'll come out on Matador, I'm not sure
yet. My contract's up, so we'll have to see if they're interested or
It was Todd Tobias and myself, Todd's really quiet and we got a lot
done, 26 songs. I think Matador expects me to cut it down to a single
album, but I'm going to keep it a double album, my first double album.
Almost all of the GBV albums were supposed to be double albums, but I
changed them. I've been burning all my cassettes I got a CD burner
and I've been burning all of my unmarked cassettes to CD, finding a
lot of stuff. This new album, it's about 15 old songs, and 11 I just
wrote, spreading from the late 1970s onwards, its got a lot of
diversity as a result of that.
When I write songs for albums, I'll run through forty of fifty ideas,
take the ones I wanna use and then forget about the rest. I've been
finding all the rest of them, and to me, a lot of them are better than
the songs I put on the albums. It's kinda overwhelming, I'm only about
a tenth of the way through a huge box of cassettes, and I've already
got twenty 80 minute CDs' worth of stuff. Some of them are song ideas
and some of them are just crap, jams and shit, but it's a lot of
stuff. I had to stop, I was getting migraine headaches looking through
Stevie: I pride myself on being a pretty knowledgeable GBV fan, but
it's gotten to the point now where I can't keep track of which songs
are which. How well do you know you own catalogue?
B: Pretty good, its kind of interesting you say that, I've being going
back to the albums I haven't played in a long while, and its
interesting when a song jumps out that you'd completely forgotten
about, because it'll take interesting turns that I forgot I even wrote
in there, its good to hear them fresh like that. It's weird, because
the songs I remember most are the really weird, obscure ones where the
lyrics are real far-out, like 14 Cheerleader Cheerfront, and Goldheart
Mountaintop Queen Directory; there's a song on my new album called
Fresh Threat Salad Shooters And Zip Guns, that kinda stuff's easier to
remember for me than just straightforward stuff, its hard for me to
remember the lyrics to the more straightforward songs. And what's also
weird is, the drunker I get the easier it is for me to remember them,
it's kinda correlated a bit, the state of inebriation and the
difficulty of the lyrics.
S: Fantastic, is that because you're able to slur something that
vaguely approximates the lyrics?
B: Yeah, it's like when you're listening to something in the car, and
you can sing along and really not think about it. It has to do with a
lack of concentration. If you concentrate too hard on something, it's
harder to remember.
S: As a rock fan, is it the more obscure and avant garde of bands'
catalogues that you're attracted to?
B: Yeah, it's always been that way for me. When I was young, I used to
listen to more mainstream, 'pop' stuff, the British Invasion, the
obvious stuff like the Beatles and Herman's Hermits. But after Sgt
Pepper's and some of the psychedelic stuff, in the early 70s I got
turned on to the heavy blues psychedelic rock, acid rock and shit like
that. I started getting into stuff like Bowie and T-Rex, where the
lyrics were a little more 'out-there', and started mimicking that. I
started designing album covers, writing songs and singing them
acapella into a tape recorder, pretending I was part of that whole
thing. 25 years later I am, to a small degree.
S: Does it ever shock you to sit down and think about how you've
pretended this all into existence?
B: It does indeed, I've really kind of invented my own realm in music.
It came from imitating stuff that I really liked, and there was so
much of it that it twisted itself into something semi-original,
because so much went into it. I'd go down to Cincinnati, and I started
having recurring dreams of being the only person in the store, and
there would be racks of 45s and albums on the wall, all stuff that I
made up in my mind, fictitious stuff. So when I'd wake up in the
morning and it wasn't there, I'd feel really frustrated. So I decided
I'd just start making this shit up in reality, making album covers
under pseudonyms, all these fictitious band names. When we were
actually discovered, back in 1993, I had a stack of maybe a hundred
album covers that I'd designed, and I threw them all away because I
was afraid someone would discover them and think I was completely out
of my mind.
And I wish I hadn't done that. I didn't realize that our hardcore fans
really love the obscure stuff better. The crazier, the goofier, the
worse that it is the better they like it. I think it's called
the theory of the Brown Nugget. I wish I'd kept that stuff, because
it's going for a lot of money on eBay.
S: I saw a lot of Tobin's stuff on eBay¦
B: Yeah, Toby's been selling a lot of stuff. I sold a 'Propeller' the
other day for $6,200. I saw Toby had been selling his rare stuff and
was getting thousands, so I thought I'd put some stuff up and see what
I got. It was one of the covers I designed, I signed it and
everything. I was asking $800 for it but I ended up getting $6,200.
S: How do you react to something like that? Obviously, when you put
those things together in the first place, you thought you'd be lucky
to get $20 for it¦
B: It's ridiculous, I put a bunch of stuff up. I got $115 for Sandbox,
and I was kinda disappointed. To be disappointed about getting $115
for one record is kinda ridiculous, y'know? The different stuff was
going for a lot of money, and it's weird, but it's kinda gratifying,
that you can generate that level of obsession. I'm kinda happy about
that, it gives me a little bit of a sense of job security if things
don't go to well for me in the future, it's good to know there's going
to be at least a thousand people who'll spend that kind of money on
the shit that I do.
S: You yourself, as a rock'n'roll fan, must be glad that you can charm
people so not just selling records, but having that effect on
people, as someone so affected by rock'n'roll yourself¦
B: That's what I'm most happy about, more than any level of commercial
or financial success, is that we've gotten to this level where people
want everything that you do. I'd say there have been 50 bands in my
life, where I've been obsessed to that level. I had to have everything
they do, I'm talking The Who, Devo, Wire there's a handful of bands
where I had to have everything, all the different colored vinyl¦ I
don't do that any more, I find that kind of stuff, I don't know¦ I'm
kinda happy that we reached that level because, I don't know, it gives
you a sense of security out there, that there are people out there who
are obsessive about it. Over the last ten years when we've played,
we've headlined shows over major label bands, that's kind of strange.
That we're on an independent, but we have major label bands opening
for us. Because a lot of bands that sell a million records, they don't
have that kind of connection with their fans, a kind of open door.
Everyone knows about them, so its not interesting; it's more
interesting when it's obscure, when you can call it your own. I've
always been, as a collector of music and a consumer of rock, I've
always thought it was more interesting to have It for my own, and when
everyone else found out about it, it became less appealing. I've
consciously tried to lay back, to regain some of the mystique we had
back in the early days. I think we were touring too much for a while.
S: What made you call an end to GBV? And did you ever imagine there
would be a day when this 'fake band' of yours would end?
B: Well the thing is, I really have tried to end it, for a long time.
Since Propeller, I've been trying to give it up, but it's been real
difficult, because of the level of fanaticism that built up around the
band, and people really like the name. When you establish that name,
it becomes very difficult. And then it becomes difficult to see it
progress, to see which direction it should develop into, because after
fifteen albums, what can you do next? And it's just a name, and what's
in a name? But it means a lot when you've been around for that long.
It gets hard to see what angle to take or which corner to turn. It had
gotten almost routine, I'd write a bunch of songs and send them to the
band, we'll do demos, rehearse and then go in the studio it had
become old hat.
And also, the comparisons, I got a little bit tired of the comparisons
from one alb um to the next, or whatever the latest album was with Bee
Thousand. The most logical thing to do was to break it all down, start
again and challenge myself, see if I can do it as a solo artist.
S: Is it difficult as a creative artist when you know everyone had
expectations and very strong opinions about what they thought each
record should sound like?
B: I'm conscious of that, but I'm not overly conscious of that I
still have to please myself. I have to be totally satisfied myself,
both with the song itself and the way it's recorded. But, yeah, in the
back of my mind I'm thinking, what will people think about this?
You've got so many different camps, you have the people who like the
mid-period lo-fi stuff, you've got the people who prefer the better
produced stuff, when we were on TVT. I thought the last three records
were cool, I think we brought together what we learnt in the proper
studios and what we learnt in the basement with the four-track. It was
kind of a mid-fi thing, that sounded natural, and real, and organic,
like we were supposed to sound. But there were still a lot mixed
emotions around, and I reached a point where I was tired of banging my
head against a wall. To tell you the truth, I'm a little bit sick of
looking at the name myself. I want to be able to put it to rest and
maybe look at it in ten years time and see what it was worth
historically, if it was an important part of rock somehow. And I think
it was, because of the timing, the point when we came in Lo-Fi was the
thing that was happening. To me, it was the last 'movement' after
punk, or folk, or whatever, where you can do it yourself. Since it
happened I haven't heard anything interesting, and I'm glad to be a
part of it. But we were in it for ten years after that, and I don't
know where to take it. Another thing is, I'm 47 years old, I just feel
like, to be in a band, it's a gang, and I'm supposed to be a
gang-leader, and I just don't feel like a gang-leader no more, I just
want to lay back and try to grow old gracefully. It's difficult to do
that in a band that don't grow old gracefully. I don't wanna
name any names, but they stay hanging around and you just get sick of
looking at them.
But it's sad. I love these guys, and I love having the band, and I
love the GBV chant at the beginning of the show, I'll miss all that
stuff. But the thing is, all good things have to end, and better
sooner than later. I thought it was the right time, especially with
rounding up all these songs for this solo album. And I didn't want
this album to be pushed aside like all the other Fading Captain
series. We put out 3000 copies, that's it, there's no promotion, no
push from the label. Whoever I put this out on, I want them behind me,
and it's not gonna happen that way if it's released on the Fading
Captain label. Unless we put a lot of time into it, get outside help
on it, promotion and so forth, and do it properly. Which is still not
out of the realms of possibility, it could still be a Fading Captain
release, we would have to get behind it more, it would have to be
something other than a side-project.
S: I've always thought it a shame that Speak Kindly was so slept on¦
B: Me too. First of all, that album would've been a GBV album, it was
just a question of timing. We had just finished an album, I forget
which one it was, then I wrote those songs and Doug and I made that
record. To me, it should've been the next Guided By Voices record, the
material was strong enough. I don't really separate solo records and
GBV records in my mind. If anything, I'm more partial to the solo
records, there's something more personal about them and I don't feel
the obligation of talking about them or touring them. There's always
been something I like a little bit better about the solo albums. But
as far as songs-wise, it's all just material, if one bunch of songs is
finished then that'll be the next GBV album, then the next batch will
be the next Robert Pollard album. That's the thing now, now I'm going
to be using my name as a professional entity, I'm kind of asking of
whichever label I go with that I'm able to put out two albums a year.
Because there's always been a GBV album and a Robert Pollard album
each year. Now there's not going to be a GBV, I'm going to want to put
out two solo albums.
S: As an artist, not only have you proven that you can release x
amount of albums and still make a profit, it's actually expected of
B: I'm always ahead of myself. I'm working on another solo thing now,
the songs for it¦ I'm going to take my time on it, I don't know when
this new double album will be out I hope it'll be out in May. I
myself busy, it helps keep boredom away.
S: Where are you living at the moment?
B: I'm living out in Dayton, just bought a new house here. I'll always
live in Dayton, I don't think I'll ever move away. I haven't voted
yet. I want Bush out, but I've never voted, I think it's a game of
liars and I don't feel empowered. I know a lot of people think that's
silly, but that's how I feel. I'd feel real bad if something bad
happens and I didn't vote. What do you think? It's kind of cool that
the Washington Redskins won. Maybe that's a good sign.
S: Are you going to tour Europe?
B: I'm going to wait until I put out my first post-GBV solo album and
see what the reaction is before I decide to tour Europe or not. If
people like it then I'll have to come over.
S: I've always been surprised there's not been a movie about GBV yet¦
B: I don't know who would play me, man. Tom Berenger's a little too
old to play me now. [laughs] I've heard that one before. I used to get
called 'Mac Davis', the country singer, a lot.
S: Why is the solo stuff called 'Fading Captain' is there some
sense of gazing at your twilight years?
B: No. That's what some people think, because I was on the wane or
whatever, but it was because I used to call myself the Fading Captain,
because I was so good at fading songs. You know how you fade at the
end? I was real good at that, until I met Todd Tobias and realized
that he was the best.
S: Todd's a great discovery¦
B: He can play anything, and he's got so many ideas for my songs,
which direction to take them in. He's got a good ear for sounds¦ He's
definitely a great discovery. He's my partner in the studio, we get so
much done. He doesn't talk very much, he's really shy. When we used to
do GBV albums together, or some of my earlier solo albums, I'd have
all my friends in partying it was like a madhouse. We don't do that
anymore, and we get a lot done. He's a great player too, great
bassist, drummer he can play anything.
S: You've been fortunate to find these foils throughout the years¦
B: That's real important, I'm kinda shy myself, especially musically,
I'm technically not very good, I don't know what I'm doing really. So
I need to feel particularly comfortable with someone before I can go
into the studio with them. It's good to find people I can work with,
get stuff done. Even these collaborations I've done by mail, they send
me music and I put my stuff over the top I've been offered to go
into the studio to do these projects, to create music and write music,
but I can't do that until I've known somebody for a long time. I knew
Toby a long time, I've known Doug a long time, my brother, John
Shough, Todd Tobias. People I've gotten to know over a long time, that
kind of environment is what works for me. I don't think I could just
up and make a record with Ryan Adams¦ And I don't think you want that
either, do you? I've never been very good at rubbing elbows with the
stars I run from people, man. Someone asked me, if you saw Pete
Townsend, would you be interested in meeting him? I would run from
him, man. I'm just intimidated. I was kinda intimidated by Ric Ocasek.
S: Do you ever see the great rock stars and think, I'm no longer just
a fan, I'm one of 'them' now?
B: I don't consider myself to be a rock star. I opened that can of
worms, because I was such a fanboy, I kept the door open to all my
fans, let them in the back with us, we're all the same. Now I can't
get away from that, it's pretty much open season in the rock room,
because I did that in the beginning and I don't want to appear some
kind of snob. I've never associated with the concept of being a rock
star, I don't even like it. I did when I was a kid at school, with
David Bowie, the whole glam thing I thought it was cool, taking
drugs, living on the edge. I no longer think its cool; just
contemporary rockers don't look cool to me anymore.