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By Kieran Grant
Thanks to Sedan the lurker for transcribing
Guided by Radio
Robert Pollard's ready to join mainstream
Some say it started with Stairway To Heaven. Others might tell you it was the drum solo in Wipe Out or the middle section in MacArthur Park or Baba O'Reily or How Soon Is Now?
Whatever the case, for a very long time, rock musicians have written songs that are pooh-poohed as too long for radio by people who obviously don't know any better. This has never been a problem for Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard. Unfortunately.
"Our songs are too short to get on the radio," the likable singer says down the line from his Dayton, Ohio, home. "We've had to stretch 'em out to three minutes because we want them played." Indie epics That's a fact that might strike terror into the hearts of Guided By Voices' small, tight core of devotees -- who revere Pollard's prolific, 13-year procession of indie epics built from cheaply recorded, two-minute pop gems. But then, they already know Pollard isn't messing around.
With their new album Do The Collapse, the veteran underground band -- at the Opera House tomorrow -- have deliberately set out to bend the ears and steal the hearts of modern rock radio listeners. All the fixings are in place: Glowing production by Ric Ocasek; a new deal with U.S. imprint TVT (with uber-label Universal distributing in Canada); even (!) the odd guitar solo -- "Something I've wanted to include for a long time," Pollard admits sheepishly.
If it wasn't evident enough in the sheer catchiness of Pollard's songs, Guided By Voices gradually, almost demurely, revealed their pop potential over their '90s albums for New York's Matador label -- including their first relatively successful albums, 1994's Bee Thousand and 1995's Alien Lanes. "I've always cranked out songs since I was a kid," says the 40-ish Pollard, who worked as a grade school teacher before going full-time with GBV in the early '90s. "There's never been enough songs for me. I've had to add to it to satisfy my need to hear melody."
As GBV's discs got less "lo-fi," the lineup shifted radically, resulting in an all-new band behind Pollard for Do The Collapse. Still, the singer doesn't pretend to know what sells records. "None of this is to say that anything will happen," he says with a laugh. "I don't have the charts and graphs. They say the potential was always there with us. We just weren't recorded well enough, I guess." Then again, he adds: "Part of the appeal was how it was recorded. I think people felt like, 'This is my own.' Some of our fans are kind of afraid of us going hi-fi or getting a hit, and losing that kind of bond that they had when they knew not too many people were listening.
"I used to be a bit like that when bands like Wire and Devo started to get popular. But if you can afford to make your music sound better, it's kind of ridiculous not to do it. "We've been threatening to do it on the last three records. We finally had the competence to go in and do the Big Rock Record." Question is, does Pollard -- a tough, smart, beer drinker from the Midwest who cuts an almost Bill Murray-like figure on stage -- want to be a Big Rock Guy?
Grown up Tongue firmly in cheek, the singer figures he's grown into the job. "I guess it's got something to do with the fact that I'm not around little kids anymore," he says. "In the early '90s, I taught fourth-graders and my own kids were young. Now my daughter is 15 and my son's 18. There aren't any little kids in my life anymore, so my songs aren't as whimsical. The songs are about drinking, going to bars, hanging out in my backyard and that kind of thing." That said, does he ever miss those classroom days of yore? Says Pollard: "My downfall as a teacher -- I was a good teacher and kids liked me -- was that I was a pushover. I would do something stupid and just lose the class. "I miss the kids. But there were a few parents whose asses I'd like to go back and kick."