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Issue #7 August 2003
Fred Hill

Thanks to Breck Rowell


Guided by Voices are about to release their zillionth album, Earthquake Glue. To toast its release, X-Ray cornered frontman, prolific songwriter and self-confessed drunk Robert Pollard, to set the record straight. Bob, you have one question per album. You may begin.

Text: Fred Hill

(1) Do you actually know how many LP's you've made?

"It's 14 with the band, but if you include my solo things, that's probably about 24."

(2) Unlike most musicians, you actually listen to your own records, don't you?

"I listen to my own work more than anything else. Hahaha! It's almost all I listen to, from this day and age. I listen to mainly old music - stuff from 67 to 79. That's when I think the best stuff came out."

(3) How does your new one rate?

"I love it. I don't put a record out unless I think it's the best record we've ever done. On our last record, we got back to doing things ourselves after doing two in a big studio, but it took us a while to feel it out, to take what we'd learnt from a big studio and try to marry it with what we'd done earlier. So for this one, we were a little more focused. I kinda had my shit together as far as the songs I wanted to do. It's all pretty solid and decent."

(4) One of your two big-budget records was produced by Ric Ocasek, from smooth 70s rockers The Cars. What did you learn from him?

"He taught me how to be more of a spoiled rock star. Not that I'm a rock star. But I was gonna help lift the amps, and carry them to the studio from our rehearsal space, and he says, 'No, no, we don't do that...' I was like, 'All riiiight, me and Ric don't do that shit, okay?'"

(5) Ever taken Ecstacy?

"One time, on Lollapalooza. For two weeks, we came on at one o'clock in the afternoon. We're used to coming on at 11 o'clock at night, completely smashed. One of the Breeders had been talking about taking it, so I said, 'Gimme some of that shit... Er, what does it do?' 'Well, it makes you happy and keeps you awake for a long, long time.' We took it early, and I remember, about two in the morning we were still going, singing songs in the hotel room. The Flaming Lips, The Breeders and Guided by Voices in a hotel room, making up songs - I thought it was pretty magical."

(6) So why did you only do it the once?!

"I'm a drunk. That's my thing. Drink helps the lyrical part. I've got a circle of about 20 friends, we've been hanging around together since we were really young. We still get together on Sundays and Wednesdays, and get drunk, and they say the most outlandish things. So I write that stuff down, and they kind of write my lyrics for me. But they don't get any credit. I say to them: 'You said something, but even though you said it, you didn't stop and capture it as being important. So if I stop you and write it down, it's mine. I get credit - it's not yours.' I think that's fair enough."

(7) Are you happy to let your words work impressionistically?

"Exactly. I write lines down all the time - things I hear, things I read, things I mis-read. I write them all down, just interesting ways to say things, say them differently. Sometimes I write poetry and I let it flow, sometimes I just string these lines together. The main thing for me in a lyric is that it sounds good, that it just kinda flows, and that the imagery is colourful and interesting, more so than any kind of literal meaning. Sometimes it means something."

(8) Earthquake Glue: is this GBV's 'Save the Planet!' album?

"A little bit. From what, I don't know. From fanatical world leaders that want to control the planet, I guess. Not that I think we have any power to do that. It was actually a lyric in a song, and after that it mentions the stock market tumbling and the rock market crumbling. You know: 'OK, we're living in some shaky times, we need to get it back together, bring the old concept of love back again.'"

(9) Which has more brain: George W Bush or an azalia bush?

"The azalia bush probably has more to offer the planet. I don't like to get too political, but Bush wasn't even elected. But I don't know what's going on - that's why I don't vote. I don't trust anybody. I know they're all lying."

(10) What truths do you abide by?

"That you have to stick with the people you love, and not hurt them. It's almost a religious concept, but I don't believe in religion. I think it takes responsibility away from us as the human race. Rock'n'roll is my religion. That is the truth and the answer."

(11) Why do you release so many of your songs?

"Because I'm addicted to writing songs, and I think they're good. It's not about making money, though I do make a little money doing it. We can only put out a Guided by Voices record once every year and a half, and it only takes me one day to write a song. So I have my own label, and in four years we've released 26 records -20 albums and 6 singles. Writing songs makes me happy, and I feel the need to release them."

(12) What percentage of your songs do you discard?

"Somebody asked me how many songs I'd written, and I estimated 3000. We've released 800 on record, so it looks like 75 per cent."

(13) Which band has had the greatest influence on GBV?

"The Beatles or The Who, or maybe early Genesis. I really love Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. That's why we're kinda other-worldly and weird at times, why there's a lot of mythological imagery. Not so much anymore. I used to be a teacher, so I was around kids, and I'd read Grimm's Fairy Tales to them. Now I'm just around drunken friends."

(14) What do the Voices say?

"Keep going. You can't stop now. What else could you do?"

The album Earthquake Glue is out on August 19 through Matador Records. UK live dates for later this year are currently in the pipeline.