EDITOR’S NOTE: To mark the auspicious occasion of GBV playing Union Transfer tonight here’s the complete, unexpurgated MAGNET interview with Robert Pollard in New York City June of 2013 Issue Number 100
SCALPING THE GURU
In the time it takes you to read this Robert Pollard will have written and recorded three brilliant albums and disbanded Guided By Voices again. MAGNET stages a Beer Summit to find out how and why.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA
No light or air or hope gets past the front door of Desmond’s Tavern, a grungy windowless taproom in midtown Manhattan that looks like a VFW hall crashed into a sports bar and smells like a frat house at low tide, and the afternoon crowd seems to like it that way. They like to do their drinking in the same place the fly got smashed. With its tobacco-cured walls, expansive array of Anheuser-Busch products and classic rawk on the jukebox, it’s the closest thing to a Dayton dive this far east of the Buckeye State, which is no doubt why it was selected to host MAGNET’s summit with the clown prince of the menthol trailer park, aka Robert Pollard, the mic-swinging, high-kicking, Bud-swigging past-present-and-possibly-former frontman for Guided By Voices. We must count our blessings, an audience with Pollard is a rare thing these days, he hasn’t granted an interview in three years.
For most MAGNET readers, Pollard needs no introduction and space is in short supply so I will be brief. But if you are new to the Pollard saga, know that he is hands-down the most gifted, beguiling and, by a wide margin, prolific songwriter of the indie-rock era. By his own count he has released upwards of 80 records, including 20 Guided By Voices albums, 19 solo albums and countless LPs, EPs and seven-inch singles from his endless string of one-off collaborations and side projects, among them Boston Space Ships, Airport 5, Circus Devils, Acid Ranch, Lifeguards, The Moping Swans, Lexo & The Leapers, Hazzard Hot Rods and Howling Wolf Orchestra.
The sheer volume and velocity of Pollard’s recorded output continues to amaze and overwhelm even his most devoted disciples. “I think it explains his lack of extreme, worldwide fame,” says director Steven Soderbergh, an avowed Bob Pollard superfan. “I think people don’t trust him. I think they’re just very suspicious of the amount of material. And it’s so unusual that, I don’t know if they find it threatening, or if they’re just bewildered, or they don’t have the stamina to even keep up with it. But all I do is keep listening and marveling at his ability to generate really high quality music. The last couple years — I don’t think he’s ever been bad — but the last couple years in particular he’s been very, very good.”
MAGNET’s interview with Pollard was occasioned by the release of Honey Locust Honky Tonk, his 19th solo record and arguably his best to date. We begin with Pollard dropping the bombshell that he has grown bored with the reunion of the so-called classic line-up of Guided By Voices after four albums and a couple tours and may well pull the plug on it, at least as far as making new albums is concerned. But fear not, my droogs. Even if that happens there will be plenty of Pollard to go around. The Fading Captain is a lifer. He shoots himself with rock n’ roll. The hole he digs is bottomless, but nothing else can set him free.
ROBERT POLLARD: Honey Locust Honky Tonk is basically the songs I wrote for the next Guided By Voices album, but I’m not sure there’s going to be a next Guided By Voices album. I’m not gonna say for sure, but it’s already got a little bit stagnant. To me it’s kind of run its course.
ROBERT POLLARD: We did a lot within the course of two or three years.
MAGNET: Four albums.
ROBERT POLLARD: Four albums. First, it was a reunion tour and then it was a proper tour, supporting a new album. But now I’m thinking, probably, I’ll relegate [GBV] to the festival circuit, you know? People at festivals don’t want to hear a new album they want to hear the greatest hits. And I’m not that interested in that. I’m more interested in what comes next.
MAGNET: I think the consensus opinion of the post-reunion albums was that you were putting your poppier stuff on your solo records and your more experimental stuff on the GBV records. Is that true?
ROBERT POLLARD: Well, you know, to me, I don’t know if that’s true. What I thought is I was putting my more mature stuff on my solo record because it has a name of a person and some of my less mature stuff with the band name because you can do whatever you want, there is no age limit. Robert Pollard is fifty-five years old, but the singer for Guided By Voices is whatever.
MAGNET: Your rate of releasing new material is just astonishing, and it’s only gone into overdrive in the last five to 10 years.
ROBERT POLLARD: In the time it takes some of my contemporaries to put out two albums, I will have put out 30 albums. That’s pretty ridiculous.
MAGNET: It overwhelms people. People feel like they can’t keep up. ‘I lost track.’ I hear this all the time from people, especially when I mention that I was going to interview you. People were saying that to me back in the early ‘90’s and it’s only gotten worse now that you’ve put out a gajillion records. It’s kinda like trying to swallow the ocean.
ROBERT POLLARD: That’s what I do. I love to write songs, I love to write songs. You can’t turn it off, because you don’t want to turn it off. If you turn it off, maybe you can’t turn it back on.
MAGNET: What do you say to people who tell you you’re oversaturating the market?
ROBERT POLLARD: Well, first of all, I work at a very strong pace. I’ve been putting out much to the chagrin of people — a lot of people say that ‘I dilute my genius’ — genius is their word, not mine, by the way. But I disagree because that’s the way I work and I’m afraid to not do it that way, I’m afraid to turn if off because I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to turn it back on, you know?
MAGNET: But what if — just to play the devil’s advocate here — what if you wrote and recorded songs but didn’t put them out as quickly as you do?
ROBERT POLLARD: Well, I’ve done that. You asked me how do you choose, well for the most part, I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ll have a batch of songs and that’s pretty much what they’re gonna be and they all make it. But occasionally, some of them don’t. One time I finished an album and I went to this bar and there was a band playing. And there were all these middle-aged women up there dancing to it. I started kind of just daydreaming and gazing and second-guessing myself about what I just did. I was watching the dancers and I was like, ‘Would they dance to my new record? Would they be dancing like that?’ and the answer was yes. Yeah, they would dance to it. So I got rid of the whole thing.
MAGNET: I read that you have 2,000 songs registered to BMI…
ROBERT POLLARD: That’s probably five years ago, that count was probably five years ago.
ROBERT POLLARD: Actually, it’s closer to 80.
MAGNET: I remember reading somewhere that you said a couple of years ago someone played you a song of yours that you didn’t even recognize. It wasn’t even that old of a song. Like, from 2003 or something.
ROBERT POLLARD: Didn’t even know what it was. The thing is, I got some hardcore fans. And a handful — not a lot — but it’s a handful — about five hundred, a thousand — are hardcore. And they know way more than I do. They’ll say, ‘You know…’ And I don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ll have no idea what they’re talking about. We’ll be sitting in a bar, ‘Sing it out dude. That’s you.’ And I’ll be like ‘It is?’
MAGNET: You didn’t even know it was you? How much do you listen to records after they’re done?
ROBERT POLLARD: Hardcore for a month and then that’s it. Hardcore for a month, “Yeahhhh.” Then after about a month, ‘That’s enough.’ Then I’ll listen to it four or five years later like ‘Yeah now it’s gotten good. Now it’s ripe.’
MAGNET: So you don’t fall into that trap that a lot of musicians do where they can’t even listen to their own albums because all they hear are the mistakes and it drives them nuts?
ROBERT POLLARD: I make so many mistakes that I’m artistically exempt. It became almost a good thing. It’s almost like at times he’s doing that purposely. Not that I want to make mistakes on purpose, but I don’t have to worry about it so much because people don’t seem to care so much. I don’t need to be perfect, I not Bowie.
MAGNET: What’s the longest you think you ever spent on a song?
ROBERT POLLARD: Recording it and then rehashing it and all that? You know, usually when you do that, it’s not worth it, you just throw it away. When I was on TVT I was almost being arm-twisted into spending too much time. You know, ‘It’s not an album, you’re holding back on me?’ I’m holding back on you? ‘Yeah, where’s the hits? Think cars, girls, summer, that kind of shit?’ OK, I can do that. So I go back and write “Glad Girls” and “Hold On Hope” and shit and I would labor over it a little bit. There were all these songs that in hindsight I’m not happy with. ‘Oh, we love those songs.’ That’s fine. That’s all good and fine, but I don’t. They were looking for a hits, and we stepped into that trap when we took a step up. And I don’t know if I told you why we even did that in the first place. But we were playing these festivals where we were, you know, third stage, eleven o’clock in the morning and shit. And Tenacious D is second from the headliner on the main stage. I’m sick of that shit, so I kind of had this thing like ‘We’re going for it.’ Yeah, and it was a pretty stupid, silly move. But I backed up quick enough, I think. I still kind of like those albums. It was cool to get to work with big-time producers — Rick Ocasek and Rob Schnapf. It was fun, but it was just — that’s not my bag. We weren’t allowed to drink in the studio. I’m not saying that those records are bad. It’s just like I don’t appreciate not being able to drink when I’m making my own art. I should have said something, but it was like, he’s Rick Ocasek.
MAGNET: So you still live in Dayton. Born there, probably gonna die there, right?
ROBERT POLLARD: Looks like it. I’ve got some good friends in Dayton and my cop out is always like man, any place you go to after a while is going to suck. Plus my parents are still alive, and it’s like, when your parents are still alive, you know, they’re around 80, and they’re still doing well. It’s just hard to leave. Remember you came and hung out with us?
MAGNET: Are you kidding? Of course I do. It was 1999, for the cover of the September issue.
ROBERT POLLARD: Do you remember some of the crazy shit we did? Remember we got kicked out of the fucking the strip bar?
MAGNET: Because your brother said that ‘That woman’s got the best fart box in town!’
ROBERT POLLARD: I know! [laughing]
MAGNET: But why did we get kicked out? Because we were being loud or something?
ROBERT POLLARD: I don’t think we deserved to be kicked out. You know, what the fuck? What are you supposed to do?
ROBERT POLLARD: What are we supposed to be the perfect little choir boys? We didn’t do anything to deserve to be kicked out.
MAGNET: That was fucking great, that was like going to Guided By Voices fantasy camp. Do you know how many people would have killed to come to your house and hang out at The Monument Club? Go down to the Snake Pit and rifle through all your vinyl. Sit on stools wearing headphones hunched over the four track you recorded Bee Thousand on. See the rooster with the six pack ring around it’s neck that lived next door. Go to the elementary school you taught at and then going to Wright-Patterson Air Force where they took the alien bodies and crashed spaceship from Roswell.
ROBERT POLLARD: Man, I appreciate that. Those are the things I’m always worried about, like after you left. Like, ‘Man, I bet he thought that was weird, that we were fucking retarded.’ (Laughs)
MAGNET: Not at all, no. I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which is very much like Dayton, that’s a big part of why I’ve always related to your story because I totally know what it’s like to be stranded in the middle of nowhere, in love with rock and roll, with no hope of ever ‘making it.’ Rock stars don’t come from where I live. So you drink beer with your buddies down in the basement, plug in and turn it up and close your eyes and fake it until it becomes real, until you’re Live At Budokan.
ROBERT POLLARD: Yeah, that’s it basically.
MAGNET: Dayton is also the ancestral home of The Breeders. Where did the Deal sister grow up?
ROBERT POLLARD: The Deal sisters grew up in Huber Heights, which is close to where I grew up.
MAGNET: You know what I just came across last night that I haven’t heard in forever? That cover of “Love Hurts” you did with Kim Deal. That’s still one of my all favorite Bob Pollard recordings.
ROBERT POLLARD: My wife hates that.
ROBERT POLLARD: That’s with Kim. She thinks we were in love. We kind of were [laughs].
MAGNET: So what’s a typical day in the life of Robert Pollard these days?
ROBERT POLLARD: I get up…
MAGNET: You write three albums, have breakfast?
ROBERT POLLARD: I read a lot. I get up early, very early. Anywhere from two o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock in the morning. People say, like, “You need to get up, every once in awhile, and see the sun rise.” No, I get up five hours before the sun rises. I go back to bed before the sun rises.
I get up feed the cats, let them out. I have coffee, I like to go listen to records real early in the morning with my headphones on. I’ve been doing that since I was a little kid. First thing in the morning. And then go to work, maybe do some collages. Until about maybe noon, and then I start getting kind of bored a little bit, and then maybe exercise. Just go out for a little run, maybe. Which i don’t do as much as I’d like to. Then maybe I might take a drive, find maybe a thrift shop and I can find stuff to cut on for collages.
My drinking is usually from four to eight. I got this old guy schedule, because I’m old. So my drinking is from four to eight, which is not too bad. A Miller Lite, maybe a couple shots of Cuervo, go home, maybe watch the Reds for a while or whatever. Ten o’clock, I’m out. Every day. That’s what I do.
MAGNET: How have you managed, after all these years of being Mr. Pounding Buds guy how do you wind up not becoming a casualty or a bum?
ROBERT POLLARD: I know. Especially when it became part of the glamour and we played that that up, you know? First of all, a lot of people think I’m just a raging alcoholic. I was going to tell you- there’s people from, like, the community that I was raised in. This one guy came up to me one time — this was about 20 years ago — after he saw one of my shows. He goes, “Man, we’re really concerned about your drinking.” I was like, “Really?” “Yeah. It’s not good.” I go, “That’s on a stage, dude. Okay?” And it’s not that bad. I don’t get that bad. I realize I go overboard sometimes.
This guy is like, “We’re worried- we’re concerned about you.” Really. I haven’t seen you in 15 years, and now you’re concerned about my drinking? But anyways, the same guy, like eight years later, comes and asks me if I know where he can find a job. You know, I’m still doing what I do.
MAGNET: What’s the last good book you’ve read?
ROBERT POLLARD: What I’ve been reading, and I’ve been reading a lot of it, I’ve been reading Surrealism. I’ve been reading French Surrealism, and I’ve read biographies about Rimbaud and Andre Breton and before that Victor Hugo. So I’ve been reading all these biographies, I’ve been getting into art. And I’ve read the Peggy Guggenheim biography and Max Ernst. So that’s what I’ve been reading. I like to read occult stuff, metaphysical studies and shit like that. That’s the kind of stuff I’ve been reading. I usually keep two, three, four different books at the same time going.
MAGNET: What’s going on with this Cleopatra The Musical project that you’ve been working on with Steven Soderbergh.
ROBERT POLLARD: That’s going on and on and it just — at one point it was going to happen as a movie. We were going through contract offers and figures and Steven and [ex-GBV bassist and band biographer] Jim Greer came out and we spent time together working on lyrics. We actually got to the point where we had 21 or 22 songs and they hired musicians and went into the studio and recorded them. I’ve heard the tapes. Sounds good. And they got the drummer from Bowie’s band, from around Ziggy Stardust, what’s his name? Woody Woodmansey? Great drummer. So I thought it was going to happen. But for some reason it didn’t happen. [Soderbergh] started doing other things and then I heard reasons like, ‘Well, we’re thinking about making a Broadway musical. And I’m like, ‘Okay. Okay.’
MAGNET: Meaning, ‘I’m out?’
ROBERT POLLARD: No, I’m not out, but just I’m not going to get excited. They were going to have Catherine Zeta Jones play Cleopatra but now I’m not sure. They could maybe make her up. She’s still good-looking, but is she young enough to be Cleopatra? Cleopatra was fairly young, wasn’t she?
MAGNET: How long ago was this?
ROBERT POLLARD: This was five years ago. Even then we were talking about, ‘We gotta do it quickly because…” [laughs] The thing about Broadway is you don’t get a bunch of money up front, but I guess, if it does well, if it doesn’t do well you get nothing but it does real well you’re set for life almost. You know? It’s like Cats or something. [laughs] I wouldn’t mind being the Andrew Lloyd Webber of indie rock
MAGNET: So you have a huge record collection, thousands and thousands, which I can personally attest to. Here’s a hypothetical, you wake up in the middle of the night, your house is on fire, there’ only time to grab one album; what do you grab?
ROBERT POLLARD: Propeller because it’s worth more money! It’s worth more money than the [Beatles] butcher cover! I have it! I have that!
MAGNET: Is it true that you sold a signed a copy of Propeller for $4,000?
ROBERT POLLARD: $6,200. And my brother sold one for $4,800. And they’re still going for at least a thousand.
MAGNET: Wow, good on ya! I read in this interview that you were saying, that “Some people were saying I was gouging the fans.” Nobody would ever accuse Picasso of gouging his fans. You are selling your art to people who want to own it for whatever price the market will bear.
ROBERT POLLARD: When we make a limited run, we don’t sell them for $50 a piece, we sell them for whatever an LP or and EP or whatever is going for at the time. And if you didn’t get it, you didn’t get it. Here’s another thing, I’ve been accused of, like I told you before, ‘You make too much music, it dilutes what you do.’ Why then every time I see one of my records, maybe three or four years after they’ve come out, they got a big ass price tag on it? Because it’s out of print. Because we don’t make many of them! I make a lot of records but not many of them. Never more than a thousand. Guided By Voices? maybe three thousand.
[A band starts setting up instruments on the nearby stage]
ROBERT POLLARD: I think we’re getting ready to rock here tonight. [hollering toward the stage] ALRIIIIIIGHT!!! HELLO NEW YORK!!! We used to do that. When we first played live, we still had people come up and introduce us like that. “ALRIGHTTT! ARE YOU READY TO ROCK!?!”
MAGNET: I still get a chuckle every time I think of that story you told me years ago about an early band photo session and you guys wanted to look like you just came off stage and were all sweaty so you guys ran around the block before you took the picture.
ROBERT POLLARD: In Beatle boots! We had towels around our neck, looking like Uriah Heap, high-fiving and hugging each other, and we’d never even played a show. [laughs]
ROBERT POLLARD: I treat them all as my children.
MAGNET: So you love them all equally. Or at least say you do.
ROBERT POLLARD: I have favorites. I totally have favorites. The first one we ever did, Devil Between My Toes was one of my favorites. Propeller, Bee Thousands, Universal Truths And Cycles. Solo wise, I love From A Compound Eye, Moses On A Snail.
MAGNET: What do you make of these GBV tribute bands? Are you aware of this? There’s a Japanese GBV cover band I found on YouTube. There’s one called Tigerbomb from Portland. Not bad at all. The singer kind of looks like John Goodman but that’s okay.
ROBERT POLLARD: Somebody told me that they said ‘We do Guided By Voices better than Guided By Voices.’ That’s not possible! Nobody can do your band better than you do! I think there’s a cover band Called Textbook Committee. There’s one called Guys with Bad Voices.
MAGNET: There’s something called the Euro Heedfest in London every year, where it’s like eight hours of Guided By Voices cover bands, acoustic GBV sets, GBV dance parties, GBV karaoke all day and all night and kegs and kegs of beer.
ROBERT POLLARD: Yep. I sent a little blurb, like, “Sorry I can’t be there.”
MAGNET: What’s your favorite album of all time?
ROBERT POLLARD: Well, I want to say this first of all. After much deliberation and meditation and listening and spending time, my religion is rock. I’ve decided that the greatest album of all time is Wire “154.” Yeah. That’s not even a top 20 band, but that’s the greatest album. I listened to it again the other day, and it’s the most intelligent, rewarding with repeated listenings album that I, it just never fails.
MAGNET: Let’s talk about your collages, when did you start doing that?
ROBERT POLLARD: When I started doing it, probably like in third grade or something. You look at the old album covers, those are collages and shit. I used to ask artists to do drawings and stuff but people would never come through. I was like, fuck ‘em I’ll make the covers myself.
MAGNET: They’re great.
ROBERT POLLARD: They’re getting better. I’ve done shows.
MAGNET: You did a gallery show in New York didn’t you? It was called “Do the Collage,” right?
ROBERT POLLARD: I did three shows in New York. A lot of people came. The thing is, I was really out of my element doing an art show but it turns out doing an art show is easy. It’s like playing a fucking rock show, and you get fucked up, but you never come out of the dressing room. And you got people looking at your silly shit on the wall and all you have to do is go over and explain it. This couple’s like, ‘What’s that mean? What are you saying here?’ That’s Rosie O’Donnell on a mushroom cloud. [laughing]
MAGNET: How much do the collages go for? What’s the price range?
MAGNET: That’s an artist, my friend.
ROBERT POLLARD: That’s an artist, yeah. Well somebody told me one time like, let me get this right, you just cut pictures out like when you were a little kid and glue them back together? And I go, yeah basically. A little bit more elaborate than that. It’s somewhat of a process. First of all, there’s a store, it’s called the Goodwill Outlet, it’s a huge store, and it’s insane man. You can get hurt in there. Because they just bring out all these bins of shit and people start knocking you over to get there and it’s just all junk, but it’s a treasure trove for me. There’s one section that’s nothing but books and magazines and I find like, mid-18th century, 19th century anatomical diagrams and stuff with crazy you know skulls and shit. I’ll get a bunch of stuff, I’ll take it home, look through it, and I’ll start cutting out what I want. Then you kind of start moving things around until they start assembling themselves.
MAGNET: That strikes me as a good metaphor for your songwriting process. It’s basically you kind of raiding the deep-cut archives of rock from the last 40 years, just grabbing this beat from here and this chord change from there.
ROBERT POLLARD: It’s all cut and paste.The art, the words, the music, it’s all moving things around and cutting and pasting and scrambling and descrambling until you like it. It’s appealing to your eye or your ear. That’s what I do, that’s what I do. Because I don’t have any technical ability, or know how you are supposed to do it.
MAGNET: You have no art training?
ROBERT POLLARD: No training whatsoever. No music training, no art training, nothing. The only training I have is like sports training. Yeah. I was cool, I was pretty fucking good. Especially when I was a little kid I was a good athlete.
MAGNET: Well you were star pitcher, quarterback, and shooting guard, right?
MAGNET: Did you ever think about playing pro ball?
ROBERT POLLARD: Oh I thought it about it my whole life. That’s what I was supposed to do.
ROBERT POLLARD: Well I always wanted to do rock and roll. My dad, he always tried to dissuade be from it. Like we’re doing that stupid shit. He did the same thing with girls. He wanted my brother and I to be pro athletes, that was what we were supposed to be, but I always wanted to do rock, but I never thought that was possible. Sports was possible, I could do that. Rock, I don’t know anything about it.
MAGNET: Well what happened to sports?
ROBERT POLLARD: I injured my arm right before I went to college. Something popped in my elbow, and I still played college, I still pitched college and I pitched this no-hitter, but it was never as lively as it was my senior year. My dad pretty much raised me to go pro. He had dollar signs in his eyes. But I secretly wanted to do rock anyway. I just didn’t think it was possible. Plus there was nobody in my high school that could even play. So eventually we just forced ourselves to do it anyway. I taught myself how to play the guitar.
MAGNET: I think you get a lot of credit for writing catchy hooks and melodies but you kind of get short shrift as a lyricist and I think you are one of the best who ever was in that regard. I was just listening to Sunfish Holy Breakfast the other day, still one of my all time favorite GBV releases, and that line about ‘cock soldiers and their post-war stubble.’ That just nails that dreary burnout and national PTSD of the ‘70s post-Vietnam era and yet it speaks to now, too. Now that all these guys are coming back from Afghanistan and it’s not like the heroic, clean-shaven, good-looking guys with great hair triumphantly marching off to war, like ‘America fuck yeah!’ of 10 years ago. They all come back and they’re just like, ‘We got fucking used man. This was all bullshit and, like, my arm’s blown off.’
ROBERT POLLARD: Exactly.
MAGNET: And then there’s that song about ‘the flying party is here.’ Which is really eerie and surreal yet somehow familar. Like my friends are coming over and we’re all going to go flying. Like we all know how to do it.
MAGNET: And then at the end you sing ‘Hello John, the sun loves you.’ Which just makes me smile in my soul and I’m not sure why, but I can feel the love. I can’t put my finger on how that goes with ‘the flying party is here,’ but I can make the leap. I think a lot of people can. And that’s a sign of a great songwriter. Like a lot of your lyrics, it’s these fragments of fascinating narrative that we come to in media res and then we’re onto the next fragment of fantastical narrative. Very dream-like. ‘I’ve gone up on your house/weep to water the trees/and when you come calling me down/I put on my disease.’ Wow. That’s as good as anything Bob Dylan ever wrote. Or John Lennon.
ROBERT POLLARD: It’s about making you smile in your soul, that’s what we try to do. It makes sense to the happiness of what you love. That’s art. Art doesn’t have to make any sense, does it?
MAGNET: Life doesn’t, so why should art? Let’s talk about Bee Thousand. Can’t believe it came out almost 20 years ago. Amazon recently named it the greatest indie rock album of all time.
ROBERT POLLARD: What makes it a masterpiece? I don’t know, but it’s now considered to be a masterpiece…
MAGNET: It is a masterpiece. In its own way, it’s as great as Exiles on Main Street, as great as Sgt. Pepper…
ROBERT POLLARD: just wait…
MAGNET: You caught lightning in a bottle…the light shined on you…
ROBERT POLLARD: I don’t want to get all hung up, motherfucker, in why is that better than this? It’s just an accident, a masterpiece by accident.
MAGNET: Well, most of them are. That record cast a spell on me and it’s never left me. So, the question I wanted to ask you is has it become this albatross around your neck where every record was compared to that? Like ‘Here’s another GBV record that’s not as good as Bee Thousand.’
ROBERT POLLARD: I’m not trying to create another Bee Thousand, because I don’t know how to do that. It’s got to be an accident, I guess. Bee thousand was an accident.
MAGNET: It doesn’t seem like you spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not people are going to think the next album and the one after that and the one after that is as good as Bee Thousand.
ROBERT POLLARD: I think they are. I think they’re better. I’m proud that we have what people consider to be a masterpiece. Not too many people get that. But I think they all are. I think I’ve got, I don’t know if its 500 or 300 or 1000, but there is between 300 and a thousand people that think every album I do is as great as Bee thousand and they know them all and that’s good enough for me.
MAGNET: Tell me about how it was made, it was these fragments of old stuff but…
ROBERT POLLARD: We did a hundred fucking songs for that album. That was my theory back then, if we do a hundred fucking songs, 20 of them have to be good. That’s why there’s all those EPs, because it was originally going to be a double album. We had all these crazy songs we were going to put on there.
MAGNET: Like “Hot Freaks”?
ROBERT POLLARD: Do you know how many takes of that we did? One. That was just all made up on the spot. We were down in Toby’s basement and he had this instrumental, this groovy cocktail sounding thing, and he played that, and I go okay, I think I’ve got a lyric for that.” And upstairs they were having a garage sale and all they could hear was me screaming ‘Hot Freaks!” People were like, ‘What is going on down there?’ And he just rolled tape, and I just sang my lyrics in one take, and then we listened back like “Woooowww, yeah.”
MAGNET: I want to read you some things that I found on the web and want to give you a chance to respond. I love this quote, it’s from the Washington Post, ‘Pollard is sort of the Grateful Dead equivalent for people who like Miller Lite instead of acid.’
ROBERT POLLARD: Basically. My answer to that is: basically.
MAGNET: ‘Robert Pollard doesn’t need three minutes to make a song stick in your head for the rest of your life, hell, sometimes he doesn’t even need a minute.’
ROBERT POLLARD: I’m a student of hooks, I’m always looking for the Eternal Hook, that perfect combination of a lyric and a chord pattern that gives you that chill up the back of your head, you know what I’m talking about?
MAGNET: I totally know what you’re talking about. It’s a drug, it’s why you keep buying every album. It’s why you keep going to shows, ‘I want that feeling again.’ It’s like chasing the dragon.
ROBERT POLLARD: I want that, I gotta have that, that’s spiritual, Music exists on the physical plane but it transcends into the mental and then spiritual plane. Animals love it, that’s why you have to carry an acoustic guitar around with you at all times, in case you get attacked by a pack of dogs.
MAGNET: Soothe the savage beast, as it were. ‘Robert Pollard’s dream of playing packed stadiums, as a part of indie rock folklore by now, back in the late nineties this raggy group of musicians who were playing with him in Guided By Voices disbanded has been replaced by a tight, confident backing group. Pollard and his new version of Guided By Voices worked with the former Cars frontman Rick Ocasek to produce a glossy punchy and generally unloved album, Do To Collapse that was meant to be the bands major album debut. Major labels passed on hearing the later version of that.”
MAGNET: I’ll be honest with you, I lost interest in the band when you were really going for it. Having said that, I actually liked Do The Collapse. I think those guys were really nice, they were great musicians and the band sounded pro but the charm was the narrative of the old group. You guys were from Dayton, you’re a schoolteacher, Toby was a painter, and Mitch is a truck driver and chains smokes on stage. Greg wears these crazy striped white bell bottoms. You guys drink beer until it comes out of your ears and jam until these magic songs start coming out.
ROBERT POLLARD: First of all, man, that wasn’t my decision, Toby was quitting.
MAGNET: I know that. He had newborns and didn’t want to be on the road.
ROBERT POLLARD: Kevin was having problems.
MAGNET: Right, a drug problem.
ROBERT POLLARD: I had to do it. You’ve got to make a move. If it wasn’t for that, the line-up probably would have stayed the same forever.
MAGNET: ‘Pollard has always had two primary songwriting modes – the ramshackle, throw everything-at-the-wall pop experimentalist, and the writer of power-pop anthems in the mould of the Cars and Big Star. Even from Guided by Voices’s earliest days of basement home recording, that tension always created interesting dynamics, as the two sides of Pollards’s split songwriting personality fought it out for dominance with each other and with his bandmates, often within the same song. Since Guided by Voices’s second incarnation broke up in 2004, however, Pollard seems to be increasingly inclined to compartmentalise his songwriting styles. His endless stream of solo albums have for the most part displayed his more eccentric, whimsical side, while the hard-charging power-pop anthems found an outlet through his main side-project since 2008, the Boston Spaceships.’
ROBERT POLLARD: I’m a professional songwriting machine, I just keep adding to the jukebox, mainly it’s for my own entertainment. I wish I had written “I Can See For Miles,” then I’d quit.
MAGNET: That is the Who at their most Guided By Voices-est.
MAGNET: One last one. This is actually, I think, the best writer of all. This is about the Classic Line-up tour. ‘Philadelphia has smiled on Guided By Voices since the band broke from the twilight obscurity of…
ROBERT POLLARD: They said twilight obscurity, that’s funny, what the fuck is that supposed to mean?
MAGNET: Dayton, Ohio, packing the Khyber time and again to watch Pollard baptize himself with Budweiser and belch out the greatest songs never heard…
ROBERT POLLARD: I love that one.
MAGNET: And for one beery moment everything still seemed possible.
ROBERT POLLARD: Everything.
MAGNET: If your passion for GBV has slowly diminished as the production values of each ensuing album has steadily evolved from field recording fuzzy to radio-friendly, this is a good chance to get back to where you once belonged. It will remind you of why you first fell in love with the legend of beer-pounding, ex-teacher old dudes building four-track masterpieces in the basements of the Midwest.
ROBERT POLLARD: Four track masterpieces. Who wrote that?
MAGNET: I did.
ROBERT POLLARD: Thank you.
MAGNET: It was from the heart.
ROBERT POLLARD: Very sweet, very sweet.