FOREWORD: Before I got to hang out with Guided By Voices pilot Bob Pollard a few times in New York during the next few years, I did this phoner with the celebrated Midwestern lo-fi craftsman. His casual humor comes along just fine in this interview to support ‘97s vibrant Mag Earwhig! Damn, this guy’s a lot o’ friggin’ fun. Wish he lived in Jersey. This article originally appeared in Aquarium Weekly.


Tragically disregarded by mainstream radio and relatively unknown outside an ardent cult audience, Dayton, Ohio’s indie-pop kingpins, Guided By Voices, continue to exist just outside of the general public’s musical radar range. ‘97s loud and shiny pop grab-bag, Mag Earwig!, finds multi-faceted singer-songwriter Bob Pollard heavily supported by Cleveland underground pro-rock mainstays, Cobra Verde. But while ‘96s Under The Bushes, Under The Stars gave guitarist Tokin Sprout his most prominent role in GBV, he has been relegated to guest appearances this time around, due to fatherhood and a solo career.

Releasing embryonic homemade recordings since the mid-‘80s, former elementary school teacher Pollard hit stride with ‘93s Vampire On Titus. Then came highly prized collections Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, two indispensable lo-fi gems permanently securing GBV’s position in nineties rock history (alongside sensational DIY indie rebels Sebadoh, Liz Phair, and Pavement).

Pollard offered his firm opinions on a wide range of topics during a friendly chat. Besides being a prolific composer and easygoing conversationalist, he’s also an avid Kraut-rock fan, skilled boozer, and caring family man.

Are you disappointed by mainstream radio and MTV’s reluctance to expose Guided By Voices on a grand scale?


BOB: Well, my hometown of Dayton threatens to play our stuff when we do radio shows and kiss ass. They like us, but the main cat at the top won’t give in and play our stuff. We now record our stuff properly in a big studio. It’s no longer lo-fi. We’ve even re-recorded songs to get them on the radio. But they still don’t play it. I don’t understand it. Every LP we put out has three or four worthy songs. Maybe in the past the four-track stuff didn’t meet the standards of what they think the kids want to hear. I don’t know the formula or have charts and graphs. I’ve just decided to make music I like and I don’t give a fuck what they think. (laughter)

“I Am A Tree” has to be the most universal power pop anthem I’ve come across recently. Its captivating hook line and climactic release make it seem reminiscent of dynamic ‘70s-era rockers, bursting forth with full-blown sonic combustion and sweaty emotional vigor.


It’s a Doug Gillard song his band Gem never issued. I think he wrote that in ’93 after listening to Bee Thousand. He was a big fan of that album at the time. It’s a nursery rhyme Gem may have thought was immature. But I adopted it because it fit in well with what we do. And now, there’s a little controversy. My label is pushing for it to be a big hit by getting a big record producer to do it again so that it’ll be radio friendly and I’m slightly upset by that because I’ve had songs in the past, such as “The Official Ironman Song” and ” Striped White Jets,” that I thought were also worthy of a push and hadn’t got it. So I love “I Am A Tree,” but it’s getting on my nerves now. In the same respect it would be tragic if that song was forgotten and never heard. It could stand up to the Foo Fighters on the radio.

Are new songs such as the ‘60s-cultured “Can’t Hear The Revolution,” the Beatlesque “Bulldog Skin,” the steely-eyed “Portable Men’s Society” or “Now To War” political snipes?


I write stream of consciousness songs that are post-analytic and whatever the listener wants to read into them is fine. My lyrics just flow. Kids on the website like to talk about the lyrics. But my songs are just like a painting. Interpret them as you must. Actually, most of my songs are about internal conflict – maybe unconsciously about me – but more often about the industry and Guided By Voices. But I think that’s interesting you thought those songs were political.

“I Am Produced” and “Now To War” seem to re-create the style of The Who’s Tommy era.


Yeah. There’s something melancholy and sad about those songs. The Who were probably my biggest influence, especially Sell Out, Tommy, and Who’s Next.

Do you ever get the feeling Guided By Voices will remain a lost treasure from the late 20th century underground much like under-appreciated, yet highly respected, ‘80s bands the Minutemen, Replacements, or Husker Du have become?


I definitely would not mind being put in the company of those great bands. We get compared to the Replacements all the time. Fans think we’re on the same level they once were. And that’s flattering and it makes me totally happy. I though the post-punk stuff by Devo, The Police, Wire, and XTC was some of the best music of all time in the early ‘80s. It’s been downhill ever since. And I don’t know what caused MTV and radio to become so lame. MTV won’t play your video because radio won’t play your song. I have a 16-year old son who’s subjected to all that shit. And I try to tell him there’s other stuff out there. When I first put out Guided By Voices first five albums on my own I was just content to put out songs without anticipating anything happening. So I’m extremely proud of what has happened since then. Maybe we’ll get to the next level, but our guitarist, John Petkovic, says he’s seen the next level and it’s not pretty. (laughter)

Was there a certain point when you were convinced Guided By Voices might take off commercially?


Our fifth album, Propeller, which I jokingly titled after telling the band that it would ‘propel’ us and lead to success, really lifted us off. I thought it might be our last album at the time because I couldn’t afford to finance them anymore.

How did you get hooked up with Cleveland-based rockers Cobra Verde?


We got together when we did a ’93 tour showcase for Scat Records, the label our bands were on at that time. We had mutual admiration for certain eras of rock music. We tried to do some recording together, but it never happened until recently. They bring in a technically refined sound that Tobin and I didn’t quite have the ability to achieve. When we used to need a cool lead guitar part, we’d seek outside help. But now, with Doug Gillard, an amazing guitar player, and John Petrovic, we’re a fully realized rock band – not just alternative or indie.

What initially inspired you as a youngster to possibly pursue music?


Well, I’ll be forty in October. I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in the ‘60s. That’s when I began looking in the mirror and practicing poses. But I initially gave up hope because I didn’t think I had the ability and my father was pushing for me and my brother to be jocks. It became a secret thing collecting records at age 13. My dad got into the Columbia Record Club and got twelve albums for a penny. Then I became a vinyl junkie. One of the albums I got from the club was 10 Years After’s Ssssh. I started writing songs back then, but thought it was just a silly hobby. It wasn’t until people from Cleveland and New York recognized Guided By Voices’ first five ‘80s albums we put out to convince me I might make a career out of it. But I wouldn’t have been able to handle it as a youngster because too many people in Dayton, where I’m from, thought my music was shit. Now it’s nice to hear people chanting the Guided By Voices chant at concerts.

By the way, I saw Guided By Voices play the Academy Of Music in ’94. How do you remember all the lyrics and musical progressions of all those two-minute songs performed live?


Plus, I’m usually drunk when I get onstage. But I think that if I were sober, I’d probably forget the words.

What do you normally drink before a performance?


I’m an old-fashioned Midwest Budweiser drinker. But I could drink just about anything. I’ll do shots but I stay away from whiskey. I drank Rolling Rock for awhile when we were trying to get an endorsement but it never happened. Besides, it’s pretty nasty and seemed to induce hangovers. Then I went to Bud Lite. But I don’t like that anymore. Certain places like Portland have microbreweries. But I like to drink something I can constantly pound.

What are your favorite hobbies?


I love to go to vinyl record shops. I trade my test pressings and masters of Guided By Voices to acquire all the Kraut-rock stuff. I like Faust and Can but I don’t have a deep record collection with a bunch of old ‘50s and ‘60s stuff. I wish I did.

What does the future hold for of Guided By Voices?


I think Mag Earwhig! may be the starting point for our next phase. I’ve written some new songs that go back to the semi-shorter two-minute form. The next album, I think, will be like Alien Lanes, but recorded in a big studio. After every tour I think about hanging it up, but some of our fans are such fanatics they keep us going.


FOREWORD: Simply put, Bob Pollard, leading light for Guided By Voices, is the most interesting and funny interviewee you’ll ever meet. The stories he’s got are outrageously entertaining. And he exemplifies rock’s DIY lo-fi aesthetic better than anyone, releasing shitloads of albums under the GBV banner and, more recently, as a solo artist. I had dinner with Bob and his band in Little Italy during ‘01, when they were playing Bowery Ballroom in support of Isolation Drills. I’ve spoken with Pollard on several occasions. Look for ‘02s Universal Truths And Cycles and ‘03s Earthquake Glue, two worthwhile late-period GBV works, in addition to the recommendations made below. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.

Besides being a major league beer drinker, here’s a few jock-related facts you might not know about Guided By Voices mainstay Bob Pollard. First, he pitched at least one no-hitter at Wright State. Second, he was a damn fine high school basketball player. These are things you only find out hanging around his brew-guzzling crew while eating clam pizza.

A serious vinyl junkie and avid Who fan, Pollard got his big break after grunge hit big in ‘91 and lo-fi enthusiasts Lou Barlow and Liz Phair reached unprecedented underground rock heights. Currently hooked up with former Gem bandmates Doug Gillard (ex-Death Of Samantha), rhythm guitarist Nate Farley, and bassist Tim Tobias (along with newest drummer, Toronto-based Jon Mc Cann), the latest edition of GBV recently unleashed the dynamic Isolation Drills. Produced by like-minded, free spirit Rob Schnapf, Isolation Drills brings back the loose studio feel of ‘97s Mag Earwhig.

“We enjoyed working with Ric Ocasek (ex-Cars) on the last album (Do The Collapse). But he had a no drinking policy in the studio.”

Yet despite Pollard’s continual debauchery, he finally felt secure enough to share a broad spectrum of hitherto unrealized heartfelt emotions. Isolation Drills faces inner turmoil, insecurities, and joyousness head on with a deep-rooted lyrical expressiveness usually reserved for acoustic folk artists. The bright, jangly “Fair Touching,” the reflective “Twilight Campfighter,” and the schoolyard crush of “Chasing Heather Crazy” offer wonderful insight. But Pollard’s still not afraid to flaunt his playful side on “Want One?” and the punchy, Big Star-like “Glad Girls.”

The night after a packed-like-sardines Bowery Ballroom show featuring the whole new album in its entirety (plus varied faves from the recent past), I met up with Pollard and company at TVT headquarters to down some Buds and share some stories.

AW: So whatever happened with the Rolling Rock venture we spoke of a few years back?

BOB POLLARD: We were going for the endorsement. Every night drinking Rolling Rock, just living it. Which can kill you very quickly. Just to get free beer we thought Rolling Rock was an easy target. But then we played a show in Athens, Ohio, when the Rolling Rock official came. He checked us out to see if we were worthy, but we didn’t get the endorsement and I’m glad ‘cause that shit gives you the nastiest farts the next day.

How has life on the road changed since the early ‘90s?

At first I didn’t like it. It was brutal. But I grew to like all aspects of being on the road. I didn’t like going eight hours from town to town, but now I use that as a period to relax and get over hangovers and read. It makes the tour go a lot quicker.

How do you deal with multiple hangovers? Don’t you drink water before going to bed so you don’t dehydrate?

You just tough it out. If we did a show without getting drunk and wild what would the people think. It would suck. Nathan said he’d boo me! In ‘87, Mitch Mitchell (former bandmate), my brother, and me would wear our Northridge varsity jackets because it stood for our band, the Needmores. We had to drink Colt 45 and smoke Camel non-filters. I got them both hooked on smoking cigarettes and I feel bad about it. (laughter) Now, their lungs are all clogged and they gasp for breath and go, “you fucker.”

Do you ever write songs while inebriated?

I don’t write the songs drunk. I write them in the morning when I’m drinking coffee. I just want to get drunk and talk to people at night. I feel more motivated in the morning. This past year, we were gone forever and were away from the people we love. At the end of the tour, I drove from San Diego to Athens, Georgia. I got pretty introspective and started writing reflective lyrics about what was going on with us. When I wrote the songs in ‘94/ ‘95, they’d be about werewolves and witches…

And that damn “Kicker Of Elves.”

Right. I was happy and silly and hanging around kids. (editors note: Pollard was an elementary school teacher) I like to write lyrics first because it’s much easier to match the music up to the lyrics. Then the lyrics are gonna be good. If you write the melody and the music first, you have to fit lyrics to that and it’s not as good. So this became a dark record. It’s uplifting, too. I mean, it’s not Joy Division or Lou Reed. It’s still us.

So how does Isolation Drills differ from the previous album?

Ric Ocasek doesn’t drink, so we had to play sober (on Do The Collapse). But Rob is more like us so we drank and smoked. The atmosphere was more laid-back and we got better performances. I wrote about 35 or 40 songs for Do The Collapse, but there were a few good ones left off the record that we used now. These songs are stronger than the ones on Do The Collapse.What have you been listening to lately?

It took about three weeks to make 75 ninety minute cassettes – close to 150 albums – of the best albums from ‘67 to ‘70. (note: Moby Grape’s debut and early Little Feat didn’t make it)

When did you get hooked on collecting records?

My dad let me choose the twelve for a penny Columbia House albums. Then, I’d get money by any means I could. In high school, I’d skip lunch and keep the money for records. Afterwards, I’d have basketball practice and I had to survive on a pile of sliced pickles from the cafeteria. That’s how I saved up for Quadrophenia. My dad finally said, “I don’t want another god damn record coming in my house. (laughter)

Radio was cool back then. Even pussy pop songs had hooks and were only two and a half minutes. You should know about two and a half minutes, Bob!

(cracking up at that insightful wisdom) I’m gonna have to remember that one! I am the king of two-minute pop.

Now Bob’s gonna get all stuck up. (jokingly) So when are you gonna dump the current band?

Never. I love ‘em.

Now you know he’s full of shit!

I can’t imagine them doing anything to get kicked out unless they fuck up the schedule of events. Should I tell him the ‘Calvin’ story.

(10 minute tape gap before picking up a different story ‘bout Bob’s donkey-dicked high school baseball coach)

My team would tell me about it. They’d say, “you’ll see it.” He’d wait for you as you’re coming out of the shower with your little dick. He walks up to you and it just sways. (hysterical laughter)

Is that around the time you started your first band?

In ‘76, I had a heavy metal band called Anacrucis (fuck the spelling). I didn’t even know how to play guitar then. We kicked up Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” We did The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes.” We did a bunch of Cheap Trick songs from the first album before they made it big. People thought they were our songs. We’d be driving down the street with Cheap Trick playing and the guy who owned the bar we played at would hear it and go, ‘Those guys are ripping you off!’ We did “He’s A Whore,” “Hello There,” and “Down.” As it turns out, it was important for me to get up on stage to develop confidence.

So what’s next for Guided By Voices?

More touring and more recording. I still have a lot of good leftover material. It’s all about the songs. If you don’t have good songs, it doesn’t matter how well you produce them.