Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2001: Interview with Robert Pollard

Robert Pollard has since broken up the band and pursued a solo career. His latest release is called Space City Kicks.

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Once upon a time, Robert Pollard was a schoolteacher in Dayton, Ohio, with a garage band he called Guided By Voices. Fast forward fifteen years and Pollard is on his way to the Guinness Book of World Records for Most Songs Ever Written By A Human Being. GbV has recorded something like, oh, 723 albums, not counting Pollard's solo projects, but their shimmering latest, Isolation Drills, is only the second for a "major" label. ZiaZine's Mark Zepezauer spoke with the man who is an inspiration to fortysomething wannabes the world over.

Q: Can I call you Uncle Bob?

A: You may call me Uncle Bob. How old are you, though?

Q: I'm 44.

A: Well then, you're older than me. I can call you Uncle Mark.

Q: Well, that'd be fine.

A: We're about the same age. You graduated in '75?

Q: That's right, back in the Fabulous Seventies. So what are you reading these days?

A: I'm reading a book right now called Nazi Doctors. It's pretty harrowing. It's about the experiments and the euthanasia
that the Nazi doctors incorporated. It's a pretty scary book, by a guy named Robert J. Lifton. I'm also reading a book called
All You Need To Know About The Music Business [by Don Passman, Simon & Schuster], because I feel like I've been
getting screwed lately (laughs).

Q: Are you finding out some useful stuff?

A: A little bit. There's this thing called "industry standard" that's really difficult to fight. Some things that aren't particularly
ethical, but there's really nothing you can do about it, if you want to be part of the business. I'm just boning up so I can be a
little bit smarter about things like that.

Q: What do you think about some of the stuff Courtney Love is trying to get going?

A: I think it's a good idea. I think she's right in a lot of areas. I'm part of it, because I'm on a big label, but I think it's unfair,
especially the major labels, where artists are paid, you know, fourteen percent of the profits, and they have to pay for their
own recording. The recording comes out of their end. I don't think that's fair. There are other things that I don't think are fair
also. I don't think it's fair that a band goes out on tour and they make - everybody involved, other than the band, makes
their money off the top, and the band gets their money after all commissions and after all expenses, and all taxes, and the
band is left with just a little bit of money. It really doesn't matter to anyone else because they get their money off the top,
and I don't think that's fair, either. But, you know, I say these things in interviews and then it pisses off the people I work
with. But I agree with her. It's nice to have somebody stand up for the rights of the artists.

Q: She was pointing out that athletes and actors have unions, so they have retirement benefits and health benefits...

A: ...and recording artists don't.

Q: Yeah. And a lot of those old time musicians got cheated out of a lot of royalties, those early rockers. I understand you've
been making some mix tapes, of the best albums of the late sixties, early seventies?

A: I actually did, I took them along on one of our tours not long ago. I made 75 ninety-minute cassettes, which came out to
be close to 150 albums from like '66 to '70.

Q: Well, what did you put on those tapes?

A: Odyssey and Oracle, by the Zombies; Sgt. Pepper's and the White Album, obviously. The Who Sell Out. King Crimson's
first album, that was '69. The Bee Gees' first album. All my favorite records from that period of time. I just wanted to have
something to listen to on the road, and also I kind of wanted to educate some of the younger members of the band about
some of the good stuff that I listened to back when I was a kid. And they weren't even born yet.

Q: There was a thing in the New York Times this morning [06/08/01] about album cover art. And I loved the cover art for
your new album. They were talking about how it's all gone downhill since CDs came along, but I thought your designers
did a good job with the smaller format.

A: Yeah, they did. I used to have a problem with CDs because I didn't think it was as artistically pleasing as the big record
covers, but I'm kind of into it this time.

Q: Do you have any favorite album covers from the past?

A: I just mentioned the King Crimson first album. I love that album cover; it's actually a water color painting. Let's see...
although I don't like the album, I like the Blind Faith cover with the little naked girl holding the plane. That's cool. I used to
like Hipgnosis. Remember Hipgnosis used to do covers? I liked all their stuff, Pink Floyd covers. One of my favorite covers is
a single by a band called Killing Joke, War Games. It's a collage of Fred Astaire dancing across dead bodies on a battlefield.

Q: Do you always like your latest album best, or do you love some of your children better than others?

A: With hindsight, some of them become your favorites, but I love them all. I think they all have different distinct flavors and
different personalities. But there's a period of time when the new album comes out that I like it the best, always. Because it's
fresh, and we're going around playing the songs live. So I like the new album the best right now. In a couple years that'll
probably change, 'cause there'll be another new album that I like the best. Like I say, there's hindsight, and there's other
albums that I'm a little bit more fond of. I have a tendency to like the more personal records a little better, and this one's more
personal. The darker records. I like Kid Marine, one of my solo albums, and I like Same Place the Fly Got Smashed; it's kind
of dark and I like that. I like Vampire On Titus.

Q: Working with [producer] Rob Schnapf, do you think he helped you find the right balance between lo-fi and hi-fi? Are
you right there in middle-fi now?

A: Actually, I think we're closer to hi-fi now. We went through the mid-fi period with Under The Bushes Under The Stars
and Mag Earwhig. So I think we crossed over the threshold into the realm of hi-fi now, and I don't think there's any

Q: No looking back.

A: I don't think so. But you never know. It depends on how I feel. I do add the kind of experimental lo-fi projects on the
side, on my own label.

Q; So he brought in Elliot Smith; how was that, working with him?

A: I didn't know him. He was a friend of Rob's, Rob produced some of his albums, and he happened to be in New York so
Rob called him up and asked if he wanted to come on by, do a couple things. Piano, he played some organ on a couple. He's
a shy guy, but he's nice, a nice guy. And he came in, did his part and then he hung around a little bit, drank a couple of beers,
and left. But it was cool.

Q: Do you have any dream guest stars you'd like to work with in the future?

A: Oh, man. I sang on J. Mascis' new album. I sang backing vocals on like four songs. And I would like to have him come in
and play some guitar on one of my albums. Doug would probably not appreciate that. But it would just be a guest
appearance. I'd love to have him come; I think he's a great guitar player. I'd like to hear him.

Q: So do you have the next album written already? Or the next two or three albums?

A: I have two albums coming out this summer. I have a solo album, by Robert Pollard and His Soft Rock Renegades, called
Choreographed Man of War; that'll be out in July. And I have another album coming out that I did with Tobin Sprout, and
we're called Airport Five. That album's called Tower in The Fountain of Sparks, and that'll be out in August. But I actually
am working on the songs for the next Guided By Voices album. I have about eleven songs. It might only be eleven. I think
the next album's gonna be longer songs, fewer songs. I'm kind of into that now. I'm getting bored with cramming eighteen or
twenty songs on an album. I want to flesh my songs out, and make the album a little shorter. I think an album should ideally
be about forty minutes.

Q: Who's the tougher audience, fourth graders, or rock fans?

A: Oh, fourth graders. For one thing, I couldn't drink when I taught. (laughs) I wish I could have. Fourth graders are tough.
You have them all day long, you really have to keep things varied to keep their attention for seven hours, and that gets
rough. We play for a long time; we play for like two and a half hours. But the audience, they drink beer, and it's kind of
proportionate, their level of drunkenness with ours. And as it goes along, it gets better. It's not too difficult to keep their

Q: So if the fourth graders were drinking, they might not be such a tough audience.

A: If they were drinking with me, it might not be too bad, you know. Might be some fights breaking out, though.

Q: You have any words of advice for middle-aged guys looking to quit their day jobs and hit the road?

A: No, I'd say, don't bank on it. (laughs) I mean, I never did. It came by complete surprise. It's a weird thing for something like
that to happen to someone that late in his life. So I never counted on anything to happen, I never expected anything to
happen and it did. So I guess the best thing to do is to not expect it. Do it because you love it. Do whatever you do because
you love it.

Q: Well, are you loving this tour?

A: I love it. I love making music and I like touring. So I guess I am.

Q: Any towns that stand out?

A: For the most part, the big cities, because there's a lot more people there, obviously, and the media get the information out
a lot quicker than in the smaller cities. But of smaller cities, I really like Lawrence; I just did a gig there and that's a great
town. Austin. Austin, Texas is a great town. And we played Tucson once. That's a really good town; I had a good time. We
played a place that was like a hotel...

Q: The Club Congress. I really enjoyed that show! Hardly anybody comes to Tucson. Are you coming again?

A: I don't know. Um, we're actually playing Tempe on this tour.

Q: That's just a two hour drive. It's worth it.

A: Yeah, you guys can come on up to Phoenix, that's coming up pretty soon. But we had a good time at the Congress Hotel.
We played with Those Bastard Souls. That was a good time. I'm sure we'll come back soon.

Q: Well, thank you, Uncle Bob.

A: And thank you, Uncle Mark.

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