Saturday, September 10, 2011
Robert Pollard interview, 1997
Robert Pollard of GBV interview
Originally conducted in summer 1997
Originally published in Musicomet Magazine, September 1999
Interview by Benjamin Robinson and Daniel Coston.
Singer. Bandleader. Writer of a million songs. World-famous beer drinker. Indie icon. Rock God. For fans of Robert Pollard, who has spent the last fifteen years at the helm of Guided by Voices, all of these labels apply to him. With a revolving cast of cohorts, Pollard and his Dayton, Ohio-based band have produced some of the best rock records in the past decade, including "Propeller" (1992), "Bee Thousand" (1994) and "Alien Lanes" (1995), and given rise to a legion of fans that rally behind the slogan, "In Bob We Trust."
With last month’s release of the band’s tenth album, "Do The Collapse," and their show at the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill on September 9, we decided to dust off this never-before-seen interview with Pollard, conducted while he was promoting GbV’s 1997 album, "Mag Earwhig." Talking with Pollard is an experience unto itself. Much like his music, you’re never quite sure what’s coming next, but it always promises to be a lot of fun.
Musicomet: So you’re a big media superstar, now.
Pollard: I don’t know what’s next. I’ll be on Politically Incorrect, or Rock N’ Jock. [laughs] I could do that, but I don’t want to do that kind of stuff.
Musicomet: That’d be awful. Hanging out with Dean Cain...
Pollard: ...or Flea. I’ll kick Flea’s ass. [laughs]
Musicomet: Would you beat the Beastie Boys in basketball again, like you did on the Lollapalooza tour?
Pollard: Nah. They also had Billy Corgan, did you know that? It was the Beastie Boys and Billy Corgan. We actually became pretty good friends, because of that. It was really weird, because of our basketball ability, we got respect from that. We’d see them in a place in L. A., like a restaurant, they’d come over. "Hey, hey," you know, because of basketball. I’m not sure if it was because of rock.
Musicomet: Bob Pollard’s got mad game.
Pollard: They were okay. They weren’t bad players, they just underestimated my brother [Jimmy], and they just left him open for a 15-foot shot, and he buried, like, ten in a row.
Musicomet: Is it necessary for you to bring in new people every once in a while?
Pollard: Yeah, it’s always been that way. Some people think the band is like a marriage, and you have to stay together with that all the time, and I disagree. Before we got some attention in ‘93, I used to change the band all the time. I’d change it every week, if I felt like that, if I wanted to.
It’s like the story of the vampire. He’s got to keep himself young with new blood. [laughs] I’ll get me some nineteen, twenty year-old kids in the band next. Like that band Hanson..., or Silverchair.
Musicomet: Do you care that all these crappy bands make all the money?
Pollard: No, I actually have pity, because these kids are thrust into the f--king glamorous aspect of all this s--t, and they’re caught up in the industry, and I’m sure that they’re going to be f--king over with in a couple of years. And they don’t have time to develop their own music. Basically, all they can do is latch on to something that’s happened, like a grunge thing, and they’re going to have time to develop their own music, so it’s a joke.
I think it should be like, what’s the legal age for drinking? You should be that to be able to rock, too. [laughs] I don’t think you should be allowed to have a band before that. You cannot rock before your 21.
Musicomet: Could you play acoustic instruments before that?
Pollard: No, you just listen. You just listen and learn what you want to do. You go to school. You go to Rock College. You go to Rock N’ Roll High School, and then you go to Rock College.
I think that most of them see MTV as the role model. That’s the example. "Hey, we’ve got to be something like that." In the best periods of music, like the late ‘60s and late ‘70s, you could do anything you wanted. You could call your band any weird-ass name you wanted to, and you could do any weird kind of weird music you wanted to, and you could actually get signed to major label like that. Whereas now, you can’t.
Do you think that music sucks? It kind of sucks. I hardly listen to any music. I used to listen to it all day, and be into it. But I think it’s something to do with that we’re part of it, and it’s not as glamorous. Plus, I hate CDs. F--k CDs.
Musicomet: They don’t lend themselves very well to artwork....
Pollard: Yeah. It’s not art. It’s just plastic. And it costs, what, fifteen dollars for a CD? And it doesn’t cost them anything to make them. They send them out as advances for free. That’s how cheap they are.
I don’t think that bands give a s--t about the art part, or the conceptual parts [of the album]. They just think, "Let me get a couple good songs on there, and I’ll let the record company do the rest."
Musicomet: The album, as an art form, is really not like what it was. No one makes an album like you do anymore. It’s always hard for me to make a mix tape of Guided by Voices, because I don’t think about songs from "Alien Lanes"...
Pollard: You think about the album.
Musicomet: "Bee Thousand" is an album, it’s not a collection of songs.
Pollard: Thanks for saying that. That’s what I try to do. That’s way every album is different, and has it’s own personality. I don’t labor over songwriting, or recording, but I do labor over packaging, the sequencing, and the artwork, because that’s the final touches of the piece. I try to put it together so that you can listen to it without taking it off, or skipping through the songs.
Musicomet: What other bands do you respect, that have also been around as long as you?
Pollard: Peter Buck’s a good dude. I don’t like REM’s music too much anymore, but I used to, and I think that they’ve got some longevity. It’s kind of pitiful to see what’s happened to U2. Bob Mould, Sonic Youth. I like Sonic Youth. Those guys are good people. Pavement, Superchunk. Those bands keep going, and seem to be doing alright.
Somebody asked me, "What happens if it’s all over tomorrow? I know that I’ll still be making music, ‘cause we did it for ten years without anyone knowing what the hell was going on with us. It’s not a big scary thing.
Musicomet: Well, you can always forward to the "Where Are They Now?" articles about you.
Pollard: They have a section in the Dayton Daily News called, "Where Are They Now?" They’ve never put me in that. It’s mainly for athletes and s--t, but I was a pretty good athlete here in town. I made All-Greater Dayton in basketball, and I pitched a no-hitter at Wright State. You’d think they would be like, "That’d be an interesting story. Where is he now?" And I’m a rocker now, and they’ve never done that.
Musicomet: You’ve written just an innumerable number of songs. Do you still find new things to inspire you, and to write about?
Pollard: I don’t think about that. I write when I’m inspired, but I’m usually not inspired that often, But when I do become inspired, I just go write. And it usually comes from a list of song titles. I’ll use that as the seeds of inspiration, and I’ll just write the whole list. If there’s fifty song titles, I’ll write the whole list. And them I’ll go back and pick out my favorite ones, and work on them. Or sometimes, they’ll come from things that people say. I’ll listen, and twist phrases around, and start from there.
Musicomet: The thing that’s always amazed me about your lyrics is that for as many songs as you’ve written, you never repeat yourself.
Pollard: That’s what kind of tough, but I don’t think I could do that if I didn’t write the way that I do. Which is kind of like, way too uninspired, and then, it’s almost a form of meditation, or something. I just let myself kick back, and let loose, and let us much flow out as I can, and then use the best stuff. I think because I do that, I come up with a lot of different stuff. If I ... tried to work with a formula, then I think I would come up with a lot of the same stuff, and I think that’s what happens with a lot of bands.
Musicomet: Do you think that a lot of musicians also get too tied up in letting people what the inspiration is, what they’re writing about? ‘Cause I think that you’re lyrics can be interpreted in many different ways.
Pollard: Yeah. That’s the best kind of stuff. Like John Lennon’s, David Bowie’s, Marc Bolan’s. That’s how their lyrics where. These abstract portraits that you can figure out for yourself. They can mean a lot of different things.
There’s a lot of people who like to get too literal, and too personal, and try to reveal their soul to you. "Hey, this is how about my mom," or my girlfriend, or whatever. F--k that. Who cares?
Musicomet: That way, people can also take in their own meanings, to things going on within their own life.
Pollard: Yeah. I kind of work line by line. I’ll write one line, and that may mean something, and then the next line may have nothing to do with that. So I do is string a whole bunch of unrelated lines together, and then a lot of times they form a complete picture. And you can something of it, or you can make something out of one line. That’s fine.