Guided By Voices
So what can I say about Guided By Voices that hasn’t already been said? After all, they are probably the most discussed about band in the “underground” scene today, with accolades ranging from blurbs in Rolling Stone to the L.A. Times . In the past 14 years, various incarnations of Guided By Voices (all fronted by Robert Pollard) have gone from sitting around an 8-track and a case of beer to playing festivals in Paris with Beck and filming one MTV video of “My Valuable Hunting Knife.”
Up until five years ago, Pollard was juggling his musical career with teaching fourth grade and supporting a family in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio. Together with fellow shop teacher and “manager-for-life” Pete Jamison, Pollard took a loan out of the Dayton Public School system’s credit union to record their first albums, including ’87s Devil Between My Toes , Sandbox , and ’89s Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia . Scat Records in Cleveland got hold of a copy of ’92s Propellor and immediately signed the band, sending them on to play at the 1993 New Music Seminar and re-releasing all of their previous home-recorded albums in a box set, appropriately titled Box . Back home, Pollard earned the nickname “Mr. Rocker” from his students — a nickname that stuck until he finally retired from teaching in 1994. The band is now touring almost full-time in support of their eleventh full-length album, Do The Collapse (TVT Records).
What sort have changes have being signed to TVT made for the band?
Robert Pollard : We’re getting much better radio play, and our shows are actually being advertised now. Our stuff’s easier to find at record stores now. TVT has more personnel, so they have better resources. But we’re mostly getting better airplay because of signing with them.
How did you get Ric Ocasek to produce the Do The Collapse ?
We decided we were going to finally use an outside producer, and he was at the top of the list because I liked the sound of the guitars on the Weezer record. So I thought Ric might be good for the record, besides, he’s a songwriter himself, so he would know what we wanted. He would have the empathy for what we wanted to do. But at the same time we were thinking about hiring him, he had found out about us. He was doing a short tour in support of his last solo record, and Melissa from Hole was playing guitar for him. She turned him on to a compilation tape with some Guided By Voices material on it. We hooked up a little while after that, and things just kind of fell together.
Did he bring anything new to the overall sound of the record?
Yeah. He actually played keyboards in it, so there’s a quirkiness there that’s all Ric. And he also fleshed out our songs, and made us sit back and look at them and see what we needed to do and kind of arrangements we needed for each song. So the songs are more fully realized because of him, I think.
So is touring and recording and being a big rock star something you’ve always wanted to do?
No, man–I never even thought it was possible. I didn’t think we were good enough, and we never really got much feedback here in Dayton about our music. Most people here thought our music wasn’t very good, that we were just the strangest bunch of drunks they’d ever seen. Guided By Voices didn’t go over very well in Dayton. So I never thought anything would ever happen with it. It was just a hobby. When something finally did, it was a big surprise. I never thought I’d have to be touring or doing interviews with people. But it’s here now, I’ve been doing it for five years now, and it’s kind of like my job.
Do you ever miss teaching?
No. [laughs] I taught in the Dayton public school system for 14 years. It’s rough. There’s too much pressure on teachers, and they don’t make enough money. I miss the kids a little bit, but I see kids all the time. I have my own kids, and they have their friends, so if I really want to hang out with kids, they’re there. I don’t miss dealing with administration, or state evaluations, or any of that shit — I’m glad to be out of that. I was starting to burn out on teaching even before Guided By Voices happened. Music was a godsend, a rescue, for me. Angels rescued me from teaching. Even being an indie rocker, I was making more money playing than I ever did teaching. That just tells you about our society’s priorities.
So what do your kids think of your music? Are they old enough to go to your shows?
Oh yeah. My son just graduated from high school, and my daughter’s in 8th grade. My son comes to some of our shows. Actually — and I’m not very proud of this — but he actually got drunk with us at our last show. But he’s 18, and even if it’s not legal, I think he’s old enough to have a beer with me every once in a while. But he’s kind of getting into our music more now than he used to. My daughter likes the Backstreet Boys and Whitney Houston and all that stuff, so I don’t think she understands us.
Do you have any interest in acting in movies, and what kind of role do you see yourself in?
I don’t really. I’m not an actor. I don’t even like to do videos. At one time, Warner Brothers was courting us, and they took us out to the Warner Brothers set, and they were telling us that they could get us into movies if we signed with them. So I was joking around, and I told them that at one point, someone said I looked like Matt Davis, and another person said I looked like Tom Berringer, so I thought I could maybe play those guys in a movie, or maybe be their stunt double.
But I’m not an actor. Sometimes, me and my friends sit around and have what we call “acting practice,” where somebody’ll come up with a line and everybody’s got to do the same line–it’s pretty funny. But I don’t ever see myself acting. I’m too shy. That’s why I drink before I go up on stage. It’s because I’m shy. I’ve got to be pretty lubed before I can get up in front of people. It’s pretty scary to get up on stage and perform in front of people.