Music Reviews



American Gong

Kill Rock Stars

Quasi’s back after a four-year hiatus — yes, it’s really been that long since When The Going Gets Dark, and a whole lot longer since Featuring “Birds” dropped “It’s Hard To Turn Me On” and “Our Happiness Is Guaranteed” on our heads — and oh what a lovely return it is. This first Kill Rock Stars release delivers the fullest sound yet from the Portland, Oregon trio of Sam Coomes, Janet Weiss, and Joanna Bolme, and a disc full of songs bound to stick with you for at least the next four years.

It’s difficult not to hear hints of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks when half of that band makes up two-thirds of this one, and Weiss’s harmonies remind me of the best Kim Deal songs, but Quasi has its own sound — harmonious, guitar-rich, and rock-heavy. You might expect the vocals to get lost beneath such musical meat, but no, Coomes’s voice is lifted through some sort of wizardry to rest in perfect balance on top of everything.

Bolme kicks American Gong off with the big bass number “Repulsion,” which tells the hard-luck tale of a guy who just can’t seem to get any. “I lie flat in my soft saggy sack / You roll over and show me your back.” Sad stuff, but man this is a great song.

“Little White Horse” is just a sweet little coming-of-age and then going back story, full of drug innuendoes and vermin. Snakes and rats are a recurring theme, and once you’ve heard the whole album, you know intimately whom “they” represent. Along with “Now What,” “Everything & Nothing At All” sounds the most like 1990s-era Quasi, winding in with a drum and guitar intro that calls to mind “You Turn Me On,” but it doesn’t stay there long. Coomes’ super-sliding lead vocal, punctuated by plaintive piano plunks, croons, “If some broken scheme rips a hole in your dream / Don’t let them get you down.” Good advice if you can manage it.

“Bye Bye Blackbird” features sweet, sweet harmonies — how Weiss pulls off that angel’s voice while pounding the shit out of her drums just stuns me — but an ominous bass line and a creepy guitar track clue you in to the fact that this is no hymn, and the lyrics confirm it. “Snakes and lizards are sucking up the gold / Chrome-plated plastic they give you in return / Will teach you a lesson you shouldn’t have to learn.” Well, let’s not leave anyone wondering how we feel about corporate America, okay, Quasi? “TNT, aaah!” Those harmonies really stand out again on “Rockabilly Party,” a Coomes and Weiss duet of gorgeous vocals with a raunchy guitar accompaniment.

“The Jig Is Up” is a nice acoustic number that seems to provide the most positive imagery on the record, though that’s not saying much because the dark, dark stuff of failure lurks beneath every track. Even “Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler” is a tortured lament and not the Mardi Gras party you might expect; “Howler” could not be any more desolate. Don’t let that get you down though, because there’s love and hope and rebirth in here somewhere, and you’ll be tapping your toes and bobbing your head despite yourself.

There isn’t one mediocre track on American Gong; it’s jam-packed with the talent of musicians who know what the hell they’re doing. This is a fun record.

Quasi: • Kill Rock Stars:

Music Reviews



Ruined It For You

Narnack Records

Indie rock at its worst — loud, disorganized, clever for cleverness sake and just interesting enough to keep you listening to where they might be going, even if you couldn’t care less where they’ve just been. It’s actually better to be completely bad; that way people don’t feel guilty for not liking the band. When you’re fairly OK, it creates guilt and stress — you know you OUGHT TO like them, but you know you don’t.

OK, let’s review the coolness points: female singer (Heather Newkirk), cute play-on-words name, band members kicked out of a few bands you might know (Breeders, Guided By Voices) and retro cover art. Uncoolness points: bland lyrics, no sign of a hook, Heather stretches her voice too far and it hurts, and it doesn’t get much better with a second or third play. I class this with the sort of records you buy from your friends when they have a band. It’s not that the record is great, but they ARE friends, and friends buy each others discs.

Narnack Records:

Music Reviews

The Martinis

The Martinis



Smitten is technically The Martinis’ second album, but it might as well be their first. The eponymous 1998 self-release from former (and current, I suppose, considering the group’s opportunistic reunion) Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago and his wife Linda Mallari is all but impossible to find, and has been scaled back to the status of “demo” by some fansite discographies. You’ll have better luck locating the disc’s opening track, “Free,” the rather impressive pop tune the pair did for the Empire Records soundtrack nine years ago.

This album continues along The Martinis’ stated m.o.: industry-standard laments or exultations of love wrapped in accessible, radio-friendly melodies. Well, mostly. “Flyer,” which appeared in the middle of the 1998 release, is a crunching, chugging, howling, clichéd mess of a song, marred further by self-conscious quirkiness. Thankfully it doesn’t even last a full two minutes. “Right Behind You” is more in keeping with the band’s pop sensibilities, and is a better song for it. This is where listeners will find hooks and choruses similar to the ones on which The Pixies’ reputation rests, not to mention a true demonstration of Mallari’s vocal talent, alternating between monotone stoicism and compelling entreaties. After this, nothing is really worth mentioning. Nothing at all. Even “Big Three Wheeler” sacrifices a decent tune to a contrived attempt at nostalgic humor. The one distinctly different song, a piano ballad called “Into the Meadow,” suffers from trite lyrics sung with laughably desperate earnestness. An appropriate way, perhaps, to close out the album.

Smitten has a few things to like about it, but it has even more to dismiss. Critics’ recurring Breeders comparisons are in most cases sadly apt, and this will put off listeners who have no desire to hear a tribute act; and yet fans of Kim Deal’s band will invariably be left feeling shortchanged by The Martinis’ blandness. Any additional originality on Smitten has been leached away by overproduction, so that even the rare moments of raw emotion have a layer of thick, prettifying veneer over them.

The Martinis: • Distracted:

Music Reviews



War Bird


Jucifer is good, period. Don’t be put off by the fact that Jucifer is a two piece, boy-girl combo, because these guys are a real, honest to goodness band (unlike that corny band obsessed with stripes). And they’ve got the make up to be successful, as the female in the band is pretty and the male is fairly handsome. Not to mention the fact that they rock, and their songs are really catchy. Lucky for you, War Bird offers a chance to jump on the Jucifer bandwagon before they get huge.

Jucifer, for those who have never heard them, are a powerful, heavily distorted and fuzzy guitar band that sounds similar to Pod-era The Breeders slowed down a bit. Most of the songs are quite heavy and plodding, but the sweet, syrupy vocals of Amber Valentine help to make the sludge go down the hatch rather easily. When I say that the songs are catchy, they are catchy in the same way that Helium’s early stuff is; it is weird and awkward, but something about Mary Timony’s voice makes it memorable. The same can be said of Amber’s vocal contribution to Jucifer. On “Haute Couture,” one of the album’s faster, more upbeat songs, Amber sounds kind of like a cross between Kim Gordon and Nina Gordon (Veruca Salt days). I know it’s not cool to reference Veruca Salt, but her voice is so similar! This song is a simple, yet crushing little poppy ditty that will embed itself in your brain for weeks to come.

As noted before, most of their press photos and write ups tend to focus on how cute Amber Valentine is, and she is. But, that really overshadows how truly rockin’ these guys are. From start to finish, War Bird rocks out with reckless abandon, and makes for the perfect indie rock (emphasis on “rock”) record. This one is highly recommended!

Velocette Records:

Music Reviews

Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats


4AD Records

Can one, in point of fact, ache for a town like Tallahassee? Furthermore, can a record that is only tangentially “about” Tallahassee, be the spur for any Tallahassee-related aches? Ummm… shouldn’t really, though the new Mountain Goats platter on 4AD (quick aside to ooh and ahh at the packaging, striking as usual for the 4AD design department) does fill me with a certain melancholy when I see the name of my last haunt all over the CD cover and press release. Cuz somehow, however unintentionally, John Darnielle and his Mountain Goats do invoke the strangeness and sadness so inherent to North Florida livin’. A tip of the cap, and a dab of the handkerchief then, as it were. Hey isn’t this the record that collects a whole new batch of songs Darnielle wrote about the mythical “Alpha Couple” in Tallahassee? A relationship that disintegrated amidst threats of divorce when the woman just walked out? Yes? Okay. Does it seem at all strange that Darnielle can wrench such beauty out of such damaged subject matter? Only if your conception of beauty is limited to Hallmark cards. And I pray it’s not, for both of our sakes.

Quietly strummed core piece “Tallahassee” has a wonderful line about “half the whole town gone for the summer” that makes a college town’s summer break seem like the most tragic thing in the world. Gorgeous portrait of couple claustrophobia. It’s better even than Eyes Wide Shut. Fact: I never drove down “Southwood Plantation Road” the whole time I was in Tallahassee, but Darnielle makes it seem like the site of a climactic battle between the sexes (“we are gonna stay married!”) to rival Bull Run, all with a hoarse “la la la la la.” Surely it should be an historical landmark by now. And by the fourth verse of the plaintive, and maybe even downright desperate, “Game Shows Touch Our Lives,” when Darnielle almost yelps “Our house sinking into disrepair/ But look at this showroom/ Full of fabulous prizes,” I’m a mess too. I’m not embarrassed to admit that this is one of those sing-in-the-car-over-the-top songs. “House That Dripped the Blood” adds some Cramps-esque teeth to the Mountain Goats’ silvery tongue, distorted bass, atonal harmonica and a guitar strummed so hard for even more blood. Rollicking music hall folk might SEEM to be an inappropriate format for the mammoth explosions of mutual hate (“I hope you die/ I hope we both die”) and vitriol that make up “No Children.” But it’s not. If only all couples were this honest. And again, with the hard-driving swamp blues on “See America Right.” It’s exhilarating, especially that guitar break, like revenge, like hot twilight nights with one other and claustrophobia. “International Small Arms Traffic Blues” sees Darnielle comparing the Alpha Couple’s love to various global trouble spots and catastrophes in a gorgeous, understated manner. I usually don’t reward clever wordplay EVER, but he does it so quietly, not like most smug punsters. The piano on “Have to Explode” adds an unbearable finality and gravity to the Alpha Couple’s weariness that Darnielle channels with all the empathy of a psychic medium. And the line about lying on the tile floor, trying to keep cool? I’d give my arm for that line. “Oceanographer’s Choice” is all weirdly oblique and urgent — that kinda puts me in the mind of Dy**n, and I know I shouldn’t say that but oh well, it’s how I feel so there you go. It’s violent too, good noise roars in the distance and “night comes to Tallahassee.” Darnielle’s a magician. Using a formula that, to all appearances, either shouldn’t work or be too trite to even countenance (one literate man with an acoustic guitar), the Mountain Goats create affecting outsider art and expression. And it rocks too, fuckers.

4AD Records:

Music Reviews




Self Released

Whether anyone will own up to it or not, one of Lou Reed’s most significant contributions to music is his laying of the groundwork for widespread acceptability of singers who can’t — or won’t — actually sing. A few critics have blanketed Boston-based, eclectic soft rock trio Henry with near-ubiquitous comparisons to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground — in large part due to Henry vocalist Don Gould’s mostly monotone, sung/spoken-yet-emotive lyrical delivery. To my ears, that influence isn’t as glaring as perhaps the slow-seeping musical overspill of Reed’s many disciples: REM, The Pixies, The Breeders, Frank Black, and The Lemonheads, to name-drop just a few. It also seems worth a mention that The Velvet Underground is the primary band with whom critics once compared the Strokes; and the Strokes fucking suck. Not to say that Henry’s brief (8 songs) but lovely debut, Cyanide, doesn’t have its fair share of “Gosh, this sounds an awful lot like (insert Lou Reed song title here).” The point is, when it comes to rock criticism, there truly is no objective reality.

Cyanide has an intimate, Sunday morning music feel to it, with Gould’s minor chord guitar playing providing a comfortable bed for his intimate, engaging story songs. “Light Coming Through the Ceiling” temporarily kicks the album into a higher gear with its upbeat, old school punk texture similar to Spiral Scratch or Another Music in a Different Kitchen-era Buzzcocks, making it one of the album’s most appealing tracks. The band then slips back into a seductive, heroin-paced drone with “Old Seventeen.” In this way, Henry works an atmospheric “mood groove” angle along the line of what critic’s darling bands like Gomez do best. Bassist Tom Rasku and drummer Brian Toomey fill in all the spaces between with just the right rhythmic essence. Cyanide is a remarkable debut from a fairly young band, and worth a listen if you dig any of the bands mentioned here.

Henry: • Purchase at:

Music Reviews

Bettie Serveert

Bettie Serveert

Log 22

Palomine / Hidden Agenda

The Dutch seem to take droll pleasure in speaking flawless English and refining Anglo music forms. Carving out a special space in pop from Holland for well over a decade is Bettie Serveert (literally “Bettie Serves” after an instructional book by tennis champ Betty Stöve), whose unique blend of seductive vocals, bespectacled lyrics, and unexpected guitar rock is nothing short of the archetype all rock/pop bands should shoot for. Carol Van Dijk’s vocals — clear, cool and uncomplicated like a nightstand glass of water — and the inventive and consistently flawless music from the band exist happily together, bound by some of the sharpest songwriting you’re likely to hear. The band rocks and does so honestly, never attempting to overplay or underplay their songs for effect. While many “back to roots” acts these days are contriving to dumb down their sound, Bettie Serveert carefully crafts each track for the simple pleasure of doing it right.

Take for example “Captain of Maybe.” Slow and steady, with muted keening keyboards in the background serving as seagulls, the song is part sea shanty and part power ballad, with Van Dijk’s vocals perfectly capturing the ambivalence and potential spoken of in the lyric. In contrast, “Smack” is a brief playful rocker, whose loose-limbed groove has a nice musical slap that responds each time the word “smack” appears and whose chorus tosses in chirpy electronic freakouts. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Bettie Serveert album without a wink and nod to the Velvet Underground. This time around it’s “White Dogs,” echoing VU in their Loaded period several times in its epic eight-minute length from its strummy acoustics playing a two chord figure to its buildup and opening of the floodgates.

Those familiar with the band will find that little has changed here. Log 22 is a collection of apparently simple songs whose catchiness is quickly overtaken by the many quirks and details the band puts into their music. Bettie Serveert’s output dwarfs — in both quantity and quality — the work of similar, better-known acts like Garbage and Elastica. If strong female-fronted alternative rock is your gig and you haven’t done so already, you owe it to yourself to tap Bettie Serveert’s vein. You’ll be sure to strike gold just about anywhere you strike, and Log 22 is an excellent place to start.

Parasol: • Bettie Serveert:


Guided By Voices

No Chicks in the Tree House: A Drinking Interview with Robert Pollard of

Guided By Voices

My smartest move in preparing to interview Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices was to stop by Gristedes Supermarket en route to our meeting and pick up a six pack of Miller Lite. It’s no secret that Pollard likes to drink, and the bargain-priced brew is his current favorite. And, being that I was his final interview of a two-day jag in NYC to promote Guided By Voices’ über-genius new album, Isolation Drills, grabbing the sixer was somewhat of a calculated effort to endear myself to the man who, for all intents and purposes, could call himself the King of Indie Rock. I mean, if there were such a thing.

At the offices of TVT Records in Manhattan, Pollard held court in an intimate conference room, where he greeted me convivially and thanked me for bringing the beer (Yes!). Robert Pollard still resembles the unassuming fourth grade school teacher he was before he did a bunk on his day job to rock out with Guided By Voices full time, but he chain smokes like a rock star and is like a living encyclopedia of rock and roll. While waxing poetic regarding the highly autobiographical Isolation Drills — an album that’s equal parts painfully heart-stopping beauty and ass-kicking rock, Bob also talked about lots of stuff that — trust me –you won’t be reading in other interviews. And (to paraphrase Johnny Cash) Bob and I killed that six pack, just to watch it die.

• •

Shall we roll?

Let•s roll!

First, I have to thank you for writing the most beautiful song, which is “Things I Will Keep.” It’s my favorite song, and it’s very personal to me.

Thank you. That song is my favorite song on Do The Collapse, and I said, “that’s the direction of the next record.” I wrote a lot of anthems for Isolation Drills because of that song.

The first couple of songs really do remind me of Do The Collapse. This is excellent beer, isn’t it?

Yeah, I love Miller Lite.

I’m a big Beatles fan from way back…

Who could not be?

…and being in the position of getting a lot of records and seeing so much crap that makes its way to CDs, not to mention — but you can see I am about to — everything on the radio that totally lacks melody, good song structure, and no one is encouraged to be excellent at their instrument, it’s really depressing for me, and I guess others like me•

That like to rock…

…Yeah! And the bar, the standard, for what is good rock music, has been lowered to the point where you can walk over it. So, when I get a new Guided By Voices record in the mail, I just have to say “Thank God for Guided By Voices, the Saviours of Rock.”

Someone once asked me, “How did you, overnight, after ten years, get a record contract?” and that kind of thing. And I was like, because music sucks so bad now. It was easy for us to get it. It took a time, a period in rock, a lull where nothing was going on, for something to happen for us. But, now that I look at it, that’s not really true, because, at that time when we broke, actually there were some pretty good things going on, like The Breeders and Nirvana and stuff.

Everybody is going to say that Isolation Drills is the album that will break Guided By Voices into the mainstream, but do you really think that’s going to happen?

I don’t know if it’s possible, really, with everything that’s going on in music right now. On this record, the label thought “Glad Girls” was a single, but they didn’t hear a second single. I was forced to go back and write a second single, which was “Chasing Heather Crazy.” I can write that kind of stuff all the time. That’s easy, pop songs, you know. But, I don’t know what a single is, that’s what I told them. I don’t know exactly what kind of music you’re looking for. I just know what I hear on the radio these days, and I don’t write that kind of music. So, I really don’t know if it’s possible. But maybe. There’s some good bands and rock is coming back a little bit, so maybe it will go the full cycle.

It seems to come back a little at a time. I mean, I don’t have any problem finding things that I can get into, but I don’t listen to the radio.

But if it does come back, all of the indie rock kids who have a problem with what we’re doing now, they’ll say that we were right. “They stuck to their guns and they played rock, so rock’s coming back.” There are some people — the lo-fi type people — who have a problem with what we’re doing right now, just a handful.

That brings me to the whole thing about Do The Collapse. When I first listened to it, I was like, “Why does anybody have a problem with this? It’s a Guided By Voices record. It’s a great record.” But then I went back and listened to Mag Earwhig or Under The Bushes…, and I did realize that it was a lot cleaner sounding. But so what? The songs are just as great, and it sounds better. Did you ever feel like you were maybe selling out, or compromising by going to work with a producer like Ric Ocasek?

We started out as lo-fi as you can get, and each album sounded better, so it’s been a gradual process. It’s not like we just dove in to high fidelity. Mag Earwhig sounded better than Under The Bushes and Under The Bushes sounded better than Alien Lanes. Gradually, the sound fidelity has gotten better. I wanted to do that anyway; I wanted to make a good-sounding record from the beginning. We just never had the resources. Then, once we started working with a four-track, and found out that we could do as many as twenty songs in a day, we kind of got addicted to it. We did three albums like that. Then there were people who said, “Well, we’re tired of this lo-fi shit, when are you going to do something that’s listenable?” Then we did, and the same people go, “Well, I like the lo-fi stuff better.” You can’t please other people, you just have to please yourself. I want to make big rock.

Why did you change the title of the CD from Broadcaster House to Isolation Drills?

Well, Broadcaster House [originated] because it was big, and we’re Guided By Voices, and [it was like] from the House of Guided By Voices comes this… new record. Plus, there was just a little snippet of [makes Devil Horns] “Horns Up” [laughs], so I thought Broadcaster House was a good title. Then, I looked at the dark nature of the record and how it was kind of personal and everything. The last song, that was deleted from the album, was a song called “Isolation Drills,” which will probably end up being a B-side or something. I just thought that was a more befitting title. You probably read the lyrics and can tell a little bit of what they’re about.

Yeah, let•s talk about that. My favorite song on Isolation Drills is “Unspirited,” and I have to ask if there is a good story behind that song.

That song’s kind of about how I felt at the time. Things were going on in my life where I kind of thought I was losing my shit a little bit. I felt like I was unspirited. The way to deal with it was just to become numb and not give a fuck about anything. It was also like a song to my son, too; sometimes I write songs to my son. That was another one of my choices for singles from this record, but my choices never happen.

On “Skills Like This,” the lyric about re-invention of the self or whatever, let•s get into that.

A lot of the songs I write, I’m talking to myself, I’m reinventing myself. [Talking about] redirection, using a stumbling block as a stepping stone, making it something positive. So, that line “I want to reinvent you” is just me [asking] myself, “What do I do now?” [Also], you have to reinvent yourself as a band to continue. We keep going [because] we’re re-inventing a little bit — gradually.

I read this quote about you, where some rock critic said that you are just “leaking music.” I thought that was a nice metaphor.

I’m leaking music, it seeps from my pores. [Thoughtful pause] I guess I do. I write a lot of songs. We have quite a catalog of songs now, quite a body of work we’ve created. So, I like that. I leak it, I guess. I don’t know. I dream it, eat it, sleep it.

It blows my mind that you can write not just so many songs, but so many great songs.

It’s telling of my age, you know. I’m 43, and I grew up, I was a kid, in the ’60s. I listened to the best music then. That’s where I learned to sing with a British accent and where I learned to write. I’ve been through all the different phases, you know, all the good phases, which, in my opinion, ended in 1980. It’s been spotty since then.

It’s disheartening to see how it’s gone downhill, and to see and hear great bands that don’t even break or get heard.

People are more concerned with image and sound, more so than songs. I don’t think people take the craft of songwriting seriously anymore, or not too many people.

The Suitcase box set shrink-wrap has a promo sticker with quotes. The one from your dad reads, “When are ya gonna stop doing this shit?” Is your father not convinced that you’re a working musician?

It’s all about money to him. You know, I never made money doing this, so it was a waste of time. He’s said other things, like, he said one time, trying to dissuade me from playing music, that he wanted me to be an athlete. He says, “Do you realize how many shitty bands are out there?” That’s actually the most profound thing he’s ever said. And I was like, “Yeah, I do, but you don’t understand what I’m trying to do. I do this because I like it… it’s fun.” That was the only reason we did it. Once we got signed to a big label and started making money, he was fine with it. He was scared at first. “When are you going to quit playing this shitty music?” My Mom said one time, I said, “Dad does not like our music,” and she said, “Well, you wouldn’t like it either if it wasn’t worth a shit,” and I was like, “Hey, fuck you, Mom!” [laughs] But it’s cool now, everything’s cool.

How do you decide which material is slated for your solo Fading Captain series and which material is best suited for GBV?

Whatever’s next. Just whatever batch of songs is next goes on the next record. Although, I think, if a song [makes me] go, “Wow, that has commercial potential,” or, “I could work on that and that could be something I think [winks] Mr. Gottlieb [Bob is referring to Steve Gottlieb, owner of TVT Records] would like,” then I hold it back for a Guided By Voices record. But for the most part, if a Guided By Voices record is finished, like it is now, the next batch of songs will go on the next record, whatever it is — whether it’s Robert Pollard or Tobin Sprout with Robert Pollard, Lexo and the Leapers, Polymorph Orchestra… I’m in five bands now!

Are you an official band whore now?

Yes! [Laughs]

Tobin Sprout makes a guest appearance on Isolation Drills, any chance of him resuming his role as a full time member?

No, he’s decided to make it kind of low profile for him. But I did just finish an album with him. We actually have a band now called Airport Five. We finished a record, which will be out in August. It’s nice; it’s a really nice record. He does everything. He lives in Michigan, about nine hours away from me. He just basically records instrumentals and sends them down to me and I sing my lyrics. It takes no time at all and it sounds really good. That’s kind of the future, I think, maybe. I don’t know how much longer Guided By Voices can exist…

Don’t scare me.

Well, I think it will be forever and ever. But I got this thing going with Toby now that’s nice. We’ll probably do two records a year.

Have you ever bought one of his paintings?

They’re too expensive. I tried to get him to come down. He said he’d cut me a break. He said he’d sell me one for $3,000. I don’t have that kind of money.

Thinking about the movie Almost Famous, at one time GBV had rock critic Jim Greer as a band member. Do you think that helped you garner a “critic’s darling” status?

No, it hurt us. We were critics’ favorites and we kind of had some backlash because of him. Spin quit writing good things about us because he was a senior editor at Spin, so it actually hurt. A lot of other people in bands were like, “Why the fuck is he in your band?” He was in my band because he lived in Dayton, I needed a bass player, he said, “Let me give it a shot.” He came and he knew all the songs, so he was in. It wasn’t because we wanted to get some different acceptance from different people. But Jim’s a good guy, he’s much happier now. He just wrote a book called Exit Flagging which is about his experience with Kim Deal and Guided By Voices. I just read it, it’s pretty cool.

I know you’re a big Who fan, ever thought of doing a Who covers album? You could resurrect gems like “Mary Ann With the Shaky Hands,” and “Glow Girl.”

Well, part of our set’s “Baba O’Reilly.” We’ve kind of gotten rid of all the covers — we were doing quite a few — and the only one left that we continue to do is “Baba O’Reilly.” It’s one of our encore songs. It sounds good, too. I think it sounds better than The Who. [Laughs]

The song “I Am a Tree” [off Mag Earwhig] reminds me most of a Who song.

Oh definitely, that’s Doug [Gillard]’s song. The thing was, it’s an old song from like ’92. Doug and Tim [Tobias] are in a band called Gem, and that song wasn’t good enough for their album for some reason. I go, “man, what the fuck? I’ll take it. I’ll make it a Guided By Voices song.” I love that song, it’s totally The Who.

One time I saw you guys play with Sleater-Kinney in Central Park…

Oh wow…

And it was this thing where, you’re waaaay over there, and between me and the stage there’s this football field of freaks, and all I can see is the freaks… so I had no idea what was going on on stage.

Do you remember when I started throwing beers? I got in trouble a little bit for it, too. I’m glad I got away with that one, I could have killed someone. But people were asking for beers, so I’d hand them off. Then there were people farther back, so I started flipping them. Then I’d toss them, and after awhile I was throwing them all the way back, as high as I could, and they were coming down… bottles of beer… I could have killed someone.

That’s so Nikki Sixx.

I thought it was a punk rock thing, but then I realized it was pretty fucking stupid. Someone from my label came out and tried to grab me, to stop me. That was a weird show, because it was really hot, and it was scary actually. There were a lot of people there. We were told by riot grrls in Portland that “Sleater-Kinney is going to burn the stage up on you guys.” Come on!

Ever consider writing a concept album? Like The Makers’ Rock Star God or something? Wasn’t Mag Earwhig meant to be a concept album of sorts?

A bunch of my albums started out as concept albums. Mag Earwhig was going to be a rock opera. I actually had names and shit off to the side of the lyrics — characters. But then I go, “man, I do not feel like going through interviews explaining the spiritual significance of this record,” you know? So, it isn’t a concept album. It doesn’t mean anything [laughs]. I heard that Makers album, I liked it. I wanted to like it better than I did. But I used to love concept albums. Sometimes before I’d play a football game in high school, I’d listen to Quadrophenia all the way through.

Speaking of Mag Earwhig, do you still talk to [Cobra Verde singer/guitarist] John Petkovic?

[Long pause] No, I don’t talk to him anymore. He’s mad at me, so, whatever. [Pause] I thought John Petkovic was the coolest guy in the world for awhile. We were great friends, and then… it’s just like, shit went down. I didn’t feel that he was into it, to tell you the truth. Not just him, but a few other guys in Cobra Verde. I felt like ulterior motives were involved with them being in my band.

I feel weird asking you about this, because John is a friend, and Cobra Verde is one of my favorite bands and so is Guided By Voices…

They’re a good band, they’re fucking great… I would like to be friends with him still.

I think John’s a great guy, but I’m not taking anyone’s side. I can love you both. I can be like that.

I would like to end whatever kind of war it is with him. I’d love to, I don’t hold grudges. It just didn’t work out, the whole Cobra Verde thing didn’t work out for whatever reasons. But he doesn’t even talk to Doug anymore, really, and they were together forever. That’s a good question, actually. No one’s asked me that question. I•ve been waiting for that.

I was feeling fearless.


Well, we all remember when Yes did a reunion tour with all current and former members present…

I saw that!

…and Jethro Tull gathered their entire roster for the occasion of new recordings for a box set. Is it possible to herd all the various GBV alumni to do something ala Paul McCartney’s Rockestra Theme?

You know, we talked about that recently. It’s weird that you would ask that, because we said, on our last tour of the south, we go, “Man, we need to get everybody together and have some kind of a basketball game, where somebody gets tired and raises their hand and somebody else comes in.” We’d get all the members. I’ve also wanted to get all of the people who have been in Guided By Voices and take, like, a football team picture, in the bleachers like, you know? I’d love to do that! I don’t know how many people would be willing to do that. Let’s do it! [Laughs]

In the old days, when you stocked your homemade albums in mom and pop shops in and around Dayton, Ohio, which member of GBV was the salesman who made the deals?

Well, first of all, most record stores wouldn’t have those records. There was even a label guy who put our first record out — his label was called I Wanna Records — Rev Cool, he called himself. When we made our first record, we didn’t even have a label, so we put his label on our record. He got all pissed off about it. Then he did a compilation record of all the bands that were on his label, and he didn’t put us on there. Now he’s kicking himself in the ass, because he’d probably be getting a lot of money from those records.

But anyway, most record stores wouldn’t even put our records in the store. Then a friend of mine, Greg Demos, who was actually playing bass, not only did he take them to record stores but he actually started sending them out for review. We started getting some pretty good reviews on some of those early records. We got a good review in Spin, a “Spin Underground” thing. But I just totally said, “I’m not going to do anything with this stuff… I’m afraid” [laughs]. I was, like [whispers], “we suck.” [Laughs] I thought we did suck. Maybe we did suck. I was really afraid of big cities like New York and Cleveland, because those were the rock and roll towns. I thought if Cleveland and New York heard our stuff, we’d be laughed off the planet. I really did, that’s why I didn’t send anything out. But critics seem to like us. We have a story [laughs].

Why do you think GBV survived the collapse of the alternative rock era?

Because we’re ROCK at heart. I never considered us to be part of the lo-fi, indie rock or the alternative thing. I’ve always been in rock bands. I was in a heavy metal band in the ’70s. We’ve been here forever. You know the cockroach on the disc of Do The Collapse?

It’s funny that you would mention that, because I was looking at that today and thinking of how Tom Semioli wrote this review of Isolation Drills for Amplifier magazine where he said, “When the bomb drops, there will be two survivors: The cockroach and Guided By Voices.”

That’s what that means. That’s what that symbolizes. We’re not going away. We’re hard to kill. Our next album’s going to be called Heavy River. It’s much more prog-rock-like — without the keyboards, of course. I know some people, that idea scares them.

Well, I’m sure you get this all the time, but I hear a lot of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, especially in the older Guided By Voices records.

I love that! [Whispers] I love that. I•m a huge early Genesis fan. That might be my favorite music.

Will there ever be a female member of GBV?

No chicks in the tree house! That’s what I told Kim Deal. We were touring with The Breeders, and Kim asked me, right after Last Splash, “Why don’t you let me play bass?” And I thought for sure she was just fucking with me, so I said no. And I probably would have let her, but then I told her that we have a policy that there are no females allowed in Guided By Voices. It’s like when you’re a kid and you have your tree house and there’s no girls allowed in it. Then she did an interview in some GIRL magazine and she called me over and she goes, “Explain your philosophy to her!” And I said, “No chicks in the fuckin’ tree house, OK?”

I don’t have a problem with that, but what about a duet with a chick singer?

I did one with Kim once. We did “Love Hurts” for a movie called Love and a .45. It was pretty sweet, and it was going to be the main song, but then they didn’t put it in there. I think you can barely hear it in a bar scene or something.

If you could invite any musician from any era or band to be a member of GBV, who would that be?

Well, I used to say, you might not know who this band is, but do you remember UFO?

Yes I do, I love UFO.

Do you remember Pete Way? I want him in my band, because he kicked ass. He wore the tight, striped pants and just kicked ass. I want Pete Way to be in my band. Then Greg Demos started wearing those tight, striped pants so he kind of became that character. Pete Way on bass. Bun E. Carlos on drums. I guess he likes Guided By Voices. We did a short tour with Cheap Trick.

I saw that show, and I thought you were much better than Cheap Trick. Because they’re kind of… over.

Yeah, they’ve been over for a long time. We are totally better. Our music is more serious than Cheap Trick’s ever been. They’re just a straightforward, fun band.

Their first album was kind of heavy.

The first album is unbelievably great. But lyrically, they’ve never said anything, really. [Pause] Have they?

Check this: I saw them play at CBGB’s on the day of the Columbine shooting, and they did “The Ballad of TV Violence.” Is that scary?

Wow. Their first album is phenomenal. Thinking about it, yeah, there’s some good titles and some good lyrics on that record. That tour was weird because they were nice… to a degree. They lectured us a lot about our drinking and about different things. Like, who are you to tell me about that? [Laughs].

How did the famous Pollard drop-kick stage movement start?

Gee, I don’t know where that came from. Before we could even play our instruments, we practiced moves — just with guitars on, jumping around, but I never kicked. The first show that we played — we hadn’t played in about six years — and then we played the [CMJ] New Music Seminar at CBGB. I was really nervous and I started doing kicks for some reason, out of nervousness. So I was doing the cheerleaders’ kicks and the karate kicks and all that, and I decided to keep those in. I did a lot of things because I was inspired by Adam Ant, his moves from the Kings of the Wild Frontier days, you know? Those jumps where you kick the side of your feet? I have lot of stolen moves, but I think “the kick” is mine.

Jimmy Webb, one of your heroes, wrote a book on songwriting. Have you read it?

No, but I saw some excerpts from it in a magazine, and I disagreed with a lot of the things he said. Where you have to have true rhymes? I don•t agree with that. I don’t agree that it even has to rhyme. He’s a great songwriter, though, maybe the best. I know his sons, the Webb brothers, are Guided By Voices fans, and they tried to get me to write songs for them one time and I said no fucking way. No way could I do that. I’m intimidated by people like that. I was intimidated by Ric Ocasek a bit.

I interviewed him once, and he speaks very softly.

That’s how he was as a producer, too. [Whispers] “You can do it again.”

Berkeley School of Music, UCLA, University of Texas, and the University of Miami all offer degrees in Rock Performance and Composition. Being a former teacher, do you think you could return to teaching, perhaps at these institutions, in the autumn of your years, or do you want to just rock out on stage until you die?

I plan to rock the rest of my life. And even if I didn’t, I don’t know if I would go back to teaching. I don’t like to go…


Yeah, I don’t like to do that. I don’t know what I would do. Porn director, maybe? [Laughs]

For a student pursuing a degree in rock music, what albums, musicians, and eras would you emphasize? As a parent, would you pay the tuition for your kids to study this kind of curriculum?

Yeah, I would. I’d pay the tuition. My son’s in college now, and he•s majoring in philosophy and literature and people are asking him, “What are you going to do with that?” But the important thing is to learn and have fun. But I would tell kids to listen to the Golden era of rock, which is, in my opinion, 1967 to 1979. Focus on that classical phase, that’s what I would say. Back in the ’60s, the most popular bands were the best bands, which is not so true anymore.

Also, back then, you had to kind of… be good.

You had to be good, [laughs] you had to be able to sing, harmonize. You had to look good. I remember when, and it was maybe up to about 1980, I could go every week and I would buy four or five great albums that I couldn’t wait to come out, that I’d be excited about. I don’t even go buy records anymore.

If you ever make it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (you’ll be eligible in another six years), who would induct GBV?

Who would induct us? [Long pause] Ray Davies? How about Ray Davies, would he be good?

There’s no right answer, and it’s your band. But I think Pete Townshend would be good. Although Ray Davies is a really good answer, too.

Michael Azerrad reviewed Bee Thousand for Rolling Stone, and at the same time, he was getting ready to interview Pete Townshend. He said he was going to turn him on to Bee Thousand, but I don’t know if he ever did.

That’s kind of a thrilling thought, isn’t it?

It’s kind of scary… Pete Townshend listening to our four-track record.

It•s one of those lose your mind things. Anyway, I’ve always wanted to know, what does “Taking sips of Liquid Indian” mean?

Well, you know, I have a lot of Indian blood in me. People always said that Indians can’t handle their alcohol very well, so Liquid Indian means the spiritual value of alcohol, I think. It’s always done wonders for me, I like alcohol. This beer is what we drink all the time. We drink watered down Miller Lite. I have a temper and sometimes alcohol will bring that out in me, but for the most part, it makes me happy. It only makes me angry, and I go off, when someone’s trying to stomp on my buzz. Sometimes people don’t want to see you have a good time, do you know what I’m talking about? Then I’ll fucking lose my shit. But that song is about…. “I am the liquid Indian.” Taking sips of liquid Indian can make you feel fine.