Interview w/ Guided By Voices
I can never figure out if Robert Pollard is the brilliant writer everyone says he is or if he's just making fun of everyone by constructing deliberately obscure lyrics to see how far people will go to translate them. Myself, I've decided that the guy is the Nostradamus of our times, and future generations will be able to predict weather changes, Armageddon, and the rise and fall of the Anti-Christ by deciphering the collective releases of Guided by Voices.
At this point, GbV is 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 immedialty signed the band, sending them on to play at the 1993 New Music Seminar and rereleasing 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).
"So is touring and recording and being a big rock star something you've always wanted to do?" I asked the big rock star in a recent conversation.
Pollard laughs. "No, man," he says. "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. It was just a hobby for years, and when people finally did start paying attention to us, it was a big surprise. I never thought I'd have to be touring or doing interviews with people.
"I've never regretted leaving the Dayton public school system," he adds. "I taught for almost 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. 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.
" 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 far as other interests go, Pollard and his friends like to sit around and have what they call "acting practice"—where they basically sit around in the back yard, get drunk, and through lines from movies at each other. Apparently, someone at Warner heard about this hobby and tried to lure GbV to sign with them by hinting that they could make the band members into even bigger stars. "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," says Pollard. "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. I think they thought I was serious.
"But I'm not an actor. 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 play a show. It's pretty scary to get up on stage and perform in front of people."
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