Tag Archives: Robert Pollard

Wanna Read The Article That Got Me Into Guided By Voices?

Sometimes I get emails or messages from people who let me know that I introduced them to a singer or band and it’s changed their lives. One of the great joys of being a hardcore music fan is getting turned onto new music and then doing the same for someone else. Back in the summer of 2001 I was fresh out of high school and working my first-ever job at a drugstore chain called Walgreens. One of the perks, actually the only perk of working there, was that I got to read magazines for free in the break room during my lunch. I’m pretty sure I never paid for a single issue of Revolver magazine, but I was quite taken with it. I remember one issue where a singer/songwriter named Robert Pollard was interviewed about his band, Guided By Voices.  The thing that got my attention was the description author Tom Beaujour used when describing the band:

“The Guided by Voices songbook is a place where the two-minute pop song is pushed to the very limit of expressive capabilities, where melodies soar with unabashed grandiosity, and surreal characters and bizarre parables coexist peace fully with beefy riffs (imagine the Who performing an arena-shaking rendition of the Beatles “Nowhere Man”). “

Now, as a fan of both The Beatles and The Who, that got my attention. I immediately went home and spent 90 minutes downloading “Hold On Hope” and “Glad Girls” off of Limewire (look it up, kids). I was stunned by what I (eventually, it was dial-up) heard. I made a beeline for the nearest CD Warehouse (look it up kids) and bought every Guided By Voices record I could lay my mitts on. To this day, I owe the discovery of one of my favorite bands to that article and Mr. Tom Beaujour. Just for fun, I did a search this week to see if the article was available online. Revolver magazine turns out to still exist, but I couldn’t find it on their website. The band’s now discontinued website has the article transcribed, so if you’re interested, you can check it out and read what I read 16 years ago! Nothing ever dies on the Internet, kids. 

Also, just for fun, I did an internet search for Mr. Beaujour, and I think I might have found him. It looks like he’s a record producer in New Jersey now, and even owns a recording studio, Nuthouse Recording. He even went on to work with Guided By Voices! Because I always enjoy hearing from people when I turn them onto a new band, I decided to write Mr. Beajour an email thanking him for turning me on to GBV.

Capture

If you take away nothing else from this post, take this: people like being thanked so go out and thank someone who’s improved your life by sharing music with you.

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Celebrate No Shave November With “Let It Beard”

November is nearly over, where has all the time gone? This time of year the days grow short and facial hair grows long as hipsters/woodsmen all over the world celebrate the manly majesty that is No Shave November. I myself always grow a bushy beard this time of year, mostly to catch snow and to feel virile. If No Shave November had an anthem, the Boston Spaceship’s “Let It Beard” would definitely be it.

let_it_beard_cover

Boston Spaceships was a side project featuring Robert Pollard and Chris Slusarenko of Guided By Voices and John Moen of The Decemberists. The band put out a few (really great) records before closing up shop in 2011 with LET IT BEARD. The title track is a great gateway to Pollard’s brand of sloppy indie freak-rock. The song features the obvious rhyme of “beard” and “weird” but is otherwise fantastic.

So before the drains of the world are clogged with the sad remains of Movember, let your furry freak flag fly…and let it beard.

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(Un) Joining A Fan Club

At the end of last month I left the Guided By Voices fan group on Facebook after I realized I’m not really a fan. Oh, I love GBV and still regard them as one of my all-time favorite bands, but I’m not a “fan.” The term “fan” is short for “fanatic,” something I only came to realize on August 24th when I woke up and checked the band’s Facebook group. The night before the group had played a live-streamed concert at New Jersey’s famed Stone Pony club. I haven’t seen the footage, but everyone online was chatting about how incredibly drunk/out-of-control lead singer Robert Pollard got as the night progressed.

"How's my drinking?"

“How’s my drinking?”

Guided By Voices is a phenomenal indie-rock band that rides the bizarre line between power-pop and prog rock. They’re known for short, incredibly catchy hooks. But the band is also just as famous for their incredibly drunken live shows. I’ve seen the band four times; twice the band was so drunk it ruined the show. The first time I saw the band was the best, and that was because they drank only a handful of Miller Lites. In recent years, the band has taken to drinking from bottles of tequila and Crown Royal. It’s mostly a shtick, Pollard take a nip and then passes it to the crowd. When I last saw the band live in June, I was relieved that the band was taking it easy as far as the drinking was concerned.

Then the show in August at the Stone Pony happened. Fans on the Facebook group page were clearly divided the morning after the show: some were horrified by how drunk Pollard had gotten, while everyone else seemed to pile on those concerned people and tell them it was “none of their business.” Pollard’s wife even jumped into the fray, defending her husband’s health and state of mind. I was shocked at how angry the thread became, after all everyone in the group likes GBV’s music. I felt like all the comments of concern were valid and made in a respectful way. And yet, everyone who dared ask if Pollard should drink that much was attacked and vilified. The comments defending Pollard’s drunken behavior came from people with really old looking profile pictures, so I knew these weren’t dunder-headed frat boys. Clearly some (but not all) of these people had substance abuse issues themselves. Perhaps that was why the energy of the Stone Pony thread became so poisonous. I love GBV, but not so much that it degrades my common sense. And that was when it hit me: I’m not a fanatic.

I have worried for some time that Pollard’s drinking was due, in part, because of fan expectation. The joy of going to see a live GBV show has twisted into a sickening mix of music and watching Pollard get lit. Could we all be enabling a guy to essentially kill himself? Worse yet, were we guilty of killing the goose that laid the golden pop song? I don’t know Robert Pollard personally, so my desire for him to go on living is pretty selfish—I just want him to keep making albums. Death by booze is both a rock cliché and a terrible thing for fans to thrust upon an artist. Pollard is an adult, older than myself by several decades, so what he chooses to do to with his mind and body is up to him. I can let Bob “be Bob,” but I discovered I couldn’t take part in the online GBV fan community. I’m not a fan in the truest sense of the word—I’m not a fanatic. I’m still able to think for myself and form my own opinions. I love GBV but I can still view them objectively, both as musicians and as regular people. Robert Pollard is not an infallible pop demigod (Pop Zeus, if you will); he’s flesh and blood. I can’t make Pollard stop drinking, but I can remove my voice from the chorus of people online chanting, “Chug! Chug! Chug!”

The older I get, the less fanatical I am when it comes to musicians and authors. I respect a lot of bands, but I no longer feel the need to (angrily) defend the actions of people I’ve never met simply because I like their albums or books. I’m taking a measure, adult approach to my appreciation of all art. I judge the work by itself and I don’t judge the (wo)man who made it at all. Every online fan group/webpage I’ve frequented seems to hold only two camps: people who hold their idols far too high and people who derive pleasure from antagonizing the first group. I don’t fall into either category. I’m not in anyone’s fan club.

 

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“So High” by Guided By Voices

Have you ever fallen deeply in love with a song?  I think we all have at some point in our lives.  I’ve been head-over heels in love with “So High” by Guided By Voices for months now.  It’s not on any of their albums, but rather was released as a B-side to the “Doughnut For A Snowman” single.  I found it one day while trolling around on Spotify, as I often do to kill time.

GBV is one of my all-time favorite bands, so it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that I feel so strongly about one of their songs…but my love for“So High” feels strange because the song is less than one minute long.  If you know anything about lead singer/songwriter Robert Pollard, you know that length is not one of his strengths.  His tunes, which are catchy as hell, are nearly always tragically too short.  In fact, the rather tossed off, unfinished nature of the band’s songs is probably the #1 reason they’re not a household name.

“So High” indeed.

The A-side of the single, “Doughnut For A Snowman,” appears on the band’s first comeback album LET’S GO EAT THE FACTORY, which came out earlier this year (side note: can you believe has put out 3 awesome albums this year?).  That song begins with a gradual fade-in of what is actually the tail end of “So High.”   For whatever reason, “So High” didn’t make it onto the album.  The song seems to be related to “Doughnut For A Snowman,” so why was it left off the record? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

Anyway, maybe it’s my love of cast-off, discarded things, but strange fact that a (very) small part of the song is on the record really piqued my interest.  So I listened to “So High” probably 10 times in a row, and before I realized it: I was in love with it.  The song has a cozy, campfire feel.  I love the cheap, plastic recorder/flute in the song, I think it’s adorable.

The lyrics, while nonsensical are also very charming and full of warmth.  As you’re hearing it, the song seems to be about something, something really philosophical and important.  But it’s not.  Which is pretty funny because that’s kinda what it’s like to actually be so high.

Dashed off in under a minute, Pollard’s “So High” is like a short hug from a long lost friend I never knew I always missed.   The song is like roasting marshmallows on the banks of a glow-in-the-dark lake with your best friend while John Lennon drunkenly plays you an unfinished Beatles song.  It’s chocolate cake on the beach.  It’s probably my favorite song of 2012.  It’s 43-seconds long.

Please take a listen:

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Your Next Favorite Band: Guided By Voices

It was the summer of 2001 when I discovered Guided By Voices.  I had just graduated high school and was working as a cashier at a drugstore.  The job was pretty lousy, with even lousier piped-in music to add insult to injury.  Anyway, the one perk was the magazine rack.  Every day I’d take my break in the employee lounge and read a magazine.  At the time REVOLVER magazine was a real rock magazine and not the rag it’s unfortunately become–anyway I was leafing through an issue with REVOLVER that had a feature on a guy named Robert Pollard.  What I discovered  from reading the article was that Pollard was some kind of prolific songwriter and that his indie-band, Guided By Voices, was about to release it’s second “mainstream” album on a major label. It was a pretty standard article and it didn’t do much in the way of make me curious about Pollard or his band, until the very end.  At the end of the article, the author compared Guided By Voices sound as “The Who performing an arena-shaking rendition of The Beatles’ Nowhere Man.”

As a dyed in the wool  Beatlemaniac, I was intrigued to say the least.

That comparison launched a love affair with GBV and Pollard that goes beyond mere fandom.  Robert Pollard is not the greatest songwriter of all time. Guided By Voices is not the greatest band of all time. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply love Guided By Voices, but it’s not just the music that makes them so special.  The band is a symbol for what it means to be an artist–I mean that in the broadest sense of the word, not just a musician but as a general creative force.  That the music is awesome  only cemented Pollard’s position as my personal rock hero.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  In order to talk about all of this you need to know a little bit about Pollard.

Calisthenics are an important part of the Guided By Voices experience.

Robert Pollard was a 4th grade school teacher in Dayton, Ohio.  He was on track for a pretty ordinary, average life but something was missing.  If you’re an artist and aren’t creating it causes all sorts of problems.  Pollard needed an outlet so he started jamming with friends on the weekend.  Pollard also liked to write very (very) short little songs.  Maybe “song” isn’t the right word, these were almost pieces of songs, snippets.  They were catchy as hell.  Using very primitive home recording gear (like a boombox with a cassette deck and microphone) Guided By Voices was formed and Pollard starting making albums.  The band became critical darlings in the mid-1990s and Pollard was able to quit his job as a teacher and became a full-time rock star.  The band went mainstream for two albums and were then promptly dropped when the band didn’t catch fire and sell millions of albums.

Now, that story probably makes Pollard a hero in the eyes of many, but it was what he did after being dropped that makes him MY hero: he kept making music.  Pollard made a LOT of music.  So much music that he started other bands, a solo career, and recorded GBV albums.  I know a lot of people say they’re prolific, but Robert Pollard is the real deal.  The closest mainstream person I think of who seems to be like Pollard is Jack White.  But whereas Jack White puts out an album or so every year, Pollard usually releases 3 to 4 albums a year (sometimes more).  He also designs his album’s artwork and writes poetry.  Being prolific makes him special, but he’s my hero because he never gives up.  If we all turned out backs on him I know he’d keep writing and recording albums because he’s an artist and that’s all he knows.  He could have done what most people do and give up, push aside childish things like making art, but he didn’t.  As someone who wishes he was a writer and not a office drone, Robert Pollard is my  hero.

But the music is good.  It’s really damn good.

Just like the REVOLVER writer pointed out years later, Guided By Voices sound a bit like The Who and other British Invasion-era rock bands from the 1960’s.  Pollard, born and raised in Ohio, even sings with a bit of a British accent.  However, GBV wasn’t an ordinary rock band playing ordinary rock songs. Pollard’s songwriting generally consists of taking his little song snippets and fusing them together.  A lot of it is very poetic and very catchy, some of it is just bizarre.  Pollard’s songwriting leads GBV to the precipice of art-rock and progressive (“prog”) rock.  In fact, I would say Guided By Voices often sound like The Who meets Peter Gabriel-era Genesis on occasion.  The songs are pretty much 89% hook and chorus.  A major criticism of Pollard and GBV is that the songs feel undercooked or too much like a snippet.  An argument could be made that Pollard and GBV never found massive success because he wrote 20,000 two minute songs instead of 14 killer 3-4 minute polished gems.  I can’t argue with this criticism completely, but I can’t dismiss Pollard’s genius either.  He’s written so many amazing songs that might not exist if he didn’t throw everything at the wall and then run away.

The aesthetic, in regards to recording, can also be criticized.  Back in the 1990’s people didn’t have a lot of options when it came to recording, being “lo-fi” was less a conscious artistic choice and more of a necessity.  Many long time GBV fans became hyper-critical when the band joined a major label and recorded in a proper studio.  I can listen to both era’s of GBV and appreciate it but I can definitely recommend that newbies start with the newer albums and work back to those prehistorically recorded classics.  Since being dropped from the major label TVT, Guided By Voices has adopted a nice balance of lo- and hi-fi sound.  As a true lover of the band I’m perfectly fine with this, but it’s still annoyingly cool to bitch about GBV not being homemade.

Robert Pollard knows that hydration is a key ingredient to successful rocking.

I keep talking about Robert Pollard because he really is Guided By Voices.  I read once that Pollard estimates over 100 different people have been in the band at one point or another.  I’m not sure how accurate that figure is but it seems accurate enough.  For a while guitarist Doug Gillard (from Cobra Verde) was an integral part of the band, but that partnership ended in 2004 when Pollard inexplicably shut GBV down.  He claimed that it was also his plan to stop recording when the band made a “perfect” album.  A lot can be said of 2004’s HALF SMILES OF THE DECOMPOSED but a perfect record it was not–and Pollard must have realized this because in 2010 he reformed the band.  Pollard  didn’t retire during the brief period when Guided By Voices was dormant, he recorded a shit ton of solo albums.  I am a pretty big fan and I can honestly say that I have not heard (or heard of) about 45% of Pollard’s output.  There are simply too many songs.  Too many records.  I haven’t even heard all of the Guided By Voices early stuff (most of which I’ve heard is a bit unlistenable).

You pretty much need to buy this. Right. Now. Don’t make Bob cast a spell on you.

In 2003 Matador Records did newbies a huge favor by releasing HUMAN AMUSEMENTS AT HOURLY RATES: THE BEST OF GUIDED BY VOICES.  They also released, at the same time, a pretty hearty boxset HARDCORE UFOS.  I guess the best place to start is the greatest hits compilation.  I don’t usually recommend that to people, but it’s the best way to dip your toes in the world of Robert Pollard.  From there I recommend you check out MAG EARWHIG! and UNIVERSAL TRUTHS AND CYCLES.  The former being the last album before going to a major label and the latter being the first one the band released after being dropped. The band’s major label albums are not terrible, they’re just a not the best place for newbies to start.  You have, in fact, probably already heard one Guided By Voices song and not even realized it: “Hold On Hope.”  The song comes from the Ric Ocasek (the weird dude from The Cars) produced album DO THE COLLAPSE.  The story goes Pollard did not want to do “Hold On Hope” but because he wanted to play ball with the record company (and get on the radio) he did it.  It’s not a terrible song, it’s a nice ballad.  Anyway, it’s been featured in a bunch of indie-minded TV shows and films (like SCRUBS).  It’s the kind of song a lot of bands would kill to have and it’s nowhere near as good as 99% of  GBV’s other songs.

Guided By Voices is a band I’m seriously passionate about.  On one hand the catchy, weird-ass songs delight me on a pure visceral-level but as an artist, I find I love and respect Pollard for chasing his dream and pursuing his own unique vision of  song and song-writing.

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