Robert Pollard

3RRR Interviews 2000 / 2001



Cuz: Now ‘Do the Collapse’ is your 11th album?  

Robert: Well if you include our fan club only albums and I’ve also done four solo albums and a couple projects done under pseudonyms.  I think it totals around about 17 or something like that.  But it’s officially 11. 

Cuz: Well when you started way back when, did you think you’d  be up to number 11? 

Robert: No, as a matter of fact I didn’t even know how to go about making a record. I didn’t even think it was possible to even do that.  But then there was this local band we really hated called The Highway Men who actually made an album. We were just really jealous so we had to make an album too. Thank God for the Highway Men because now we’re still doing it.   

Cuz: It’s funny how a band that sucks leads the way. 

Robert: Yeah the shitest band in town leads the way.  Exactly.   

Cuz: How did you link you Link Up with TVT Records? 

Robert: We were kind of shopping for another label because we were hopping to go through Capitol. And the whole relationship with Capitol/Matador fell through and there were some other labels interested in us.  TVT were kind of first in the door, kind of Johnny on the spot. Because of their enthusiasm initially I was agape we just decided to go with them. They’ve made some promises that I think they’re sticking with so far. It’s been really good. We’ve got management and other people that help us make decisions like that.   

Cuz: Well Matador have been through a couple of major label distribution deals haven’t they? 

Robert: That’s true. I don’t know how successful either one’s been, but I know they’re about to be a strictly Independent label.  So we made ‘Do the Collapse’ with this big producer so we decided maybe we should try to go somewhere where we could have better recourses, like radio push. 

Cuz: So the Idea to use Rick Ocasek from the Cars was the band’s decision? It wasn’t forced onto you from the record company?  

Robert: No. Well, I tell you what, we actually did go out and talk to Capitol. The president at the time said “Yeah We’ll put it through Capitol if you guys make the record that you’ve always been capable of making”. That would entail using a producer, but they didn’t tell me to use Rick, that was my decision.    

Cuz: So you were impressed with his work? 

Robert: Even though I’m not really a fan of Weezer I like the guitar sound on the Weezer record. I thought it was nice big room filling, chunky guitar sound, so that was kind of what I was after. And also totally out of my respect for Rick as a songwriter, I figured he would have empathy for me as a songwriter and I’m a big fan of The Cars - especially the first record.   

Cuz: The other day I tuned into the classic rock radio station and an old Cars tracks came on. I was quite taken by the fact that Rick’s keyboard style is very distinctive and hasn’t really changed that much. 

Robert: He did the keyboards on ‘Teenage FBI’ and I wasn’t even there, we had actually all gone home.   Rick’s got a 24-track studio in his basement and he went in with my permission and he continued to work on the songs. I said ‘Yeah, whatever you do I’ll come back and check it out and see how it is and see if I like it’.   There’s defiantly a distinct Cars flavour on that song. Somebody told me ‘you know that sounds like The Cars? ’I go well it is The Cars with Ric Ocasek playing keyboards on it, which is good. I don’t think he did that on the whole album, just on some of the more ‘poppier’ songs.  Which is good, that’s why we hired him for that touch, I’ve greatly admired Ric.  He certainly didn’t let me down as a person when I met him. He’s a really good guy.  

Cuz: Guided By Voices' earlier material tended to be home recordings on 4 track. Over the past few albums you’ve ventured more into the studios. Does the lo-fi tag still annoy you?      

Robert: Well, it doesn’t really annoy me I kind of appreciated of the whole thing. Because that’s what got us in the door, the whole lo-fi movement here in the states. It kind of annoys me to think that there are people who like identifying us as being a lo-fi band.  And since we aren't doing lo-fi anymore some of them are disappointed. I think they feel some of them have lost us. And we have now more wide spread appeal and it’s kind of scary to some people. That kind of annoys me a little bit.  

Cuz: I wonder if the inclusion on the ‘Buffy’ soundtrack did that? 

Robert: Well that’s great you know.  As a matter of fact that airs next week.  We’ve had stuff and things on soundtracks before. We’ve had lo-fi songs on soundtracks and I can understand a little bit. I remember when I would find a band and I thought it was mine that no one knew of. I used to love that. Then when everyone else would discover them I would be a little disappointed. But not to a degree of like totally abandoning us because of it.  

Cuz: So are GBV leaving the 4 track behind for now? 

Robert: As a matter of fact I just finished a record a solo record that I did with Doug Gillard my guitar player. He actually played all the instruments on just 4 track and sent them back to me.  I did the vocals over dubbed here in a big studio, so it’s kind of a 4 track record. Even though Guided By Voices has kind of crossed over into hi-fi, I’m still not completely out of the 4 Track. There are times when I think it can be used.  I think Guided By Voices are at a higher professional level so they have grown out of the 4 track. But when I do things like Robert Pollard or under a pseudonym I can still use a 4 track or do whatever I want with no obligations.  

Cuz: So no matter what direction Guided By Voices go you’ll still be plugging away with your 4 Track to keep the fans happy?  

Robert: And that’s what makes them happy. To me it’s all about the songs anyway, so most of our fans I don’t think it matters to them how we record it so long as they get the songs. But if your still a lo-fi kind of person I haven’t completely abandoned that. It kind like I’ve got this split personality with big polished music and experimental fragmented music. So I get to do both of them still, I’ve the best of both worlds. With TVT Records they’ve allowed me to do that. 

Cuz: The Guided By Voices fan base is a pretty fanatical kind of pack wouldn't you agree? 

Robert: Oh very, and very analytical and sometimes a little intrusive. They feel it’s part of their thing too, that they’re part of Guided By Voices also. Sometimes they know things before I do, so it’s good and bad. I’m glad that we have such fanatical following because I think that will ensure that maybe I can do this for a long time. But they’re fun and most of them have become pretty good friends of mine and most are pretty hip to any decision I make.  

Cuz: Because the website GBV. com is like going through an encyclopaedia!

Robert :I know it’s crazy, I don’t check it out too much.  I know a couple guys that come over and bring me print outs from it and let me see what they’re saying. The times that I have checked it out I’ve been pretty amazed by some of the conversations that have gone on. 

Cuz: I noticed that the version of ‘Teenage FBI’ on the Buffy Soundtrack has a different mix to it. 

Robert: I think it is. I need to listen to that again. I don’t even know if I’ve ever listened to it to tell the truth. 

Cuz: Speaking of different versions. There’s a track on Matador’s ‘Everything Is Nice’10 Year Anniversary CD which features a different version of ‘Choking Tara’. 

Robert: The creamy version. 

Cuz: Yeah! It’s such a huge surprise but how come that version never appeared on ‘Mag! Earwig’ 

Robert: When we did it I thought it was a little too bouncy and a little too happy. I thought the lo-fi version was a little sadder. It captured more of what I wanted. I think it’s good now that I listen to it I think it’s a cool version. It’s kind of the opposite approach of what most bands would do. Most bands would put a big studio band version on the album and put a lo-fi version on a compilation or a b-side.. We kind of did the opposite. I made a lot mistakes on ‘Mag! Earwig’, I was really confused.  There were quite a few songs I didn’t include on the record with hindsight I think I should have. That was when I was going through the break up of my old band and I had this brand new band.  I didn’t know what to put on the record exactly. That record was a little all over the place, not very cohesive because that was they I was at the time.  That happens. I do a lot of records and I put them out fast. So with hindsight some records are better then others. I like ‘Mag! Earwig’ but I it’s like a little sporadic. 

Cuz: Well I think that sporadic feel really helps with that record. 

Robert: I think so, it’s a confusing record.  I wanted to make it a concept album, at one point I think I was making like a rock opera or something.  I was just insane at the time actually really. 

Cuz: Sort of like The Who’s ‘Tommy’ or ‘S. F Sorrow’ by the Pretty Things? 

Robert: Yeah I was actually going to have characters off to the side like in the text. And it was actually going to be some strange rock opera. But it got to be so confusing to me I didn’t feel like explaining it anybody.  

Cuz: That’s a shame you could’ve had a movie spin off!

Robert: Yeah ‘Mag! Earwig’ The Movie.  I’m hip. 

Cuz: When you guys are playing live is it like the live recording ‘Crying Your Knife Away’? 

Robert: That’s a good record. That’s what inspired Steven Albini to work with us. That was his favourite record at the time. It’s a nice document because it captures a moment in history for Guided By Voices when we used to get really really really drunk. We don’t get quite that drunk anymore. We still do. That party was insane right from the start and you can tell everybody was having a good time. We kind of let the audience come up on stage at times. At that particular performance we were letting everyone get up on stage and saying what ever they wanted to. So I like that record. 

Cuz: I read in an interview a few years ago that mentioned because you have so many originals you don’t get a chance to do many covers. I did notice you appeared on a Tribute to The Clean on Flying Nun Records. Are you still continuing your no covers policy?  

Robert: No I doubt it man. We have people at our shows usually yelling out for us to some of the old stuff and we can’t even do our old songs. To do covers is kind of pointless I think, although I enjoyed doing that Clean cover.  I really live that song and I really like The Clean. We’ve actually done a few songs with David Kilgour and I’ve met Hamish. I used to be really into all that Flying Nun stuff The Vellanes, The Chills and The Gordons. If we did covers I think we would cover some of that stuff but like I said, we can’t even do our own songs. We did an Ultravox song called once called ‘Just for the Moment’ and we did a couple of Cheap Trick songs. Once. I used to be in a completely cover band in college like a heavy metal cover band so I’m like covered out.  

Cuz: What was the decision behind the Blue side and the Red sides on ‘Bee Thousand’? 

Robert: I think it had something to do with the song ‘Hot Freaks’. I think there’s a line “. .  She asked me to join her in the red room. . ’. Sometimes when I write songs I feel colours, certain songs feel like a colour to me and ‘Hot Freaks’ feels red. And ‘Tractor Rape Train’ feels blue. There were a lot of blue and red songs on that album. So I just decided have us call one side ‘Blue’ and the other side ‘Red’. As if you’re entering a different room when you listen to it. 

Cuz: ‘Bee Thousand’ was recorded entirely on 4 track in the basement? 

Robert: Entirely 4 track yeah. I think it’s our only entirely 4 track record and probably our most critically acclaimed most widely accepted record too.  I’m quite proud of that record.  

Cuz: The piano ending on ‘You’re Not an Airplane’, which member of Guided By Voices contributed it? 

Robert: That was Tobin Sprout.  

Cuz: Does he do many songs like that? 

Robert: He usually writes two or three songs a record and maybe collaborates on a couple more with me. We occasionally do some piano, Tobin is a pretty good piano player. He’s a multi instrumentalist, he can play just about anything. I can play about anything too but I just can’t do it very well.  

Cuz: Prior to ‘Bee Thousand’ you would self release your own product. What was the feeling for you to jump from DIY to interest from larger labels and to wider acceptance? 

Robert: It was total shock! To tell you the truth I wasn’t ready for it I actually pondered possibly not doing it, to say no. There were so many labels interested and also we were thrust into the limelight, as being this band that everyone had kind of missed. It was like ‘How did we miss this band in total obscurity? How did we let them go for so long? ’Also we were like talked about everywhere by all magazines and we were embraced by all critics.  It was so totally frightening and shocking.  New York was the first place where we played and it was just like ‘Oh God’ this used to be like a fantasy and a big joke now it’s real what am I gonna do? It was pretty frightening to tell you the truth. Right in the middle of New York I had to do interviews with Melody Maker, Rolling Stone and magazines like that. I had never done an interview before in my life! I was 36 years old at the time. Scary. I’m ok now, I’ve been doing it for almost 7 years now. It’s my job now.