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Revolver - May/June 2001
By Tom Beaujour
Eternal Adolescent Bob Pollard Confronts Adulthood on Guided By Voices' Isolation Drills
"Tuck the ball, motherfucker!"
Bob Pollard punches the couch in the recording studio lounge, and curses a blue-streak at a butter-fingered Ohio State running back. "What a pussy", the 43-year-old Guided By Voices frontman growls, himself a one-time Ohio State baseball star. "A fuckin' pussy."
Unfazed by the outburst, bassist Tim Tobias and Doug Gillard, the group’s often-taciturn lead guitarist, heatedly debate the relative merits of various Midwestern fast-food milkshakes. “Steak N’
Suddenly, the room is silenced by a thunderous crash. Drummer Jim MacPherson has accidentally torn a pool cue rack from the wall, and is doubled over with laughter. This is MacPherson’s last night with the band (he is “retiring” to spend more time with his family), and he’s determined to make his flight back to Ohio as hungover as possible.
all this rec-room fun, its hard to believe that expensive minutes are ticking
away on the studio dock, or that New York’s ultra-hip Lower East Side is
bustling just outside the door. Finally, after going on a massive beer and
McDonald’s run, Pollard and the current incarnation of Guided by Voices (the
band has had more than 20 members since the singer started the project as a
weekend-only hobby in the early Eighties) decide that it is time to get back
to the business of recording basic tracks for the band’s new album, Isolation
Drills. Except the session gets delayed again, as rhythm guitarist Nate Farley
“Farley’s puking,” Tobias volunteers, snickering. “He’s been puking all day.”
Far from being an expression of modesty, this last sentiment apparently reflects what is Pollard’s deeply felt need to deflect attention from a private life that is far more complicated than his happy-go-lucky demeanor would indicate. In 1994, Guided by Voices’ breakthrough album, Bee Thousand, was embraced by the indie-rock community as a lo-fi masterpiece. Sensing the chance of a lifetime, the 36-year-old Pollard, a married father of two, quit his job as a fourth grade teacher to pursue his musical career. Since then, the hard-drinking rock-and-roll lifestyle and the months he’s spent on tour have exacted a predictable toll on his marriage.
sooner have these words escaped his mouth than Pollard feels the need to reverse
himself “It may not be the moral thing to do, but I don’t let anything stand
between me and my band. My kids are raised — my son is 19, and my daughter’s
16— and now I’m gonna tour until my hips give out,”
troubled marriage and his desire to reconcile his need to rock with the needs of
his family permeate Isolation Drills. For the first time in his songwriting
career, he has abandoned the cerebral hopscotch that characterized his lyrics
for less oblique, more heartfelt fare. “People used to always ask me about my
lyrics when they were more surreal, and I’d say ‘I don’t
people come see a Guided by Voices show, they expect us to be drunk,” he
explains. “It’s like a science experiment: ‘Are they gonna be too
fucked-up to play? Is it gonna be just right?’ I try to gauge my drinking so
that I can work up a nice buzz but not go over the edge during the three hours
that we usually stay onstage. One show, I decided not to drink, as a kind of
experiment, and it was horrifying. Everybody was all fuckin’ wasted and
looking at me like, ‘Man he’s not even fuckin’ drunk. What’s up with
that?’ So I do feel some obligation to be entertaining everyone, to be as
drunk as they are. It’s kind of a scary thing, too, because I ask myself how
long can I can keep doing that kind of fuckin’ thing.”
with that question, Pollard hits the nail on the head. How long can a man his
age keep acting like a 20 year-old on spring break with impunity? Will he return
from the road one day to discover that his marriage has completely withered from
neglect? Will he drink himself into a permanent stupor, or worse? The odds are
that neither Pollard nor his fans are particularly keen to confront these
questions. Because answering them threatens the existence of Guided By Voices.
And as long as Guided by Voices lives, one thing is certain. There will be more
songs. More great fucking songs.
selected Guided By Voices Discography
Bee Thousand (Scat,
a perfect balance between lo-fi slovenliness and celestial melodies, this is the
album that put Guided by Voices on the map. Bob Pollard’s lyrics venture into
absurdity with alarming frequency, but can you really fault someone for wanting
to sing about kicking elves?
the wake of Bee Thousand’s success,
Pollard was wined and dined by numerous record labels, but Alien Lanes makes it quite clear that he didn’t let the smoke
blown up his ass go to his head. ‘Salty Salute” is indie rock’s answer to
Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite,” while ‘Motor Away” and “Closer You
Are” are as tasty as power pop gets.
though Guided by Voices appeals primarily to the college music crowd, the
band’s members are hardly effete shoe gazers, and this authorized bootleg goes
a long way toward capturing the reckless abandon with which GBV performs. Chug a
Bud Lite between each song, and it’s almost like being there.
polished and “rock” than prior albums, Mag Earwhiçj! was recorded with
Cobra Verde — a well-liked, if unexceptional alt-outfit — as Pollard’s
backing band. Some fans cursed Pollard for ditching the “classic” lineup,
and bemoaned the album’s almost hi-fi production. Others got with the program
and marveled that mere earthlings would be able to pull such songs from the
depths of their deeply flawed souls.
Pollard with Doug Gillard
Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department (Rockathon,1999)
of the many solo albums that Pollard has released on the Rockathon label, Speak
Kindly is a seamless collaboration with GBV guitarist Doug Gillard. Pollard
did not misplace his trust: Gillard dips into his endlessly inventive playbook
to make this collection of top-shelf Pollard anthems shine all the brighter.