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Lo-fi indie-rock titans Guided By Voices reform with new blood

Wednesday 22nd, June 2016 / 10:57
By Julijana Capone
Pioneering indie-rockers Guided By Voices make their Sled Island debut in 2016 with a new GBV lineup, featuring founder Robert Pollard, Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar), Kevin March (drums), Nick Mitchell (guitar), and Mark Shue (bass). Photo: Sarah Zade Pollard

Pioneering indie-rockers Guided By Voices make their Sled Island debut in 2016 with a new GBV lineup, featuring founder Robert Pollard, Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar), Kevin March (drums), Nick Mitchell (guitar), and Mark Shue (bass).
Photo: Sarah Zade Pollard

CALGARY — After a four-year reunion run featuring the ‘classic-era Guided By Voices lineup,’ the on-again-off-again lo-fi titans called it quits once again in 2014, then resurfaced with a new roster this year. Since news of a GBV date at Sled Island broke, the band’s founder and high-functioning lead songwriter Robert Pollard has had much in the works, and plans to keep the momentum going.

Since March, Pollard has released two albums and counting—a solo effort, called Of Course You Are, and GBV’s 22nd record, Please Be Honest, which he recorded himself and played every instrument on, thus making it sort of feel like a solo work. But as Pollard explains, he doesn’t separate or delineate projects.

“I wrote a new batch of songs and mapped out all the parts for each one. I typically don’t do that except for a project I have called Teenage Guitar, and even with that I do mostly spontaneous experimentation,” Pollard says. “But for Please Be Honest my idea was to play everything, have all the instrumentation and vocal parts scripted and if I could pull it off without it sounding too clumsy, I would give it the Guided By Voices tag. If not, I would just call it Teenage Guitar. Obviously I decided that it worked.”

To mark GBV’s Calgary appearance, we picked Pollard’s brain via email (he hasn’t done a phone interview in years, apparently), corresponding about his evolving approach to songwriting and the future of the band.

Guided By Voices founding member Robert Pollard. Photo: Sarah Zade Pollard

Guided By Voices founding member Robert Pollard.
Photo: Sarah Zade Pollard

BeatRoute: I’ve read that you keep a notebook full of phrases sourced from random places and things, and then you create lyrics from that. What are some of the lines in your notebook right now?

Robert Pollard: Here, let me get it out. How can a fool decorate? Geezers’ hat team. Euclid mannequin. Heavy blondes can cook. Discount revolution. AC/DC motorized wheelchair. Naming cities after planets.

BR: Do you have any new techniques that you’ve incorporated into your songwriting process for this album?

RP: I’ve begun a process where I re-assemble sections of songs I’ve written using a CD burner. It’s like editing a film. I can insert or repeat any section I choose to at any place in the song — it’s just moving things around until it’s right; a similar process to making collages.

BR: My favourite song on the new album is “Unfinished Business.” Do you always feel compelled to finish what you’ve started? Do you currently have any unfinished business that you’d like to return to?

RP: I don’t return. I move on to the next thing. I keep the gutters fresh. If an idea doesn’t come in a fairly spontaneous manner, it’s probably not worth fussing over. I find that to be the case probably 99 percent of the time. I know what I like. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I know what pleases me.

BR: Looking back on your GBV catalogue, do you have a favourite record? What was it and why do you still love it?

RP: My favourite is probably Universal Truths and Cycles because every time I listen to it, I’m impressed with its diversity of sound fidelity and songs. It’s got something for everyone and it’s insane. It has to be insane for me to keep going back to it. Bee Thousand is the same way. Or Let It Beard (by Boston Spaceships). Let It Beard is the best.

BR: You’ve also released a lot of music with various side projects—Circus Devils, Ricked Wicky, to name a few. Which project has been the most rewarding creatively?

RP: Boston Spaceships. In my opinion, five great albums and then out of the universe by sundown — that’s the way you do it. Ricked Wicky was very productive last year.

BR: Because there is always so much in the works for you musically, I’m wondering if you have ever taken an extended period off from music—and, if so, what was the reason?

RP: No, I have never done that. It’s difficult to write on the road, but I never spend too much time away from home. I work everyday at home. Whether it be on songs or collages.

Guided By Voices founding member Robert Pollard. Photo: Terri Nelles

Guided By Voices founding member Robert Pollard.
Photo: Terri Nelles

BR: Guided By Voices has disbanded twice in the past, but reformed this year with a fresh lineup. Did you feel that a totally new lineup was necessary for the band to continue?

RP: Yeah. We played for four years with the original lineup. Actually the Bee Thousand line up. And we recorded six albums. It was very productive and it was good to get everyone back together again. But at the end it started getting very mechanical and tired. There was a great degree of complacency, so I decided it was time to wrap it up. I’ve decided now that Guided By Voices the brand name, just needed new blood.

BR: How has it been playing and rehearsing songs with the guys? Can you envision more GBV live dates and albums in the future?

RP: Yeah, we’re going to play as many shows as we can and see what happens. Maybe record an album or two. You find out what kind of chemistry is there when you tour for a while. We’ll just have to see how it unfolds.

BR: Now that you have two new albums out, what’s next for you?

RP: We’re re-issuing Not In My Airforce for its 20th anniversary in September. We’ll be playing live until probably New Year’s Day. Then after that I’ll just keep making records.

Guided By Voices perform at Olympic Plaza on June 25 as part of Sled Island Music & Arts Festival.

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