Mr. Rocker

Guided By Voices' Bob Pollard lives out his rock 'n' roll fantasy

There's a fantasy that probably every rock fan and critic has shared at one point or another. It involves the notion that somewhere, likely in a bedroom or basement in some small town, a group of unknowns is working in the shadows to create music as powerful and important as anything on the popular radar. Music being made completely independent of commercial consideration, or even public acceptance. Yet music so rich with promise and life that even the hand of fate will not let it go undiscovered.

Bob Pollard knows that fantasy well; he's lived it.

Among the most compelling phenomena ever to emerge from the American musical underground, Pollard's Guided By Voices became the darling of indie rock in the mid-'90s after a series of homemade lo-fi masterpieces like Vampire on Titus, Propeller, Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes.

Guided by Budweiser: Pollard (arms outstretched) and his rock 'n' roll drinking buddies.
Guided by Budweiser: Pollard (arms outstretched) and his rock 'n' roll drinking buddies.
Surgical focus: Pollard, wrapped up in his muse.
Surgical focus: Pollard, wrapped up in his muse.

Pollard -- a former fourth-grade schoolteacher -- and his revolving band of fellow thirtysomething working stiffs refused to give up the rock 'n' roll fantasies that had colored their youths. They labored quietly in the basements of Dayton, Ohio, for more than a decade before attention and success, quite improbably, came their way.

The group has moved to much bigger trappings with this year's major-label, Ric Ocasek-produced effort Do the Collapse. Regardless of the size of the canvas, Pollard has always had an uncanny knack for merging stadium-size hooks with a complex lyrical style that synthesizes British Invasion songcraft with the artistic impressionism of prog-rock.

Pollard continues to amaze with both the quality and sheer output of his songwriting (he estimates his catalogue of songs to be somewhere in the 5,000-plus range), marking the time between GBV records with a steady stream of solo and side projects. Last month, he released the fourth album in his "Fading Captain Series" -- Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department -- on GBV's Rockathon Records label.

The group has made some significant inroads with Do the Collapse -- the album's first single, "Teenage F.B.I.," received regular airplay and has been included on the soundtrack to the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But more than mere commercial consideration, Pollard craves, as he always has, for Guided By Voices to be a meaningful band -- in the same way that the rock groups of his youth served as avatars for the kind of life and creativity that he's claimed for himself. Judging by the legions of dedicated fans and the near cultlike status that GBV has attained, Pollard's achieved a special kind of success that MTV hits or platinum records could never really equal.

Calling from the home he shares with his high school sweetheart wife and two teenage children the morning after his 42nd birthday, Pollard shared some of his thoughts before launching a national tour that will bring the band to Phoenix for the first time in almost three years. Talking in a rapid Midwestern twang -- a far cry from the pseudo-British accent he affects when singing -- Pollard spoke on a variety of topics: playing with power-pop progenitors Cheap Trick, his love for Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and how he still hopes to save rock 'n' roll.

New Times: There was a quote from you a while back where you said you wanted Guided By Voices albums to sound like Beatles and Who bootlegs.

Pollard: That was pretty much the whole four-track phase. As a record shopper, I used to love to find bootlegs of old '60s bands that were just outtakes and unreleased songs. So I kind of wanted Guided By Voices albums to seem like that, too, like you had found some really rare Who songs or Beatles songs.

NT: With this new record, have you decided to revise that? Is the ambition now to have GBV sound like a "big" rock band?

BP: I've got two sides to me. I've got this really experimental side and this really big, power-anthem pop side to me, too. And that's pretty much what Guided By Voices is now. The experimental side I've saved for my solo records or my pseudonymous projects. Guided By Voices is now a big power rock band. But that's how we've always been live anyway. Now, I think I have the band that's technically good enough to pull it off. So I thought it was a good time to get a good producer and make a big record.

NT: In terms of the material you're writing now, I know you've been influenced by psychedelic/spiritual stuff like The Byrds and The Millennium . . .

BP: Oh yeah, I love that stuff.

NT: There's a couple of things on the new record, say "Hold On Hope," which fit into that. Does writing those songs with big themes come pretty naturally?

BP: To me that's the best kind of music. It's really the only music worth making. Pop songs and good fun songs are fine to make people happy, but to truly stir the emotions and the spirit you need to write anthems. The next album, by the way, is going to be much more anthemic. This album there was some varying styles -- some silly pop, hard rock -- but I'd like Guided By Voices to go in a more anthemic direction.

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