Guided by Voices cuts back on beer but remains hot for fans
Guided by Voices' "Motor Away" blasts from the speakers of the White House's Brady Briefing Room, the song's indie-rock power chords filling the rarefied air of America's corridors of power. Press secretary and big-time GBV fan Jay Carney, all smiles, strides to the podium for his final briefing.
"Now that is some good rock and roll," Carney tells the roomful of White House press corps back in June. "That was pretty awesome -- a Guided by Voices introduction."
Awesome, too, is that the band -- known as much for its beer consumption as for its infectious guitar-driven rock -- would have such a high-profile fan. With a security clearance, no less.
"It works wonders on the ego and motivational drive," Guided by Voices' main voice, Robert Pollard, says in an email interview. "I commend anyone who has the intelligence and good taste to buy our records. But seriously, I've gotten to meet people like Jay and Peter [Buck, R.E.M. guitarist] and a lot of other very interesting people in different mediums who like our music."
Some of those other not-so-secret admirers include Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, actor- animator-director Mike Judge, actress Chloë Sevigny and producer-screenwriter- director Steven Soderbergh.
Those Joe Cools are fine, but Pollard's always had a sentimental attachment to the Joe Sixpacks -- because he's one, too. Only the labor of love for this pizza and brau devotee from Dayton, Ohio, is simple: Pen the best Beatlesque, stick-to-your-skull melodies he can. It's been this way for most of his life.
Making its LI debut
For the first time in GBV's life, the band is set to play Long Island -- at The Paramount next Friday night. The cult quintet is touring in support of the new "Cool Planet" (Guided by Voices Inc.). But the group's also celebrating a special anniversary, stacking recent shows with an inordinate -- hey, we don't mind -- number of selections from its breakthrough album, "Bee Thousand" (Scat), which was released almost 20 years ago to the day that Carney stepped down.
No matter the GBV era, many of the band's songs are so evocative they induce goose bumps. And it takes hard work to make the tunes good to the last drop.
"I do all my creative work in the morning with coffee. ... I like to brainstorm ideas to the point of burnout," Pollard says. "I wait for a sort of mood of creative inspiration to come over me, and then I knock 'em out. Maybe eight to 10 or 12 songs. Then later I might pick six or seven to work on."
Pollard's done this for years, at least since forming GBV in 1983. And he isn't just the boss of Guided by Voices -- a group he broke up in 2004 and reformed in 2010 with the "classic" mid-'90s lineup. He's put out umpteen solo albums and sings in just as many side projects. To mangle one of his song titles from that classic period, he won't stop now.
"With Pollard, there is this constant grind, which I think comes from living in this industrial place where you work in three shifts," says David Giffels, author of "The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches From the Rust Belt" (Scribner, $15). "The classic story is your shift ends, and then you go to the bar. And that's Pollard in a nutshell. He works really hard and he drinks really hard, but he gets his stuff done."
That earnest mystique is a big part of the charm. The real appeal of GBV, however: those British-influenced nuggets of rock that surf on waves of prog and psychedelic currents.
"They just make great songs, especially when they came into their own," adds Giffels, who actually met up with Pollard for drinks one night in Cleveland -- and lived to talk about it. "It seemed like they made great songs by accident, because they sounded so tossed-off and half-assed."
Learning to take it easy
For the record, the band -- which is now composed of Pollard, singer-songwriter- guitarist Tobin Sprout, guitarist Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos and drummer Kevin March -- has slowed down in the beer department.
"We've learned to take it easy," Sprout says from his Michigan home. "There's a whole new generation coming up -- people are bringing their 6-year-olds to some of the all-ages shows. So we have to stay in shape for those kids."
Sprout's been one of the constants in GBV, which has always been Pollard's baby, receiving writing credits and mentions on many albums released when he was no longer officially in the group.
During one of those band breaks, he remembers watching the British sitcom "The IT Crowd" with his two kids. And then they started noticing the GBV posters on the walls, the T-shirts on actor Chris O'Dowd, a song here, and the mention of the band in some funny dialogue there.
"The kids were impressed," Sprout says. "They already liked the show and the characters. Then GBV was introduced and they appreciated it even more."
Now Dad and his rock buds are back on the road for two weeks at a time for "Cool Planet," recorded during last winter's dreadful polar vortex. The album's 18 tracks range from trademark Pollard quickies, such as "Pan Swimmer," which clocks in at 62 seconds, to the more sweeping "Males of Wormwood Mars." After all these years, one gets the feeling the former teacher has learned a few things.
"I can flesh a song out if I want to or let it go wherever it takes me," Pollard says. "I'm a songwriter primarily, and I think I've begun to be recognized as such. ... I'm 56 years old now, and I know what I like. Songs come pretty naturally and quickly to me now."
But he's staying grounded in that Midwest way.
"It's always week to week, album to album," he says. "I don't know. There's no pressure to make any decisions. We'll just take it as it comes. It's hard to stop right now, but all that being said, it could be over tomorrow."
For now, however, as that neon sign that hangs onstage at every Guided by Voices show says, "The Club Is Open."
WHO Guided by Voices with Boogarins
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. next Friday, The Paramount, Huntington
INFO $25-$35; 800-745- 3000, ticketmaster.com
MORE GBV's "Cool Planet" album is available now.
Robert Pollard picks his pet projects
Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard taught fourth grade in the Dayton, Ohio, public schools for more than a decade before he went 100 percent rock and roll. Here's his lesson plan to get to know five of his favorite projects (in order of release):
ALBUM "Bee Thousand" (Scat), Guided by Voices
RELEASED June 21, 1994
THE DEAL Lo-fidelity and high on the brevity. There are 20 tracks crammed into 361/2 minutes on this masterwork, which Amazon.com's editors picked as the No. 1 greatest indie-rock album of all time. After this one, bigger record labels started showing an interest.
KEY TRACKS "Gold Star for Robot Boy," "I Am a Scientist"
POLLARD SAYS "Do I really need to elaborate?"
ALBUM "From a Compound Eye" (Merge), Robert Pollard
RELEASED Jan. 24, 2006
THE DEAL Pollard's first solo album -- a double one, actually -- after he retired the band in 2004.
KEY TRACKS "Dancing Girls and Dancing Men," "I'm a Widow"
POLLARD SAYS "It slid under the radar, which is a shame. [Producer Todd Tobias and I] were electrified upon its completion. I really thought it would take me to the next level, and it did not."
ALBUMS "Sgt. Disco" (Ipecac), Circus Devils; "Moses on a Snail" (Guided by Voices Inc.), Robert Pollard (tie)
RELEASED "Disco," Aug. 7, 2007; "Snail," June 22, 2010
THE DEAL Different albums, different times: "Sgt. Disco" packed in 32 songs, while "Moses on a Snail" took a, um, slower approach, with only 12 tracks.
KEY TRACKS "Disco": "Love Hate Relationship With the Human Race," "George Took a Shovel"; "Snail": "Arrows and Balloons," "Moses on a Snail"
POLLARD SAYS "Listen to them and learn why."
ALBUM "Let It Beard" (Guided by Voices Inc.), Boston Spaceships
RELEASED Aug. 2, 2011
THE DEAL A double album from another of Pollard's side projects. Wire's Colin Newman, Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis and Dream Syndicate's Steve Wynn guest.
KEY TRACKS "Tabby and Lucy," "Make a Record for Lo-Life"
POLLARD SAYS "It's probably the best one . The songs and playing are complicated and amazing."
ALBUM "Let's Go Eat the Factory" (Guided by Voices Inc.), Guided by Voices
RELEASED Jan. 1, 2012
THE DEAL GBV's first album after the classic lineup reunited in 2010.
KEY TRACKS The delicious duo of "Chocolate Boy" and "Doughnut for a Snowman"
POLLARD SAYS "You gotta represent the new era."
-- Kevin Amorim