Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard doubts he'll ever get a street named after him in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
"Sometimes me and my brother (on-again, off-again GBV member Jim Pollard) drive around town -- my brother was one of the best high school basketball players ever here -- and he'll say why don't *we* have a street named after us? Mike Schmidt and Erma Bombeck have one," Pollard says, referring to the former Philadelphia Phillies slugger and syndicated humorist, respectively. "But I don't think I'll ever get one because I have kind of a bad boy image. Some of the local writers have said some really bad things about me getting drunk at our gigs and stuff.
"I've been told that if we're going to get to the next level -- radio and that sort of thing -- I've got to cut back on my drinking on stage and watch my behavior," Pollard confesses with a laugh. "I do it because if I don't get lubed a little, I'm really nervous out there."
It's amazing Pollard finds the time to "get lubed a little" -- frankly, it's astounding the man even sleeps, given his habit of writing songs as frequently as people change their socks. At the moment, Pollard's just issued his second solo album, Waved Out (Matador), which comes on the heels of last year's Guided By Voices release Mag Earwhig!, which, in turn came on the heels of Pollard's '96 solo debut, Not In My Airforce. And the man hasn't even cracked the suitcase full of demo tapes he's recorded over the years -- by his count, about 5,000 songs' worth.
GBV have issued eleven albums in a dozen years, but that total doesn't even begin to touch the dozens of singles and EPs they've racked up since first switching on the four-track back in the mid-'80s. The effect of listening to those early GBV albums wasn't unlike straining to hear a perfect pop tune through the crackling, static-y airwaves of a distant college radio station and realizing, when it was over, that the filter of fuzz was somehow essential to the song's mystique, a kind of keyhole to its hidden majesty.
Although they've since ventured into the realm of eight and 16-track recording, GBV's recent albums still have, at their heart, a homemade beer-and-brainstorm spirit. Whether by choice or necessity, Pollard loves wrapping his big rock 'n' roll gestures inside small pop packages.
"It's funny because I had never heard of that term 'lo-fi' before we got lumped into the lo-fi genre," Pollard says. "I've always wanted to make big rock, but it was always a challenge for us to create in the studio what we heard in our heads. I think it's time for us to make the Big Rock record we've always wanted to make."
Waved Out is certainly a step in that direction. While nobody's going to mistake it for the Smashing Pumpkins, it's an obliquely epic album steeped in arena-worthy hooks ("Subspace Biographies") and gorgeous ballads ("People Are Leaving"); in the proper live context, this stuff could inspire an inferno of flickering lighters, and just might if Pollard gets his way -- and, when it comes to GBV, he usually does.
Last year, Bob's (in)famously autocratic leadership led to the departure of the Cleveland-based rockers Cobra Verde, whom Pollard had recruited to round out the new GBV lineup (everybody but guitarist Doug Gillard quit shortly after making Mag Earwhig!). At present, the band consists of Gillard (guitar), longtime bassist Greg Demos and former Breeders drummer Jim MacPherson.
"I'm happy with the new band. They do what I tell 'em," Pollard says, then catches himself. "I know it sounds tyrannical, but sometimes I think a band can be over-democratic and when that happens, you can't get anything done."
Clearly. Next month, the new GBV head into the studio to begin recording with one of Pollard's pop idols. "Ric Ocasek wants to work with us and we're really excited about it," Pollard says of the former Cars frontman. "I was really anxious and scared to meet with him, but he turned out to be really nice." Furthermore, Pollard says Ocasek's wife, the supermodel Paulina Porizkova, told him that her nieces were big Guided By Voices fans. "After that, I was able to relax."
In the meantime, Pollard will continue in pursuit of his next melody -- and the one after that. Despite turning 40 this year, he's got no intention of slowing down. Plans are underway for his band to launch its first-ever world tour early next year, and after that, Bob wants to make another solo record. With all this activity coming from a guy who's three times as old as Hanson, you've got to wonder: is the importance of youth in rock & roll over-rated?
"Youth is definitely overrated, but everything is geared to youth. Youth is pretty to look at, and youth is easy to market," Pollard says. "But as a songwriter, nothing beats experience."
Who knows? With that kind of attitude, Robert Pollard just might get that street in Dayton named after him someday. Sure, Mike Schmidt was a great ballplayer who hit 548 home runs. But has he written 5,000 songs?
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