Guided By Voices thumbed their noses at the ongoing pandemic last Friday when they performed a lengthy, high-energy live-streamed show in an empty venue in Dayton, Ohio.
According to frontman Robert Pollard, it was the most-watched event on the NoonChorus platform to date. Still, not content to rest on their laurels, the band has announced yet another new album, Styles We Paid For, which will drop in November — just a few months after the album before that, Mirrored Aztec, out August 21st.
Pollard spoke with Rolling Stone about the band’s recent show, quarantine, and even more new music.
Rolling Stone: What are you doing with your unexpected time off in quarantine?
Robert Pollard: Organizing notebooks, tapes, and other items in my personal archives. Writing songs and making collages. Sometimes bored or going insane. Making albums. Talking on the phone. Zooming.
Has your routine stayed the same? Can you give us a rundown of an average day?
I sleep a lot longer at night than I used to. Nine or 10 hours. When there were more things to get up and go out for, I used to sleep for five or six hours.
In the morning, my wife Sarah and I feed and take turns letting our cats in and out. I drink coffee, listen to records, work on projects. Sometimes, later in the day, I might have a friend over to sit out in the yard and drink beer. We distance, of course. Have our own coolers. Around six or seven [at night], I watch movies with Sarah or watch something on television. I go to bed anywhere from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. I read sometimes before bed, in the middle of the night or in the afternoon.
What music or art have you turned to for comfort?
I read a lot. Mostly biographies, conspiracies, or metaphysical stuff. Alice Bailey, H.P. Blavatsky, that sort of thing. I have art books, and I like to occasionally examine the works of people like Ernst, Rauschenberg, Pollack, Jasper Johns, Basquiat, collagists like Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Hoch. Lots of surrealists. Of course, I listen to a lot of rock. Mostly Sixties and Seventies.
GBV spends a lot of time per year on the road, how are you handling having to stay put?
By doing the things I just mentioned. Sometimes not handling it so well, as far as the boredom aspect is concerned. It’s not bad, though. I have my wife and cats. I talk to family and friends.
You just put on a massive, audience-less live show in Ohio. What were the mechanics behind that — in terms of the band flying in, set-up, etc.?
Everyone drove in. We practiced one day, and then we did the show. We rely on everyone doing their homework.
Roughly how many people watched? What did you think of the turnout?
It’s still selling/streaming-on-demand, but it was the biggest-selling concert on Noonchorus.com to date. We’re grateful for such overwhelming support and to have shared the experience with so many fans.
What did it feel like to perform in front of no one?
It was a little weird because you really do feed off the energy of the crowd. It’s symbiotic and the interaction and vibe is important. That being said, it was great to be able to get together with the guys and play. To see them, hear them, and feel the energy — even without an audience.
What is the rest of the band doing during lockdown? Everyone is at their respective homes, right?
Yeah, everyone is just hanging out at home and with their families, as far as I know. We do a Zoom Room every couple of weeks.
What are the challenges of putting out music during a pandemic?
With digital technology and what it’s become, it’s not that much of a challenge. After they’ve had time to absorb my demos, they do their parts separately and send them to one another. Travis Harrison, our producer, orchestrates the entire process. I’m a caveman, so Travis comes to town to record my vocals and then he mixes and it’s done and on to the next one.
When do you think you’ll be able to get on the road again? How many new albums will GBV have released by then?
I don’t know when we’ll get on the road again, but by the time we do another live stream thing again, we’ll have at least two new albums. One comes out next month. It’s called Mirrored Aztec and the one after that, Styles We Paid For, is in the can and coming out in November.
Was GBV able to apply for PPP? Unemployment? How is everyone supplementing their incomes?
Some band members have gotten unemployment as well as $1,000 grants from MusiCares, who are helping a huge number of musicians. Two of the band members have young kids. Our drummer, Kevin March, is the only band member with a regular day job; he teaches music at the School of Rock in Montclair, New Jersey, which has kept him busy teaching the kids remotely on Zoom.
We’re all independently contracted and supplement our incomes in different ways other than what we do collaboratively, like making albums, selling merchandise, or the livestream thing we just did. And I personally still receive income from my art site that Sarah runs and royalties from current and past projects or endeavors. What’s been helpful to me — and it’s kind of funny — but I’m saving a great deal of money by not going to bars.