It’s been an extremely productive year for Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollard. By year’s end, he will have released at least seven albums through his various projects. But the last few months haven’t been easy. This past October, GBV drummer Kevin Fennell was fired/quit the band over a dispute that was sparked by him trying to sell his drums on eBay for $55,000. It may have caused a bit of indie-rock drama, but hasn’t put a damper in Pollard’s spirits or his creative output. He returns this month with a new solo album called Blazing Gentlemen and in February a new Guided by Voices album is due called Motivational Jumpsuit.
Rolling Stone spoke with Pollard about his latest burst of creativity, the Fennell situation, and how many records 2014 will bring us.
You’re known to be an early riser. What do you do so early in the morning?
First, I watch Sports Center on ESPN because I torture myself precariously with that nonsense. I drink some coffee and then go listen to an album or two. This morning it was Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom and a recent issue of some early Fall B.B.C. recordings called Container Drivers. A lot of times, I work on songs or collages.
Between your solo records, Circus Devils and Guided by Voices, you’ve released 12 full lengths in the last three years. Are you racing against something?
When I make an album, I tire of it pretty quickly. I may listen to it for a week after it’s finished and then I put it away. Within another few weeks, I may have written ten or fifteen new songs. By the time one album comes out, I’m already tired of listening to it and on to the next. I’ve got quite a few vehicles to work with.
How do you decide what will be a “Robert Pollard” track and what will be a “Guided by Voices” track these days?
Although the decision process is determined basically by whichever project comes next, I do consider Guided by Voices to be sort of “ageless” and feel free to include any type of song whether it’s “mature” or not. In other words, Guided by Voices has no age. We’re not really in our 50s emotionally. But Robert Pollard is 56 years old and I attempt to write and record songs accordingly. Also, I think about the translation of songs to a live setting for Guided by Voices — whether they’ll “rock” or not.
Has your songwriting process changed over the years?
Yeah, it deviates from one process to another slightly at all times, but recently I’ve come up with a formula to ensure multiple hooks within each song and it involves combining a memorable line with a catchy melody, which is what a hook is anyway. I keep a notebook full of interesting phrases and lines that I hear in bars, on television, etc. and then from that wellspring I create lyrics. I just string lines together. Then, I sing the lyrics a cappella into a boombox. I create melodies that mold themselves into each individual line or stanza. The last step of the process is coming up with chord progressions. I’m basically building a lot of power anthems.
I like the track “Writer’s Bloc” on Motivational Jumpsuit. Do you ever face writer’s block?
No, I do not, nor have I ever had writer’s block. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — Michael Imperioli thinks this is funny — writer’s block is for pussies.
Earlier this year, you suggested that English Little League might have been the last Guided by Voices record. Now, Motivational Jumpsuit is being released. Do you see an end date on Guided by Voices right now?
No. As a matter of fact we will be going into a studio called Cyberteknics this January to record a new album called Cool Planet. We have plans to tour it and Motivational Jumpsuit in May. We’re going to keep it in motion. Cyberteknics has been around in Dayton for 50 years, and the guy who owns and operates it is Phil Mahaffey. He’s great. He looks like George Martin. We just discovered him and his studio last year and that’s a shame that it didn’t happen sooner.
What happened with Kevin Fennell? Did he quit the band or was he asked to leave?
Both. We had a disagreement about something he did that I thought compromised the moral integrity of Guided by Voices. He disagreed. I’m not going to go into details. We didn’t communicate on a very professional level, but it doesn’t matter now. He made a decision and now we’re moving on.
Guided by Voices played two shows in 2013. Do you think there will be more shows in 2014?
Yes, hopefully quite a few, if audiences will still have us.
What releases do you have planned for 2014?
Well, Motivational Jumpsuit and Cool Planet by Guided by Voices. I’m thinking of doing another Teenage Guitar album and calling it Mirrored Aztec. It’s where I play everything and not very well. It’s super fun. Also, another Circus Devils album called Flat Sky. We may even get into the studio for a third Guided by Voices album. I don’t know. It depends on how much live work we get.