Guided by Voices, Led by Pop
By
J. Gordon
6/3/2002 5:33:13 PM

"Some fans don’t like the shift to hi-fi at all—they liked the fragmented, hissy things of the past and expect that I should stay there forever. Oh well. I need to do something else!"

Originally, with GBV frontman and brainchild, Rob Pollard’s reputation, I wanted to call this article “Guided by Vices”. Alas, I did a search on Google and it’s been done a million times, so forget that.

Bands like GBV don’t deserve the cliched puns, anyway. Sure, they might draw from the tried-and-true ideas, the best practices, as it were, of the greats. But bands like GBV take all that over-used stuff you don’t think you could take another minute of, chew it up and spit it out into a knock-you-over, kick a hole in your speakers, emotional pop moment. Their new disc, Isolation Drills [TVT Records] is loaded with Sugar-esque jangly pop guitar, rock-opera-reminiscent tunes that take me back to the Who’s Tommy, and classic Beatles-style melody.


But wait! Before you yawn and reach for the Radiohead--this album is also reaching into some new territory. It’s heavy, it’s layered, it’s catchy, and full of the finest, most meaningful poetry Pollard’s pulled from his head to date. NT caught up with him to discuss Isolation Drills, music in general, and oh yeah… those vices.


So how do you feel with all the critical acclaim and praise for such a “serious album”?

Oh, I’m glad they’re saying something different. In the past, you know, they over-analyzed the silliness. I still don’t think the music is all that straight-forward, you have to dig to find meaning. But Isolation Drills is a reflection on a year that was kind of strange. I hope they like it.


How does it feel to be compared to songwriters like Lennon and McCartney or Elvis Costello?

Great. It’s very flattering. What can you say? But I don’t make records for the reviews. I make records to entertain and satisfy. I make records to maintain myself. It’s really fun to be in a band, to have a circle of friends in every city and I always wanted to be a part of rock and roll’s spirituality. That’s why I do it, because I love it. Anytime I get free time I sit around with a guitar and boombox and write music. I keep a notebook by my bed because I even dream songs.


You’re winding up your tour for Isolation Drills now. Have you had any memorable moments?

Oh, tons. We’ve done over 30 cities already. I guess the coolest of all was in San Francisco. They made it Guided By Voices Day, and their mayor, Willie Brown presented us with the official seal of San Francisco and everything. It was pretty cool.


You once said in an interview that you didn’t want to write songs about relationships. Why the change?

I know! I know! I guess I never had any problems before! But hey—you still don’t hear me writing songs like, Baby, Baby Come Back –oooo! Oooo!


How’d you like working with my personal hero, Elliott Smith? I notice he’s got credit on “How’s my Drinking,” “Skills like This,” and “Fine to See You.”

Well, we were lucky to get him because Rob [Schnapf]’s produced his records. He kind of just came in and did his thing. He’s nice. Very quiet.


Why doesn’t that surprise me? You know, like Elliott, you’ve got some songs that are killer sad, but they’re mixed with some really bright moments.

That’s right. I like to think the record is full of happy moments.


How do you feel about the direction of Pop music today? Any hope?

I’ve been kinda down on it the last few years. It’s just not spiritually uplifting—it’s all fashion and not much art and substance. Mainstream is just not all that appealing. Some say I’ve sold out on this album, but hey—GBV is still not what you’re hearing in the mainstream.


But I appreciate the support and enthusiasm of a big label from a promotional standpoint. TVT has a hands-on approach and sometimes you’ve gotta sacrifice some control, but I’m pretty happy with the outcome, overall. The response to the Isolation Drills tour has been good. Some fans don’t like the shift to hi-fi at all—they liked the fragmented, hissy things of the past and expect that I should stay there forever. Oh well. I need to do something else!


You know, your drinking reputation really precedes you, and a lot of these new songs reflect that you might be having some issues with it in your personal life. Care to comment?

Oh, you know, hyping the drinking thing has just become our schtick. I drink Miller Lite—it’s almost like drinking water. I used to drink Bud. It depends on where you are as to how the drinking thing is judged. I mean, when we were in Australia, they’re like, “Drink up! It’s good for you!”


From your track record, I’m guessing you’ve already got some new stuff in the works, post-Isolation Drills. True?

Yeah, my songs are continuing to be more structured and stretched out, like on Isolation Drills, but they’re less serious and a little crazy again. I have fewer longer songs. These days, I am writing about what goes on in the life of an adult. They are all personal. I’m always changing my mind as to what to call them, you know, “progressive rock,” or “punk rock” or whatever. That record should be out next February.

 

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